Visiting a gun shop

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As I wrapped up writing “The Handgun Guide for Women” in 2015, I told my husband that I was adding a new chapter titled “How to Visit a Gun Shop.” John chuckled and said “That’ll be a short one. What’ll it say…’drive to the shop. Get out of your car. Go inside.” (He’s quite the humorist. Just ask him.)

My hubby’s levity notwithstanding, that particular chapter proved to be one of the most popular sections of the book. It was singled out by several reviewers, and, when I receive emails from readers, many mention it specifically.

Why? Because, despite our “I am woman; hear me roar” mentality in the 21st Century, there is still something a little intimidating about marching into the testosterone-drenched bastion of manliness that is your average gun shop. AND because, too often, the typically male sales staff either can’t or won’t make the effort to draw out the novice shooter.  If you are female, it’s easy to jump to the conclusion that “sexism” is rearing its ugly head but I’ve spent enough time behind the gun counter to know that most guys really wish women were more interested in firearms, not less. It would be a darned sight easier to sneak that new Springfield into the house if sweetie pie was also a shooter!

Of course, there certainly are those men who believe women can’t, or shouldn’t, shoot. But my experience tells me they’re the minority. My hubby (who has worked for or managed four different gun shops since retiring from law enforcement) says that negative gun shop experiences are more often related to wages and training. “Most gun shops do not pay their staff exceedingly well and, except for the big box stores, most don’t offer any kind of comprehensive sales training,” he says. “As a result, you sometimes have less motivated — or generally unskilled — salespeople.”

But for women, who are often new shooters and already feeling awkward about their lack of knowledge, all those stern male faces behind the counter can seem pretty intimidating. More so, if the sales people act disinterested, uninspired, or downright hostile.

Case in point: I received a message last week from Texan Carolyn Tice, who wanted to share two recent (and very different) gun shop experiences.

My first try was at the mom and pop where I often visit the shooting range,” she explained. “I was considering three different Rugers at the time. However, the ‘kid’ behind the counter said he could only pull out one at a time. I spent a good amount of time waiting for him to pull out, then put back, then pull out, then put back, etc. The guns were very disorganized and he had to work the entire counter to find the guns I was looking for!

Well, issue one is how the heck do you compare guns if you can only have one out at a time? I’ve visited gun shops where this is the policy but it makes no sense to me, from a customer service standpoint.

As far as grouping merchandise for display, I’ve seen shops group by brand, by style, or even by price point. Each has its strengths and weaknesses, but it really shouldn’t be an issue so long as the salesman (or woman) is allowed to grab several at once to compare for the customer. Limiting your staff to showing one gun at a time conveys a distrust of your customers, your sales staff, or both!

But Carolyn’s experience got worse…

Carolyn reported that her salesman finally “pulled out a SIG P238 and informed me that if I didn’t buy the P238, I wouldn’t be able to kill anyone…” 

Excuse me? Is that the new gun lobby slogan… “guns don’t kill people; Sigs kill people”? I’m a big fan of Sigs, but, last time I checked, they aren’t the only lethal weapon on the market.   

Carolyn’s husband then stepped into the discussion and wisely pointed out that bullet placement, not brand name, determine how much damage you do in a personal defense encounter.

The couple wisely exited that particular shop. 

I was very disappointed, but not ready to give up. Next, we went to Carter’s Country,” Carolyn recalls. “We were also looking for a couple of items…among other things, I needed a new clip for my Bersa Thunder .380. I started looking around and the gentleman helping us (he was 74 years old) started asking me questions about what I was looking for. I told him and he promptly pulled all three Rugers out and laid them side-by-side. He then went on to talk about each one in a language I could understand. I told him my problem with my husband’s Ruger 9 mm – it was just tooooo loud for me and that and the possible recoil scared me. He then pulled out the SIG P238. It was a LOT more than I ever intended to spend, but when he described the gun and pointed out several similarities to the Bersa Thunder I was using, it was a no-brainer for me. The salesman spent a lot of unrushed time with me and made me feel really good and quite comfortable with the P238.

I was relieved to hear that Carolyn’s experience at the second shop was much improved. Sounds like she not only got a great salesman, but also someone whose lifelong love of guns and shooting made him eager to share his expertise. And, the best news of all for that shop, was that he managed to upsell her a more expensive gun (and a very good one) while securing a permanent customer. You can bet that, the next time Carolyn and her husband have firearms needs, they won’t mess around trying out other shops…they’ll go straight to the guy who treated them well.

Carolyn’s story is only one example of why I added that chapter to my book. I wanted to offer some tips on what women might anticipate — and SHOULD demand — from a firearms retailer. And I wanted to make sure lady shooters understood that, no matter how negative their first experience might have been, there ARE shops out there that will value your patronage and work hard to keep it.

Guns are not only a costly investment but they should never be an impulse buy (at least not if you are a first-time buyer)! New shooters, be they male or female, should always feel comfortable asking questions and weighing their options carefully. It behooves gun shop owners to emphasize customer service and to make sure their sales staff has at least a basic understanding of the products they are selling.

For my part, I would like to spotlight the folks who do things RIGHT! I was fortunate to work for Olde English Outfitters in Tipp City, OH for several years — and to experience a shop that genuinely cares about its customers. I know there are others out there and I’d like to develop an evolving list of competent and attentive retailers. Feel free to message me on my Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/GunGirlsBook/ or email me at handgunguide@gmail.com with your recommendations. And, if you work for a great gun shop — especially one that specializes in new or female shooters — check in with me. I’d like to  give you a shout-out in my blog and on my FB page. Women are the fastest growing demographic in the firearms industry, and catering to their concerns and questions just seems like a shrewd business move to me.

Cutline # 10

A little time and attention can quickly convert a new shooter (of any gender) into a lifelong customer.

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