Professional car dealers learned this concept long ago. When car buyers know they were treated fairly during the initial purchase of their car and can go back to the dealership where they bought the car and get factory-certified maintenance and parts, there is a good chance they will continue to do business with that dealership. The same car-buying customers are probably not going to do repeat business with a dealership that gouged them for quick profit during the initial sale and provided no quality services after the sale. The same is true in the gun industry. Sell high-quality products at a fair price, back them up with service after the sale and you will most likely earn your customer’s loyalty for years to come.
One of the most common areas your firearms industry customers will need assistance on is basic firearms maintenance. We have probably all witnessed customers bring in guns ranging from unfired to rusted shut and request help in “cleaning” the gun. There are multiple directions your business can choose to take, which includes no service after the sale, take the problem to a gunsmith, send the gun back to the factory, “we will clean the gun for you for a fee” or “we will teach you how to clean the gun so you can keep it operational on your own.”
The route you take should depend on your customer, his or her personality and your in-store level of expertise. Some customers will be completely non-mechanical, so hands-on for them will be out of the question. These customers will need direct intervention to avoid serious problems, but you will have to honestly evaluate the knowledge, experience and training of your shop staff.
There will be some jobs that are probably just beyond their skill set. Those jobs are best referred to an expert with the firearm in question. Do not get in over your head by saying “we can fix anything.” A customer’s anger will be justified if you make a basket case out of his firearm that was at least semi-functional when he brought it in for cleaning.
A reasonable route to take would be to offer basic gun cleaning and maintenance services to your customers after the sale. In order to offer this, make sure your shop staff is trained and capable of providing those services. For more advanced customers, passing this gun maintenance knowledge on to them will probably be much appreciated. Give them a liberal dose of caution about not getting in over their head and turning their own firearm into a basket case. Most frequently, basic field-stripping will be all that is required. Going beyond that might create problems. A written, signed liability waiver is a good idea.
A wise approach is to set up cleaning and maintenance areas for your shop staff and a separate area where customers can be educated on how to perform basic firearms cleaning and maintenance. You don’t want cleaning classes interfering with day-to-day staff operations.
Outside of these areas, safety “clearing barrels” should be set up to assist during the unloading and double checking of firearms. Small lockers can be made available for locking up live ammo and personal belongings before proceeding into the cleaning room. Cleaning areas should be well lit to see the job at hand and ventilated to expel any solvent-contaminated air. Cleaning areas should be posted with warning signs — especially with a “No Live Ammunition In This Room” sign. There should always be more general warnings related to no smoking, lead and solvent exposure, wearing gloves and washing before eating and drinking posted as well.
A room with closing doors will serve best as your cleaning area. Once inside with the door closed, you can be assured that any spring-loaded part that gets launched out of a firearm is contained within the room. If multiple people are going to be working in your cleaning room at the same time, make sure they all know the rules and separate their work stations with dividers.
The dividers of an indoor range are especially good because many are bullet resistant and will stop spring-launched parts from hitting someone in another work station. Having an eye- and hand-washing station is another good precaution in an area where solvents are being used. Fire extinguishers are important to have on hand.
In addition to warning posters on the walls, exploded diagrams of at least the most commonly cleaned guns will be helpful to many. Factory and other firearm-related manuals and instruction books will be good to have on hand. Dummy color-coded test cartridges in most popular calibers will also be important.
Cleaning supplies are not free. In order to assure your business isn’t losing money by providing cleaning and maintenance services to your customers, you could have a display stand where cleaning supplies are organized and price tagged so people will get the message that they pay for what they use — and pay for what they intend to take with them for future cleanings. It is the only fair way to cover the expenses related to the service you are providing to your customers.
Obvious supplies to have on hand will include nylon and brass brushes, coated cleaning rods, solvents, cleaners, lubricants, swabs and pipe cleaners. It also might be helpful to have some scope covers, replacement springs and small parts that are common replacement items. When it comes to brand-name cleaning gear, many people have had excellent luck with Bore Tech, Otis, Hoppe’s, and Dewy.
Explaining to your customers that preventative maintenance can mean the difference between a reliable and a malfunctioning firearm will hopefully get them to take this task seriously, especially if the firearms in question are duty- or defense-related.
After safely clearing the firearm of all ammunition, including the round in the chamber after the magazine has been removed, have the firearm double checked by a knowledgeable second person. Provided that the firearm is not extremely contaminated, basic field-stripping should be a relatively simple process for you as an experienced gun industry insider. Keep in mind your customer might be a first timer and be timid about the process. Take it slow and show as you go so the customer can grasp all the fine points of field stripping.
When the firearm discharges it will expel the bullet out of the muzzle, but it will also deposit firing contaminates inside the firearm. Lead, copper, gunpowder and other contaminates will build up more inside the firearm each time the firearm discharges.
You can display and explain this build-up to you customers. Show them the difference between a properly cleaned and lubricated firearm and a contaminated firearm. Explain the basic rules of gun cleaning to them, which are to clean from the breech end of the firearm toward the muzzle whenever possible, use a bore guide as needed, avoid harsh cleaning rod contact with the bore, use nylon and/or brass cleaning brushes (not stainless steel), do not reverse the direction of the brush once in the barrel, clean then dry the breech face, bore and chamber of the firearm and do not let lubricants and/or solvents come in contact with primers and ammunition.
Basic firearms maintenance should be routine. When you go out for a shooting session, budget your time for a basic cleaning session afterward. Don’t put it off. The sooner you clean a contaminated firearm, the easier the job is to complete. Once you have your cleaning routine down, it will be a simple task.
After firearm disassembly, swab the bore with a clean quality bore solvent and set the barrel aside. Some pistol grips are best protected by removing them and setting them aside. If it is a working gun and the grips see rough daily treatment anyway, it might not be an issue. Use a toothbrush with solvent to brush off all firing residue from the firearm. Low-pressure compressed air will help you blow the sludge off the gun. Do not blow the sludge deeper into the gun, blow it off the gun and into the garbage.
Follow up by blowing the remaining lubricant and carbon off the gun with a degreaser such as Rem Clean. Don’t get cleaners and/or solvents on delicate parts of the gun. Don’t use cleaners that are too harsh and don’t submerge and soak delicate parts in solvent.
Now go back to the barrel. Use a brass or nylon brush to brush the bore and chamber clean. Patch out the residue. Use patches and bore mops with a mist of degreaser to finish clean stainless steel barrels.
Once the firearm is cleaned and degreased it will need to be re-lubricated on all relevant sliding surfaces. There are many lubricants to choose from. Different conditions are best served by different lubricants, from dry lube to light, medium and heavy oils and all the way to grease. Consult your owner’s manual for recommendations. Do not let lubricants and solvents contaminate ammunition and do not use temperature-sensitive lube in conditions that will cause it to freeze.
If you foresee the need for cleaning under field conditions, a portable cleaning kit will be helpful. Otis makes packable cleaning kits with flexible cleaning cables. Be careful not to damage the bore if you have to use a steel sectional cleaning rod in emergency conditions. If you don’t need to knock out a stuck case or bore mud, then a Bore Snake flexible cleaning rope or Otis cable might be a safer job for you. During field maintenance, if you find yourself without lubrication, keep in mind you might be able to get by with motor oil from an engine’s dipstick if you need lube in a pinch.
After cleaning, lubrication and reassembly, a mechanical function check is wise. First without ammunition, then with dummy cartridges. For defense guns, following your cleaning process with a 10-round live fire on the live-fire range can help assure you that you have all assembled back in working order.