Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The Perfect Gun Shop

I have been contemplating going back into business for myself and opening a gun store. I have the general location, the name, and a basic business plan figured out. I do not yet have near the capitol necessary to make V (or myself for that matter) feel comfortable taking such a step, so this is still in the early thinking stages.

I would locate this shop in an area not far from the house, a small shopping district with freeway access surrounded by neighborhoods that consists mainly of single family homes. The lease rate for this area is comparatively low as the boutique style shopping has moved to the eastern end of town. The nearest gun shops are 15 to 20 minutes away, longer if there is traffic, and the closest big box stores are not really interested in selling firearms and firearm related supplies. I feel this is a good area for this type of shop.

I have the basic idea of what I would like for the shop to become, but need your help with some of the plans.

Describe your perfect gun shop.

Tell me what brings you back to your favorite shops, and what keeps you away from those you detest.

What merchandise are you surprised not to find in some shops? Heck, a list of necessities would be good just in case I have missed something.

This is important as if I do open the store, it will not be as a hobby, I will have to make a living at it. Good ideas now will help me be successful then.



Fits said...

Quality used firearms are always a plus. For someone like myself, if I'm looking for a gun I pretty much already know its manual of arms so I don't need to fondle a half dozen, so a scazillion new guns onhand isn't all that important to me, but the ability to order one fast and uncluttered is.

Everywhere I look, there seems to be a scarcity of mouseguns, Kel-Tecs in particular, because around here they go like hotcakes to newly minted CCW'ers. Ladies especially want something small and time and time again I see some nutjob of a salesman trying to sell a gal something bigger than she wants because he's either making a ton of cash on a particular model or just can't get in anything thats popular.

Use the FFL to transfer guns for people without charging them an arm and a leg.

Don't overlook lines such as Hi-Point just because, well, just because. The Hi-Point purchaser of today is the S&W guy down the road, and having inexpensive truck guns on hand is always a plus.

GLOCKS are always backordered it seems nowadays so carrying that brand would make anyone a decent living, and the right connections might get you some LE business.

Accessories too. Parts, add-on stocks for shotguns and carbines, the stuff that keeps Cheaper Than Dirt and those guys in business.

And ammo. Time after time I must search high and low for good defensive ammunition, and for the plinking variety you're not going to beat the big box stores anyway but having a small inventory around with the means to get more on the double can't hurt.

Throw some Maks and CZ's in the display case too. Have a few of the new Smith monster revolvers around just to gawk at, but once again, be able to get them for a customer ASAP. When all is said and done then go to the sporting goods section of the nearest Wal-Mart and offer one of the hourly assistant managers a part-time job to come in once and again to make sure all of the paperwork is in order.

Look for the manufacturer who needs/wants the business and work out promo deals on giveaway prices for special sales events. And on and on and on...

JR said...

Hey Fits, I apprecitate the time you took to put all that down.

Fits said...

Welcome. You do us all a service. Hey, I can't wait for Hi-Point to come out with a .40 caliber carbine like they've been promising. Tired of losing expensive and even not-so expensive guns to the swamp, and who'd care if a gator 'et so cheap a firearm. The local shops aren't impressed and won't carry them because there isn't much of a markup but sweet moses on pogo with all the ammo I buy you'd think they toss me a bone now and again.

Gary Anthony said...

1. CUSTOMER SERVICE! A simple "Hi, looking for something in particular or just browsing today?" "If I can help you with anything, let me know...and if we don't have what you're looking for, we can get it in 3 days tops." If you have hired help, make sure they know the rule that they stop the B.S.'ing about the antelope hunt and greet/help the customer. Nothing drives me out of a store faster than standing at the counter while the 'hired help' finishes their latest hunting story.
2. REASONABLE PRICING! I don't begrudge anyone a fair profit. I do my research ahead of time before going to the local gun store, so I know what the item is worth. If the markup on the gun is what I'd pay to have it shipped, insured, plus transferred by an FFL, plus a 'fair' profit, then I'll buy it. If not, I'll move on down the road or order it from my neighbor who has an FFL. I prefer to do my business locally, but like I tell everyone in this internet age, "Reasonable Yes, Goughing, No."

the pistolero said...

Second the comment about the customer service. The gun shops I've frequented here have been pretty good about that. In fact, a guy at one of the local shops here called me one day to tell me he had a shipment of bullets that I might be interested in. As far as I can tell he looked up my name in the phone book. I was really surprised by that. With your living in a large metro area like you do, though, I don't know if you'd have the luxury of knowing individual customers' preferences like that, but then people have a way of coming back to good places. And the more you see of them, the better you'll get to know their preferences.
Be as evenhanded as you can. I am sure you're aware of how some folks talk up certain brands of firearms, such as Kimbers. (Your own problems with your Pro Carry, for example, would be worth mentioning if you end up ponying up the $15,000 order to be a Kimber Master Dealer, as well as the one-year warranty Kimber offers.) As I mused not so long ago, when I was looking for a 10mm 1911, the folks at the shop I bought it at said the Dan Wesson Razorbacks were great guns even though they said they'd rather have the Kimber. That was another thing that surprised me, as I had not heard that much about the DWs.
But that's my two cents...

PN NJ said...

One of the problems in my area is lack of gunsmiths for basic repairs and maintenance. If you don't provide this service at your shop, you should at least be able to refer your customers to a few trusted gunsmiths in your local area.

Many gun stores tend to blow off new shooters. At a minimum, you should be able to help new shooters understand the relevant laws and obtain proper instruction, such as some of the introductory NRA programs. A little more patience and tolerance at the counter would be nice too.

You might also want to supplement guns with archery products for bow hunters, etc. Some stores in my area sell air guns too.

A web site is necessary, even for small stores. It doesn't have to be fancy (but it's not that hard to make a good one). You should also try to acquire customer email addresses for sales announcements, etc.

You will be competing with many online vendors. Your advantage will probably be convenience and service, not price. If you don't/can't carry an extensive inventory, you need to know how to work with your suppliers for rapid special orders. If I have to wait more than a few days for a special order, I usually go online.

At the end of the day, you're not in the product business, you're in the service business.

austin45acp said...

IMHO, Customer Service again.

I think we all agree it's just plain fun to go to a gun shop, even if you don't buy something every visit.

Heck, sometimes I'll pop into a gun shop on the way home from work just to be around them (weapons) and like-minded folks.

You can buy on the internet just about any firearm/accessory you could ever dream about. But a friendly, knowledgeable, and fair-pricing gun shop owner can make you get in your car and drive to that "toy shop for grownups".

In decades of firearm ownership, my experience has sadly been that a majority of the folks behind the counters in gun shops are like sorority sisters. They have the clique of Customers that they smile at; then, there's everyone else.

"Be an ass and I MIGHT buy one or two items from you if I can't find them anywhere else. Be friendly and I'll buy from you as long as your doors are open."

Business-relationships put commas in your bank account.

Bob S. said...

I think that for many new or prospective shooters having great customer service is a huge draw. Offer (or refer to someone that has)classes on basic skills such as cleaning, storing, the laws; be some place that provides more then guns. Spend some time giving seminars or lectures to local civic or charity groups as part of the involvement in the community. I work with a Single parent family group at our church, I know that many of the ladies, especially would appreciate learning about self-defense options including concealed carry.
In simple terms, develop a relationship with the community.

Thanks and good luck

Stan said...

Whatever kind of store it is, I like the friendly kind of customer service. The people who chat me up a bit, without nagging my ear off, are the people I go back to often. Maybe it's just cause I'm from a small town.

I like Bob's idea of giving seminars, informing people. I've met quite a few women who are interested, but afraid to buy a gun because they don't know much about them.

JR said...

Thank you very much for all the great feedback. Customer service and a "new shooter" friendly environment are high on my list of important objectives for this shop.

I had not thought about routine seminars, but that is a good idea. A camera chain offers free photography classes with each camera. Maybe I could offer a gift cert. for a free firearm safety class, and hold the classes weekly with a normal fee of $20.00 or so.


Any additional input would be appreciated.

ExistingThing said...

It's not that hard for me; just say "Hi, I'll be with you in a moment."

How sad is it that all I want is this?

You don't necessarily have to show every model in every length from one manufacturer. If I see a few glocks in the case, I know you can order one. I don't need to see five different calibers of compact glocks, and find that you don't have a single Walther for me to look at.

Master of Obvious said...

1. On-site range for cashflow, testing, store traffic.

2. Gunsmithing. Will get the serious purchasers to your store from far, far away.

PN NJ said...

Make sure you understand the time line and sequencing for the store lease, FFL, zoning approval, local business permits/licenses, and any necessary construction.

K said...

Well I am happy to say that I have already been a customer and an employee of my favorite gun shop. Which sadly closed just earlier this year. So let me describe it.

The layout was very open. While the guns and ammo were behind the counter the accessories accessible to browsers so they could grab them and bring them up to the counter. There were stools a few overstuffed chairs and a couch as well.

This created an environment where you just didn't go to shop, you went to socialize. Creating what the owner jokingly called gun store groupies. The groupies weren't just there to socialize many of them were knowlegeable shooters in their own right so a new shooter always had competent instruction and advise available. In fact it was one of these groupies that taught me how to shoot my first handgun.

Customer service was king. If you wanted something he would try to get it no matter how rare. If you brought a gun in for service turn around was fast, around a week or so, and if it took longer you always knew what the status was. We didn't do full custom guns there, just basic tuning work.

Most importantly was the owner and those who worked for him got to know the regulars by name and even by what they wanted. We used to have a guy who would show up every time S&W announced a new handgun and only then. However, the owner knew him and what he wanted so the conversation went like: "How many?" "$response" "O.K. I'll call you when they get in."

After the shop closed we'd often migrate to the local range and shoot until we couldn't see the targets any more. Then we'd turn on the headlights and shoot some more.

When we got hungry we'd go to the local Pizza joint and take over a few booths. All the while just having a good time.

JR said...

A range attached with the shop would be way to expensive at the moment, but would be a nice addition later.

I have a decent idea of the timeline involved from final decision to opening day. Another reason for more capitol.

k,that is kind of what I am looking to do. An open, bright, welcoming shop that is inviting and will not scare the soccer moms.

Thanks again for all of your help with this, it is appreciated.

Bob S. said...

Another thought since I just finished dealing with it. Most people are not aware of the laws concerning safe storage of firearms if there are children under 17 in the house. Simple, inexpensive storage options would be a natural add on to any gun sale.
I went with soft sided storage cases and suit case style combination locks. The locks have combinations you can set yourself.

By the way, I live in Arlington also. Let me know where your shop will be, I'll be one of your first customers.

Sarah said...

I have read on many websites about Bersas and how they aren't reliable and worthless, it's not true. I have a Bersa .380 Thunder, for a women with a smaller frame it is perfect, I would suggest you have some in stock. Whatever you do DO NOT sell the ProMag mags for them, they do not work.
The one thing that gets me out of a gun shop quick is to treat me as if I'm just another uneducated female without even getting a feel for what I know and don't know. Don't treat women any different then men. Get a feel for their knowledge about firearms first.

JR said...

Sarah; Thanks for the input. My wife and I have left a shop or two because of the way she was treated, so no worries about that from any shop I might end up owning.