Cheryl Todd gives us her, “Report from a Gun Store in America.”
Men go shopping for what they want. Women go shopping to find out what they want. –Unknown
This aphorism is just as true in high-end department stores as it is in the local corner gun shop. Women want options, women want quality and women want service. This is true of men as well, but in my experience even more so for the female of the species.
I co-own, along with my husband, AZFirearms, a small local gun shop on the main street in the little town of Avondale, Arizona. We are in a suburb of Phoenix, near Luke Air Force Base, close to a variety of shooting ranges and within driving distance of several retirement communities. Because of our location, and being just off Interstate 10, we are in a hub of several small cities, and draw from a wide spectrum of socioeconomic areas and neighborhoods. We work with military and law enforcement, professional people, blue collar workers, first-time gun owners, and retirement-age people. The common denominator with all of these communities is the female market.
My shop is small, and my ability to add product lines is very limited, so I have yet to include many items that appeal to female shoppers, such as purses. I do carry some of the more colorful firearms that can appeal to fashion-conscious shoppers, and to those who are seeking something a little less “basic black.” So, while there are limitations to shopping in a small neighborhood store like AZFirearms, we do have 1,200 guns on display at any given time. We are masters of variety and are a relational, service-driven company. We have enjoyed a personal endorsement from Dave Ramsey, who is a firearms enthusiast as well as America’s trusted voice on financial issues. Dave calls AZFirearms “The Floyd’s Barbershop of gun stores,” a nod to The Andy Griffith Show (a 1960’s TV program.) A staff member who speaks to a younger generation conjures up visions of another TV show when he says, “We’re like Cheers, with gunpowder!” Whichever phrase speaks to you, the message is the same—we are a small, friendly, family-owned store that is dedicated to teaching, not selling. And that appeals to female shoppers.
The freedom to talk through a decision and to ask questions which are met with eye contact and thoughtful answers appeals to the female market. The assurance that each customer is treated with the same attention and respect, regardless of gender, age or race, appeals to the female customer as well. The ability to walk into AZFirearms as a complete novice and walk out with newfound knowledge, with no obligation to make a purchase, engages the female shopper. The confidence to invite friends into the store to weigh in on her decision to purchase her first (or 50th) firearm is exciting to the female buyer, too, because this is often a celebration of her independence and her rights, more than a mere exchange of currency for a product. These are all elements that create an atmosphere in which women (and men) are able to thoughtfully consider which tool is the right one for the job, whether it’s a hunting rifle, a home-defense gun, a firearm for the enjoyment of plinking and target shooting, or a gun that will become a part of their personal daily wardrobe as a concealed (or open) carry firearm. These are all things that bring women to AZFirearms and other gun shops as lookers, learners and shoppers.
One thing AZFirearms does not offer is a visible female staff member, as I work behind the scenes as an owner-manager rather than on the sales floor. While the pool of potential female applicants is comparatively smaller than the number of male prospects, we have interviewed a number of women over the years, but haven’t found just the right fit. In order to complete this “Report from a Gun Store in America,” I sought out Miss Jeanelle Westrom, a friend who not only works in a gun store, but is the sole owner of Davenport Guns in Iowa.
I met Jeanelle in February of 2016 when we both attended The DC Project in our nation’s capital. I immediately liked her warm and friendly personality, and I became deeply impressed with her humility when I realized, after much prodding, what an accomplished woman she is! Jeanelle is a distinguished woman in many respects, most especially in her undertaking of being a single woman who holds multiple FFLs in multiple states, including a large firearms store and range. She was the perfect choice to interview for this report.
What are women buying in your store? Holsters, bags, guns, etc.?
Jeanelle: Women are coming in to learn about guns, or because as children they shot with their dads and always liked it, but never really pursued owning a firearm or shooting as adults. After their first trip to the shop, they come back and buy a gun for self-defense, and they continue to come back to practice and to buy accessories—a CCW purse, holsters, range gear…
Can you also speak about other reasons women come to your store? Is it personalized service? Is it dealing with a fellow female?
What I hear most often is that, because the shop is owned by a woman, they feel like they’ll be welcomed into the shop and not treated poorly. Oddly, having a female owner gives them the confidence to walk in the door.
What’s your most memorable customer experience?
There are so many that it’s hard to choose one, but a dear friend, Sandy’s, story comes to mind. When Sandy was only 18 years old she witnessed her sister being murdered by an abusive husband, whose weapon of choice was a gun. At first I had no clue about Sandy’s past, or how she felt around firearms. However, she started dating a police officer and realized that she was scared to death knowing he was always carrying a gun. But she was smart enough to know that it was her issue, and hers alone, to solve.
One day she told me the story about her sister—about the boyfriend’s guns, and how she wanted to overcome her fear. I went to my safe and pulled out a pistol, made sure the Mag was out and that the chamber was cleared, and I set the gun on the table. She never took her eyes off it, and when she started to cry I put the gun away. We did this for months before Sandy felt ready to go to the range, where she started to cry again. I packed up my range bag and we left. This happened a few times before Sandy took her first shot. When she finally did fire that first shot she cried once more…but this time out of joy, for overcoming what she believed had been an irrational fear. Fifteen years after this breakthrough, Sandy walked into my shop with her husband. She asked to see a couple pistols, and confidently and happily walked out with a new handgun for self-defense.
What is your best “range” moment with a female?
A family came in together to use the indoor range: Mom, Dad, and two adult males. Mom was obviously nervous and was very hesitant to hold a handgun, let alone go into the range to shoot with the men. Sensing her hesitation, I pulled out my Ruger .22-45 Lite and screwed a suppressor onto the barrel. We girls went to one range (where we were alone), and I sent the guys to the other shooting bay. After spending 15 minutes or so talking about safety and how to hold the pistol and use the sights, I demonstrated for her by shooting five rounds through the pistol, one handed, offhand, so she could see how light the recoil was and how quiet the handgun was to shoot. Husband and wife now own their own handguns and come in to practice on a regular basis. I love working with people as they overcome their fear and learn how to master their shooting skills.
How do men react to your store?
I’ve had one gentleman that was a bit dubious about a woman-owned gun store…but he keeps coming back. I honestly get more “I’d like you to teach me how to shoot better” than anything else, since I have the in-house range for pistols and an outdoor range for rifles.
As I conclude this “Report from a Gun Store in America,” I want to thank Jeanelle for sharing such incredible stories of her experiences as a gun store owner. This report, in almost any other retail industry, would have been a dry accounting of types of products sold and changing trends mastered. However, we in the firearms industry do far more than sell products. We touch lives in deep and intimately personal ways. We empower women and men to protect lives, we facilitate the learning of new skills and gaining new knowledge, we engage families who are passing along traditions such as hunting and sportsmanship, and we help generations keep the torch of freedom burning through safe and responsible gun ownership. It is a proud and noble profession, which I am honored to share with fine women like Jeanelle Westrom and countless other shopkeepers across this nation.
What do you think of Cheryl’s report? Does it fall in line with what you see locally? Share your report with us.