Being a good retail customer

In a previous blog entry I tackled the expectations a customer should have when visiting a firearms retailer. Today, let’s turn the tables and dissect the topic from the other side of the counter.

Gun shops, just like every other retailer in the country, exist for one purpose — to make a profit. There may be many other, more noble reasons for their existence, but the bottom line is: if a profit isn’t made, nothing else matters. Doors close. Lights go out. Employees are dismissed. So it’s important that shop owners and employees alike remember that the goal is to acquire — and retain — customers. Doing so demands more than good prices or a convenient location; it requires knowledge, patience, and a spirit of service.

BUT — it is equally important for the customer to put some effort into being the kind of patron that makes a salesperson break into a grin. By earning the status of “valued customer” you have also earned a lifelong resource for firearms information, accessories and activities. You’ve earned unbiased opinions and technical advice from folks who live and breathe gun stuff. And, on those rare occasions when something goes wrong with your brand new firearm, you simply have to hand it to your pals behind the counter and let them fight with the manufacturer. You just can’t get that from a mail order company and you often can’t get it from a mega store that just happens to have a gun department! A real “mom and pop” shop staffed by true blue “gun goobers” is always a customer’s best bet.

It’s kinda like dating; you want to be the best possible person so that you attract the best possible person! So what can you do to become the best customer…thus attracting the best retail support?

Recommendation 1:  Know the basic rules of gun handling — or ask the salesperson to instruct you. I used to cringe when I handed a gun across the counter and the customer’s first action was to crook their finger around the trigger and point that muzzle straight at me! Of course, when you work behind a gun counter, you actually get used to having guns pointed at you. It happens all day long, but it’s usually just for an instant, and it’s virtually unavoidable in a busy shop. Still, it is easier to concentrate on providing good service when you are dealing with someone who already understands that fingers stay off triggers and muzzles stay pointed up or down. And no, I don’t necessarily expect a beginner to know these things — but I do expect them to ask.

Recommendation 2: If you are visiting a gun shop to look at guns, please be willing to touch them. Seriously, I’ve had to literally wrap fingers and thumbs around the grip, while the customer holds the gun at arm’s length, visibly repulsed. Most often, it is a female patron with a hubby, boyfriend or dad who is determined to get her interested in shooting. It rarely works. But, every so often, even a female on her own gets skittish about handling a gun. If you are serious enough to be considering a gun purchase, please understand that achieving firearms proficiency requires actually holding the weapon!

So long as you’re shopping at a professional operation, nothing bad is going to happen. The gun will not discharge, explode, or otherwise harm you. Trust your sales person and let him or her walk you through the mechanics of gun handling.

Recommendation 3: Be respectful of the salesperson’s time. Playing a game of 20 questions is fine if the shop isn’t crowded. As I say repeatedly, a gun shop should be an informational resource for new shooters. BUT, if the counter is stacked 5 deep and the sales staff are running around like ants on crack, it might be better to see if you can make an appointment for a one-on-one consultation. Many gun shops will accommodate this, or, at a minimum, ask someone when it might be more convenient to pop in with a list of questions. (Caveat: if they act like you’re crazy for having a list of questions, you are in the wrong shop anyway, so move along!)

Recommendation 4: Don’t dismantle the gun without asking (this doesn’t usually apply to newbies…but often applies to the friends they bring with them). You may know how — and you may want to show your buddies that you know how — but that gun doesn’t belong to you yet. As soon as you sign form 4473 and pass the background check, you can proceed to dismantle your new toy (depending on whether your state allows you to take it home immediately). If you’re not sure how to take it apart, most counter staff will gladly demonstrate the process. But we do get tired of having to pause and reassemble a gun that you “coulda sworn went back together easier than that.”

Recommendation 5: If you are seriously planning to ask questions and gather information, please don’t bring your know-it-all father/brother/boyfriend/husband who wants to show off his knowledge (and who is probably already annoyed that you aren’t relying solely on his advice.) It’s been my experience that your male friend/relative often lacks some of the information you are seeking (and you probably know that, or you wouldn’t be questioning your local gun goober). As your salesperson, I don’t want to have to correct your beloved, but if he is giving you bad information, I kinda have to say something! Like the fellow who insisted to his petite and timid novice shooter girlfriend that an Airweight .357 magnum would be very comfortable for her to shoot (uh…not likely); or the guy who insisted to his wife (and her shooting instructor) that a Ruger single action .22 cowboy revolver was a “great carry gun” (uh…double no); or the fellow who argued that setting the safety on a Sig P238 was “optional” (oh, hell, no). A good salesperson knows when to shut up and not interfere with family dynamics — but when those dynamics involve a potentially bad, or tragic, decision on your part, we HAVE to speak up. If you want to avoid an uncomfortable situation, come to the gun shop solo and ask your questions. Then you can research the information for yourself and have a follow-up discussion with your all-knowing spouse/boyfriend/father.

Recommendation 6: Have a price range in mind. My hubby spends his days asking shoppers what type of gun they are looking for and, most important, how much they want to spend. “Knowing their budget helps me narrow the list to 4 or 5 guns that we can compare and contrast,” he explains. “I hate it when someone says ‘I want the best’ without understanding what that really means.  So I hand them an Ed Brown and they almost faint at the price tag. You have to have some idea of what you can afford to pay. The bottom line is, don’t waste your local Ferrari dealer’s time when all you can afford is a Volkswagen.”

Recommendation 7: Don’t expect a rush job. The process of buying a gun, from start to finish, takes a minimum of roughly 20-30 minutes. Even if you walk in with a specific gun in mind, there’s still paperwork to be done, there’s still a process. “It’s like telling your doctor you want the surgery but you only have 15 minutes to spare,” my hubby grumbles good-naturedly. “And if you’re gun shopping on a day when three-quarters of the country has the same idea — like Black Friday — be prepared to wait even longer!” And he’s right — I’ve seen the national background check service become so overwhelmed that it simply shuts down. Meanwhile, customers are pacing in frustration, sometimes threatening “to go buy my gun somewhere else.” Well good luck with that. If the system is down…it’s down EVERYWHERE!

Recommendation 8: Don’t blame the individual gun shop for following the rules. Yes, you need photo ID with a current address. No, your buddy can’t fill out the form for you. No, you can’t buy that handgun yet, even though you’ll be 21 in four weeks. No, we can’t make an exception for your domestic violence conviction, even though you’re no longer married to that person. And no, the special military pricing for Glock Blue Label products doesn’t apply to you if you’re still in ROTC. Firearms dealers can get in serious trouble if they don’t follow the rules.  If you find one who offers to “cut you a deal,” with a wink and a nod, you should run as fast and as far away from him as you can.

So there you have it: A few well-intentioned tips for beginners (or those who can’t figure out why the sales staff runs and hides when you walk through the door). Building a solid relationship takes work, and the best customer-merchant connections happen when each party is considerate and appreciative of the other.
In fact, that’s a pretty good recipe for ALL relationships!

All shapes and sizes

There are all kinds of guns out there waiting to be purchased and properly used. The best way to find what you want and need (at a price you’re happy to pay) is by building a long-term relationship with a trustworthy and professional firearms retailer.

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