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Hiring gunshop employees.

Hiring Gunshop Employees

Who Are They? Where Are They?

Business growth is a mixed blessing. Increasing sales volume means increasing inventory, expanding floor space, and often hiring additional employees. It's the latter that often poses the most challenging problem to owners of small gunshops -- those, for instance, that typically gross less than half a million dollars a year and are generally manned by three or less employees. For businesses of this size, the task of hiring additional personnel can seem as imposing as any other phase of growth. Finding qualified, trustworthy, dependable employees for a business as technical and often people-oriented as retail gun sales can appear to be an insurmountable task to a small business owner who's traditionally "done it all" himself. Doubt-filled questions are bound to arise when he first considers inviting a veritable stranger to invade his "inner sanctum" of private enterprise. Will the new employee earn his keep, or will he make costly mistakes at the workbench? Can he be trusted at the till? Does he know which shotguns can safely accommodate steel shot? Is he articulate enough to handle difficult customers, or will he lose his temper and send them to your competitor down the street?

Since the idea behind hiring is to find a new employee who can improve your business and make life easier for you, it's necessary to approach the process from a positive and systematic viewpoint. To put it simply, you will find good employees if you: (1) know who you're looking for, and (2) know where to find them.

Know Who You're Looking For

The more closely you can define the ideal employee, the better equipped you'll be to find that person.

"I think I need some help around here," you decide one day when customers are walking out the door because you can't get to them fast enough, you've got three months' worth of repair work on the rack already, and you haven't had time to open your mail in a week. But just where do you actually need the help? Do you merely want a front counter person who can ring up sales? Do you want a gunsmith to handle routine jobs like cleaning, scope mounting and blueing? Would you prefer a machinist who can design and carve out parts from scratch? Or do you simply need a clerk/secretary to pay the bills, prepare your UPS shipments, and price new merchandise as it comes in?

Most small-to-medium-size gunshops have personnel needs in three areas: (1) retail sales, (2) gunsmithing, and (3) office work. Begin to pay more attention to your own work habits and daily schedule to determine where the need for extra help is greatest. If you enjoy dealing directly with customers, and if they have come to trust you for over-the-counter advice, stand your ground and hire a gunsmith to man the workbench. If, however, you've gained a reputation for your gunsmithing work and can best serve your customers in that capacity, stay behind the bench and hire a product-savy sales clerk to man the cash register and handle routine customer questions. If the office work (bookkeeping, shipping, correspondence, etc.) is bogging you down, and you'd rather finish glass-bedding those six M-1As than stick price tags on blister packs, hire a "Person Friday" who can take care of that small stuff and free you up to make some real money at the workbench.

Finding an employee who can do any of these jobs in a pinch is, of course, the ideal. Chances are, however, you'll have to classify and prioritize your needs, and hope to find someone who is acceptably proficient in at least one of the three categories.

Know Where to Find Them

Office helpers: This is the easiest, but by no means the least important, hiring task. Your office help can make or break your business just as readily as a curt sales person or a careless gunsmith. Hire someone with experience and a trustworthy track record in simple bookkeeping. Once he or she gets the bills paid and payroll checks made out, the rest of their office responsibilities will easily fall into place.

Where do you find good office help? Start with the paid employment agencies (as opposed to state-run employment agencies). Request a mature, part-time office helper with a bookkeeping background and the strength/agility to occasionally do some moderate lifting. Offer flexible hours and a respectable, above-minimum wage. Whether or not you are willing to pay the agency's fee is up to you; it is certainly not required. (If you don't pay it, the agency will collect it from the new employee's first paycheck.) What you'll get, hopefully, will be an able-bodied middle-age or semi-retired woman who doesn't mind coming to work at 7 a.m. once in a while and has the patience to go back six months in your check register and straighten out all your errors. She will require minimal guidance as she assumes more and more office responsibilities, from preparing your sales tax to dusting your shelves.

If the paid employment agencies can't help, try word-of-mouth advertising among your regular customers. One of them might have a spouse or relative who would fit the bill. State employment agencies are worth checking out, if all else fails, but the best job candidates are apt to use more aggressive measures to find employment for themselves.

Sales Clerks: These are the folks your customers will remember, positively or negatively, so hire people-oriented individuals who can deal equally well with men and women, young and old, informed and uninformed buyers. A smile and helpful (though not patronizing) attitude are imperative, but no more important than product knowledge. Your customers depend on sales clerks for expert information; don't let them down. If your sales personnel lack product knowledge, take it upon yourself to remedy the situation.

Your best source for sales help may, once again, be your regular customers. No doubt some of them are retired; they gravitate to your shop because of their interest in firearms and the fellowship they find there. Chances are, they would jump at the chance to be paid for the time they spend there. They already know your products and inventory and probably spend their discretionary income there as well. You could pay them in one of three ways: an hourly wage, a commission based on their sales, or in trade (merchandise for their time).

Other sources for sales help might include students majoring in small arms repair or related industrial arts at area technical schools. Contact the placement offices at these schools and let them know your needs. These students will be willing to work for a very moderate hourly wage, just for the experience and opportunity to list your gunshop on their future resumes.

Avoid, if at all possible, inviting applications from the general public, unless you want to be deluged with inquiries from totally unqualified people. Yours is a special, very technical, service-oriented industry, and you have no business hiring individuals who don't know or care about firearm products.

Gunsmiths: If you've ever launched your own gunsmith search, you know how difficult it is to find a trained individual who will make you money instead of costing you money. But if yours is a relatively small shop that specializes in general (non-custom) gunsmithing, don't think you have to hire graduates of the country's top school and pay them $25 an hour. Consider, instead, hiring a recent graduate from one of the smaller gunsmithing schools or vocational programs around the country. Here again, these people may be willing to start at a relatively low hourly wage (supplemented with a percentage of the shop work they complete), just for the experience and the opportunity to practice or expand their skills.

To find these new graduates, put out an alert by contracting schools early in the spring, prior to graduation. If you find a prospect out of state, offer to pay at least half his or her travel expenses to your area for an initial job interview.

Other sources for gunsmiths may include former military personnel trained in ordinance or small arms repair. To find these people, contact employment offices at local military installations. In your job announcement, mention your town or area but leave out the name, address and telephone number of your shop. You'll want request mail inquiries only--with a resume from prospective applicants.

Consider, also, contacting industries in your area that use trained machinists and/or metallurgists. Many such industries offer part-time job referrals for their recently retired employees. While these individuals may not possess intrinsic firearm knowledge, they know how to operate a lathe or mill with a precision and understanding you won't find in many school-trained gunsmiths. Once again, the mature, skilled senior citizen can become one of your greatest business allies and best employees. They are eager, responsible, and sure of themselves. Best of all, they have garnered so much experience and knowledge that you'll find yourself learning new things from them!
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Author:Manning, Jan
Publication:Shooting Industry
Date:May 1, 1990
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