According to Roy Bartell, a sales expert, “most people think that selling is the same as talking, but the most effective salespeople know that listening is the most important part of their job.”
Many sales experts have made similar observations about the art of selling, but I think Bartell sums it up perfectly. For this article, rather than relying on my experience with two female concealed carriers in my immediate family, I decided to listen to several experts who also happen to be women.
The first thing that every woman interviewed for this article said was similar to what Carrie Lightfoot, founder of The Well Armed Woman, told me — that “women must feel respected because this is such a significant life choice for them, patience and care must be invested in them.”
People joke that gun store sales staff immediately direct women to snubbie revolvers or Ruger LCPs, but there’s some truth to the stereotype. Packin’ Neat founder Kristen Franke told me about her gun store experiences when she got into the business five years ago.
“I wouldn’t go into a store by myself because they wouldn’t talk to me,” Franke said. “Instead, they would just tell me that I wanted a .380. The problem was that I didn’t want a .380.”
Now brace yourself, and I’ll share some feedback that will help you speak a female gun buyer’s language.
Biggest Mistakes Gun Retailers Make Selling to Women
When you have a lot of knowledge and a lot of passion for your industry, it’s difficult not to just start talking, teaching and pontificating when novice customers walk in the door. But, according to the women I spoke to, you have to suppress that desire, reverse your natural tendency, and do a lot less talking and a lot more listening.
“I think gun stores err by making assumptions,” Lightfoot said. “The lack of understanding of the true differences between men and women — which go way beyond physical anatomy — starts the entire exchange off on the wrong foundation.”
Dene Adams, the founder of Anna Henry, is all about respect. In fact, she named her company after her grandfather in part because of his focus on respect for self, others, and firearms.
“If you’re wanting to sell to women, treat them as you would want to be treated when learning about a product that may intimidate you,” Henry said. “Be gracious when you teach. Every expert was once a beginner.”
Unfortunately, too many gun store staff members forget there was a time when they weren’t experts in the field. Not knowing something is a symptom of being new to a subject, not stupidity.
“You don’t want to make them feel stupid,” Henry said. “Just treat them respectfully.”
Lightfoot added that some common assumptions she encounters include that women can’t handle complex machines and that because she is asking so many questions, she is dumb and needs someone to tell her what to do and what she needs.”
“For example, if a woman can’t handle recoil, she needs a smaller, lower-caliber gun,” Lightfoot said. But if there is a man with her, then he is really the one to be talking to.”
Even though guns are serious business, there’s no reason not to offer a welcoming and friendly atmosphere in the store.
“They need to smile,” Henry said. “Before I became proficient, I was that new customer who was terrified to go in and ask questions because most of the gun store owners were gruff and expected you to know your stuff. So, I ended up doing research through other means like YouTube.”
And the mistake that just won’t die?
Henry summed it up — “Don’t offer a pink gun!”
Actions You Can Take
So what can you do to become more successful in selling concealed carry solutions to women?
-Stop talking and start asking questions
Starting a dialogue is important for any new customer, but especially for women. Michelle Clark, the merchandising manager for Bass Pro Shops in Charlotte, North Carolina, suggests starting off with the most basic of questions.
“The first thing you want to ask a female customer is if they have fired a firearm before; that’s my first question,” Clark said. “The next question is ‘How are you going to use it?’”
“Good questions are important, but it is equally important to understand and know the needs of the individual customer coming in,” Lightfoot added. “If the customer is a woman, sales staff must understand the differences between a male and female customer and begin the customer service with understanding and respect of these differences.”
Effective questions to get the ball rolling might include what are you looking to buy a gun for, is it for your home or will you carry it on your body, what experience do you have with firearms, and how do you dress most often?
I also spoke with Tammy Magill, the vice President of sales for UnderTech Undercover.
“For women, you have to ask them how they like to dress,” Magill said. “A lot of it is looking at that woman, and if she’s kind of fashionable when she comes in you know she’s probably not going to wear a traditional big rig,” Magill says. “It’s really about how the woman wants to dress. Unlike men, clothing is a big part of a woman’s life. We want options that allow us to dress cute or fashionable and still be able to carry.”
The goal of asking good questions is multi-faceted. From a smart selling perspective, it’s always better to understand your customer’s needs thoroughly before making recommendations. When it comes to selling to women, it’s even more important to build a relationship.
“Women are highly relational, so welcome her first and take the time to create a relationship,” Lightfoot said. “If you allow it, she will likely guide the conversation toward her needs. Don’t make assumptions.”
-Remember that women shop differently than men
Most men should know this, but Carrie Lightfoot reinforced the point.
“We like to shop, and, when we shop, we like things to be merchandised nicely,” Lightfoot said. “We want everything that the mannequin has on.”
If you set up scenario displays that show how related products go together, be sure that each product shown in that display is nearby and easily accessible. There’s a reason department stores do this around mannequin displays.
While men tend to set land speed records for getting in and out of stores, women invest more time in the decision and selection process.
“The retailer must be willing to invest the time in the relationship,” Lightfoot added. “Trust me, if this is done she will be a customer for life, and she’ll tell every woman she knows about the store.”
Even though women invest more time and energy in shopping for the right solution, picking a gun is still serious business, not a trivial decision.
“Recognize that they don’t want a gun as an accessory and that they want it for personal protection,” Henry suggested. “They’re serious about it and want to be treated seriously. It’s important to gain their respect in that manner.”
-Create a changing room
While you can demonstrate and sell guns at the main counter, it’s hard to demonstrate concealed carry to gear to women in the middle of the sales floor. While most guys won’t hesitate to loosen the pants to try an inside the waistband holster for fit, most women aren’t going to go there. Why not have a designated changing space where women can test things out like holsters, belly bands or anything else that requires trying on?
“I want to look at my options,” Franke said. “Why don’t you have a dressing room here? Because if you want me to put this stuff on my body somewhere you better let me try it on. But they don’t. They hang everything (like holsters) up in a nice little bag. How do I know if I’m going to like that? If a retailer really wanted to cater to women, they would give them a dressing room. Because then I can try it on. Women are used to that.”
Beth Alcazar, a United States Concealed Carry Association-certified instructor and staff writer suggested taking the changing room idea one step further. In a discussion about how to make shooting sports more friendly to women, she cited studies showing that a significant number of women who avoid ranges and gun stores because the restrooms aren’t up to par. Biologically speaking, men have a much easier time dealing with less than pristine bathrooms, so they may not appreciate the importance of decent bathroom facilities. Why not make a little extra effort in that department?
-Be wary about entering the fashion industry
A big challenge with selling concealed carry gear to women is the potential crossover between carry gear and fashion. They’re very different worlds, and few gun stores will be well-served venturing into the fashion space.
“If retailers are selling our product, they’re staying in the holster business,” Franke said. “If they start getting into purses, then you’re in the designer business. You’re not just selling holsters anymore.”
Clothing stores have a tough enough time staying on top of the ever-changing product and size mix, so why would a gun store want to venture into that minefield? When choosing products to stock, consider those that complement clothing and purses that women will buy elsewhere. See the sidebar in this article for a few suggested products that do just that.
-Stock non-lethal self-defense products
Concealed Carrie has figured out that younger women who may not have any exposure to the concept of firearms for self-defense are more inclined to make a smaller jump to non-lethal approaches first.
Lisa Moran from Concealed Carrie explained this phenomenon to me and the reason why the company is investing in the non-lethal market under the brand name Campus Carrie.
“We’re finding that the non-lethal is a great entry point for some women, especially younger ones,” Moran said. “While still intimidating, it’s less-so than a firearm. It’s an easier first step for some, which eventually leads them to a gun purchase.”
-Merchandise and stock for women
Merchandising can be as simple as using what you sell. UnderTech’s Magill practices this strategy daily.
“We have found that one of the best ways to get women to buy is to demonstrate the clothing yourself,” Magill said. When I spoke with her at the United States Concealed Carry Association Expo, sure enough, every person in the UnderTech Undercover booth was wearing at least one article of the company’s carry clothing.
“Retailers need to merchandise their pieces better to meet the new demographic,” Moran added. “Women are the fastest growing demographic and retailers need to merchandise more fashionably. Instead of the store being the man’s world, they need to have a section that’s more feminine. That’s why we build the displays the way we do.”
For example, display setups created by Concealed Carrie mimic department store setups where complementary products are showcased together.
It’s also important to stock enough product variety. Without at least a few different approaches to women’s carry alternative, there’s not much shopping opportunity to attract female customers.
“The greatest mistake I see is a lack of stock,” Lightfoot said. “Typically, stores stock some token women’s products like carry purses, pink range bags, and even Flashbang Bra holsters. On a daily basis, I hear women expressing frustration because they dress in a variety of clothing styles and need a variety of holsters.”
-Remember that purse carry isn’t the only option
Every day new women’s carry options enter the market, and many of these products are designed by women who are frustrated by the lack of workable carry solutions out there.
“Women have a few ‘sweet spots,’ and the challenge for most of us is to identify our own and use them to our advantage,” Lightfoot said. “Carrying anywhere in the ‘Prime Zone,’ which includes the circumference of our bodies from our hip bones to our underarm, is what we strive for.”
While many women do use traditional IWB and OWB holsters, plenty prefer alternative carry methods that keep a gun around the torso area.
Many women default to purse carry not only for convenience, but due to the lack of knowledge about alternate on-body carry methods. Besides the obvious gun security benefits, Magill pointed out other reasons to carry on-body.
“Purse carry can be a good option, but it weighs you down,” Magill said. “When you wear a gun on your body, you don’t feel that weight. And with a purse, you have to worry about where it is all the time.”
The Bottom Line
While successfully selling to women may seem overwhelming at first, it really boils down to paying close attention to her as an individual. Magill summed it up perfectly.
“Don’t treat a woman like a guy. Some women are happy wearing the belt, rig, and all of that. But we’re not a one-size-fits-all situation. You have to treat every woman as a unique customer.”