By Diane Crosby

I wish I had a dollar for every time someone asked if we sell guns at our retail establishment! We do not. We have chosen not to enter that market for a number of reasons. We have not even started the process to sell guns because of the paperwork required, the competition, and the liability involved. Here’s to the stores willing to meet those challenges! You have our admiration!

We do, however, sell lots and lots of products that work with and around guns.

If you have found your niche and it does not include firearms per se, know that you can still profit mightily from selling the accessories needed by outdoorsmen and women, law enforcement officers or those who simply want to own and keep guns.

To begin with, you must know your customers. If you have ever perused a holster catalog, you are aware that there is a staggering number of types, sizes and calibers of guns. Unless you have a huge store and lots of inventory dollars to invest, it is difficult to keep something on hand that will satisfy every customer’s needs. If you can categorize your customers into those who own a few firearms types, you can stock those accessories. For everyone else, you can special order what they need.

In our case, we focus on weapon accessories for the guns primarily used in our state by law enforcement. That narrows the field quite a bit. Still, we have individuals who carry something of their own that is different from their issued firearm. For those, we special order.

Most holster catalogs include a “will fit” chart. Have it at the ready to determine what type of holster or mag pouch your customer should order.

Finishes are important. Do your customers primarily utilize black leather or brown? Do they require a shiny finish (Cordura) or a basket weave pattern? Can they use nylon instead? On our most popular holsters and pouches, we carry some of all finishes in black. We also keep different types (ankle, shoulder, etc.) and levels of holsters.

Keep abreast of departmental requirements, and be aware when they change. A few years back, our state patrol officers’ weapons were suddenly replaced. We had to quickly order the right type of holsters to meet their needs.

Should you carry ammunition? Well, is there a big box store close to you? If so, be aware that you might not be able to compete on price with a major chain. You may, however, find it helpful to carry the ammo magazines, extensions, and plugs your customers need.

So what types of products can you sell, even if you do not have a license to sell guns? So many!

In addition to holsters and mag cases, you can stock range bags, safes, belts, weapon-themed decals, tee-shirts, shooting commendation bars and patches, pistol wraps, caps, signs and jewelry. Gun cases can fit many sizes of weapons with their foam cutouts. There is quite a variety of concealed carry clothing on the market, including vests, under gear, belly bands, jackets, coats, undercover shirts and even women’s purses.

One of the best things about inside-the-pants and inside-the-pocket holsters is that they fit a range of weapon sizes. Bargain pistol pouches, slings and rifle/shotgun cases are big sellers. Range bags, tailgate organizer bags, gun cases and concealed carry purses vary in price from super-reasonable to deluxe. Know what your customers are likely to spend on such accessories.

Targets come in many shapes and types. Once you determine what type your customers prefer, stock up! Weapon magazines, books, and other resource materials may find a good home on your store shelves, as well.

A wide variety of safety items are available to you to offer to your customers. Remember to carry safety glasses, gun locks, shooting gloves, earplugs and earmuffs. Ear protection is a rapidly-changing field, including such options as Bluetooth technology.

Just because you do not carry guns doesn’t mean you cannot carry gun cleaning merchandise! Talk to your customers, and find out what they use by way of bores, fluids, pads, picks, cloths or kits.

Optics can also be an option, even if you do not sell rifles. Scopes, as well as lights that attach to weaponry, can be sold over-the-counter.

Believe it or not, many gift vendors actually cater to the gun-enthusiast market. We sell Christmas ornaments featuring specific weapons, as well as coffee mugs, challenge coins, keychains and jewelry made from spent cartridges. Some weapon vendors may be willing to sell you their auxiliary marketing merchandise. It doesn’t hurt to ask!

One thing that often takes our new hires by surprise is that so many of our customers come into the store armed. To me, it is a comforting thing! These folks know how to use their weapons and regularly practice on the range.

Often, a customer will want to fit his or her weapon in the holster under consideration. We encourage it, with the occasional reminder to make sure it is unloaded. In all our years, we have never had an accidental weapon discharge!

On occasion, we have been known to take used leather pouches and holsters in trade. If you choose to do so, remember to give the barterer half or less of what you hope to get for the pre-owned merchandise. That way you can still make a profit.

If you have the space, a gun-range simulation game is a great attraction and can actually be a useful tool for sharpening skills. Such a purchase is on my bucket list for our store!

When you think about the percentage of your customers who own and use firearms, it only makes sense to carry items associated with the weapons market. Do not hesitate to say, “No, we do not carry firearms, but we do have everything else you might need!”