(And They’re Not Done Yet)
By Shari LeGate
The first time I walked on to a shooting range, it was a little scary and intimating. I called the previous week asking about lessons and booked a time. When I showed up, I expected a formal lesson — like you’d have in golf or tennis. Walking into the doublewide trailer, which served as the clubhouse, I checked in. The man behind the counter took my money, tied a builder’s apron around my waist, filled it with 20-gauge shotshells, stuffed cotton in my ears, handed me a beat-up old Remington 1100, pointed to a group of old men on the skeet range and said, “just walk out there, they’ll show you how to shoot,” and I did. That was my introduction to the shooting sports in the late ’80s. Thankfully times have changed.
Today, women are a common sight at shooting ranges, gun stores and competition events — and their numbers continue to grow. A report recently released by the National Association of Sporting Goods Wholesalers (NASGW), using up to 15 years’ worth of NASGW survey data, shows women’s participation has outpaced male activity in almost every category. Women’s involvement in target shooting increased 64.1 percent overall from 2001 to 2015. In the same timeframe, women’s participation in handgun shooting surged by 96.3 percent. Rifle target shooting climbed by 58.5 percent — well over the male participation increase of 35.3 percent.
The women’s snapshot doesn’t stop there. In 2013, Pew Research Center conducted a survey and found there was a substantial gender gap in gun ownership. Men were three times as likely to purchase a gun as women: 37 percent versus 12 percent. Just two years later in 2015, 78 percent of retailers who responded to survey questions said they experienced an upswing in women customers. Additionally, the way women entered the shooting industry saw a change. “Interest in the shooting sports” and a “desire for personal protection” were the most common reasons.
Not Just Pink
When this new consumer base first showed up, the shooting sports industry scrambled to provide products to fill their needs. Manufacturers stepped up and truly wanted to reach the women’s market, but some missteps were made. When the ladies/youth shotgun model first debuted, women often thought: “Thanks for letting us know we have the body of a 16-year-old boy.” Next came the colored guns. The pinks, purples and light blues. Clothing was another challenge. Whether it was a shooting vest, camouflage gear or hunting attire, women were offered a downsized men’s version.
However as more women entered the shooting community, their voices grew louder and their influence became stronger. They wanted products designed for them, not products merely rebranded. Manufacturers, retailers and the industry as a whole responded, with new product designs, dedicated shelf space in retail stores and programs for shooting ranges with the purpose and intent of reaching out to women with a welcoming hand.
Photo by Howard Communications
Paving The Way Forward
Within any industry, evaluating the environment and current trends is just good business and the shooting sports is no different. Turning a critical eye on the direction and progression an industry is taking can show what areas are growing and what needs the most attention. Recently, the NSSF reported new target shooters (those who have taken up the sport in the last five years) are younger, female and urban compared to “established” target shooters — those participating for more than five years.
Women have made, and are still making, a substantial impact in the shooting sports industry. There are women in leadership positions of major organizations, they’re forming and building industry-related companies and they’re rising in the ranks of the competitive shooting arena. Women have moved from being a shadow in the background to making decisions affecting strategic plans, marketing campaigns and adding their input to research and development of new products. But this doesn’t mean reaching out to women or their role influencing the industry is finished.
The buzzwords of today are “diversity” and “inclusion.” And for the longest time, this was meant for the women’s market. Not anymore. Now the phrase “diversity and inclusion” paints a much broader stroke, referring not just to gender, but also to race, color, sexual identity, religion and culture.
With this new outreach, the role of women in the industry plays an even more important part than ever before. The path women forged for acceptance, involvement and relevancy in an industry that wasn’t always welcoming can be used as a roadmap in reaching out to this new customer base. Women have paved the way by opening doors, breaking down barriers and using their influence to challenge an industry to think outside the box.
An Ongoing Conversation
So, what does the future hold for the women in the industry now? If you look at the statistics and trends, it would be easy to say women’s growth will continue at a substantial rate — but there’s more to it than just the numbers.
Leaha Wirth, vice president of sales and marketing for HIVIZ shares it’s about staying relevant. “It’s up to us now. We can’t just sit on our laurels and expect to be handed things. We have to continue working hard to know everything there is to possibly know about the guns we use, their applications and the sports we participate in. It makes us a better asset to our industry and it’s an incentive for the industry to devote more resources to the female market,” she said.
As consumers and business owners, it’s important women keep reaching out and mentoring others. As more women and diversified groups enter the shooting sports, women know well the obstacles ahead and can offer guidance and assurance making the road easier to travel.
Recognizing the contributions women have made to the industry and how they’ve helped shape it is an ongoing conversation. A tremendous opportunity lies ahead for women and for the industry. One, if taken advantage of, can only increase participation numbers on all fronts.
For those of you who may recall, an old, well-known marketing campaign that targeted women once stated, “you’ve come a long way” and we have … but we’re not done yet.