The phrase “a woman’s touch” used to refer to a heavy dose of feminine décor in an otherwise masculine space. In the firearm industry, however, a woman’s touch has led to some remarkable changes in the way gun stores conduct business. As more and more women get involved in the shooting sports, the industry has seen a corresponding increase in the number of women owning gun stores and ranges. As a result, the needs of women are being taken into greater consideration and stores are devoting more of their floor space to women’s products.
Becky Bieker, owner of She’s A Pistol in Shawnee, Kan., noticed it took some time for others to understand the concept of a store geared toward women and run by a woman. “The biggest challenge has been getting past other people’s immediate assumptions that someone else is in charge,” Bieker noted. “We get a lot of calls from sales reps asking for the ‘guy in charge’ of purchasing, etc. I quickly set them straight.”
The staff at She’s A Pistol focuses on finding the right item for a customer by listening to his or her needs. “I think I look at products differently than most shops,” Bieker remarked. “We offer plenty of pink items, instead of just the standard black and stainless. We try to make the shop a place where customers like to spend time. Also, we listen to customers, who are often a source of ideas and help us identify trends in the market.”
Products designed by women, for women, are very popular at She’s A Pistol. “We seek out new items designed for ladies. We have brought in a number of products, including multiple bra holsters and the NORB (No Ordinary Range Bag) that have been designed by ladies, for ladies,” Bieker noted.
NORB is a new product from OffHand Gear, designed to reduce the amount of bags a woman needs to carry to the range. The messenger-style range bag is made from durable, water-resistant fabrics and can be worn either cross-body or side-carry. A large main compartment has enough room for ammo, eye-protection, ear-protection, a small cleaning kit and more. The rear compartment has two pockets for pistols, which can be accessed from outside of the bag with an ambidextrous zipper.
The NORB is the complete package, offering front compartments to hold a cell phone, two magazine holders and an additional mesh pouch for keys, hair ties, lipstick and anything else a woman might need. The front flap is lined with Slip-Not fabric that doubles as a range pad when open.
One of the first things customers will notice when they visit a store or range owned and operated by women is training and education are top priority. “We have training for everyone — from beginners to experienced shooting enthusiasts,” Bieker said. “We also offer training for a variety of things, from open-hand defense to pepper spray to firearms.”
Sandy Springs Gun Club offers a comfortable, welcoming atmosphere for women and novice shooters,
contributing to the range’s goal of providing quality customer service.
Customer service is a driving force behind Sandy Springs Gun Club and Range in Sandy Springs, Ga., and Norcross Gun Club and Range in Norcross, Ga., owned by sisters Robyn Marzullo and Cara Workman. The idea of running a gun range was born from the sisters’ own frustrating experiences when they wanted to learn about firearms.
“Cara and I came from a commercial real estate background and worked together in our family business for several years,” Marzullo said. “Cara mentioned learning how to shoot and, after visiting several ranges, we realized there were not many places we felt comfortable going to as women and novice shooters.” The sisters started researching the shooting industry and they opened their first location two years later.
From the beginning, they set out to create a business with superior customer service — providing educational opportunities for both men and women.
“As women business owners, we are able to bring confidence, edge and a new philosophy to the previously male-dominated firearm industry by creating a comfortable and safe atmosphere to appeas to both men and women,” Marzullo said. “Our corporate backgrounds serve as a platform for practical business operations and professionalism, which are enhanced by our understanding of providing quality customer service to every patron that walks in the door. We pride ourselves in maintaining a safe, friendly and comfortable environment, and we believe our customers recognize us for such.”
The Extra Effort
Both ranges offer a ladies day, complete with free range time for women, private lessons with NRA-certified female instructors, women-only handgun fundamentals courses, family-friendly group training and competitive shooting leagues. Pro shops carrying products with women in mind — such as compact firearms, range bags, concealed carry purse holsters, clothing and non-lethal defense options — make a day at the range a complete experience. Marzullo stresses women really appreciate customer service.
“Truthfully, our best-selling women’s product is our customer service,” she said. “Women want to shop where they feel comfortable. Women sign up for classes at our range because they feel comfortable with our staff from the minute they walk in the door and are eager to learn more. We’ve found women don’t gravitate toward any one particular item but to what suits them best.
“Our knowledgeable staff is well trained to identify the customer’s needs and provide suggestions on what products and options are available,” Marzullo stated. “The majority of women who are novice shooters come in with two primary goals — to learn how to safely and properly handle a firearm to protect themselves and their family, and to find a firearm to purchase for personal- or home-protection. We encourage an individual or group lesson where customers will receive personalized attention and the opportunity to shoot a variety of guns from our rental counter. From this experience they’re more comfortable in taking an active role in their firearm purchase.”
The increase of women in the shooting sports has lead successful businesses to focus on education and training. Dealers should provide a retail and range atmosphere where both men and women feel comfortable, and where creating shooters — not gun owners — is the top priority. As more and more women participate in the shooting sports and become more prominent in the business side of the industry, the customer service bar will continue to rise.
By Lisa Parsons-Wraith
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