Serving Those Who Served

With Veterans Day approaching, now’s the perfect time to show appreciation for those who have served their country and community.

Serving Those Who Served

Looking to grow your customer base and gain positive recognition in the area you serve? Take a close look at the many military veterans and law enforcement personnel who live in and serve your region. This is a huge, often overlooked market, and these individuals generally understand firearms and use them daily. Better news is that most of this customer base influences the shopping and shooting habits of many others.

In America, more than 18 million veterans have served in the armed forces. You can find the number for your state and region with a little online research. Next, you'll find nearly 700,000 full-time law enforcement officers (LEO) across America. Many of these teach various types of firearms courses, and nearly all of them answer questions from the public about the firearms that they carry and use — and where they recommend purchasing firearms and accessories.

The Details

It’s important to note that in most cases, the firearms, accessories and ammunition carried by LEO are issued by the department they work for and are the result of a complex bidding process. Yes, in some cities, counties and areas, retail stores like yours often win and serve those contracts.

Those front-line LEO personnel, however, often purchase backup firearms and guide friends and family members with purchases of home defense and personal protection firearms. On a daily basis, members of the public also randomly approach officers in uniform and ask about firearms and ammunition — and sources of those, along with basic recommendations.

In the huge veteran’s category, surveys show this category is highly likely to own firearms — and more likely to teach others about firearms, including friends and family members, plus neighbors. This category is also recognized as often owning more than one firearm and giving many new firearms enthusiasts their first encounter with a firearm and shooting at a range or in the backyard. Most firearms retailers move the customer needle further and include active-duty military personnel when instituting veteran discount programs.

The veteran and LEO groups are large numbers of potential firearms promoters, and the new firearms owners they encounter and encourage turn into customers who will be shopping for firearms and all the add-ons. Carefully plan and present your outreach efforts to bring those new customers to your front door.

Outreach That Reaches Veterans

Reaching the veteran markets is often easy. First, you need to realize what incentive you’ll provide to get them to enter and look. Next, you need to focus on the groups you want to attract. There are many outreach channels and incentives that can bring those markets into your retail center and help spread the word among other firearms owners or shoppers.

First, veterans’ groups that provide services and support are many, and growing. Before you make an offer of discounts or free stuff or door prizes to any group, however, a word of caution: Do your research. Some of the newest veteran service groups discourage firearms ownership because of high veteran suicide rates. If you want to help curb this nationwide problem, visit the shooting sports industry’s trade organization at The NSSF offers a toolkit to help you spread the word in your community. This could also become part of your outreach effort and a great way to be a regional resource in these efforts — if you have the time and personnel.

Next, there are two major U.S. holidays that focus on veterans and honoring those who served — Memorial Day at the end of May and Armed Forces Day/Veteran’s Day in mid-November. Stay abreast of other growing veteran’s days that honor WWII, Korean War and Vietnam vets. Then do your research and note local and regional news coverage of the events or attend the events and see for yourself.

Once you decide on a plan of action and timeline, you then must decide on the incentive. Some shops offer 10% discounts to veterans and active-duty military personnel who can show the appropriate government-issued ID. Yes, all active-duty and all veterans have some type of government-issued ID card, and you and your staff should become familiar with these identification cards.

As incentives and thank-you efforts, some big boxes offer 10% discounts on all goods sold as long as the veteran has pre-registered and holds an e-account. Those accounts are tied to email addresses, and those addresses are used for monthly and weekly marketing efforts. Plan and do research before you take this rewarding route because it requires manpower, computer skills and time and can become a huge program as the word spreads. Consider setting zones of service or other requirements if you foresee an overwhelming response.

Donations Appreciated

Donations are always appreciated by legitimate military support causes. Once you make a donation, however, expect the requests for more donations to flood in. With all donations, ask that the request for a donation be made in writing so you have paperwork. You can place the many requests in a file for future review and possible sponsorships.

Always require a report on who wins/receives the donation. When you make the donation, ask for advertising or a mention on any brochures or event programs passed to attendees. If you don’t receive follow-up communication after the event, make note on the request in your file for the next time you receive a request for the event or from the group. Legitimate events provide follow-up and proof that you received recognition for your donation. Consider their promotion as part of your advertising budget.

Parades and events in many towns honor veterans and deliver widespread public recognition. Consider sponsoring or co-sponsoring a group, a float, or another part of the parade or civic program. Streets in nearly every town in America are lined with spectators and supporters, and they note the sponsors of these events. This, again, is advertising, so if you donate or fund something, get your business’s name and website on a banner or float so spectators can see the connection and take note.

If you are not certain which veterans’ groups are legit or active in your region, contact your local chamber of commerce, Better Business Bureau, Veterans Administration hospital or veterans’ services office. These sources are great at building connections and networks and can offer ideas on what incentives or discounts to offer veterans in your region. Most of these groups can also alert you to frauds being pushed on the public.

Supporting, Serving the LEO Community

Law enforcement work is stressful on officers and their families and friends. The job means long hours, many weekends and evenings away from family and friends — and lots of stress. There are many ways to reach out and to make the connections to build a great working relationship with this tight-knit group.

Much like the veterans’ groups, do your research, ask trusted LEO sources you know or who are already customers, and plan ahead as you make a plan to provide any donations, discounts or extended offers. Remember to check with local LEO headquarters and the local BBB about scams and scammers in your area.

This is one of the most heavily scam-related groups in the U.S., and scammers have unique ways to take advantages of businesses and your customers. You do not want your business connected with or taken advantage of in these scams. If you do learn about scams and solicitors using LEO units for their gain, post the news on your bulletin board and social media sites to let your customers know, and list who to report contacts to if a scammer contacts them.

You also must determine who qualifies as a LEO. Sworn officers in counties and cities, and also at the state level, hold powers and perform services much different than private store security guards and crosswalk guards at schools. Determine your market and those to whom you will offer incentives and discounts and keep your employees well informed on who qualifies for what.

Outreach efforts with LEO can range widely and could be discounts on ammunition and firearms or a free hour on the range each month. Donations of goods, cash or offering firearms at your wholesale price for special drawings and benefits are also generally sought and welcome. Again, be certain if you donate that you get the request in writing for accounting and control purposes, and request a mention in any printed materials, at all public events and on their social media and website efforts. Donations are a cost — or loss of profits — for you and should be considered a marketing or advertising expense. You will also need signed paperwork or receipts for donations to satisfy tax reporting.

Offer Special Time Blocks

In their off-duty time, many LEOs like to shoot, learn about firearms, meet with other officers and simply relax. Offering special after-hours or backroom LE events each month, or each quarter, can help you build that connection with local officers. Some stores also make meeting rooms available for LEO meetings and rent range lanes or the entire shooting center to LEO for training. Check to see if you can provide this service.

As an example, A Place To Shoot in San Antonio provides a 20% discount on range fees to LEOs, military and first responders with proper ID. The store staff reports that once a customer is aware of the discount, they often ask for it. A number of those eligible customers, however, still pay the full range use fees and say thanks for the offer. Up in Dallas, the Eagle Gun Range offers 10% discounts on all firearms and ammunition in stock to veterans on Veterans Day weekend, and veterans can shoot at their range for free on the Veterans Day holiday. The range also offers veterans and current LEO officers 50% off on range fees on Monday through Thursday. This discount also includes current or retired military customers. Cashiers are encouraged to ask customers if they are eligible for these discounts.

Obviously, any discounts or offers to veterans and LEO personnel should be promoted within your store with posters and countertop displays, relayed to customers by all checkout clerks before and during the active period, and mentioned and promoted through your social media channels and any paid advertising prior to the event or period.

One way to gain attention is to begin dropping flyers into customers’ bags a month ahead of the event. This networking and promotional effort also builds goodwill with veterans and LEO officers and can result in significant increases in return customers — and new customers. Many will bring (or tell) friends and family who can also become shoppers.

It pays to serve those who have served or are serving now. Salute!


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