On Black Friday of 2017, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives broke the 200,000 ceiling for NICS checks in a single day, shattering the previous record by nearly 18,000.
In all, 203,806 checks were processed, roughly 10 percent more than the previous year, relegating 2016 to a distant second-place finish. Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, now holds all top-five slots. Smart gun retailers tailor their ads and marketing campaigns to take advantage of the now-annual influx of new or rarely seen customers.
Unfortunately, the days after the official launch of the holiday shopping season can be slow, particularly now that we’ve entered a “new norm” in sales where gun safes are full and gun politics relatively calm. But the millions of firearms purchased in the past few years need ammo, accessories and upgrades, and today — more than ever — many of them are owned by women.
Although not deliberately so, some stores aren’t warm and welcoming to female enthusiasts. There’s no shortage of advice on how to make that transformation, but the recommended approaches are often fiscally unfeasible or physically impossible with current floor space, or they carry the underlying risk of permanently alienating loyal customers.
Thankfully, there’s usually no need to totally abandon what’s worked and is working. Every store and its clientele are different, and that fact makes any one-size fits all solution a dangerous approach. A close look at some key facts, figures and trends, however, indicates even subtle changes can make a big difference in your efforts to become more inviting to women shooters.
Why Change, Even Slightly?
The empirical evidence was reported by retailers long before results of a 2014 National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) study (released in 2015) confirmed the trend. Women “Represent the fastest growing segment of the shooting sports,” it concluded.
The organization’s Annual Retailer Survey from 2012 to 2013 was one of the first hints that a significant change was afoot, when it determined “More than 74 percent of retailers reported an increase in women customers.” That means to thrive, perhaps even survive the “new norm,” your store needs female appeal.
Women who owned at least one firearm, between the ages of 18 to 65, were included in the 2014 survey. One third of them purchased their first gun in the past 36 months, and the majority of those new owners were between the ages of 18 and 34 — with many years of gun and gear buying ahead of them, making them your ideal long-term customer.
More than 50 percent were thinking of buying another gun in the next year, and of those who purchased in the past 12 months, average price was $870. They dropped another $400 on holsters, magazines, lasers, lights and other accessories.
Forty-two percent of the respondents had a carry permit, according to the NSSF study; 56 percent owned at least one semi-auto handgun and half had a shotgun. More than likely that already closely reflects your store’s current inventory, although a slight increase in personal-defense scattergun gear could be wise.
The biggest factors in their purchases were fit, quality and practicality. Price didn’t figure into the top three, and firearms are not bought on impulse. In fact, female shooters consider their next buy for months beforehand. The NSSF survey also found they shop with purpose. “Placing a premium on safety, women say the single most important reason why they decided to purchase or own a firearm is protection — both personal and home protection.”
Women don’t believe those Saturday matinee action movies with heroes shooting Ma Deuces from the hip are documentaries, either. They invest the time to get educated on firearms. “Nearly three-quarters (73 percent) of women reported having taken at least one training class,” the NSSF study reports.
A large part of the training they receive is in concealed carry courses. In Utah, two thirds of its new permits in 2017 were issued to women. In 2016, 36 percent of CCW holders across the nation were female, but of the eight states that provide gender information, the rate of women carrying increased 326 percent faster than men from 2012 to 2016.
The odds are good you’ve already bolstered your self-defense inventory to keep up with demand. Most retailers have because the Crime Prevention Research Center estimates there are more than 16.3 million people nationwide with carry permits — three million carry every day.
The figures are, however, a stark reminder that not every woman who walks through your door is looking for something for her spouse or father. Every day the odds increase that she’s a knowledgeable gun owner and treating her as such maximizes the chances she’ll return.
Women Spend More During Holidays
If you’re still not convinced, consider figures from last November’s Daily Mail. Its report on a survey of 2,000 people found women spend nearly twice the amount than men on holiday gifts — $700 compared to $400, respectively.
Last year’s study from Statista.com, which compiles data from more than 22,000 sources, indicates those figures may be low, though. It found the average American consumer dropped $906 on Christmas gifts, which set a new record.
Once a year — right now, as a matter of fact — shoppers frequent unfamiliar retailers in an exhausting quest for that perfect gift. Treating a non-gun-owning “browser” with respect goes a long way and creates word-of-mouth recommendations to family and friends. And don’t underestimate the long-term impact to your bottom line if your seasonal warmth makes them willing to return to the store during otherwise routine weekend outings throughout the year.
It’s tough, sometimes impossible, to make a good recommendation for a gift when that shopper knows little or nothing about the firearm they’re purchasing.
Magazines can be caliber/gun specific and a budget-conscious optic/laser isn’t going to replace the high-quality one riding on his or her gun. Universal cleaning kits are safe, and so too are cleaning chemicals/oils as well as a few other products. Enthusiasts who don’t own at least one .22 Long Rifle-chambered gun may be rarer than elves at the North Pole, but they do exist.
Gift certificates relieve all that stress and, believe it or not, are favored. Forbes magazine reported in 2016 that 42 percent of consumers preferred receiving gift cards most during the holidays.
Buyers are increasingly eager to go that route, too. A National Retail Federation report in late 2016 found 56 percent of holiday shoppers planned, beforehand, to buy gift certificates for people on their lists.
Get some created for your store and don’t scrimp on quality. Offer it with a card and festive envelope, budget willing. If the person shopping or loved one hasn’t visited your store before, it’ll make a nice first impression. Announce them in your marketing.
As an added bonus, the recipient often opts for a product more expensive than the value of the card. That follow-up visit is also another opportunity to enlist a new and loyal customer.
A staggering 72 percent of holiday shoppers (both male and female) are attracted to a retailer they’ve never visited before by a coupon, according to the Forbes report. Print advertising is the traditional placement, but don’t neglect your electronic outlets, either.
Promotional codes weren’t mentioned in the study results, but things change. Stay abreast of developments, react accordingly and listen to any feedback women are willing to share during their shopping experience.
Once in the Door
Purchasing habits are different in a store when compared to online shopping. A survey conducted by CreditCards.com in early 2017 found 68 percent of U.S. shoppers made most of their impulse buys in person. Electronically, those figures dropped to 21 percent on computers and 10 percent while using a smartphone.
It’s a big advantage and where many of the similarities between the gun-owning genders separate. AdWeek magazine reported in 2016 that 40 percent of female shoppers are likely to make an impulse purchase at the checkout line. Only 29 percent of males feel the same urge. More than double the women — when compared to men — always succumb to the temptation.
That means high-margin holiday-themed items on the counter pay huge dividends with women shoppers. Relatively inexpensive gear every shooter replaces with regularity or needs is also ideal, but the price should be so enticing that it’s almost impossible to ignore as a stocking stuffer.
Start your efforts early. Black Friday isn’t just a big day for the staff at BATFE. Last year was the second in a row that it set digital shopping records. In fact, one third of all holiday shopping was completed by the end of Cyber Week.
Even if you’re feeling a bit tardy in holiday season marketing, it’s still the best time of year to attract a few more women into the store, help make them comfortable in its confines and embrace the new face of gun ownership Yes, the low-caliber pin-up girl posters should disappear but other than that, the only change most of your regulars will notice is a mysteriously steady increase in cash register noise and foot traffic.
Featured image: Time in the shooting range with special events for women can help them feel more comfortable and find items to purchase for themselves or others. (Photo: Guy Sagi)