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No time for panic: how to be a responsible gun dealer in the wake of the L.A. riot.

Nearly four months have passed since the three-day riot which scarred L.A. and shocked the rest of the nation. Newspapers and business magazines have been reporting that firearms sales are up as much as 50 percent in some areas of Southern California. Most of these customers have never purchased a gun before, and many say that they used to believe only the police should be armed.

How do you sell a gun to a customer like that? When a former anti-gun advocate walks into your store saying, "I need to protect myself, man! Sell me a gun!" the line between on-target customer service and customer exploitation becomes very thin.

The short-sighted dealer will respond with, "Yup, won't be long 'fore those looters are walkin' up your street! Better get a Colt AR-15 with a night-vision scope, a dozen extra magazines, and a crate or two of high-velocity ammo. Shouldn't cost you much more than two grand."

The customer makes the purchase and goes away happy -- and why shouldn't they? Unless the looters have close air support, the customer has enough firepower to keep them at bay.

Six months later, however, the once-and-future anti-gunner hauls the rifle out of the closet and says, "Boy, that dealer sure took me for a rube." Before you know it, they're paying you another visit -- this time to sell you back the gun you sold them. If you buy it as a used gun (maybe they've put 100 rounds through it) you come out a few bucks ahead in the whole deal, but you've reassured that customer that they were right -- there is no reason for a civilian to own a gun. At least, there didn't seem to be any reason for them to own one.

The savvy dealer, on the other hand, will be prepared knowing that this is the chance to make not just one sale, but a lifetime of future sales. The anti-gunners are admitting defeat, but in order to truly win this fight, firearms dealers have to be gracious winners.

Top-Class Customer Service

We know the reality of the situation: chances are the riot-motivated customer who buys a gun will never have to fire it in self-defense. It's time to turn this fearful, irrational customer into a gun-owner with an appreciation of the shooting sports.

Smart dealers know what that customer is really looking for is some reassurance, not just a big, paramilitary rifle. "You've never fired a gun before, sir? Take a look at these revolvers over here. These are very safe but still easy to use. Cleaning them is easy, and you can buy inexpensive ammunition for practice."

The customer is surprised. You didn't try to sell them one of the high-powered rifles that cost more than their Volvo station wagon. In fact, they think to themselves, those handguns are downright affordable.

Once the customer has purchased their new gun, they may begin to wonder if it can do anything other than gather dust in their bedside drawer. Here's your chance to inform them of the many "sporting purposes" for their new self-defense tool, like target shooting, plinking, competition, etc. (Better yet, if the thought doesn't occur to the customer, suggest it to them.)

The first time these new customers come into your store to buy a gun, they are probably going to be more interested in laser sights or speed loaders than targets and cleaning kits, but when you make the suggestion, you are planting a seed. When they take their nearly unused gun out of the closet in six months, they'll think, "That nice fellow at the gun shop said something about target shooting ..."

Suggesting Alternatives

It seems contrary to the nature of a retailer to steer a customer away from an expensive purchase, but the riot-fearing anti-gunner who comes in and asks for a military rifle may still believe the anti-gun fallacy that anyone can buy a machine gun through the mail for just $29.95.

Instead of simply selling the customer whatever they ask for -- regardless of their need -- your job as a dealer is to qualify that customer. Find out what motivated them to come to your store and then sell them the item that fits their need.

Home owners may be best served with a revolver or, if kids are a concern, a pistol which can be rendered harmless by removing the magazine. You can sell to these customers by pointing out the benefits a handgun has to offer: ease of storage and use, multiple safety features, and low price.

Apartment residents or downtown business owners who have legitimate concern about the potential of a riot might be best off with a pump-action, short-barrelled shotgun instead of a paramilitary rifle. For a business owner, a shotgun has the benefits of excellent stopping power as well as visible and audible intimidation.

Customer Service Tips

Here's a few other tactics you might try to increase sales at your store in the wake of the L.A. riot:

* Make sure all of your clerks know the "real story" of the riot. Don't allow them to sell guns by telling tales about the entire city of Los Angeles in flames. When the customer reads about the actual events, they'll lose trust in your staff.

* Offer a free or discounted gun safety book, course, or pamphlet with every purchase. The NRA will be glad to provide you with gun safety literature, and your local police may even be willing to send an officer to your store once a month to teach a seminar.

* One of the groups of people most affected by the L.A. riot was business owners. When a small businessman comes to you seeking protection in the form of a paramilitary rifle, offer a more reasonable alternative: group discounts. Tell them that the business owners in L.A. protected themselves by banding together, not by playing vigilante with an AK-47. Offer a discount if they can get one or more other business owners from their block or their district to come to you to buy a defensive gun.

* In many states, when customers come to you to buy a gun, they are going to be surprised by a waiting period. Rather than telling them, "Hey, you voted for the legislators who enacted this stupid waiting period, pal!" give the customer a list of their representatives -- state and federal -- and perhaps a form letter which they can either rewrite or send in as-is. Tell them that unless they take a few moments to protect their rights, they may lose their gun when trouble occurs. Get them involved.

* Make an arrangement with a nearby gun club or shooting range and give a coupon for a free box of ammo or a free hour of shooting time with the purchase of a new handgun. Of course, if you have a range attached to your gun store, do all you can to make that customer feel welcome. Take 15 or 20 minutes to walk them out to the range, show them how the gun operates, teach them range procedures, and give them a "thumbs up" the first time they hit the target.

Along with the articles about rising gun sales, there has been a recent wave of editorials implying that gun dealers are nothing more than salivating riot mongers utilizing the disturbances in L.A. as a way to increase profit. A recent political cartoon in the Kentucky Herald-Leader depicted a gun shop in the midst of a burned-out mall with the dealer looking out the window saying, "One man's anarchy is another man's business opportunity."

Dealers must avoid falling into this stereotype. Prove the anti-gunners wrong on all counts; prove that not only is there occasionally a need for people to defend themselves, but there are also gun dealers who are willing to be the voice of reason in a time of consumer confusion.
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Title Annotation:Los Angeles, California riots of 1992
Author:Farrell, Scott
Publication:Shooting Industry
Date:Sep 1, 1992
Previous Article:Where the action is: the double-action-only pistol round-up.
Next Article:American Handgunner Postal Match draws 5,000 shooters.

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