FirearmConcierge On The FFL/Customer Relationship

I’m Grande Queso, Nick Leghorn’s confidential source for all things firearm industry related. During an alarming lapse of good judgement this evening, Nick has decided to abuse his newly acquired title of “editor” at TTAG and allowed me to pen a guest column. And the topic of the day is the Firearm Professional/Customer relationship . . .

First, a 15-second biography: I’m a licensed manufacturer and SOT of firearms, even though I can barely put together furniture from Ikea. I’m an NRA certified instructor, I enjoy long walks on the beach at sunset and magdumping my full-size Uzi. But, enough about me – lets get down to business.

The firearms business is very misunderstood. The mainstream media wants to portray gun salesmen as liars, irrational people who are in favor of the collapse of society just so they can show how prepared they are. Generally uneducated and ignorant people.

Actually, that’s not the case. Many of us are just trying to make a living and some of us can actually spell and use grammar correctly, although many are too old to really care anymore. One thing they find that remains constant, though, is that on one side you have the industry and on the other you have the customer.

Call me old fashioned but people treated my father with respect, and he would respond in kind. That’s the way I grew up and was taught to do business. Not anymore. I’m constantly reminded of the phrase, “The customer is always right” whenever it’s convenient for the customer. My follow up to that is the person who coined that phrase died broke traveling London via bus.

Evolution has brought the terms “customer service” and “good will,” which once meant treating people right and taking care of business professionally, to a modern definition which is roughly translated as “I am the customer. You are the retailer. You are getting my money which makes you my slave.” I think that’s unacceptable.

Respect is a two way street, you have to give respect to get respect. Or, alternately, as viewers of the hit show Deadliest Catch who remember Captain Phil Harris shout, “You’ve got to earn it!” I agree.

As with all businesses, I have good customers, I have bad customers and I have some customers from hell. I refuse to let the customers from hell ruin my business. To better understand the relationship, let’s look at all three species:

Good Customers – I love my good customers. I’ve heard stories from industry colleagues where customers bring them venison backstraps during season, snakes (I know a gun dealer who has an 8-year-old daughter that loves snakes, so customers bring them in for the kid – nice gesture!), cigars, even the occasional bottle of scotch. I’ve been known to receive the occasional meatball sub, chicken wings or have the #1 meal at Chick-fil-A delivered to me at no charge by someone who works at the restaurant and knows I’m stuck working late, doing paperwork.

These are awesome people. They’re MY kind of people. They make it all worthwhile. I have a few doctors that come in every once in awhile and since I don’t have health insurance, I invented my own HMO. Every time I get sick, they stop by and make me healthy in exchange for ammo. Maybe not the perfect system, but it works for me.

Bad Customers – this category covers a lot of ground, but if you have your retailer’s personal phone number (whether it’s home, cellular, or hunting lodge) don’t abuse it. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in a blind the first day of duck season, only to get a call from someone looking for an AR 15 at 7:45 in the morning. I don’t interrupt your quality time, please don’t interrupt mine. This is that whole ‘respect is a two way street’ thing kicking in. I’ve had people call at 11:30 at night after seeing that I responded to an email. They apparently figure that if I’m able to write an email response, I’m happy to pick up a phone. Being realistic is just common sense, a trait lost on too many in this day and age.

Customers from Hell – There’s a fine line between your standard bad customers and customers from hell. Most bad customers don’t know any better. The customers from hell are another story.

The past 6 months have yielded an unbelievably high number of customers from hell, thanks to the action – or rather the inaction – of gun control measures in Congress. Due to demand, everyone is/was/will continue buying every firearm-related good ever produced on the basis of fear of a legislative shift, paranoia, or pure capitalist speculation.

A bad customer will expect me to match a price that I gave them two months before Sandy Hook. A customer from hell will find a post on an internet forum or Facebook from two years ago advertising an AR15 lower parts kit at $55, bump it and get everyone to fill my inbox with orders or share it with all their friends.

Being realistic or having attention to detail – seems to be a lost art.

Just this morning, I had an interesting case that I will have to lump in the customer from hell category. This is a low volume customer and everything he had purchased yielded profits of under $100 for calendar year 2012. He sent out an email to 198 people in his address book outlining his displeasure with the way he was treated at the local BMW dealer. He put 198 people in the “To:” field, so that anyone who made a reply and hit “Reply All” would deliver the message to all 198 recipients.

I typed out the following reply. “Hey, I don’t get paid enough to listen to your bullshit so stop sending me this crap.”

Upon reflection, I realized that such a response was unprofessional and rude. I sanitized it and sent a message indicating politely that personal matters are none of my business and I would appreciate being left out of such a discussion.

Greg replied back:

As a professional software developer of over 18 years, I’m perfectly aware of the concept of blind carbon copy versus carbon copy. I used CC on purpose. I wanted to get people riled up. I wanted to spread the news about my discontent with everyone, and I hoped that everyone would forward the email on to other people they know, as I had asked. I also hoped that responses would come back throughout the group. If you are unfortunately receiving unwanted emails, I obviously have judged you wrongly, and as I stated in a previous email won’t be sending any more business your way. Thanks for your assistance in the past, Greg.

Now, what any reasonable individual should infer after reading these email exchanges are:

1. I am apparently not only a gun dealer, but also some form of mental health professional.

2. By being Greg’s gun dealer, I am somehow beholden to him to listen to his rants about his BMW lease. My job is to get riled up about it, forward his angry wordstorm via email to all my customers and organize a boycott of the local BMW dealer on his behalf.

3. In the spirit of honesty, I have forever lost Greg’s business because I refuse to partake in these types of shenanigans since he has expected me to further his cause.

If anyone gives a damn, Greg is upset that the dealer wants $600 to replace two tires on the car instead of the $400 he agreed on. He’s deployed a scorched Earth/Sherman’s March to the Sea PR campaign over $200.

This is an example of where someone oversteps their bounds as a customer. Unless you have established this level of relationship with me in the past, involving me in your personal dramas first thing in the morning is not the right way to cultivate a friendship. In this case, all Greg has done is filled my inbox with messages from his colleagues suggesting a BBB complaint and posting on the BMW dealers Facebook page. All the while, keeping me from dealing with my other customers.

Unless you’re a close personal friend, you pay me for exactly the amount of time it takes to deal with your firearm and your firearm-related issues, and nothing more. If you want to complain about how your BMW dealer screwed you out of $200, I’ll be happy to listen at the shop rate.

Moral of the story: don’t be a customer from hell. Please respect our profession, please treat us with dignity and please don’t call the deer stand the first day of the season. And Greg, if you’re reading this, don’t take this personally but….. I DON’T CARE ABOUT YOUR GODDAMN BMW.