Consumer Insights

May 3, 2016
Last week, I had the opportunity to partake in some marketing insight from the firearms sales and marketing managers at the Charlotte, North Carolina Bass Pro Shop. In the course of what turned into a great discussion of what was the "typical" gun customer today, there were some general insights shared that didn't necessarily jibe with commonly held perceptions.

Granted, "brand, new customers" were coming into the store, but of their customers interested in concealed carry, only about 15 percent were first-timers. A "significant number" of others, however, weren't experienced shooters, but had either shot in the past or had a spouse or family member who did shoot.

It was interesting to note that of the 15 percent they described as "brand new" buyers last year, slightly more than half were women. This year, however, the percentage had climbed to approximately 56 percent female versus male in the category.

The staffers confirmed something everyone in attendance had taken as a "given": significant spikes in both traffic and sales could be tracked to either random shootings or anti-gun statements from politicians.

In short, personal safety and gun rights remain hot button issues.

The first paradigm that got shifted for the half dozen or so writers in attendance was that "gun culture 2.0" - a title given the new gun buying public by our friend Michael Bane a couple of years ago may have already changed into version 3.0. Whatever the O/S version, it's obvious that the "typical" gun customer is, for all intents and purposes a whole new animal when compared with the traditionally accepted middle-aged (or older) man.

Today, I was told, "typical" customers may be male or female, but they're far more likely to be looking for a small concealed carry handgun than a modern sporting rifle or a traditional hunting gun. And that "typical" customer already has a pretty good idea about what they're shopping for - and that first choice sometimes came a a big shock to the staff members behind the counter.

The female customer at this BPS, I was told, was not shopping for a tiny, concealable handgun in .380 caliber. They were looking for small, concealable handguns. But they were looking for one that fit their hand and came in as large a caliber as they could manage. "I have large hands for a lady," said one staffer, "and I tell the guys they'd better consider fit before caliber. If it fits your hand, it's going to be easier to shoot than something that seems too-small."

And the pink thing (shrink something, color it pink and call it a ladies' model) is very much out.

There are things selling in pink, but the overwhelming majority of those purchases are made by someone out to make a fashion statement, male or female.

Ladies, I was told, weren't buying guys based on any color theme.

"When we're selling experienced shooters accessories for their rifle or hangun," I was told, "we may get a customer who wants pink, but it's more a fashion statement than buying a ladies' product."

In fact, several of the clerks told me that they didn't reach for anything in a "color" unless the customer specifically asked to see it.

As a general trend, first-time buyers seem to have baseline knowledge when it comes to potentially suitable products, but are generally lacking any sort of hands-on quality time with firearms. And they were universally looking for sources of quality instruction- a requirement for anyone seeking a North Carolina concealed carry permit.

There were several other interesting facts shared with us during the conversation, but one thing stuck in my mind. Having been in the golf industry and seen the success with "fitting days" when players were given the opportunity to come to the range and try out different products, it might be time for manufacturers, retailers and shooting facilities to get together on some sort of "fitting day" program for potential gun purchasers.

Sure, many ranges have rental programs, but even the high-end "gun-try club" facilities don't seem to be giving that selling opportunity much thought.

The BPS staff told me that their new customers were generally interested in the add-ons for their new guns that included quantities of ammo (because they wanted to learn to shoot, not just own a gun), cleaning supplies, and safe ways to carry - and store- their new purchases.

"We see $500-600 purchases balloon to $850-900," one worker told me, "because the typical buyer we're seeing today either knows what they need- or are very open to us helping them."

Hummm….servicing the customer. Interesting idea - and that may be the most beneficial change in "gun culture 3.0" - everyone wants to be waited on by someone who wants to help, not impress you with their knowledge - or patronize you with their attitude.

We'll keep you posted.

—Jim Shepherd