Why is gun shop customer service so bad?
THIS IS THE TOO LONG; DIDN’T READ VERSION OF THIS GUN SHOP CUSTOMER SERVICE ARTICLE
(Disclaimer: this is a very in-depth article and requires a full read to interpret main points)
It seems like there are a lot of customer service issues when dealing with local gun shops. Blame Yelp but learn from them. Angry customers rule the internet and it hurts legitimate businesses, when sometimes an open line of communication could have solved problems. There’s an elitist slant to many gun shop employees because of ego and experience. Don’t forget, just because you aren’t a fool in a gun shop doesn’t mean that other customers aren’t. How can we improve this customer interaction?
Blame Amazon but learn from them. Pay gun shop employees better by improving your business fundamentals and give incentive for building brand loyalty. Don’t be afraid to admit you need help to get better at customer service. The local gun shop isn’t dead just because of the internet, but it needs to improve to stay viable. Regulatory compliance will require that LGS never fully go out of business, but that doesn’t mean we can’t help to enact change in how we are treated in person when shopping for a firearm. Gun businesses have a lot of work to get to where they say they want to be, but it’s not an impossible dream.
EXAMINING AND IMPROVING THE CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE FOR GUN SHOPS ONLINE AND OFFLINE
Disclaimer: The author has owned a gun shop and toured with large gun shows to sell product for more than 20 years. You can see his commentary at the bottom of this page.
With more and more technological shift in the firearms industry, it’s easy to point to horrible gun shop customer service experiences and showcase how the process of buying locally has degraded significantly. This is an article for two audiences: the customer who wants to know why they are depressed after leaving a local gun shop; and the business management that wants to improve the customer experience to retain clientele and ultimately build a legacy brand in the gun industry.
The local gun shop customer service experience has been bad for a long time. The reason it took us this long to realize it, is that we still had outliers that could perform the way we as customers felt we needed them to perform. With the increase in gun sales and the pervasive gun culture in America, the problem seems to have become heightened in the last several years. But also: the internet. We seek to explain the situation about local gun shop customer service and help to remedy it from our little corner of the internet.
Can Yelp Culture Affect Gun Shop Customer Service?
Social review websites give customers an easy way out of voicing concerns; make the interaction between humans easier for those who aren’t extroverts and allow us all to reward good experiences and warn about bad experiences. It’s a scientific fact (borne out in hundreds of millions of interactions quantified by massive datasets) that customers overwhelmingly seek to share bad customer experiences at an exponential rate comparative to praising good customer experiences.
This is because it’s very easy to complain about an experience and facilitate social connections not patronizing the company. Comparatively, no one wakes up in the morning and says, “I really need to shout from the rooftops about my amazing experience in the local gun shop yesterday”. They’ll do it, but they need to know it matters and be asked (more about that later in this article).
When you complain about a bad experience, not only are you venting, which feels good; you are warning others and potentially helping people. It brings out the crusader/protector feelings that many individuals thrive on.
Unless you have a vested interest in proclaiming the virtues of a company, it is seemingly much less of a priority.
So, what can we learn from this type of behavior?
You can partially blame Yelp for your need as a gun shop owner/management to be excellent, nay, REMARKABLE.
When someone is remarkable it means that people are remarking about you. Seth Godin, a marketing God, talks about it extensively in his book PURPLE COW. A must read for any customer service facing company.
But instead of just blaming Yelp for helping to build the culture of avoiding bad reputation on the internet, you can use them to help you improve your customer service platform. There is a wealth of research that can be done by simply understanding why customers write what they do online about shopping experiences, and how you can improve.
Research your local area and be the best in your specialty. But not only research it, seek to understand what actions or inactions are catalysts or triggers for the type of consumer who will go out of their way to expose your bad customer service offering.
Bad Pay for local employees
Once, while browsing feeds for information about current trends in the industry, we noticed a job posting from a fairly reputable gun shop in the Midwest for a gunsmith position. We were intrigued. Sure, you don’t get Los Angeles, or NYC or London wages in Black Hills, South Dakota for a lot of reasons. The pay, however, was dismal. The company expected to pay $13/hour for a legitimate gunsmith, who could “…run a lathe and mill…”, “…modify firearms…” had “…significant customer service experience…” and “must have received a certificate from an accredited gunsmithing school”.
That is ludicrous. That’s what a janitor without experience gets paid at a fast food joint in the same region.
What leads a store owner to believe that they can pay such ridiculous wages, and expect that employee to provide good long-term customer service and get the main points of the job done well?
The pay is bad because the overhead is high, and the business owner often doesn’t understand how to make money in the industry. The margins in the gun business aren’t always amazing. The bad pay is a further management shortcoming.
When an employee gets paid peanuts, what kind of experience can you expect over the long-term? At some point they will hate their job and it will reflect on how they treat the customers.
“It’s all Amazon’s fault!”
Amazon makes it hard to compete on gun products. Admittedly they aren’t in the gun game fully (they don’t sell guns and ammunition), but they make it really easy to be undercut.
How easy is it for a gun shop owner or employee to hear 100 times a day that the customer can find a better deal on Amazon?
It wears on them, and eventually it’s going to cause a snap: “Fine! Go buy it on Amazon then!”. Guess what: that customer will not be back to patronize your store.
The better choice is it embrace it, offer a unique service proposition and exceptional value beyond the commodity price. Educate the customer and explain the benefits of buying locally.
Most employees aren’t trained to do that. Heck, most business owners aren’t prepared to do that. They’d rather complain about it. Now that Yelp concept holds some water, huh?
Once again, learn from market leaders. Amazon has it in stock, they have it with free shipping and they have it cheaper than you can sell it for. You cannot compete with them on those metrics. But you can still compete. You offer knowledge. You offer insight. You offer help in finding the right fit. You offer experience in how the product works over the long-term. Unless you don’t. Which causes customers to go somewhere else. Even to Amazon. So, learn how to offer something unique that compels buyers to work with you.
Secret Societies and Old Boy’s Clubs
Stop talking about how stupid that last customer was. It is heard by the customer lurking in your cleaning kit display area.
Stop acting like you know so much more than the person who asked a perfectly reasonable question. Eventually it leads to an ego that comes through in every sentence you speak to a client.
More and more, there are people becoming customers in the gun industry that have expendable income and have never bought a gun before. They need help and expertise to find what they need. They don’t need arrogance and bad attitude.
When you only talk with respect to those who are experts in the gun industry, or when you downplay the customer’s input, you’re building a wall between them and you. And that negatively impacts your bottom line.
The gun store is increasingly becoming a place where only experts can work or interact. If you are anything less than a lifetime shooter, you’re not able to get a seat at the table. Unfortunately for you: one of the biggest values of shopping at a local gun shop is the comradery and inclusion that comes from being invited to sit at the table with the local experts. When you alienate the client by making the conversation or the process of asking questions unapproachable, you lose them, FOREVER.
Furthermore, the gun culture in the local space is still operating on 1970’s social norms. You need to understand how the new generation of potential buyers likes to be treated.
Some women don’t like to be called “Little Darling” when they ask a well-researched question. Treat them as a customer, that is: be agenda agnostic when you interact with a potential client. Build value by seeking to understand what they want.
Many times, buyers don’t buy. That doesn’t mean you need to waste time. You just need to be proactive in helping them pull the trigger on a purchase. Window shopping is a big pain point for the local gun store. Learn how to position yourself as an expert, but also as a fulfillment option. The ONLY fulfillment option. If they don’t need to buy online after touching it in person in your shop, they won’t. They will just buy it from you. Learn how to convert lookers into buyers. THERE ARE COURSES THAT CAN TEACH YOU THIS.
Stop hiring knowledgeable staff, just because they are knowledgeable. Unless they are also able to interact with people properly, or you are training them extensively early on, they may be more of a liability than a growth metric.
You need people who can connect with potential customers and put them at ease. You can teach people about guns. You cannot teach people (easily) how to be likable and magnetic.
It’s really simple: if you value knowledge, then put robust training procedures in place so that the knowledgeable sales person is also able to be a “people person”. The combination of the two will be a massive benefit to your bottom line.
“Get off my Lawn!”
You might think it’s funny, or cool to have adopted this grumpy old man attitude, but it’s not. Odd, inside jokes do not endear customers to you.
The problem with many local gun shops is that they have a grumpy old man on staff. Who is funny at first because customers think he’s joking around. Until it comes time for paperwork.
Humor is one thing; bad attitude and indifference to customers is quite another.
If you have one of these on staff, help them to channel their anger into something productive and coerce them to work on customer service skills or show them the door. Your bottom line will thank you for it.
A changing world (the internet makes it different)
Yes, your customers can find better prices online. They can find free shipping, and coupon codes, and better bulk ammunition because the warehouse logistical scheme can make it easier to stock more SKU’s. But that doesn’t mean that you are obsolete.
The internet has made lives infinitely better from a lot of different perspectives, but it isn’t perfect. And if there is an industry more protected than the gun industry against the ravages of modern internet retail killing, we can’t identify it. There are huge hurdles in place for the internet of things to take over the gun industry, but it’s partially dependent on customer service.
The compliance issues; federal and state/local laws prevent the internet model from overtaking the industry like it has so many other retail footprint industries. But that doesn’t mean you will thrive just because there are some difficulties from a logistical perspective for internet shops. It’s rather a base of information that can help you to be a NEEDED commodity, instead of just a commodity provider.
Gun Industry Margins Suck – It can dramatically affect Gun Shop Customer Service
A 10-30% margin on firearms seems sustainable, until you factor in overhead and inventory costs. Not to mention the cost of regulatory compliance and adding value to the transaction. Factor in marketing and you are suddenly finding that sales of guns represent a large portion of your bottom line but not a large percentage of growth opportunity.
Guns should always be the baseline cornerstone of any strong gun business, but the ancillary sales have always been the icing on the cake. This is especially true as more regulations come into play and labor costs go up year by year.
Pressure by sales models that have lower overhead (warehouse/logistics businesses; marketplaces and single employee organizations) exasperates the problem.
What can you do to improve margins? Balance stock levels with big data insight; leverage internal proprietary information and build value for customers that turns you into their single source. Offering unique services and products that set you apart is also a key methodology.
This isn’t easy. Many gun business owners are people who had a “love of the game” and got into guns as a side hustle. Then something happened. Maybe it was the AR15 craze where customers got to build something that was easy to make and uniquely their own. Maybe it was Sandy Hook, or any number of legislation inspiring tragedies that causes runs on the gun industry (everyone we know in the gun industry continuously hopes that mass shootings go away forever – it is a truly ugly trend that is good for no one). Maybe it was improving ballistic technology. Whatever it was that happened, all of the sudden you find yourself as a legitimately high-volume seller of gun industry products and you might be a little bit out of your depth.
The problem with growth in customer facing hard good industries is that scaling up is exceptionally difficult. It is much harder when there is pricing pressure from everybody and their brother online. The margins are not amazing, so it becomes imperative that you circumvent the traditional thinking and learn how to scale creatively, without linear consequences.
Compliance isn’t easy
In California, you can be operating legally on Monday and be a felon on Friday in the gun industry. Laws change quickly. When you have to pay someone $15 an hour to do paperwork it cuts into margins. When you mess up that paperwork, you can be sued, raided or challenged by legitimate federal authorities (BATF, DOJ, etc.)
Selling a suppressor or just being a Title 2 or Class 3 dealer/manufacturer makes compliance a nightmare for any kind of interstate sales.
More than the idea that compliance isn’t easy (because you can make it relatively straightforward and easy to handle), it isn’t cheap. Pair that with buyers who ask awkward questions because they are too lazy to research something before they go to buy it, and people who complain that it takes an hour or more to buy a gun and it makes for very uncomfortable interactions for significant portion of the employee’s day, and the resulting sale still only nets the owner a 10-15% margin.
Guess what? It still doesn’t mean that you should alienate customers because you’re frustrated. Everybody who owns a gun shop or works in a gun shop can make a career change. Just because you don’t like some of the aspects of that career, doesn’t mean you cannot lean into it and make it better, so you start getting the payoff that makes it more rewarding and enjoyable. And we are here to tell you that when you are making millions of dollars a year and your employees are well compensated for their knowledge and work ethic, things get infinitely better.
Pressure by regulatory agencies
This will only get worse. Even if gun laws were repealed, the pressure from regulatory agencies and legislative bodies will remain, because guns are controversial and they do have the potential to be used to kill people.
Here’s the thing though: it’s not the customer’s fault you don’t like regulatory agency pressure. It’s not their fault that some uninformed person is lobbying or protesting outside your shop. It’s not their fault that you hate having to do more for the same amount of money as other businesses on your block.
Stop treating the customer like they caused the problem or are the problem. Help them to become educated about why it takes an hour or two to buy a gun. Help them understand why there are additional fees to take a test, or why you cannot price guns the same way as the massive distributor online can. Make your customers advocates for you, and evangelists for your brand. Furthermore, engage in actually building your brand, instead of being a service provider who exchanges time for money.
Be the best in the industry because you help people understand the process and navigate it successfully. It will enhance your bottom line and it will create passionate brand ambassadors.
What can we do about improving service in the local gun shop?
With all that’s been discussed thus far, what are some actionable things business owners and management can do to improve the customer experience, and by extension, the revenue generated to the bottom line?
Establish Best practices
Think about everything that hurts you as a business owner and find a simple day-to-day solution to each of those problems. Even if it means having to increase pricing. Find everything that makes your business look bad and make an effort to select simple goals that can start to fix it and begin today to do the work to improve your image, build a brand and help increase profits.
Most importantly learn how to turn actionable items into a checklist. Break them down into well thought out sequences and get to work fulfilling tasks until you can gain momentum through accomplishment.
Look to a specialist to help you understand what the industry best practices are if you aren’t already in the know.
Start getting an education by researching other industries and other successful business owners. Most business best practices are not industry specific. What you can learn from guys like Jeff Bezos, Gary Vaynerchuk, and Seth Godin (to name a few) is very important – more on that in a bit.
Don’t be afraid to ask your employees to contribute. Most importantly, get their buy-in and support as you change the model in order to be more successful. Employees that have a seat at the table, just like customers that have a seat at the table are far more likely to do things that are in the best interest of the company.
Focus on constantly addressing at least one issue, with a long-term time horizon as a base focal point. Don’t put out fires in your business – fireproof your business.
Look to the technology improvements that are available on the market. Whether that be point of sale systems; accounting programs, inventory control solutions or simply website platforms and advertising channels.
On a whole, the technology of the gun industry is so lackluster compared to other industries with similar market caps, but not because the technology doesn’t exist. It’s because owners of gun industry businesses are either too ignorant of the technology or too cheap to implement it for the most part.
Small incremental technology investments can have an immediate, intermediate and long-term positive effect on your bottom line as a gun industry business. DO NOT be afraid to look into technology solutions that can help you run your business more efficiently.
Be careful however, to evaluate each potential solution form a ROI basis. Just because something only costs $199/month doesn’t mean it’s actually necessary or useful. But also, don’t be naïve about the technology that exists. Many of the best products are open source or free solutions that can have incredible impact on your success as a business in the firearms arena.
Embrace the idea of technology. Not just for the sake of being modern or hip. Do it so you can build a legitimate competitive advantage over all of the other business owners who refuse to change with the times.
Sears just (for all intents and purposes) went out of business. And it wasn’t Amazon’s fault. It was Sears’ fault for not embracing technology; changing bad habits and focusing on core asset growth. They refused to act like a business that needs to be around for the next 100 years, and simply assumed that people would keep coming to them because of history.
They had core values that could have solidified their roadmap for years to come but they got complacent and sold off those core brands and refused to use technology to their advantage. They aren’t the only one.
Don’t be Sears. Be Amazon. Be Netflix. Be looking at how you can leverage cheap, available, off-the-shelf technologies to enhance customer interactions and go for engagement at every level to prove to your clients that you care about being here for the next 100 years. Adapt or perish. Winter is coming in the Gun industry.
Customer centric philosophies
Having customer centric philosophies is not a difficult task if you are committed to it. What you have to decide is how long you want to be a company. If you aren’t in it for the long haul, go ahead, keep putting customers second. Your bottom line will always be third.
We are advocates for the business owner. But by default, because we are advocates for the business owner, we are equal advocates for the consumer. No business builds long-term sustainable value by not being consumer centric.
Here are some people who you should be listening to if you want to be customer centric.
Do your homework:
Gary Vaynerchuk: Gary has made hundreds of millions of dollars by giving away free stuff. This philosophy of adding value without the expectation of money from the consumer helps to build credibility and loyalty. It positions you as the expert in the field. It’s just smart.
Jeff Bezos: Say what you will about Amazon, Jeff Bezos is clear about how he has become so successful. He routinely reiterates the following idea: “We know customers like low prices, we know customers like big selection and we know customers like fast delivery and those things are going to be true ten years from now, they’re going to be true twenty years from now, so we can count on those things; so we can put energy into them.” Amazon has almost single-handedly brought an end to retail as we knew it. They have forced change in behavior for business owners and consumers alike. Love him or hate him, there is value in his understanding of customers.
Seth Godin: Seth recognizes that you don’t need millions of followers, fans and customers to be successful, all you really need is to make the customer your focus and treat them well. Take care of your first 10 and then your first 10,000 customers, and then continually seek to make the experience about them, and you will be successful. Those first ten and first one hundred customers, will build your brand. This is a severe dumbing down of the information that Mr. Godin has, his daily blog has more than 7500 entries, and every single piece of commentary is thought provoking and valuable to the business owner.
The customer is always right is true. Even if it is an over-simplified concept backed by the fact that in a practical way, most of the time the customer isn’t right. The problem is: you need the customer. It costs far more to find new customers (about 3-5 times as much at least; and as much as 30 times as much) as it does to keep customers happy in the first place.
Are you engaging past customers with incentives to come patronize you again? Are you gathering data from your customers to help improve their situation?
Whole billion-dollar companies have been built off of collecting customer data. Look at Facebook, and Fair Isaacs. Look at Google. Get your customers information and then talk to them in the ways that they tell you they want to be talked to. Some people actually like being asked to buy something. Some people just like to know you remember their names or their birthdays, or how you first met.
Most importantly be passionate about your customers. Without them your life will be very tough. In this sense, the customer is always right.
Better understanding of the pricing landscape
Start looking at WHY something exists. Look at why marketplaces are selling more than your shop. Look at HOW “XYZ Gun Accessory Company” can sell it for half what you think it costs to make. Look at your competition and study them for their secrets. The market has a funny way of lifting the veil on successful models.
The information is there for any business owner to see. Learn why products are priced that way and learn how to price your products to upsell properly. Sell a cleaning kit as an upsell at the register or in the e-commerce cart and take a 35% margin on it instead of a 45% margin because you can build fans by doing so. Get smart about when to ask for a sale and why you don’t have to charge more for accessories because you feel like you need to make up for margins on the guns. That’s a myth.
You can charge less because you will make more, and you will move more product and it creates cash flow, and loyal customers and it simply makes sense.
If you can only make 5% on guns, push other items harder, so you can even out your revenue channels. You don’t have to stop selling guns, you just have to make sure you offset the labor and capital intensive items with items that aren’t as capital intensive.
FOR CUSTOMERS: do some research yourself. When was the last time you went to the car lot to learn about a car? Leverage internet resources like this website (netgunsmith.com) Most consumers spend hundreds of hours researching their next car purchase, years before they decide to go to the lot. Do your part to make the interaction at the point of sale in the gun industry, a better experience. Don’t ask stupid questions when you already know the answer. If you want better answers, ask better questions.
Women are shooters now. So are liberals. So are kids. Don’t be stupid and inadvertently turn away a customer because they don’t fit into an antiquated concept of what your ideal demographic is.
Learn what cowboy action shooting is, even if you’re idea of a gun shop is high end optics and modern military designed battle rifles.
Start getting customer feedback. Ask they what they want to see. Ask them what they would be willing to buy. Do things like group buys for a small discount to spur on interaction and harbor good will with your clientele. A single group buy of bulk ammunition, where you are offering it at 5% over true cost will go a long way to securing a relationship with your 50 best customers.
Ask them to pre-buy and give them a perk for doing so.
Ask them to audit your gun store layout; or your website menus. Give them a 10% coupon for doing it. You will gain valuable insight; you will improve customer affection towards your brand and you will be losing nothing for it. In fact, a coupon will help catalyze a purchase more often than it will go unused.
Give value without expecting money in return. Invite customers into a dealer demonstration. Serve coffee on busy weekend mornings to keep customer happy. Auction off a safari trip or make it a raffle and watch customer engagement soar.
Better top down management
The best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago. The second-best time is now. Start today by changing how you manage people, assets, inventory, mindset and customer focused interactions.
The more you do today, the less you have to do tomorrow and the better the revenue you have to do it with, because you are improving your bottom line through improving engagement.
Stop blaming the system. Stop blaming the employees. Stop blaming your customers. Take responsibility for what you can control and do it better. Be more thoughtful about it. No, really: think about it more often. Be wondering how you can improve the process continually.
Stop being the bottleneck, that’s the big takeaway here. You are the only one who is standing in your way of making a better gun business. When you recognize there is room for improvement then you can start making more money and enjoying yourself more.
Elite athletes dream of a .25% (one quarter of one percent) improvement let alone a 1% improvement over the course of the season through optimization. These are athletes that are already well beyond best practices.
Most business owners aren’t even at the base level of best practices to begin with. That alone can improve the bottom line by more than 25%. Optimization is a concept where incremental improvement can lead to huge dividends. Start with coming into harmony with the best practices baseline, and then consistently look for optimization opportunities.
Start thinking about the best customer experiences you have as a consumer. Why are they good? Why do you return to do business again and again?
Customers no longer have to engage with companies out of necessity. There are legion providers of SAAS (software as a service) and plenty of options. You can now choose to go with a vendor based on how they treat you, and customers frequently do. More importantly, the baseline of customer service is now heightened.
Think about Netflix. Think about Singapore airlines. Think about Trader Joe’s. You engage these brands because they offer something so unique in a customer experience that it is worth the money. Sure, you don’t take Singapore airlines every time because its expensive. But you take it on your honeymoon, or on a once yearly vacation because the experience is special.
You go to Trader Joe’s because they offer top quality at a fair price, but they talk to you at the register. They engage you in the aisles. They help you find something you will love because they have employees focused on finding hidden gems and showing customers about them.
If you have a problem with Netflix, they give you a free month of service simply for the inconvenience. They work on making you feel comfortable and they engage you on a human level, during a frustrating time (when customer service situations occur).
You remember the customer experience because it’s memorable. It’s “remarkable” – it makes you willing to remark.
How can you make a difference in your customer’s life? Maybe it is taking pictures of their gun as it goes through each step of the Cerakoting process. Maybe it’s by adding an after hours chat functionality to your website that is handled by an actual human that can solve order problems or flag concerns so they are dealt with properly.
TO THE CUSTOMERS: Don’t be afraid to talk to the owner or a manager, or even that employee. You deserve better than to be treated poorly. Stand up for yourself and COMMUNICATE. You can nip the customer service issue in the bud by doing just that.
Being able to communicate more effectively; and actually communicating more effectively aren’t the same thing
You might feel perfectly confident in your ability to speak or your competency of your employees. But capacity to do something and impetus to do something are totally different things.
Not only do you have to be capable of meaningful communication, you must make communication a cultural baseline that is rewarded and championed. And you must remind yourself and your employees to do it, and improve it, and practice it at all times.
If you don’t understand why a customer is communicating in a certain way, or what they are trying to communicate it is on you as the proprietor of the store to help them to communicate. You cannot expect your customers to know what you know. Not only can you not expect them to be experts like you are, but you must be able to help them communicate their needs so that you can deliver on them responsibly.
You want better answers? Ask better questions. You want better customers? Help them to figure out what they need, and turn their needs into the solutions you can offer.
How to thrive as a gun business online or off
There are thousands of new gun businesses being built every month. It’s a hot market. What used to be about 150 manufacturers of firearms globally just a couple decades ago, now translates to thousands of providers in each market niche. There are thousands of AR-15 component manufacturers in California alone.
The landscape is vast, and the commodity nature of what we do means two things. If you are average, you’ll get lost in the crowd. If you are excellent you will make up the top 1%.
You cannot be a local gun shop and not have a website. The economies of scale don’t allow for you to build lasting value under most circumstances. You need to be well integrated in the online world as well as the offline world. It is shocking how many gun shops or other gun businesses don’t have a website. It’s a losing position to be without one at this point. In fact, at best, you are very late to the game.
You cannot simply expect local revenue to allow you to grow. You need to tap into the global market (the macro market is a better term for the idea we are trying to express here, not necessarily the global geographical market). You must understand how to leverage both types of customers, and you must be shirting towards the trendlines that become sustained.
People no longer buy things the way they used to. The local gun shop is protected in the sense that federal and state regulations make them the go between for a manufacturer and a consumer of firearms (and sometimes, sadly) ammunition. This isn’t much of a benefit anymore. Many consumers opt to go with big online e-commerce companies to buy their guns for a variety or combination of reasons, including pricing ability; in-stock items; ease of dealing with a sale; streamlined processes; time savings, etc.
That is: they will PAY to NOT work with a local shop and simply to use the local shop as a hub to receive their goods. This is indicative of more than pricing pressure. It indicates that the buying experience is vastly easier online than it is in person, in most cases.
The net result is that they often pay more money to get a product through an online channel than they could by buying it in a local store. This is because there are compelled to do it out of fear or distaste for working with a human in person. Read into that statement however you want to.
The plain truth of it is this: Without improving the customer experience, there is no way you will not be relegated to a position of transactional handling, instead of selling products. In the same way that iron workers were wage slaves as Andrew Carnegie transitioned his iron and steel plants to automated processes, you will become a slave to handling paperwork – a glorified administrator, if you don’t recognize this trend and do what you need to do to fix it.
Creating value is more than just having a website and recognizing that you don’t want to be a glorified administrator for the BATF and DOJ. Finding unique opportunities to get customers to realize what you can offer, and then continuously improving that offering is what you should be obsessed with.
Consolidation is coming to the gun industry in the next several years. Many companies will go bankrupt. We are already seeing some of that. The words of this article will be prophetic 5 years from now – we have no doubt. That doesn’t make us prophet’s, it proves our ability to analyze facts.
You need to look at the trends you see and get to par with them. You need to become analysts yourselves, and look at your proprietary data, you need to subscribe to the brain trust that exists online from business people and gun people. You need to work with great consultants and build in tolerance to risk in your business.
As the famous Apple computer advertising campaign (via the now famous Rob Sitanen quote) stated: “Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.”
You aren’t going to change the world unless you try to see things differently and react accordingly.
When it comes to being successful online and off, create multiple revenue streams that don’t rely on the old school methodology of the gun retail industry. That industry is dying. Create value by selling products and services, and ideas that look to the future of what is possible. Identify what is ideal, and work towards that ideal.
It was once impossible to run a 4-minute mile. Until someone did it. Before Roger Bannister ran a 3 minute 59 and four/tenths of a second mile in in May 1954, the improvement in running times had been at a standstill for decades. Once Roger Bannister broke the four-minute mile, it only took 46 days for someone to run a 3 minute and 58 second mile. About a year later, 3 runners ran sub four-minute mile times in the same sanctioned race.
What changed? Did humans suddenly change physiology? No. The new standard had been set. There was a hope that it could be reached. Since Roger Bannister, thousands of runners have broken the four-minute mile mark while running. Because the fact existed (e.g. that a 4 minute mile could be achieved), adaptation to meet that goal could be embraced.
The standard has been set with regards to the market and the customer service experience. You can now embrace the challenge. Be one of thousands who can beat the mark, not one of billions who cannot.
Embracing Technology to Organically Improve The Gun Shop Customer Experience
It’s easier now than ever to leverage technology to build legacy businesses that people go out of their way to work with.
WordPress can be used for free to make a website, so can Magento. They are the two most powerful platforms for the mainstream modern web, and they are open source, easy to learn, well supported and yes, FREE.
Google Sheets, Twitter, and countless other platforms are just waiting to be leveraged for brand growth.
And if there is a single takeaway from this lengthy discussion on customer experience in the gun industry it is that you must build a brand, instead of just sell products. You can leverage free or inexpensive technologies to do this, but you have to lead the charge.
No one, and no one software or social media platform is going to do it for you.
You “…must be the change you wish to see in the world”. Interestingly, even Gandhi was a supporter of guns in some sense. He once famously stated: “Among the many misdeeds of the British rule in India, history will look upon the Act depriving a whole nation of arms as the blackest. If we want the Arms Act to be repealed, if we want to learn the use of arms, here is a golden opportunity. If the middle classes render voluntary help to Government in the hour of its trial, distrust will disappear, and the ban on possessing arms will be withdrawn.”
The world is changing, without embracing that change you have no hope in enacting your own wishes. Utilizing the power of technology, however, when many of your competitors won’t or simply don’t, mean you are ahead of the curve when it comes to building a brand that can stand the test of time.
Stop being cheap
If you are not investing in your business, it will not return on investment. Stop avoiding change and education. You need to keep up with your competitors or you will become the Blockbuster to the Netflix’s of the gun industry. Just because people like guns and they are buying them, doesn’t mean your obsolete way of viewing appropriate investment in your business will sustain you in the long-term.
Proactive businesses in the gun industry are embracing technology; learning from peers and engaging competent consultants to help build out their businesses for long-term legacy success.
Yes, it costs money to do this, but without appropriate investment, you cannot expect trends to support growth.
Almost as important, is to work with companies that can help you recognize when something is simply that: a trend, and is not timeless, or evergreen. Working with consultants and adhering to best practices is cheap in the long-run if you stay in business and grow as the industry grows. Get with a good consultant and exponential growth is possible year after year. We believe we are pretty good consultants for the gun industry; many of our clients would also agree.
One of the best litmus tests for both owners/employees and the customers that come into local gun stores as to where that experience can be a positive, memorable exchange, is that they remain human during their time together.
Empathy, communication, seeking to help each other; these are all things that will lead to improved relations.
Only one party to this equation has an absolute need to be human: that is the business. Though with a little bit of pre-work, and forethought, regular consumers can shift and change into ideal consumers. It only helps them in the long run, really.
Shop employees and management need to understand that anything less than human, leads to a direct hit to the bottom line for 99 out of 100 interactions, so don’t even for a moment let it be a thing, to consider being less than remarkable in the most positive way possible.
This discussion has clearly become more than the title leads on. Instead of a snarky finger pointing article about the fact that local gun shops have declined in value of late, we have shown how value created through consumer interaction can lead to massive profits and improved brand loyalty. We feel this is the most comprehensive post on the web about the subject and we have just scratched the surface.
8,000 more words could be written on the subject, and still, the idea would be lost on many.
We are dedicated to improving value for gun industry businesses, and that’s why sometimes we have a more comprehensive approach to content than others in our space. Call us wordy, call us long-winded. We would rather have given the options and stated the case, than having left our clients out in the cold.
What we believe is this: in order to leverage the best possible experience for customers and for yourself you need to be successful. Success in the gun industry is derived from different metrics than it used to be derived from, and that is the gist of this article. The customer service experience is a two-way street, but only one party’s livelihood depends on that experience being executed at the highest level. That means that gun industry businesses need to start taking this metric seriously and become obsessed about customers and driving value to those customers while they build brands that can withstand the continuous onslaught by the broader market, regulatory agencies, competitors and legislators.
In the end, your legacy will be extrapolated from your ability to have created value from your interactions with people, and your ability to continuously improve your offering.
THE AUTHOR’S PERSONAL COMMENTARY ABOUT THIS ITEM:
“The other day I had a problem when my wife asked a plumber to come to the house and give a free estimate on what it would cost to solve a problem.”
“He entered the house, said he was there to give a free estimate and then confirmed for me the exact problem I had just described to him before he walked in. It took him 35 seconds to confirm the problem. Then he told me I owed him $90.”
“I asked him what I owed him $90 for. Bear in mind he had not given me an estimate, had not told me if there were other concerns or anything. Simply told me that I needed to sign the receipt to be billed $90.”
“I again asked him why I owed $90, as I was under the impression, he was going to give me an estimate on the costs to replace/repair a fitting and determine if there was more extensive damage to be corrected. He came highly recommended, and we intended to work with his company to do the work.”
“Of course he then said that my $90 fee would be used to offset the cost of the repairs, which all of the sudden were now doubled in price, and could not be guaranteed by him until the work was finished.”
“I asked him to leave. We didn’t pay the money. He complained that I ‘…was just like every other customer.’ He said that I ‘…just wanted to know what it costs s I could do it myself or hire a cheaper competitor with leverage from his estimate.’ He threw in the obligatory: ‘You don’t understand how much it costs to run these trucks out to every jackass’ house to estimate repairs.’ And ‘It’s not cheap to run a company.’
My reply: “Not my problem.” “When you tell me that you are offering a free estimate, you give the estimate for free. You don’t bait and switch someone into engaging you out of ‘necessity’.” “You could have easily, based off of the complaint we had, told us a figure on the phone that it would cost, or disclosed that you charge a troubleshooting fee to come out – we would have been happy with either option.”
“Furthermore, the company would have had our business, had he not tried to act like I was responsible for his decision to “offer free estimates in person”. I am not responsible for his business decisions. I am also able to choose from thousands of local competitors.”
“The moral of the story: when someone comes to you for a solution to a problem, they are a captive audience. They already intend to work with you, after all, they sought you out. Don’t lose them by being bad at running your business. Don’t lose them by creating obstacles to working with you. Don’t lose them because you don’t like certain aspects of your business. Engage them like they are valuable, and you will build value in your business because you will have a loyal customer. Give them remarkable service.”
– Benjamin Worthen
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