There’s no doubt that gun retail sales are strong and may continue their momentum as the political climate continues to simmer and ever more shooters are introduced to the sport. But a smart business owner never counts on today’s trends to keep his operation afloat tomorrow.
Remember the paint ball craze of the 1990s and the zombie onslaught of last year? Like most bubbles, trends are bound to pop, so it’s prudent for shooting sports businesses to diversify their offerings and provide services to their customers that defy the boom and bust of fads.
One area that might be just the ticket to insulate your operation for the long haul is training. While shooters will always visit your shop for ammunition, accessories and new guns to add to their collection, giving them a way to get good at what they have could prove to cement that repeat customer. Getting into the training business isn’t easy, but if you check all your boxes, it could provide a lucrative source of revenue when times get tough.
A Few Basics
So if you’re ready to take the leap into training, there are a couple things you need to focus on. First off, you have to find someone that can do the training. Most stores have a couple of employees who are certified instructors or are willing to get what they need to become one. And if you don’t have an employee who’s up to it, chances are there’s a freelance trainer nearby.
Once you’ve got the instructor, you’ll have to square away a classroom with comfortable seating and lighting. Today’s courses use written materials, interactive demonstrations, PowerPoint presentations and video. A classroom should be equipped with a computer, projector and software that will handle instructor DVDs, but some instructors will provide their own audio-visual gear.
And of course you’ll need access to a shooting range. A store with an indoor facility is preferable, but if that’s not available the trainer should make arrangements with a nearby range.
But most importantly, check your business insurance to make sure it accommodates shooting instruction. More customers passing through the store or attending store-sponsored events increases the profit potential, and the potential for lawsuits.
Check The Available Resources
Everyone knows that one of the main missions of the National Rifle Association is to promote safe handling of firearms and a standard of instruction for everything from shotgun, pistol and rifle shooting. The NRA offers instructor certifications for a variety of shooting sports disciplines, so the organization should be a go-to resource when you’re looking to get started with offering instruction.
“People who take our courses realize the importance of protecting themselves and their families,” says John Howard of the NRA’s Training Division. “The responsibility of protecting your home falls on you. The homeowner is the first responder.”
But the NRA isn’t the only resource out there.
Recognizing current consumer interest in personal defense techniques, the U.S. Concealed Carry Association offers a program that has already put nearly 500 trainers through an intensive three-day course. Highlighting firearms awareness and training, carry options and state law, and also teaches how to profit from a concealed carry instruction business.
“If you’re in the firearms retail business, becoming a certified instructor makes you a one-stop shop for self-defense,” says Steve Fischer, program director for the USCCA instructor program. “If you present an effective CCW class at your store, those students will come back when they need guns, ammo, holsters, advice and additional training. As the instructor, you become the subject matter expert and your students become repeat customers.”
In other words, a retailer who becomes an instructor immediately benefits his business.
Fischer, an Army veteran, Taekwondo instructor and certified NRA instructor, struggles to keep up with demand for USCCA programs.
“We want classroom and shooting range instruction to be effective for individuals taking our courses, but we especially want to build and reinforce a national network of independent training businesses, either freelancers or training that is integrated into an existing store,” he says.
Fischer says the USCCA believes its instructors should charge for their time and expertise. After all, given the ballooning interest in concealed carry a well-marketed, well-presented course will attract students. Plus, a good instructor’s reputation or retail brand identity grows the more he teaches.
USCCA offers two levels of instruction, including “Affiliate” and “Certified.” An Affiliate may teach with materials in the Instructor Toolkit. Affiliates are registered with USCCA and receive credit for subscriptions and membership referrals. These are not, however, authorized to advertise their classes as USCCA courses or to sign USCCA certificates.
A Certified Instructor has passed a USCCA sponsored, three-day course. Certified Instructors may advertise their classes as USCCA courses and sign certificates bearing the USCCA name and logo. Certificates are honored as meeting the requirement for training in an increasing number of states.
The USCCA course is flexible — bending to local ordnances — but still allows the instructor to present solid concealed carry fundamentals in a professional, educational and even entertaining manner.
From The Retailer’s Mouth
Ania Cienkowski is Operations Manager for Maxon Shooter’s Supplies and Indoor Range in Des Plaines, Illinois. Cienkowski’s place of business has a clean, contemporary appearance, but it’s only 18 miles northwest of gun-restricted Chicago.
“We count on training to be a profit center,” Cienkowski says. “Not long ago we expanded to 16,000 square feet, which includes complete retail, professional gunsmithing, firearms and concealed carry education, and an indoor shooting range. We cater to groups and work with corporate events, also.”
Cienkowski also recognizes the growing number of female shooters entering the ranks.
“Women are eager for self-defense and concealed carry training,” she says. “But too often, stores are oriented to macho-style atmosphere and big bore performance. Women enter these stores and immediately feel intimidated.”
Military veterans Will and Terri Parker of Kila, Montana, obtained concealed carry permits years before they took NRA courses. It wasn’t until they completed the USCCA class in 2013 that they were emboldened to incorporate courses of training into their family business in Montana’s Flathead Valley.
The Parkers built a small retail building and classroom on their own property, naming it for the firearms brand Will specializes in selling and repairing, Freddie Merc’s Glock Werks.
“Training is one of first things I talk about when I hand out business cards,” Will says. “We put on a training class last March and had several students return and make retail purchases. Because we have our own classroom and our own outdoor range, I don’t have to rent someone else’s facility.”
Mark and Natalie Villafane own Guns ‘N Ammo Training Academy in Orlando, Florida. Already an NRA certified instructor, Mark taught NSSF’s First Shots and then took USCCA’s three-day certification course, which he says was personally and professionally motivating.
“Business is good so we’re bringing on a couple of part-time instructors,” says Mark, who has struggled with cerebral palsy and experiences limited hand function.
“I’m working with USCCA materials to develop a course for people like me who don’t have full-functioning bodies,” he says. “I think the mainstream training organizations and the press overlook that we need self-defense training, too.”