By Massad Ayoob
Instructors can prove to be effective partners to expand the presence of both businesses through referrals.
It’s a win-win: They’re viewed as a trusted source of good information, and your store benefits with the opportunity
to earn business. Is your store meeting the needs of these referred customers?
With today’s emphasis on training in the consumer market, firearms and self-defense instructors have the ability to send you a lot of business — by referring your store to their students. In many cases, it’s a win-win: The instructor wins by being viewed as a trusted resource for students, and you win with a good word and the opportunity to earn the business of a prospective customer. However, this setup isn’t always viewed through a rose-colored lens.
If you’ve been reading this column over the years, you know I spend a great deal of time teaching people how and when to use firearms; I also train other instructors. Recently, I taught a weeklong class along with Marty Hayes, head of both Firearms Academy of Seattle and the Armed Citizens Legal Defense Network. During the course, we took the liberty of polling the class on what they hoped retail firearms dealers would be able to sell to their students and what their grumbles about dealers might be.
Why It’s Important
The steady increase in availability of concealed carry options around the country has interested more people than ever in learning to use, and often carry, defensive firearms. Many jurisdictions require a training class before the applicant can be issued a permit. Even where it’s not required, (most) responsible beginners will seek out training to learn how to shoot correctly and safely. Their chosen instructor becomes their guide to such things, a trusted advisor of sorts.
What does this mean? For one thing, it means they’ll want to buy the products recommended by their mentor. Simply put, if you’re in the business for profit instead of fun, you’ll want students to buy those recommended products from you.
Trying Before Buying. If your establishment doesn’t have a shooting range — and specifically a range where customers can rent different guns to try — our focus group can explain why you might be losing business to a competitor who does.
Because fit of gun to hand, ability to control recoil, ability to manage the trigger and related issues are so very important to creating a confident, competent shooter, roughly half of the respondents said they would be inclined to send their students to a range where they could “try before they buy.” Yes, we all know (the instructors are aware, too) how expensive it is to have an adjacent range facility.
If this isn’t in the cards, see if there is a public shooting range with which you can work a deal, perhaps mutual discounts for referrals from each to the other.
Stock Quality Products. The people who can afford tuition for non-mandatory gun classes tend to be people with enough discretionary income to happily “buy the best.” For example, Kydex holsters are extremely popular today: affordable, fast, acceptably secure and (a critical concern with safety-conscious firearms instructors) allow easy, positive reholstering. If you’re stocking useful, quality products, you already have a leg up on the competition that doesn’t take these considerations to heart.
And Now, The Objections …
Not Adapting The Product To The User. The overwhelming majority of the respondents to our informal survey said their number-one concern was dealers selling customers firearms that were not suitable for them.
One respondent recalled a time when an elderly customer had been sold a large HK .45 pistol she could barely hold, and whose slide she couldn’t operate. This scenario can happen even with smaller guns. Something to keep in mind: make sure new gun owners can rack the slide of the pistol you hope to sell them, and the rest of its controls as well.
Disregarding Recoil-Sensitive Customers. Another common complaint was the sale of lightweight, five-shot .38 Special (and even .357 Magnum) revolvers to petite, and sometimes elderly, females. In the silent, no-shooting setting of the gun-shop showroom, these guns appeal greatly to first-time buyers. They’re light to carry, easy to load/unload and are comfortably simple for new shooters. However, on the range when the shooting begins, the recoil is often found to be too harsh to bear.
Many of these instructors recommend their recoil-sensitive students buy small, single-stack 9mm pistols. They better fit their hands, are still very concealable and hold a few more rounds of ammo often exceeding .38 Special in stopping power. Additionally, felt-recoil in single-stack 9mm semi-auto pistols is vastly more controllable.
Not Enough Focus On Customer Satisfaction. In line with the above, roughly half of the instructors reported a problem with dealers focusing too much on the sale — rather than on customer satisfaction. One commented, “Sales staff pushing in-stock product over what the customer actually wants (and needs).” And two of the instructors were particularly irked at sales people who “muzzle” the customers with the guns they’re trying to sell, an unsettling and often deal- and referral-killing experience for instructors.
Discrediting Female Customers.Tied with the third point (again with about half of the instructors mentioning it), was ignoring female customers or expressing a condescending attitude toward them. This is something the industry at large has improved on, but it still happens. A female instructor relayed stories of dealers “selling what they think I need, not what I’m looking for.” In my travels covering gun shops in these pages, my significant other is often ignored — with men who come in after her given preference by sales staff. This trend is a definite turnoff, which ends up costing the owner of such stores countless sales among this fast-growing market.
On The Flip Side
One of those instructors who filled out the survey is a retired gun shop GM. In defense of his peers, he remarked, “It’s not always a case of the gun shop staff not meeting the needs of its customers. Often, customers are their own worst enemy, as they’ll walk into the store with preconceived notions that are not in their best interest. Communication must be a two-way process for the customer to get the best outcome.”
This is certainly true, which begs the question: Why not use one of these columns to share with others in the retail firearms sphere and see what their pet peeves are concerning their clientele? If you’d like to participate, send those grievances to me in care of Shooting Industry, and we’ll visit the topic here in these pages soon.
In the meantime, though, cultivate a good relationship with the firearms instructors in your area. They’re capable of sending you a lot of business — as they can refer your establishment as the go-to source for the best defensive firearms, ammunition and related accessories.