By Massad Ayoob
When there is a downturn in any industry, it never hurts to “return to the core.” In sales of firearms to the law-abiding public, the self-defense market is the strongest core. Surveys show more people buy firearms to protect themselves and their families than for any other purpose.
Self defense, quite simply, equals survival. Thus, we shouldn’t be surprised when money becomes tight or sales turn downward for other reasons in this industry, defensive firearms will be the last to be affected. To the benefit of the retailer, there is a much broader demographic of customers (urban, younger, female) now than there was eight years ago.
Concealed Carry Growth
More private citizens are now legal to carry loaded and concealed weapons in public today than ever before. Thirty years ago, there were seven states where there was no provision for a private citizen, as opposed to a police officer or licensed armed security guard, to carry a concealed handgun in public. Today, all seven of those states are “shall issue.” In more states than not, concealed carry permits were distributed on a “may issue” basis three decades ago, which granted great arbitrary discretion to the issuing authorities. Now, only a few states still follow “may issue” and the majority has gone with the reform model of “shall issue” — requiring those authorities to grant permits to all law-abiding applicants or show good cause for why not.
Recently, we’ve seen the expansion of the Vermont model of permit-less carry. For most of the 20th century, Vermont was the only state that didn’t demand a permit to carry a loaded, concealed handgun in public, but merely forbade convicted felons or those adjudicated mentally incompetent to do so. In the 1990s, Alaska became the second state to go this route. Then came Arizona. Of late, we’ve seen many more, and we’re now into more than a dozen states with what some call Constitutional Carry.
All these trends have more good people carrying guns — and in need of a shop like yours at which to buy them, including all the necessary accessories.
A Different Type Of Wardrobe
The new concealed carrier basically needs to address three wardrobes: one of concealment clothing, concealment holsters and concealable firearms.
Some gun shops have found concealment garments such as vests (think brands like CCW Breakaways) to be small but reliable profit centers. A much more natural “wardrobe line” for a gun shop, of course, is holsters. IWB holsters break up the gun’s outline from the top of the belt down, and hold the gun tighter to the body for better concealment. For some, particularly self-conscious new carriers, it can be a critical selling point. However, a larger pistol inside the waistband requires pants about two inches larger in the waistband for comfortable all-day concealment. Thus, most who carry also want at least one outside-the-belt scabbard for the comfort factor.
In addition, “homemade” Kydex holsters have so widely proliferated there’s probably someone who has a small business making them near you; consider having a chat with the business owner about picking up at least one IWB and OWB model you like and getting a good volume deal. Heck, maybe they’ll even affix your store’s brand to it!
Now, let’s look at the wardrobe of guns. Many of us quote holster-maker John Bianchi who said “Bianchi’s Law” was the same gun, in the same kind of holster, in the same place, all the time. It’s certainly valid, but it’s also true the customer can conceal and carry bigger guns under winter coats than beneath untucked summer T-shirts. None of us wear the exact same clothing or footwear in all seasons and social situations, and your customer soon finds the same concept to apply where handguns are concerned.
Consider the wearer in those tight summer jeans and tucked-in shirt: A tiny, wafer-thin subcompact .380 (which will fit discreetly in a pants pocket) seems to be the only viable option. But when the weather cools enough to allow a light jacket or untucked polo, a flat subcompact 9mm might be better suited. And, if the customer has learned on the range he or she can shoot better with a service-size gun that still conceals well under heavier clothing, well … this is how a concealed carry handgun wardrobe evolves by itself. Some encouragement and guidance by the dealer can, of course, expedite the process.
As the concealed carry handgun wardrobe grows, so does the holster wardrobe — if the dealer makes the customer aware of the options. Not every new CCW wearer reads gun books and magazines and knows about ankle holsters, pocket holsters, bellybands and the myriad of other useful options.
Mitchell Swanson of Fox Firearms in Grants Pass, Ore., lays out an
array of GLOCKs to show a potential buyer a viable “wardrobe” of
concealable 9mm pistols.
Sell The Gift Of Peace Of Mind
For some concealed carriers, the gun will save their lives — perhaps more than once. For all of them, however, the concealed defensive handgun gives a peace of mind adding to quality of life. Once the new carrier comes to appreciate this, he or she wants to share it with others they care about.
This presents an opportunity for you.
Give some thought on putting together a program allowing your customers to gift a gun, holster, a quantity of carry and practice ammo and perhaps even a safety lesson to a friend or loved one. The easiest way is to do it is in gift certificate form. It saves returns, and allows the recipients to pick the gun, holster, etc. that works best for them. (And it saves having to explain the difference between a gift and a straw purchase, too, since it’s the ultimate user who will end up filling out the 4473.) Make it available in an array of price ranges, and advertise, “Give the Gift of Peace of Mind” during such gift-giving seasons as Valentine’s Day and the year-end holidays.
While the so-called “panic buying” may be over, the personal-defense market will remain a solid segment of the retail firearms industry.