December 5, 2019
Focus On First-Time CCW Customers
In October, NICS performed nearly 2.4 million firearm background checks (unadjusted). This figure slightly surpasses those from the corresponding month in 2016 — a year when firearms sales were at their peak, setting several records.
While firearm background check figures are a common metric used to measure the health of the gun industry, those who work in the industry know it isn’t a reflection of the actual number of firearms sold or sales dollars. What it does depict is there’s still a healthy demand for firearms and one of the areas with the most opportunity is concealed carry weapons.
According to the Census Bureau, there are an estimated 256 million adults currently living in the United States. However, the 2019 Concealed Carry Report by the Crime Prevention Research Center revealed only 18.66 million (7.3%) have a concealed carry permit or license.
With this many potential buyers on the market, the million-dollar (or multi-million) question then becomes how can firearms retailers not only outfit first-time customers, but also keep them coming back to their store for more?
Understanding First-Time CCW Customers
If your goal is to attract new customers and keep those customers coming back, the first step is to understand their motivations for wanting to carry concealed in the first place. Purchases by first-time CCW customers are often initiated by emotion.
“Oftentimes a first-time CCW customer says they can’t believe they are here, but they are because of fear for their safety and well-being,” revealed Ben Romanoff, owner of Ace Sporting Goods in Washington, Pa. “We also see customers who are reactive because something has happened to someone close to them.”
Knowing this, Romanoff shared their primary strategy is to ask questions first. Once they have an understanding of the customer’s primary motivations and intentions, the focus shifts toward educating the customer based on their individual needs and skill levels.
“Explaining the difference and intended use of firearms, going over basic safe firearm handling procedures and suggesting taking concealed carry classes helps ease the mind of first-time buyers,” he said. “This has to be done without confusing the customer and offering too much information at one time.”
Asking questions like how do you plan on carrying your pistol or where are you going to store it at home not only helps identify what firearm may be best for a customer, but it can also help with add-on sales.
“And with the influx of internet sales racing to the bottom, add-on sales are imperative,” Romanoff added.
Product Knowledge & Selection
Ace Sporting Goods not only stocks a large variety of CCW pistols, but also a sizeable variety of holsters, accessories and defensive ammunition.
Having a wide product selection can be appealing to a potential first-time CCW customer, but to some, it can seem overwhelming. It’s important for staff to be knowledgeable about the unique features and benefits of each firearm in order to tailor their recommendations to each individual.
“We take the time to explain the difference and benefits of each firearm so the customer can make an educated decision on what is the best way for them to carry,” Romanoff said.
“Typically a revolver is the best suggestion for the first-time buyer, as we all know more can go wrong with a semi-pistol than a wheelgun,” he added. “But the reality is they usually want the smallest pistol on the market regardless of the ease of use.”
For Ace, sales of the little pocket .380s have slowed and the smaller 9mms have been selling very well. According to Romanoff, the Smith & Wesson M&P 380 Shield EZ designed to be female-friendly has been very successful, as well as the SIG SAUER P365 and new Hellcat from Springfield Armory, which have been flying off the shelves.
Offering both new and used firearms, with the option of a four-month layaway program, allows their customers to afford a higher-end firearm they otherwise may not be able to. Additionally, Ace Sporting Goods warrants every gun sold, new or used, for the first year.
To expand sales beyond the firearm Romanoff informed they also show customers how to field strip their new pistol and explain what products are best to clean and maintain their new purchase.
Consumable products like ammunition, targets and cleaning products are a great way to encourage returning customers.
Education & Hands-On Training
While the goal of every firearms retailer is to increase sales and profitability, it’s important not to forget the critical role one plays in terms of education and safety.
Gene Schrieber, owner of Cypress Creek Indoor Range in Florence, Ala., said experienced shooters usually come into the store and already know what they want, whereas first-timers may have an idea but often need more guidance.
“It’s important to us we educate first-time customers not only on features and functions but also basic instruction on handling,” he stated. “We follow that with conversations about what comes next, such as responsible gun storage and proper carrying with proper equipment.”
Customers are also given a guided tour of Cypress Creek’s facility, including the opportunity to shoot because “You don’t know if a gun is right for you until it goes bang,” Schreiber noted.
Potential customers are encouraged to sign up for a Handgun 101 class designed for new handgun owners or those who have not yet purchased a handgun. Topics include functionality and considerations of revolvers and semi-automatic handguns, proper shooting techniques and carry considerations.
By giving customers the knowledge and skills to make an informed purchasing decision themselves rather than simply telling them what they need to buy, they are able to build relationships to keep customers coming back.
Another driver of repeat business is Cypress Creek’s variety of training classes and range membership options. Once someone has completed one of the basic firearm training classes like Handgun 101, they can enroll in a concealed weapon class. This course includes discussion of laws, equipment considerations and techniques of carrying a concealed firearm as well as different scenarios and decision-making, followed by an hour of range time.
Other course offerings include a youth introduction to firearms class and a survival class designed for women.
“Shooting is a perishable skill,” Schrieber asserted. “So, while we encourage first-timers to enroll in our courses, we also stress the importance of continual practice.”
Cypress Creek offers individuals, family and corporate membership options with benefits including up to one-week advance lane reservations, four free FFL transfers, guest passes and exclusive access to a members-only lounge.
Stick To The Basics
When it comes to attracting first-time CCW customers and converting them to repeat customers, retailers shouldn’t stress about coming up with innovative, out-of-the-box strategies. Instead, stick to the basics. Start with knowledgeable staff, offer a wide product selection at a competitive price and serve as a trusted resource for education and training.
Once those areas are met, focus on identifying ways to differentiate yourself from the competition whether it is through your warranty or return policy or a members-only lounge for range members. The opportunities are there and the possibilities are endless.