By Ashley McGee
We’ve all seen the statistics. Women are the fastest-growing segment of gun owners and the majority is motivated to purchase a firearm as a means of personal and home protection. However, the best tactic dealers can deploy to capture their share of this audience is to stop making sweeping generalizations. All women are not created equal.
There’s arguably nothing women dislike more than being pigeonholed. When a woman walks into a gun store, she has already spent several months doing copious amounts of research — mostly by scouring manufacturers’ websites and by consulting with her family and friends. Rather than immediately steering her toward a hot pink lightweight compact pistol, take the time to ask questions and more importantly, listen to her answers.
What features are most important to her — concealability, weight, size, safety? What’s her experience level or budget? According to a NSSF survey of women gun owners, 91.9 percent make purchasing decisions based on which model fits their hand and body best. Whether a gun features “feminine colors” was only 9.4 percent of the decision criteria.
For this reason, Tim Voravudhi, owner of Tim’s Gun Shop in Columbia, S.C., does not stock any firearm or accessory lines specific only to women. “I don’t think it’s necessary. Instead, I carry a range of sizes and styles that would be suitable for a variety of hand sizes and body types,” he shared.
In his three years in business, Voravudhi observed most women do, however, tend to stick to smaller calibers with .22 LR, .380 and 9mm being the most popular — especially with beginners.
Like Voravudhi, firearm dealers should be honest about the pros and cons when making recommendations. “Relate these details specifically to the needs they’ve been sharing with you,” he said. The ultimate goal is to give her the information she needs to make an informed decision, not make the decision for her. Feeling like the decision was not hers will likely result in buyer’s remorse and make her less likely to return as a customer in the future.
ATP Gun Shop & Range hosts a weekly Ladies’ Night event, which has successfully
enhanced the store’s profile among women in its community. “Our Ladies’ Training
Night helps women become proactive about their personal protection, rather than
reactive,” shared Owner Aryln Pendergast.
A Ripple Effect
Word-of-mouth recommendations are far more powerful than any traditional advertising and marketing methods. There are approximately 132 million women 15 years and older in the U.S. An estimated 5.86 million of those already practice target shooting. If each of those women takes one friend shooting each month, every woman in America will have gone shooting in just over 21 months. The ripple effect from one positive experience can have long-lasting benefits on the growth of your business.
Dealers should also consider the residual benefits that often go with a firearm purchase. Regardless of motivation for buying the gun, women spend an average of $400 annually on accessories, but not on what one would assume.
Cleaning products, targets, ear and eye protection and carrying cases are purchased most frequently. Meaning, less of your marketing efforts should be focused on promoting holsters and other carry options.
Buying behavior aside, one of the most consistent findings reported in the NSSF women shooters study is that training plays a big part of a female gun owner’s overall firearm strategy. Before and after a gun purchase, more than 70 percent of women participate in some kind of training, with most taking an average of three classes.
Weekly Ladies’ Night Success
Utilizing two climate-controlled indoor ranges, ATP Gun Shop & Range in Summerville, S.C., hosts Ladies’ Training Night every Thursday. It has become so popular there are currently six class times offered each week from 3:00–6:45 p.m. For a nominal $30 fee, each participant has the opportunity to shoot .22-caliber pistols and revolvers at 15 and 25 yards. Also included are 50 rounds of ammunition, hearing and eye protection, targets, female instructors and five range passes for future visits.
Using the slogan “Shoot Like A Girl,” to empower women, ATP promotes their Ladies’ Night sessions using traditional methods like billboards and radio advertisements, but also through digital marketing with social media and videos. Each participant also receives an “I Shot Like A Girl” souvenir T-shirt. Branded with ATP’s logo, the shirts serve as grassroots marketing.
“Our Ladies’ Training Night helps women become proactive about their personal protection, rather than reactive,” said Arlyn Pendergast, owner of ATP Gun Shop & Range. He adds this offering has helped his business retain female customers. “We found for ladies, once they know how and are comfortable shooting a gun, they’ll buy bigger guns — versus men who shoot once and immediately want more.”
As far as recommendations go, Pendergast shares his “Top 5 Firearms For Women” ATP TV — the company’s YouTube channel. Topping the list is the Smith & Wesson 642 with pink grip and laser sight. He believes “feminine color” options have a greater purpose than just aesthetics. In a self-defense situation, a perpetrator who sees a woman with a pink gun is less likely to underestimate their potential victim’s capabilities. “Rather than thinking ‘does she even know how to use it?’ they’ll recognize it’s her gun and she knows how to make it go ‘bang,’” he explained.
Some may think a revolver topping the list is a surprising choice. Using an automotive analogy, Pendergast likens a revolver to an automatic transmission car versus a semi-automatic pistol, which would be a manual. With a revolver, all you’d have to do is put in bullets and pull the trigger, similar to putting your keys in the ignition and putting a car in drive. Like a car with a manual transmission, which has a clutch, a semi-automatic pistol requires several extra steps before the gun is ready to fire. For women who still prefer a semi-automatic, Pendergast recommends the Bersa .380. “It’s big enough to practice with, but small enough for carry,” he said.
Regardless of gender, there’s no one size fits all solution when it comes to firearms. This means there isn’t one solution when it comes to marketing either. Ask questions, listen and be creative.