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Educating future customers.

Educating Future Customers

On the night of January 7, 1988, in a small farm town just outside Yakima, Wash., Mike and Dorothy Nickoloff were stabbed to death in their home. The attack on the elderly couple was so brutal that the first police arriving at the grisly scene thought a shotgun, not a knife, had been used.

Two juveniles were soon arrested for the murders, but residents of the surrounding are were not appeased. Homicides had been increasing at an alarming rate during the previous months; most of the crime was attributed to escalated drug trafficking in Yakima, and the prognosis was dim. Citizens began buying personal protection firearms in record numbers. People who had never previously considered owning a handgun were taking up arms in hopes of fending off the burglars, rapists and murderers who seemed to lurk on every street corner.

That's when enrollment in Yakima gun retailer Don Manning's "Home Firearm Safety and Personal Protection" class swelled to more than 100 students - a good-sized group for a town of merely 50,000 people.

Manning had actually launched the class three years earlier, after Marge Johnson, director of the Yakima Parks & Recreation Department's continuing education classes, asked him to teach a hunter education class.

But Manning had an alternative idea. "There were already several groups teaching hunter education," he says, "but there had never been a class for adults who wanted to learn about guns - or more specifically, women who were considering using handguns for personal protection." He and Johnson brainstormed the idea and came up with the format for a new class to be co-sponsored by the Parks & Recreation Department and Manning's gunshop, Shooters Supply.

Eighteen people, mostly women, signed up for that first course in 1985. Manning was pleased with the modest response, and the Parks & Recreation officials asked him to do it again in 1986 and 1987. Enrollment increased each year, though not dramatically. But when the class was offered in January of 1988, just after the Nickoloff murders, more than 60 people signed up. Because of the demand, Manning offered a second class that spring and 40 more people turned out for it. Finally, in January of 1989, Manning's winter class topped out at 76 people, the April class nearly the same.

Since 1985, gun retailer Don Manning has introduced more than 300 adults - primarily female - to firearms. He has expanded his customer base by becoming a known, trusted authority to these shooting neophytes. He has sold many "first guns" to them. And he has helped educate this crucial socioeconomic sector of society about the importance of responsible gun ownership and the myths that threaten their Second Amendment rights. In short, he is helping to perpetuate a positive interest in firearms among people who had formerly been apathetic or even opposed to the idea of gun ownership.

The format Manning developed for his classes consists of three two-hour sessions held on three separate nights. The first session is held in a classroom. Manning discusses the course objective (to introduce students to the options, responsibilities, and ramifications of choosing firearms for personal protection, and to offer basic instruction in firearms operation and marksmanship). He then calls upon his "guest lecturers" - namely, a representative from the District Attorney's office, who talks about the legal consequences and implications of using deadly force, and a law enforcement official who suggests ways to avoid threatening situations and alternatives to using handguns for self defense.

"The idea is to neither encourage nor discourage," Manning says, "but rather to get people thinking. We emphasize the fact that the choice to use firearms for self defense is not for everyone, and that they shouldn't even consider carrying one if they're not prepared - mentally, emotionally, morally and physically - to use it."

The final two class sessions are held at the local rifle and pistol club indoor range. For each session, Manning gathers up a variety of handguns from his shop and personal collection - pistols, revolvers, different calibers - and spends about an hour describing the differences, and introducing them to the basic fundamentals of marksmanship. He also covers the procedure for obtaining a Concealed Weapons License in Washington and touches on the importance of becoming politically involved in local clubs or state associations active in pro-gun legislative efforts.

The class then moves onto the range for a live-fire session of practical shooting. The students are free to try out any of the handguns on the bench. Gun club members assist the students and ensure the practice of common-sense safety.

"By the end of the first evening," Manning says, "most of them have chosen a favorite handgun, and they usually spend their final class session improving their marksmanship technique with that gun."

Manning has found that while many of the women are initially attracted to the small size of a .22 or .25-caliber semi-automatic, they soon become intrigued with the .38 specials, 9mm, and even .45 caliber semi-autos. He also allows them to bring handguns from home, and even lets them try his 12-gauge Model 97, just to familiarize them with the shotgun's potential as a home defense firearm.

Ammunition for the class is "on the house." The Parks and Recreation Department charges $8 for the course, $5 of which goes back to Manning to help defray ammo costs. He estimates that each student expends about 100 rounds over the two nights of shooting. "There's no set amount, no prescribed course of fire," he says, adding that the targets are large sheets of blank, brown paper. "It's less distracting, less disconcerting for them than shooting at a cardboard silhouette," he says, "and they're more likely to pay attention to the fundamentals of safety and good marksmanship. Generally we'll have 20 to 22 students at the range per session, and the average consumption rate is 1,000 to 1,200 rounds of centerfire per night, plus 200 to 300 rounds of rimfire."

While the $5 he gets per student doesn't quite cover ammo costs, he feels the slight deficit is offset by the generation of new business. "I do attract customers. Whether they're purchasing a new handgun or coming in to buy practice ammo, I've become a known name and face, someone with whom they feel comfortable. It's good advertising and public relations."

His huge classes this year even attracted two local television stations. One did a three-part series on the class, and all the news coverage was favorable. "That was excellent advertising at no cost," Manning comments. "Any time you can get your name in print or on radio or television, it's advertising. When people think of gunshops, they'll think of you instead of Brand X down the street."

Manning's main reason for teaching the class, however, is not financially motivated. "I feel that people in any business owe some sort of a community service to the education system. I compare myself to the car manufacturer providing loaner cars for driver education classes. That manufacturer accomplishes two things: one, he performs a public service by perpetuating safe driving, and two, he's perpetuating safe driving, and two, eager market. When those kids get ready to buy their first car, they'll probably buy and because their initial experience with it was pleasant and favorable."

Even more gratifying, he says, is "taking people with little or no experience shooting firearms, giving them some basic instruction and information, and then watching them learn to enjoy shooting. By the third class session, it ceases to be intimidating and becomes a fun activity. Some of them even get into competitive shooting, but for the vast majority it just becomes a new hobby option they can enjoy with their families."

The National Rifle Association offers two-day clinics to certify instructors for its Home Firearms Responsibility and Personal Protection courses. Although Manning was not a certified instructor when he began his own classes, his curriculum and scheduling were virtually identical to the NRA courses. In April he arranged through the Washington State Rifle & Pistol Association for an instructor certification class to be held in Yakima. Ten of the local shooting club members attended the class, assuring him a healthy crop of trained assistants when it comes time to teach next year's Parks & Recreation class.

Manning encourages other gun dealers to attend or sponsor NRA instructor certification clinics in their area. "It would give our firearms education system some consistency if we're all playing off the same sheet of music," he says. "The NRA materials are excellent; they've been tested and found very effective. Using the NRA method also decreases the liability factor. since the NRA pledges to stand behind all of its certified instructors."

Clinics can be scheduled through your NRA field representative, or by contacting Dr. Gerry Kennedy, Education & Training Division, National Rifle Association, 1600 Rhode Island Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20036.

PHOTO: Don Manning assists a student in his Home Firearm Safety and Personal Protection Class. Many students subsequently buy their first handguns from his store.

PHOTO: Well attended Home Safety/Personal Protection courses offer good opportunities for local media coverage.
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Title Annotation:firearm buyer
Author:Manning, Jan
Publication:Shooting Industry
Date:Dec 1, 1989
Words:1510
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