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For those unfamiliar with our store, Ben Autrey’s vision of a local, well-stocked, knowledgable gun store was birthed 10 years ago, this November. As it tends to happen, after birth came growth, and with growth, cramming. Sometimes it’s cramming too-big feet into too-small shoes, but in our case it was cramming product into every conceivable inch available. Realizing there was no room left in the shoe, we went looking for more room. It just so happened, there was lots of room right next door. So I am pleased to announce this vision of excellence, known as Autrey’s Armory, has escaped the too-small trappings of before and is spreading its wings in a brand new 5000 sq. foot showroom!!! Hip hip, hooray!! and all that. While it certainly is a time of excitement and anticipation, I also find myself pondering the financial security in such an investment. The ability to buy nearly anything without leaving the comfort of your couch is certainly hard to compete with. Small businesses have it rough these days (and the government sure isn’t making it any easier on them). While I am merely a humble employee of a small business, I am concerned for the brick-and-mortar shops of today. How do they compete with online stores or big box retailers? How have some thrived, like Autrey’s, while others have withered up and closed doors?  What makes a customer prefer to shop at a small business over all the other options? While I haven’t found all the answers, I believe I have found some. I simply looked at the pros and cons of each option.

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Online

Pro’s:
  1. Convenience: One of the top reasons for shopping online is the convenience of simply clicking a mouse instead of getting in their car and driving somewhere.
  2. Price: Online products are typically cheaper than their retail counterparts (for multiple reasons) and the available savings are quite attractive to a lot of people.
  3. Selection: Hands down, selection online is better than in stores. There really is no way for local shops to beat the endless array of products available online.Xmas time
  4. Consumer Reviews: Reviews are a great way to approximate the experience of having the product in hand. As other people describe their interaction with the product and manufacturer, the customer is able to identify with the authors and determines if the product will work for him.
  5. Less Stress?: Some people find it less stressful to purchase items from the security of their home or office than travel out into retail stores. Between Thanksgiving and Christmas, I tend to agree. Other than that… meh.
Con’s:
  1. No Touching: You really don’t know what you are really getting when you buy online. It may be one big surprise when UPS or FedEx drops off that box.
  2. No Talking: On most sites there is little to no personal interaction. The websites that do incorporate some “live-person” interaction typically use one of the least personal means of communicating… chat.
  3. Privacy and Security: It goes without saying, shopping online puts your identify and financial accounts at risk. Effort must  be taken to secure your identity and finances.
  4. Not Supporting the Local Economy: Unless you are buying on a local store’s website, your money is not going to support your local economy. Your money may be going across the country or to other countries.

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Major Retail Stores

Pro’s:
  1. RetailselectionSelection: While not on the same level as the internet, major retailers do offer great selection.
  2. Price: Because large retailers purchase in bulk, they are often able to get items at a lower cost. This enables them to sell items at a lower cost.
  3. Product in hand: For many people the ability to physically touch and see the item they are interested in is all the reason they need to drive to a store. Most people, myself included, want to see what an item really looks like, what it feels like, etc… before investing their hard-earned money. Unless you know someone who has that very item, going to your local store is about the only way to get your hands on it before you buy it.
  4. Related Items: Many large retailers do an excellent job of marketing related items. That is why the bike helmets are typically located near the bikes.
  5. Privacy: Unless the store uses some type of facial recognition software connected to their cameras or cell phone tracking, it is normally very easy to shop anonymously. None of the employees are likely to recognize you and most of the other customers aren’t paying attention to much else but their shopping. Pay with cash and people probably won’t even remember you were there (aside from the security cameras of course).
  6. Supporting Local Economy?: To some extent shopping at the big box store supports the local economy, but it also sends  local money off to unknown locations. It does pay the salaries of local employees, state and local taxes on the property, etc… But a certain percentage of every dollar spent at the store gets sent to the pay the overseas suppliers, transport costs, import taxes, etc… and to company headquarters to pay their salary.
Con’s
  1. Grocery_line_SkeletonCustomer Service: Big box retailers have the, typically well-earned, reputation of poor customer service. There are a few exceptions to the rule, but as a whole large stores simply do not have the heart that the small businesses have. Frequently, employees see so many people in one shift that everything becomes mechanical. The personal interaction and relationship is sacrificed to efficiency. Getting people in and out quickly becomes the goal. Generally, employee expertise is also limited.
  2. Long Lines: During peak seasons long lines can be exhausting. Christmas and Black Friday come to mind.
  3. Privacy: See above.
  4. Not Supporting the Local Economy: See Above

Small Businesses

Pro’s:
  1. small_business_ownersCustomer Service: A main reason many people buy local is the customer service they experience, both in regards to buying and returning items. Small businesses typically excel at providing personal assistance as customers research, examine and purchase items. Should anything go wrong with your item, purchasing from a local store gives you a person to speak with. A face you can remember and approach for help. Many times you find the employees to be a valuable resource as you explore your item of interest. The knowledge and expertise of such people add an intrinsic value to a local shop that is not replicable online. For example, one of the gentlemen in our shop is extremely well versed in old firearms. I’ve been astounded to hear him not only identify an unknown firearm by make and model but also go on to mention where it was manufactured and what type of machine was used to manufacture it. He is truly a wealth of knowledge. Small businesses frequently have a bit more flexibility in their pricing and some may negotiate deals with customers to ensure customer satisfaction. The first example that comes to mind is our store’s policy of mounting scopes for free with the purchase of a rifle or scope. With few exceptions, customer service is paramount in small businesses.
  2. Product in hand: In small stores you normally have more time to look at items and discuss them with the employees. Employees are typically well versed and are able to point out the features and benefits of the item. Many gun stores further satisfy a customer’s curiosity by supplying a wide variety of firearms for rent. When it comes to knowing if you are comfortable with a firearm, there is no substitute for actually firing the weapon. I wish I’d learned that lesson a few years ago. I bought an XD-40 as my carry gun on gunbroker.com. I read all the reviews I could find. I researched it up and down. But I never shot it. After years of poor shooting, I finally tried out an XD-9 and quickly traded in my 40. You just never know until you try it.

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    Customer or friend? … Why not both?

  3. Personal Relationship: Shopping at a local store provides an opportunity to develop personal relationships with the employees and owners. We have many regular customers that are more friends than customers.
  4. Privacy: It is much easier to protect your privacy and security when you shop at local Mom-and-Pop stores than online; especially if you pay with cash. (Unless you are buying a gun. Federal forms negate that benefit.) It is also highly unlikely to encounter the type of tracking and surveillance big box stores are now implementing at the local art supply store, boutique or coffee shop.
  5. Supporting Local Economy: Purchasing items at a local store inputs cash into a local business, enabling the owner to pay his employees, bills, vendors, utilities, buy groceries for his family, etc… directing nearly all his funds back into the local economy.
  6. Socializing: Many people simply enjoy going to the local store to look over the merchandise, talk with other customers and the person behind the counter. The trip to the store is no longer about buying ammo or a new holster, but about catching up on the latest industry news, information or gossip.
  7. use this2Finding related items: Local stores also tend to do a good job of carrying related items, thus enabling a customer to get all that he needs in one place.
  8. Short lines: lines are typically shorter and (excepting times of national gun buying panic) service is more prompt.
Con’s:
  1. Retail-Vertical-Price: Unfortunately, small businesses are not able to get items in bulk quantity and their prices typically reflect that. Small businesses typically have slightly higher prices than online or big box retailers. It’s just the nature of the beast.
  2. Selection: Again, simply because it is a small business, the selection in the store will not be as varied as what you can find online or at major retailers. Just look at holsters. There have got to be thousands (if not tens of thousands) of holster models. There is simply no way for a small business to carry a sample of every holster design available. It is just not going to happen. The best a store can do is carry the most popular models and special order the rest, if need be.
  3. Inconvenience: The store cannot come to you. You must leave the comfort of your home or office and travel to it.

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Which Will It Be?

Overall,  it seems most people do want that face-to-face, personal interaction that is inherent in small businesses. Many are tired of the brusque efficiency of big box retailers and unsatisfied with the cold simplicity of online shopping. We are social creatures that long for pleasant, enjoyable social interactions. Having a designated place to turn to for help is also a major point for small businesses. So, while I must confess I do shop online from time to time (typically for hard-to-find items), I do believe Ben’s vision is safe in the hands of our loyal customers, new customers, and the customers yet to discover us. Why? Because, overall, for me and many others, customer service, personal interaction, and building relationships trumps cheaper prices. (Besides, one thing I’ve learned working at a gun store: just because you found it cheaper online does not mean it will be cheaper by the time you take it home.)

Please let me know your thoughts in the comments section below. And definitely let me know if I left out anything. Thank you for reading. Stay safe.

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Comments
  1. Ed Beaumont says:

    Soooo happy for your transition! We’ll be down shortly to see the new digs. We’ve lived in Fayetteville about two yrs. now and have purchased 4 handguns, one rifle and have joined your “family” range membership. When talking to our friends, we find ourselves telling folks they should go to OUR gun shop for their needs. Kudos on the brilliance of your business decision. CYA soon!

    • Thank you for your kind words, Ed. We really appreciate your support and recommendations. 🙂

      • Ed Beaumont says:

        Being a man of my word, wifey and I DID INDEED visit your new store today…(Twice) WOW!
        You should DEFINITELY be proud of your new “digs.”

        First was “recon” :0)

        Second to do business again.

        Bought a new Remington 870 20 ga. for inside home defense.

        Love you guys!

        God speed

        Ol’ Ed

      • Thank you!

        Next time you are in, please stop by the range counter. I’d love to officially meet you. I’m sure I saw you in there today but it would be great to match the face to the name. I’m normally running the range Tuesday to Saturday. Hope you can stop by again soon.

        Ruth

      • Ed Beaumont says:

        Okeedokee! Roger!!!

  2. MamaLiberty says:

    Don’t even know where you are, offhand, but congratulations on the expansion. That’s a real accomplishment these days in any line of business.

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