Does training generate profits for gun dealers? Oh, yeah! And more dealers than ever have discovered it lately out of necessity. The recent product shortages forced dealers to look in new directions to keep their bills paid and their doors open.
Even in times of plentiful product, offering training by in-house gun shop staff or sponsoring outside instructors generates traffic and product sales. Not long ago, I taught an advanced course at the Sand Bur Gun Ranch, in Rochester, Ind. Dennis Reichard, the owner, told me they sold a gun to one out of every six students. They also took in guns from nearly half of the students for in-shop custom gunsmithing, as recommended in the course. Ammo sales went up about 20 percent during that week — which isn’t counting ammo reserved and paid for beforehand by attendees.
This brings up the matter of ammo sales: Some students will invariably bring their own ammo. But — sales tip here — a surprisingly large number are accustomed to “one-stop shopping.” When students fly in, they can only bring 11 pounds of ammunition with them, which isn’t enough for a course of any significant length. It’s actually more cost-effective for many of them (and more convenient for all of them) to simply pay you for the ammo you’ll have there ready for them when they arrive. Never forget, for many serious students of the gun, they have more money than they have time.
One more sales tip in this regard: remind students up front, when you advertise the class, and again when you sign them up to attend, that you have this service available! I can attest it’s worth it to pay a little more to the host for the on-scene ammo than to go through the hassle of shipping it and picking it up.
If the training is on-site at the gun shop — or if there’s at least a side trip to the gun shop as an option after the course — expect additional sales. When I teach in Live Oak, Fla., the Pro Arms Gun Shop there will stay open late one evening so I can bring the students over after class. This always turns out to be profitable for them. Students are primed to buy better holsters, new range bags, flashlights and other important accessories.
At Bullseye in Kokomo, Ind., training is for sale as well as guns.
A student trains with his GP100 at a match at The Gun Shop in Leesburg, Fla.
Balance Humor & Intensity
Much of your income is derived from your recreational customers. Human nature: fun is worth paying for. Fun is one measurement of value. Value is what retailers sell, after all.
From experience, I can tell you a little smartly applied humor works well. Particularly if the course involved is personal-defense-oriented, where the subject matter is necessarily grim, humor makes it all a little easier to digest. Cherry-flavored cough drops sell in a market notably devoid of vinegar-flavored cough drops. Shakespeare made a point of inserting comic relief in the grimmest moments of his tragedies.
“Gallows humor” is a staple in the professions which have to deal with grief and suffering, from medicine to law (and law enforcement), to personal defense. Any topic that can be depressing to contemplate has to have some “ventilation” for stress relief, or the depressing effects “shut down the learning circuits.”
When humor is applied to things that are distinctly “un-funny,” it has to be applied judiciously and sparingly. But when it is injected, it helps the student/customers to get through it and learn. Once they realize they have had a valid learning experience, they appreciate it — and want to come back for more. They’ll want to learn more about tips and other safety information and, of course, more on the guns, ammunition and other accessories they learned about and encountered while attending your training class.
Some years ago, a colleague and I rented the FATS (Firearms Training System) simulator at The Marksman in Puyallup, Wash., for an advanced class. The students rated the experience among the high points of the program. At their website, www.themarksman.net, the full-service gun shop and range still offers simulator training for police and military, so apparently, it remains profitable.
Simulators from FATS, Meggitt and other companies are nothing less than superb. The student interacts with the situation as it unfolds in front of him or her, and the bad guys on the screen react when “hit” by a beam from the student’s realistic pistol. For some, it’s like a super high-tech video game, and those with the budget for it are happy to pay to play. For the serious student of the gun, these systems provide something very close to real-life deadly-force judgment experience. They require a significant investment, but they can also bring in significant money and customer traffic.
Training should end in testing, and what better skill-testing than competition? The Gun Shop in Leesburg, Fla., is a fun place decorated with eclectic antiques, and attached indoor ranges, which host everything from slightly formalized plinking — the Backyard Match with .22 rifles and handguns — to bowling pin shoots and IDPA matches.
The shooting events bring in new customers, often from distances they wouldn’t have traveled just to visit a gun shop, expanding the clientele base. The regular shooters also become regular customers. The matches have enhanced profits overall.
So, what’s the bottom line? Training doesn’t have to be boring. The more students enjoy it, the more of it they’ll absorb. For some of them, it could be lifesaving somewhere down the road. And for the gun retailers who host it, it can become a profit center. It truly is a win-win for all individuals involved: It benefits both customers and dealers.
Selling personal protection is a principled act, a classic example of Ethical Marketing. Teaching the customers to “do it right” is simply an extension of this worthy goal.
By Massad Ayoob
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