December 10, 2019
Self-Defense Sales “Beyond The Gun”
So, you just sold someone a new GLOCK 19. But before your satisfied customer heads out the front door of the shop, is there more you can do? Is there anything else you can convince this customer to buy?
Of course, if you want to stay in business during these not-so-turbulent times the answer needs to be “yes.” The trick is figuring out, exactly, what it is you can offer customers before they head home to shop for accessories online. It pays to have a strategy built around getting them to spend at least some of their accessories money in your shop.
“There’s no money in guns. It’s all in the accessories,” advised Keith Stewart, owner of Firearms Solutions in Duncan, Okla.
By and large, his customers are more likely to buy less-expensive models and then will drop by the store over time to upgrade triggers, magazines, sights and other accessories.
“They can buy it a piece at a time. Eventually, they’ll have the gun they want,” Stewart said. “The customer ends up spending about the same, but it’s more money for the shop.”
And in the world of self-defense purchases, it’s not always about the gun.
Big Horn Trading, in Sheridan, Wyo., does a brisk business in knives. They carry a wide range of options from manufacturers including Al Mar, Böker, Cold Steel, Randle and Hogue, with prices ranging from $10 to $500.
“They’re a heck of a good tool. Someone who has an appreciation for good tools will spend the money,” said Owner John Lundberg.
In addition to selling out of the shop, they also run a booth at local street festivals once a month, where they sell 30 to 40 knives a night. Though many of their buyers might not be thinking about self-defense, they shouldn’t be dismissed as an option.
“They’re quite practical,” he informed. “Knives are also a backup for what they might carry on their hip.”
Holsters & Ammo
It’s difficult to discuss self-defense accessories without talking about holsters and ammo. The two items are probably the easiest upsell for the customer about to walk out the door with his or her new GLOCK 19.
With so many different models of guns on the market, both shops have largely given up on trying to carry model-specific holsters. Instead, they focus on universal-style holsters that might fit three or four different models.
“You could have a store full of holsters and still not have the one someone is looking for,” said Stewart at Firearms Solutions.
His favorite brands are 1791 Gunleather, Versacarry and Stealth Operator in a mix of Kydex and leather — and in different carry styles, including IWB, paddle and belt slide holsters.
“I seem to always have what somebody might be looking for,” he noted.
In Wyoming, where shop space is at a premium, Lundberg is partial to Tagua holsters: “They fit pretty well. Not superb, but they get the job done.”
One of his favorite holster recommendations is the Tanker holster by El Paso Saddlery. It’s a shoulder holster ideal for people riding horses and ATVs or wearing backpacks.
As for ammo, neither of these stores considers it a big moneymaker.
“Being a smaller shop, it’s difficult to match the big shop prices. I try to carry the good stuff. When they need it, I have it,” Lundberg said.
Without having a range attached to the store, his sales of plinking ammo tend to lag behind the stuff designed for self-defense. It helps he considers it his responsibility to keep up on the latest ammo reviews so he can have the best options in stock. He knows many of his customers aren’t sure what to look for when shopping for self-defense loads.
“I try to stay abreast of innovations in the marketplace. My job is to arm the public and teach them what to do and how to do it,” he asserted.
Back in Oklahoma, Stewart has better luck selling range ammo — with many customers balking at the price of self-defense rounds. Still, ammo remains one of the first options they offer customers.
“It’s always our first question as soon as we sell any gun,” he shared. “We always try to make sure they have ammo when they walk out the door.”
Firing Range Brings Opportunity…
In Stewart’s case, it doesn’t hurt his shop includes a range — which leads to several opportunities to generate revenue.
“Over the last three to four years, if it wasn’t for the range, I don’t know if we would have survived,” he revealed. “It’s a huge pain in the butt. It’s a ton of maintenance. But it’s just massive for us.”
The Firearms Solutions team uses it for more than just collecting range fees and boosting ammo/target sales: They use it to offer incentives for gun buyers. Every purchase includes a one-time range pass. They also sell $150 range memberships, which offer discounts on training classes and free FFL transfers (some people buy a membership for this perk alone).
“I look at those memberships like free money. A lot of people buy one on an impulse, and never use it,” Stewart added.
The range also provides the opportunity to offer classes, including a CCW permit class, and several varieties of practical pistol courses. Those classes generate revenue, both through class fees and by spurring additional sales — inspiring students to consider new holsters, speed loaders and guns as they watch the instructor.
“Every time we take a break during class, they’ll walk around the store and take a look at things,” he said. “It all feeds itself.”
… But Not Critical
Big Horn Trading, however, makes a case for why a range isn’t critical for survival. They’ve expanded beyond the traditional gun shop model, venturing into the pawn business and catering to the prepper/survivalist markets. They also have an affiliation with a local gun club.
“We funnel people from the store to the range and we sell memberships,” shared Lundberg, who has no interest in adding a range to his own store: “I know of some ranges in large cities that struggle. I’m not willing to go down that road.”
The relationship with the local range provides a venue for the classes offered by Lundberg and his wife, Kathy.
“When she does a class, we’ll have a selection of pistols to try out. They have the opportunity to handle several different calibers, sizes and weights,” he said. “If they find something they like, we can bring it in for them, or sell them the one on the shelf.”
The Online Conundrum
One of the more frustrating elements of non-gun sales is it’s harder to quantify exactly how much damage is being done by online competitors. With guns, you have a pretty good idea of lost sales by the number of FFL transfers that come into your shop. But when someone buys a new set of sights or magazines from an online retailer, you’re out of the loop.
“Online sales can kill your brick-and-mortar ones real fast,” Stewart confirmed. “Accessories have to be even worse than gun sales.”
One of the ways he’s fought back is by offering an additional service — free installation of accessories purchased in the store. It includes those extras purchases for AR-style rifles, as well as installation and bore-sighting of scopes. (This service could easily be translated to suit your concealed carry customers.)
“It seems to help our sales a lot,” he said. “It gets people to think about buying from us.”
For Lundberg, it’s about finding a niche and developing a relationship with a loyal customer base. The first he accomplishes by focusing on building a strong inventory of used guns. The shop is known for buying from and trading with customers. That also means he’s likely to have more than just the standard offerings his customers might find elsewhere.
“People understand they might find some interesting stuff in the store,” Lundberg explained.
They also work to create a friendly atmosphere that encourages those loyal customers to keep the shop in mind: “I’ve got a regular base of customers who come in once a week to see what’s new. Sometimes they buy stuff. Sometimes they don’t.”
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