By Diane Crosby

The target audience for the majority of specialty store customers is, well, special. Tactical stores plan their products around public safety professionals. Outdoor stores reach out to the hunting/fishing/camping market. Those who frequent military or military surplus stores have their own wants and needs.

Unless you are in a restricted environment, you may also have family and friends of your customers as occasional traffic. They may be buying for someone in the target group, or they may actually be browsing around for themselves. Our store is located near a training center, so class graduation time always brings in family! You may also have some outright civilians, including kids and parents, who shop at your store. 

Naturally, your objective is not to stock items for civilians. However, there are many items in your store that interest a wider audience than you planned.

As tactical wear has become more and more practical (think tactical pants as opposed to wool sheriff trousers), members of the community at large have been attracted to the versatile apparel. Once upon a time, you could pick out an off-duty officer in a crowd by his or her tactical pants and polo. Today, you would be hard pressed to know an off-duty deputy from a guy who works at the bank.

Teenagers were among the first to adopt the tactical look. Of course, many schools require uniforms for day wear, but these are usually shed once the students get home. Who hasn’t seen a group of teens hanging out in their all-black tactical attire? Young folks are often the first to know a good style when they see it!

Much tactical wear appeals to those in other lines of work, where comfort-in-motion and lots of pockets are critical elements. You may find regular customers for such clothing in electrical, construction, plumbing, engineering and landscaping careers. Community members in many fields have learned that tactical clothing easily translates into their own workday wear. 

Beyond practicality, though, is the comfort of tactical clothing. Such “wearability” draws customers in offices, classrooms, driver’s seats and even some medical offices! Recently, a teacher asked me if we still carry shirt stays. (Of course, we do!) He uses them to maintain a neat appearance at school.

Tactical boots can fill needs in a variety of professions. We find our civilian customers also very interested in moisture-wicking undergear, great socks, tactical gloves, rainwear, three-season jackets, flashlights, some grades of pepper spray, caps, boonie hats, shorts and balaclavas. All types of warm weather tactical gear can be an asset to any closet in any home. 

Then there are those who legally carry firearms. They, too, need holsters in a variety of styles, as well as leather pouches. In fact, pouches, especially those in nylon, are handy for many uses outside of public safety and hunting. Tactical vests appeal to civilians, as well, with their plethora of pockets.


In more recent times, color variations within the tactical wear market have made this clothing even more enticing to the general population. Coyote and sand have added more options to the typical tactical palette of green, black and camo.


Many workers are particularly drawn to our sale and “pre-owned” clothing and boot section of the store. What plumber wouldn’t want a hardy pair of boots he can afford to change out every month or two? Many who spend time outdoors, whether for job, home care or recreation, are happy to have tactical wear for a reduced price.

As a seller of tactical wear, we realize our greatest priorities center around our target group. Still, we should always welcome our civilian customers. The extra sales they provide can often make or break a retail store. Their money spends just the same and often without the delay of having to wait on a department to pay a bill!

Among the most popular products in our store are any children’s clothing items that mimic adult tactical wear. These include uniforms, turnout gear, caps, play handcuffs, fire boots and junior deputy badges. The more realistic the uniform, the more they like it. We frequently get requests for personalization (embroidery or vinyl) on children’s bomber jackets and vests that we keep in stock. Parents and grandparents alike will spend money on the kids before they spend it on themselves.

The wide array of occupational pride and support t-shirts, be they for firefighters, law enforcement, military, or other vocations related to your store, attracts both family members and the public. There are no laws against wearing a graphic tee with a firefighting message, even if you have never been near a fire!

Make your civilian customer feel welcomed in your store. For some, just entering your establishment can be a bit intimidating. More than a few times, reluctant folks have stuck their head in our front door and asked shyly, “Can anyone come in here and shop?”

“Yes!” should be the resounding answer.

Now, with that said, there may be some restrictions concerning particular items that cannot be sold to non-mandated people. Anything that identifies someone as an officer of the law should only be sold to an officer. Make sure you follow the rules concerning items like tasers, automatic knives, heavy-duty pepper spray and batons. Even beyond the rules, use good judgment.

Online purchases present a different set of challenges. You must have some way of identifying the buyer before selling restricted products. An upload of a mandate certificate that matches the customer’s name is one possibility. For non-restricted products such as pants, sell away! You may actually be reaching more civilians than you realize via online sales.

When thinking about civilian customers, think broadly without abandoning your true mission. Open the door to all who may shop in your store while remaining focused on your target audience!