Shifting Demographic Requires Change.
Seasoned handgun owners and firearms dealers, meet the next generation of gun owners — they’re younger, professional, tech-savvy and increasingly female. Many of them lack gun knowledge, but they tend to catch on quickly. Survey after survey says they’re keener than ever on personal defense and concealed carry.
Dealers, are you using a slightly outdated approach when it comes to handgun sales? If so, it’s only a matter of time until one of the new breed of customers standing on the other side of the sales counter, with a fact-checking smartphone in hand, convinces you a new era is here.
Take Consumers Seriously
Though he’s as “old school” as they come, Rusty Armstrong, manager of Williams Shooting Supply in Tahlequah, Okla., knows his shop’s handgun sales are greatly influenced by new customer demographics.
“I have trouble with others who don’t take a new customer’s questions seriously. They’re not stupid; they’re just ignorant on the subject. It’s like most of us would be if we were buying a new computer: We don’t know jack about it,” Armstrong said.
Sometimes the old school clashes with the new, like when a man insists his wife needs a handgun of a certain size.
“I may have a guy come in looking for a smaller Glock for his wife. He’ll say she likes his Glock 17, but he wants to get her something smaller. The Glock 17 has a lot of mass to it, so the slide works easily. If you reduce the gun mass by a third, it may make it harder or almost impossible for her to work. The handgun which was fun for her to shoot is now a pain in the butt,” Armstrong said.
Local firearms dealers who really know their handguns, who can think on their feet and are willing to educate and work with these new customers can expect their attentiveness to pay huge dividends.
“You can’t say something that’s blatantly wrong because these new customers can check on it in an instant,” Armstrong said.
What gets this new breed of handgun owners excited? Yes, some want the latest “does-and-has-every-feature” firearm, but many are looking for reliability and simplicity.
“My newer customers are completely accepting of polymer-frame handguns. I do super well with Glock, the Smith & Wesson M&P, the Springfield XD(M), the FNS or FNX from FNH and others. I love to sell them because they’re easy for new shooters to master. Sometimes, new customers need some reassurance a handgun is safe without a manual safety. I’ll take it apart and show them how it works,” Armstrong said.
Armstrong advises dealers should be prepared for the customer whose chief concern when selecting a handgun is its cost. You may need to change the conversation and Armstrong offers insight on how he approaches this subject with customers.
“I tell them there are other gun shops within 20 miles, where they can find cheaper handguns. But if they’ll give me a minute, I can show them why my handguns are better. I’ll sell something cheaper if I know it works. I won’t upsell them because the ticket will be higher, but I’ll upsell if the handgun has features that will benefit them,” Armstrong added.
Springfield Armory XD(M)
Always Stress Safety
Personal defense is Armstrong’s passion. While a proven-quality pistol or revolver can be a great personal-defense equalizer, he points out it’s not necessarily the latest tactical technology that will win the day if the unthinkable happens. Some customers need this reminder.
“If I hear the word ‘tactical’ one more time, I’m just going to lose it. It’s not necessarily the equipment; it’s the skills and mindset,” Armstrong said. “Some customers have the idea when they point a gun at someone it’s like magic. They don’t realize they can escalate a situation into something more dangerous for themselves.”
With concerns for customer safety and the desire to sell firearms responsibly at the forefront of the Williams Shooting Supply philosophy, Armstrong has no problem refusing to sell a handgun to certain customers. He tells them it might be better to purchase “pepper spray, a big dog and a baseball bat.” Most importantly, he refers them to a certified safety instructor in the area.
“If they’ll take a training class and have some deep conversations about what is important to them, they can come back and I’ll recommend some handguns to them — I take it very seriously,” he said.
Branding can be the strongest influencing factor on what a handgun customer buys.
“Glock is a name with an almost cult-like following: Anything they do, people want to try it out. There’s a tidal wave building to get hold of the new Glock 42. I’m waiting to get my hands on as many as I can,” Armstrong said.
The Ruger name is equally appealing to Williams Shooting Supply’s customers. Armstrong says the Ruger LCR is their best seller in wheelguns. He’s observed various 1911 brands also have a loyal customer following.
“There’s an abundance of quality 1911s now that are reasonably priced. The features you can get in the $600 range now you couldn’t get before in a custom $2,000 gun. It’s neat to see how companies have responded to customers’ needs,” he said.
Dealers can present the Lyman Turbo Sonic 6000 — an ultrasonic cleaning system —
to customers as a significant add-on purchase or as a guncleaning service
offered by their store.
Rusty Armstrong, manager of Williams Shooting Supply, recognizes the importance
of relating to new handgun customers — a younger, tech-savvy and urbanized demographic.
The Accessory Bonus
No handgun purchaser — especially a first-time gun owner — should walk out your door without some kind of accessory.
The entire line of BLACKHAWK! accessories sells well for Armstrong. His customers love the SERPA holsters, both leather and nylon versions.
“I also sell a lot of holsters from Galco and Safariland, as well as Tagua — a good value, even though they are not as slick-looking as other holsters,” he added.
“We do a lot with tritium sights like those from Meprolight and Trijicon. We also sell a lot of the handguns with fiber optics built in,” Armstrong said.
Grips are not a big mover for Williams these days because they sell high numbers of polymer handguns, which don’t accept traditional grips. The shop still stocks and installs Hogue and Pachmayr grips for 1911 and revolver customers.
While basic gun-cleaning kits are a staple at any retail shop, Williams Shooting Supply offers customers a little something extra — ultrasonic cleaning. Armstrong admitted his old-school mindset had to be convinced that ultrasonic gun cleaning was effective when Williams first started using a system. He put it to the test with a Colt 1911 he hadn’t cleaned in about 15 years.
“I field-stripped it, dropped it into the ultrasonic cleaner and as soon as it turned on, crud came off of it like tornadoes were hitting it. I took it out in 20 minutes, and it looked brand-new, other than mechanical wear,” Armstrong said.
The ultrasonic gun cleaning system in use at Williams is the Lyman Turbo Sonic 6000.
See Your Customers As Family
What really anchors the Williams sales philosophy, especially for their handgun customers, is this: They treat their customers like a family member.
“There’s too many outlets available for customers to acquire firearms now, especially online. You have to nurture a relationship with your customer. I’ve spent as much as an hour with someone and they didn’t buy a thing. You can look at it as wasted time, but I’ve had that same person come back three months later with his daughter — ready to buy her a handgun,” Armstrong said.
Honesty is key, he says, and being willing to correct misconceptions as part of long-term success.
“I treat people like I want to be treated. If someone says something that’s dangerous, I say, ‘Here’s why that’s not correct,’ or, ‘Here’s a better way to do that.’ I like to go to bed at night and know everyone I touched base with who bought something, is someone who bought something good — a quality, reliable firearm. Even if they didn’t buy something, they left informed,” Armstrong said.
What Your Customers Are Reading In
When selecting a new handgun, customers are faced with a multitude of options, such as deciding between polymer semiautos, 1911s and revolvers, which often results in a challenging buying decision. New customers might not know how the appearance or practicality of certain handguns will best suit their needs.
The cover feature in the May/June issue of American Handgunner seeks to explain this by evaluating a pair of Kimber .45s, which bring both style and performance. Editor Roy Huntington takes a look at this compelling duo, composed of the Ultra+ CDP II and Classic Carry Pro, examining their differences and finding the unique advantages of both.
“Both guns can, would and do a great job protecting anyone. I tend to think of them as one to work with, and one to play with,” Huntington describes. “The fit, finish, gentle ‘melting’ and great trigger pull make the Ultra+ CDP II fun to shoot and handle. The Classic Carry Pro is eminently carryable and is certainly professional in every category, from build quality to custom touches. ”
To read “Show And Go?” visit www.americanhandgunner.com and click “Digital Editions,” then select the May/June 2014 cover. For SI Digital readers, click the Hot Link logo.
By Greg Stauton
>> Click Here << To Read The Shooting Industry May 2014 Issue Today!