During any prolonged crisis, quirks in human nature cause some businesses to flounder while others flourish. Such is the case with the current Coronavirus pandemic. In recent weeks, the sales of firearms and ammunition have surged nationwide, with manufacturers and retailers enjoying a much-needed boost—their largest in years.
And yet too much of a good thing can still cause problems. For instance, despite recent record gun sales, Fin Feather Fur Outfitters in northern Ohio has closed its chain of six stores until further notice, citing the safety of both its staff and customers to the possibility of COVID-19 exposure.
“I need to make sure that I make the right decision now,” owner Mike Goschinski said in a YouTube video announcing the closures. “And the right decision was, how do I take care of my employees?”
But at least one Ohio gun store—Black Wing Shooting Center—has hit upon a way to stay open, yet do so safely for its staff and customers. Located in central Ohio, Black Wing is a family-owned, full-service, five-star rated shooting facility as determined by the National Shooting Sports Foundation. Mark Gore is the store’s retail manager and came up with their plan.
“The past few weeks have included some of the busiest days we’ve ever experienced here at Black Wing,” said Gore, “and we’ve been in business for more than two decades. We based our new business model on what restaurants are doing in the way of carry-out orders. Before making our decisions, I personally visited both restaurants and pubs in our area to see how they were operating and handling carry-out customers to limit the Coronavirus risk.”
Black Wing implemented its plan on March 24; how is it going, so far? “All our customers have been super supportive, and we are selling about 75 percent of the product we were selling prior to making the changes,” said Gore, “yet in a much safer way."
Here’s how the process works. When a customer first pulls into the Black Wing parking lot, he sees signs that read “Open for carry-out Tuesday through Saturday, 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.; please pull forward and read sign.” Once in a parking space, the additional signage reads, “Thank you for coming, please remain in your car and text us at our store phone number (740-363-7555) to let us know you are here.”
Inside the store, an employee humorously known as the designated “air-traffic controller” keeps track of who has arrived, in what order, and is texting back and forth with customers as to what they are interested in purchasing.
A customer remains in his or her vehicle until notified by text that it is their turn to enter the store. Only three customers are allowed in at a time, and the three cash registers at the front of the store are spaced to maintain proper social-distance spacing. In addition, the main portion of the store has been roped off so that customers can’t browse, but if they have an idea of what they want—such as a handgun, for instance—an employee will show them several options, sanitizing each gun before allowing a customer to handle it.
“In the rear of the store is a fourth cash register, where our outdoor-range sales counter is located,” said Gore. “It’s what we have currently designated as our ‘non-gun’ cash register, where we handle smaller orders such as ammunition, shooting accessories or pickup of online sale items…that sort of thing. Those customers pull to the side of our building, enter through the back door one at a time, and we get them on their way more quickly than if purchasing a firearm.”
Gore said it is possible, if a customer prefers, to remain in their vehicle, pay for their purchase remotely, and not have to enter the store at all; an employee will take their item to them in the parking lot. However, Gore added that Black Wing has not yet perfected that system for gun sales, but is working on it.
“For now, we are still having customers come into the store briefly to fill out the needed paperwork for a firearm,” Gore said. “We then ask them to return to their vehicle while the form is being processed. Once the procedure is completed, we then deliver their new firearm to them in the parking lot.”
Gore estimates that as much as 75 percent or more of Black Wing’s recent firearms sales have been to first-time gun buyers. “And to encourage those people to seek firearms training, we are working toward developing low-cost, online training sessions that our customers can access remotely, possibly using the Zoom video-app platform. We may even offer remote, interactive one-on-one instruction, with our instructor sitting in front of a computer in our store while the customer sits in front of his computer at home.”
Known for its excellent customer service and being an innovator within the firearms industry, Black Wing Shooting Center has many more ideas it’s considering implementing, depending upon how long the Coronavirus threat takes to play itself out.
“We are constantly planning, and will be continually tweaking our methods of operation until Ohio’s stay-at-home order is lifted by our state’s Governor, Mike DeWine,” said Mark Gore. “We’re committed to remaining open and servicing our customers, first-time or long-time, whether that takes weeks or months...”