One of my primary tasks when first working the counter at a retail gun store was handling the law enforcement officers and police agency sales. Sales were strong elsewhere, and the owner did a good job most of the time, but there was no one with police experience in the store.
While selling to local and federal law enforcement customers isn’t a huge market, it can be a very good one in just about any gun store.
A lot of so-called “cop stores” sell equipment and firearms to police, but their staffs tend to have varying degrees of actual firearms experience. Selling uniforms, holsters and gear does not qualify you as a firearms expert — and too often it is a sideline, not a specialty.
On the other hand, too many gun stores have no clue what officers really need. More often than not, shops feel they’re catering to cops simply by offering an LE discount. Problem is, officers want the same thing everyone else does — a fair price, good service and a knowledgeable staff.
While certain manufacturers offer LE pricing, it is often passed on to the retailer. As a retailer you can still provide the law enforcement community what it needs without cutting profits. In fact, do it right and they come back for all their firearms needs and really add to the bottom line.
Not every officer uses firearms outside the job, but many do, and they can be an excellent market.
This might be the most critical investment when choosing to cater to the law enforcement market. If your staff doesn’t know what a police officer does, you lose on every front. Experienced officers will know when your staff is clueless. New officers directed by the same staff will find out quickly when they are sold useless equipment that violates policy. Take the time to educate yourself and your staff. Learn what officers really do, figure out what is required in terms of guns and gear, and stay abreast of changes. Know what firearms are used by local agencies and what is approved.
Many agencies will send you their policy on approved firearms and items surrounding it. You don’t need to sell uniforms, but they might need weapon-mounted lights, extra magazines, sights or other approved accessories. Avoid selling cheap knock-off stuff that fails right out of the box. Lives depend on their gear, so keep it real.
Just like any retail product, you make your money on the accessories, not the guns.
You want your customers to leave with a gun, holster, magazine holders and all the accessories. Police officers are no different than civilian customers; they would prefer to make one stop.
Most police agencies require night sights, so be sure to have them on hand and have someone trained to install them. Installing sights, preferably on the spot, is huge. The pistols typically carried by officers can have the sights swapped out in minutes. Modern sight pushers make this easy without screwing up the gun. Proper tools cost a bit, but they pay off quickly.
Law enforcement guns are no different than civilian guns other than requiring night sights and three magazines. Agencies typically require three magazines, so have extra on hand.
Many “approved” dealers take advantage of their status but provide horrendous customer service. I lost track of how many times a Glock was purchased from me because the buyer refused to step foot in the approved dealers store. Several agencies bought their guns from us — bypassing the assigned dealer for the same reason.
Did we make much money on the guns? Not really. But when they bought more than 50 holsters we sure did — all due to knowing what they need and treating them well.
Consider stocking complete duty belts and systems fitting the most popular guns in your area. At least have the holster and magazine pouches. Don’t buy the cheapest stuff your distributor is pushing; get what officers actually use.
Safariland rules the LE market for sure, but some agencies approve others — especially when it comes to nylon. Many agencies require new officers to provide much of their equipment, so being able to get it all in one spot is huge, and the margin is not bad.
Agencies might require a thumb strap or Level 2 retention even on off-duty gear, so the thin nylon stuff is not going to cut it. More are allowing open holsters. In most cases, if they can leave with a pistol, duty and off-duty holster, magazine, magazine pouches and some practice ammo, they are happy customers.
Just a word on ammo — many agencies, mine included, would not allow officers to shoot “reloaded” ammunition in their guns, factory or otherwise. Reloaded ammunition is better these days, but understand that might not matter, so make sure to have some factory on hand they can use.
Agencies are approving police carbines with much greater frequency. Many cannot afford to provide them but allow officers to purchase their own. Retail markets fluctuate considerably, but agency markets are pretty steady, so there will always be officers who need rifles. It’s critical you stock guns they can afford and fit within LE regulations.
We stocked some low-end rifles no one would buy because no agency would approve them. Great margin, collected lots of dust.
Agencies vary considerably when it comes to approval. Don’t expect the officer to know the policy. It seems odd, but not every officer understands guns. They are at your store because you are supposed to be the expert. Learn what your local agencies approve. Talk to officers that come in, or get in touch with each agency. Some approve one make and model, others just require it go bang.
At the risk of being repetitive, know your area. It’s another opportunity to contact department armorers and see what they approve. Many are married to a brand whether it is a decent rifle or not. We have agencies here that approve rifles based on which company provides the most perks, not the best guns.
Others are much less restrictive, allowing you to stock nicer rifles. Start basic — all they need is a proven performer with the ability to mount a light and maybe a red-dot. They will need a quality sling, spare magazines and a carrying case. Stock proven magazines like the Brownells USGI or PMAG. There are several out there these days of high quality, so make sure not to sell the junk.
Have some choices for those willing to pay more for a decent rifle. There are several very nice rifles these days in the $1,200 – $1,500 range like those from Daniel Defense, Primary Weapons Systems and Bravo Company — all are proven performers.
What’s most critical is reliability and ruggedness. The latest and greatest game gun is useless in many instances; keep it simple and geared toward professional application.
Red-Dot sights are important too, so have some on hand. Aimpoint’s PRO (Police Rifle Optic) is a great setup for officers along with some of the EOTech models. Both come with mounts so an officer can take them out of the box, add batteries and go to work.
In my experience $500 is near the upper limit most officers can afford for a red-dot, so make your stocking decisions accordingly.
The same holds true for weapons lights. The industry is catching up, but Streamlight and Surefire rule this segment for good reason. Few make a weapons light exceeding the quality of Surefire, and their cost as a rule reflects that. Streamlight is hugely popular, they work well for most applications and they are priced reasonably — and more importantly, they’re proven in the field.
Ideally an officer should leave with a rifle, spare magazines, a good sling and a tactical light mounted to the rifle. Red-Dot sights are gravy.
Lastly, consider having a good set of iron sights available. They need to be rugged and repeatable. Some polymer sights are fine, but if they are going to serve as the primary sighting system on the rifle, metal is preferred. If your customers are using iron sights, consider stocking Trijicon or similar front sight inserts.
Contrary to popular mythology, most officers neither require nor expect a discount. While it can be regional, most understand they are afforded no privilege beyond that provided by the manufacturer. If you want to provide a blanket discount, fine. Depending on your, area that will either go over well or will alienate the remainder of your customers.
Prices need to be fair — that’s it. No discount required, but don’t gouge them, either. In my experience officers will pay more for good service provided by knowledgeable staff.
For most of my career, police-related stores offered accounts. There are a few out there still doing it, but understand that it is risky. Credit cards are different, but open accounts were more trouble than they were worth.
Unless you want to be a collection agency and have a staff, I would avoid it. Some really small stores in very local areas might be different. When you know everyone in town it is a different world. However, on a global scale, it isn’t necessary or, in my experience, advised.
If there is a police academy in the area, make contact with it. Recruits might be required to buy their entire duty rig, including their pistol, prior to starting.
One local shop used to have rental sets of duty gear. They could buy the pistol and magazines and rent the duty belt. Most college academies are pretty specific, just find out what they need and have it in stock. Word will spread very quickly, especially if your customer service is top-notch.
Most recruits are not experienced, seldom do they know guns, and they often need help. The more help you provide, the more money you make and the more they come back.
Entering the LE market in earnest takes some thought and preparation to do properly. Failing to do so might cost you money, which is often the biggest complaint by retailers.
Simply having some police stuff in the store is useless, in my experience. On the other hand, spend some time, do some research and train your staff and it can be a whole market that is far less affected by the huge swings seen in the retail market in general. You will likely also build a relationship with your local agency and officers, which can’t be a bad thing no matter what you do.