September 28, 2021
Customers Want to Test Optics on Guns. Let Them.
Optics are a funny thing for new gun owners. It’s contrarian that a tube of precision-made pieces of glass should be mounted atop a steel machine that houses and directs small explosions, but without scopes there would be no long-range shooting or precision shooting.
While their workings are not wildly complicated in principle, scopes are removed enough from what most folks deal with or work with on a day-to-day basis that they possess an air of mystery until a shooter gets used to them and their workings, or maybe after they break one or two.
Good glass is more accessible than ever today, especially now with long-range and precision shooting activities becoming more popular. For the customer, looking at a scope, holding it up to peer through it and reading a detailed explanation of the reticle’s design and how it works are great—the customer likely would prefer to shoulder a stock and look down the scope the way they would when actually shooting. So let them, and you don’t need a range to do it.
If you move a lot of glass and have a lot of customers who have snapped up bolt guns, pistol caliber carbines or modern sporting rifles during the buying surge, they are going to want to mount scopes on them sooner or later. Brick-and-mortar stores and range-retail facilities can offer something no website can—the ability to actually aim through a scope, spin the turrets, see how clear the glass is, how sharp the reticle looks and feel how easily or stiffly the ocular bell turns to adjust the zoom. That matters more for moderate or high-priced optics than maybe any other gun accessory.
Utilize Display Models
It’s wise to consider having display models available for the most popular scopes, but it’s not enough to only have the scopes available for perusal at a customer’s request.
If you’re going to sacrifice inventory as floor models, you might as well go all the way. Keep rings or one-piece mounts attached to these display scopes. If a customer is interested, hand them the display model and ask if they would like to see it mounted.
Then you pull out the scope tester. There are a number of ways to construct one. You can even buy one.
Blue Guns makes a great deal of accurate polymer-molded models of firearms that are frequently used for training purposes. While most people think of handgun facsimiles when they think of “Blue Guns,” the company also makes a wide variety of long guns. Many of them, like the flat-top M4s, have optics rails just like the real thing, making it easy to attach a scope with a mount on it so a customer can check out the eye relief and actually bring the optic to their shoulder and aim through it while, say, trying out the throw lever.
Even Blue Gun models that don’t come with a rail in the mold can be easily outfitted with one. Just take a rail segment and use self-tapping screws to bolt it right into the polymer of the Blue Gun receiver in the proper place. After all, it doesn’t have to hold up to recoil. Just make sure you use screws long enough so that you get a secure fit.
Or, consider airsoft guns—the kind that are licensed by gun manufacturers and look and operate like the real thing, not the knockoffs made from clear plastic. They’re relatively inexpensive and most come with standard Pic rails for optics. Many handgun models, like SIG Sauer’s airsoft version of the P320, even come with slides milled for real micro red-dot mounting plates. That’s a great and safe way to show off those optics.
I’m not exactly sure where vendors get those stocks with fake receivers and rails that they use to show off scopes at SHOT Show® and NRAAM, but maybe look into those too. If that’s the way scope companies show off their newest and best products to the shooting and hunting world, it should work on your sales floor just as well.
Another option is creating your own dummy long gun for in-store optics testing out of spare parts, if you happen to have some around. Important note though: Should you create a dummy long gun it could still be seen by ATF as a firearm and should therefore be treated appropriately and not simply left out as a display. It’s also a wise move to consult with your local ATF office for guidance on “doing it right” and get it in writing while you’re at it. Additionally, keep in mind that going this route may require you or your staff to mount scopes on such “testers” upon request. That’s a great service but having a few blue gun displays with top sellers pre-mounted might be the way to go anyway. For an MSR, you’d need a stripped upper with a rail, a stripped lower, pistol grip, buffer tube and a stock. These days, that’s a lot of inventory to sacrifice for this purpose, but in normal times it isn’t, and every so often you end up with a damaged upper or lower that can again serve a purpose.
If you get a used, gnarly or just plain beat-up shotgun or rifle that really isn’t worth the work or expense to refurbish, break it down for parts. Take out the bolt, remove the trigger, even remove the barrel and there’s your optics dummy gun.
A barrel-less receiver will allow customers to point the scope wherever they wish without feeling like they’re muzzling someone while still allowing them to check out the eye relief and feel of the scope.
Allow Customers to Range Test Optics
Range operators, of course, have more effective options. If there’s a specific scope and rifle combination that works well and sells well, have that gun and optic set up as a rental. Be sure it’s zeroed. This goes for all optics, including red dots.
Just like firearms, nothing inspires confidence in an optic purchase like a range test. And if they’re a newbie, turn the turrets a bit and use three rounds or so to show them how to zero the scope they’re hopefully going to walk out with in a bag a few minutes later.
If you feel comfortable and have a good relationship with a customer, consider allowing them to bring the firearm that’s in need of an optic to the range and use it to take the test models for a spin. If a customer knows they can actually shoot with a scope at your range, they’ll do their browsing online and likely come to you for the test drive and purchase.
What it comes down to is the confidence a customer feels when they make their purchase. After all, a quality scope is a big ticket item for most people, and disappointment in an optic that isn’t quite what they hoped for when they get it on their gun at home can lead to a particularly bad case of buyer’s remorse. That is not good for repeat business.
Satisfaction in an optic at purchase that is matched by satisfaction with the optic on a customer’s gun will lead to a more positive experience when setting up the rifle, a better first range session zeroing it in, and, hopefully, more shooting and more frequent range trips, which is good for everyone involved and will help your bottom line.
It’s Worth a Try
For those with gun shops and no shooting range, if you decide to add an optics tester rifle to your counter, put a zeroing target somewhere on the wall a decent distance away, if your space allows for it. It’s something for the customer to focus the scope on that is away from customers, and you can also give newbies a quick lesson in how to use such a target to zero their scope at the range later.