By Carolee Anita Boyles
Each gun dealer and sporting goods retailer comes to his or her chosen profession by a different road. For women, particularly, the stories are widely diverse. They may come because of a family connection or military background, but they bring a unique and fresh point of view to the shooting experience.
Barbara Wagenknecht and her husband Don own Ozark Armory and DAW Silencers in Lincoln, Mo.
“Don is retired from the Minneapolis Police Department, and his main love is suppressors,” Wagenknecht informed. “He’s been building suppressors since 1983.”
Originally, Barbara worked for General Mills. The company transferred her to Decatur, Ill., and then to Olathe, Kan. At the same time, Don retired from the police department and opened a gun shop in Missouri.
“I did the accounting; it seemed like I was spending more time driving back and forth to work than I was working, so in 2001 I retired and we moved to Warsaw, Mo., and I started working in the gun shop,” Wagenknecht shared.
In the 16 years she has run the store, Wagenknecht has seen a big difference in dealing with business partners in the industry.
“I have a very good rapport with our sales reps,” she said. “Usually when someone has something available to sell, they come to me instead of to Don because I do all the inventory. It’s a decision Don and I make together, but they come to me because I run the store.”
Wagenknecht has seen more women sales reps in the past few years than ever before.
“There are more at Davidson’s and Zanders,” she shared. “There seems to be a larger sales force of women selling guns.”
The SHOT Show is one of the places that she’s really seen a big difference.
“In the past, men would simply ignore you,” she recalled. “It was very frustrating. Now, more attention is given to women at the show. The whole industry is much more aware of the roles that women play, and that women are purchasing guns. It has become much more attentive to the needs and desires of women.”
If Jeanelle Westrom’s last name makes you say, “Hey, I know that name!” you’d be right. Westrom, the owner of Davenport Guns in Davenport, Iowa, is the third generation of her family to be part of the gun industry.
“My grandfather was a gunsmith, and my dad shot on the Army Marksmanship Unit as a pickup shooter,” she said. “My sister and I picked up his brass, and when we got big enough we pulled targets for him.”
During her teenage years, Westrom’s father had an FFL and did gun shows.
“Then in 1994, Dad bought a small rifle manufacturing company named Eagle Arms,” Westrom shared. “In 1995, he bought the Armalite trademark and brought back the AR-10 and the Armalite brand.”
Westrom worked for Armalite for about 10 years and then moved to Georgia. She worked in HR in another industry, but continued competing in the shooting sports.
“Then my company got bought out by another company, and everyone in HR lost their jobs,” she said. “My dad called and said ‘Hey kid, if I buy a gun shop will you be the manager?’ I had other plans so I told him I’d think about it.”
Westrom decided if she was going to move back to where her parents lived, she might as well do it while she had a job offer.
“I moved up, but he didn’t buy the business,” she recalled. “He said, ‘Well kid, what do you want to do?’ I told him, ‘I own an FFL, so I’m going to open a gun store.’ He asked, ‘Do you want a range?’ and I said, ‘Well yeah, it doesn’t make sense to have a gun shop without one.’”
Westrom opened Davenport Guns in January 2015.
In her time in the industry, Jeanelle has seen a huge difference in the way women are treated.
“Twenty years ago, I started one show in makeup, curly hair and contacts. By the last day, my hair was up in a bun and I had my glasses on and minimal makeup, just for somebody to try to take me seriously — even when I knew more about ARs than most people in the building,” she said.
Today, the picture is totally different.
“People walk up to me and say, ‘Hey, Jeanelle, you’re just the person I need to see,’” she noted.
Marna Tracy, owner of Tampa Tactical Supply, has her sights set on
growing her business in today’s challenging environment.
Tampa Tactical Supply
Marna Tracy and her husband served in the U.S. Army in Korea, Georgia and on a deployment to Kuwait until she was discharged in 2003; then they both became defense contractors and moved to the Tampa Bay area. When Tracy’s husband received a voucher to purchase clothing for a planned deployment, however, they couldn’t find what he needed locally.
“We went into a local store, and although they had some clothing, they didn’t really understand us and what we needed,” she said. “My first thought was, ‘I can do better than that!’” Soon after, she opened her own online tactical supply company.
A year into the project, with strong special order sales, Tracy started selling guns as a courtesy to her customers. One of her first challenges was the requirement Hillsborough County, Fla., has for FFLs that deal with customers: operating from a storefront. Mark Serbu, the founder of Tampa-based Serbu Firearms, rented Tracy space in his manufacturing facility — effectively providing a physical location from which she could do business.
In late 2011, Tracy settled on a standalone location in Riverview, a bedroom community of Tampa, Fla. Once her licenses transferred, Tracy was making substantial sales from her new location.
“I had a fairly robust email distribution list of more than 1,300 people,” she relayed. Tracy would get in something new, tell them about it and promptly sell out.
Today, Tracy is working on her fourth million in sales. She plans to create a whole new division for her company, keeping the store and online segment separate.
“My goal is to top a million every year,” she stated. “To be competitive in the gun business you have to grow, and I’ve decided I don’t want a bigger store, but a bigger online presence.”
The brick-and-mortar’s atmosphere is all-important to Tracy.
“People don’t feel intimidated when they come in,” she said. “They can bring their family or their dog, and they feel comfortable about coming in and asking questions. Customers want answers, and they want a better understanding of what they’re buying. We don’t sell guns; guns sell themselves. It’s how you take care of the customer that matters.”