Hey gun stores! I’ve talked to dozens of new gun owners or soon-to be-new gun owners about their first purchase. One thing’s clear: they didn’t like gun store employees telling them what to buy.
Thanks to the internet and the increasing professionalism of gun ranges, the average firearm consumer is far more educated than his or her pre-millennial predecessors. They’ve shot — or at the least investigated — a wide range of possibilities.
They know something about caliber, capacity, action type, frame size and branding. Many are aware of ergonomics and recoil profiles.
In short, customers are walking into their local or big box gun store with a fair to good idea of their needs and the gun(s) that meet them.
As a gun store you need to do something important to clinch the initial sale and make a lifelong customer: listen. Before you pull the “I’m a gun expert card,” ask them what they already know.
I know many customers don’t articulate their needs well. Gun store sales staff need to ask questions and listen carefully to confirm — or gently correct — the information the customer has gathered before walking through the door.
More than that, gun salesmen and women need to not do something important: to resist imposing their personal biases on the first-time gun buyer. The “trick” here: focus on the mission. Let the mission — home defense, carry, target practice, hunting, etc. — drive the gear selection.
Some cynics claim “what’s in the back room goes out the front door.” I believe most gun salesmen have favorite firearms — firearms they consider ideal for their customers. They steer first-time buyers to these guns out of the goodness of their heart.
In our beginner’s training classes here at The Range at Austin, students sometimes show up with the “wrong” gun. A gun they can’t shoot or administrate well. Sometimes it’s a fit issue. More often it’s a mission issue; they’ve chosen the wrong firearm for their needs.
A small .38 revolver for purse carry? An easy sell, perhaps, but a bad choice, given recoil and capacity issues. A shotgun for home defense. Another simple sale — of a gun that many buyers will practice shooting once. If that.
Speaking of practice, there’s another consideration that gun salespeople usually ignore: the fact that the first-time buyer is a beginner. They’re still learning. They may need a “starter gun”: a firearm that helps them develop confidence to safely operate and shoot (before they get all fancy).
For example, I had a student who bought a GLOCK 43 for self-defense who didn’t feel comfortable or confident running the gun. How is that possible, you ask? The 43 was simply too small and “fiddly.”
Like many beginning shooters, she would have been better advised to buy a full-size handgun, especially one with a range of back straps to insure a comfortable fit. A larger framed pistol is more forgiving. It has a better (longer) sight radius, less perceived felt recoil and better ergonomics.
By the same token, salesmen working with beginners looking for a long gun might also want to recommend a lower-caliber, bolt-action rifle. So equipped, a beginner can master the fine art of getting a proper sight picture and making a smooth consistent trigger press — without worrying about recoil.
To spread the pro-gun culture and create more happy customers, gun stores need to satisfy the first-time or relative newbie customer’s needs, not the dealer’s bottom line or the sales staff’s personal prejudice.
As the Brits would say, both beginning shooters and sales staff need to start as they would finish: by recognizing that gun ownership is a process, not an end in and of itself.
Jeff Gonzales is a former US. Navy SEAL and preeminent weapons and tactics instructor. He brings his Naval Special Warfare mindset, operational success and lessons learned unapologetically to the world at large. Currently he is the Director of Training at The Range at Austin. Learn more about his passion and what he does at therangeuastin.com.