By Mia Anstine
There are an increasing number of women taking up self-defense, shooting sports and hunting — which adds sales for gun retailers.
It behooves the dealer to make a concerted effort to welcome each customer who walks through the door. Step back a minute and think about how you or your customer service representatives are approaching women. What are your first thoughts when a woman comes to the counter on a solo mission (or with her husband or boyfriend) to buy a gun?
What Women Think
Here are a few examples of how women may be thinking when they head into your store. Of the experience levels I’ve listed there are many in between. It’s up to you to figure out how to communicate, make them comfortable, help them overcome their apprehensions and sell them something they’ll appreciate.
Expert: When a seasoned shooter heads to the gun counter she may have an idea of the exact make and model of firearm she wants. In her mind, you’re there to sell her the gun she’s looking for. If you don’t have the exact model, she wants you to tell her how you’re going to get it for her. She’s prepared to fill out the 4473 and may even be willing to wait for a gun that must be ordered.
Intermediate: Oftentimes, we see experienced shooters who’ve been shooting their dad’s, boyfriend’s or husband’s firearm but now want to purchase one of their own. She may not be confident enough to visit your store by herself so she brings a male companion with her. She’s worried she’ll say the wrong words or you’ll look down on her because she doesn’t know it all.
Novice: There will always be a newbie who walks into the store (or at least we hope so). Some of these new-to-gun women are confident and aren’t afraid to ask for help. There are others who don’t have experience with firearms, and they don’t know what to ask. These women can be nervous, worrying you’ll think they’re ignorant. They may not come from gun-owning families or have a person in their life from whom to receive advice. They start sweating the minute they turn the key to start their vehicle as they head to your shop.
Easy As “How Can I Help You?”
There are countless stories of women who’ve been treated poorly by sales associates.
“Walking into a gun shop where all of the people who work there are men can be a bit intimidating — especially if they’re not very friendly,” relayed Laura Evans, who has considerable marketing experience in the industry, and is a Second Amendment advocate and DC Project delegate. “A personal ‘Hello, how may I help you?’ goes a long way with me.”
If a newbie enters your store and views a row of men decked out in tactical gear it might be a turn off.
“Putting knowledgeable females front and center in your retail environment is a good way to reach out to female customers,” suggested Sara Turnbull, strategic program director at Turnbull Restoration.
Not all women are beginners. Not all
women are afraid of recoil. And not all women
want the smallest gun in the case.
While not every gun store has women who work there, it may be something you can add. If you’re not in the market to hire new employees, you can do well regardless.
Gardenschwartz is a friendly little gun shop that sits on Main Street in downtown Durango, Colo. Numerous women patronize the shop for firearms, knives and outdoor gear. This establishment sets a good example in regard to selling to women. The store manager begins with a reminder that anyone who doesn’t embrace women as customers is missing the boat — women are the future.
“I love when women come into the store,” said Olivia Andrews, an associate at Gardenschwartz. She excitedly shared stories about the women who want to protect and provide for their families. They shoot, hunt, hike and embrace other outdoor activities. Andrews said there’s no preference or discrimination; the store treats all customers (male or female) the same. Everyone is greeted, welcomed and served, but she delights in the number of empowered women who come into the store. This diversity and enthusiasm can be emulated in all gun shops.
It’s easy to underestimate people because they don’t fit the image we have in our minds. Maybe they’re women, too young, too old, ill informed, low-key or flashy. Don’t discount the intention of a would-be buyer. We could be rich if we had a dollar for each time a sale is lost from making a mistake based on a person’s appearance. Sometimes sales staff may not even realize they’re making these assumptions — and you know what they say about assuming …
Don’t Let This Be You
Debra Lee is a waterfowl hunter, expert dog trainer and retired police officer. She recounted a story about heading into a gun store to purchase two Benelli shotguns, only to be ignored and then treated poorly by the men behind the counter.
She, like many women, didn’t dwell on the poor treatment she received. Lee simply went to another store that wanted a paying customer. This was decades ago. Lee has since spent thousands of dollars on firearms and ammunition and continues to avoid that original establishment.
Curiosity And Education
According to NSSF, women purchasing firearms has been on the rise for several years. To keep pace with the momentum women have created, retailers need to be mindful of the fact women buy guns. Learn to pay attention to her needs and recognize what she wants.
“My husband and I went to a gun store to buy a gun for me. The entire time the salesman kept talking to my husband — even when my husband politely reminded him we were shopping for me,” shared Susan Will, a female gun owner.
Goods For The Woods, a female-owned gun store also located in Durango, has superb help at their counter. One salesman, Jim, said he’s had numerous experiences of a man approaching the counter with a woman who wants to purchase a gun. He shared a story opposite of Mrs. Will’s: In this scenario, the man approached the counter and declared exactly what gun the lady needed. The clerk shared when this happens he looks at the woman to see what her reaction is. “You can tell by the look on her face she’s not sold on what the man thinks she wants.”
“Putting knowledgeable females front and
center in your retail environment is a good way to
reach out to female customers.”
Sara Turnbull Strategic Program Director Turnbull Restoration
Jim says it’s best to ask her a variety of questions to determine what she is looking for. No matter the type of gun you’re selling, you need to find the gun that fits her needs, variety of uses and her size and capabilities.
“I always explain the pluses and minuses of the guns she’s viewing,” he shared. “For example, I demonstrate the differences in a semi-auto pistol and a revolver. I’ll show her how to operate the gun and let her hold it, look down the sights and operate it.”
At both Gardenschwartz and Goods For The Woods the clerks told me they have lists of qualified firearms instructors on hand. They care about their customers and want them to be safe. “A lady is only as good with her gun, as she is in her training,” the Goods For The Woods salesman added.
Diversity Of Women
Women come in all shapes and sizes, so their grip size and hand strength will vary. Gun stores that carry a variety of handguns and have time to help a woman find solutions and alternatives when she can’t rack a slide or reach the magazine release will be successful in their sales and have return customers.
When looking at women’s shotguns and rifles, the length of pull may be shorter. Long guns engineered to fit women don’t just have stocks with shorter lengths of pull. A woman’s long gun has a cant and rise to fit a female. These can be more comfortable for her to mount and help her acquire a target more quickly.
Goods For The Woods carries a variety of handguns, rifles and shotguns. When it comes to handguns at the store, women lean toward the flashier ones, and chambered in .380 or 9mm. At Gardenschwartz, where they sell more rifles and shotguns, they don’t see a preference for any certain appearance, but do have most women asking for 20-ga. shotguns and rifles chambered in 6.5 Creedmoor.
Not all women are beginners. Not all women are afraid of recoil. And not all women want the smallest gun in the case. There are women who use .357 Magnums as their carry guns and hunt with .338 Lapuas.
Don’t put all women into the same box, and don’t assume she doesn’t know anything about the guns you’re pulling out of the case. Take the time to ask questions but more importantly, listen to what she’s saying.
Mia Anstine is a commentator, hunting guide and instructor for archery, firearms and other outdoor-related pursuits. She serves as the treasurer of the Professional Outdoor Media Association, regional representative for Safari Club International, DC Project delegate and more.
10 Things You Can Do To Welcome Women
1. Train your sales associates. Make sure they’re knowledgeable about the products and know how to communicate with patrons.
2. Hire clerks who are women, and may be more welcoming to female customers.
3. Welcome women into your store. Be enthusiastic.
4. Show diversity by not making assumptions.
5. Ask women questions in order to determine what gun she wants and to find one to suit her needs.
6. Listen to what the customer is telling you.
7. Communicate with the woman and find out what she wants, versus what the man in her life thinks she wants.
8. Recommend training courses, keep a list on hand.
9. Suggest hunter education if need be.
10. Carry a variety of calibers, makes and models.