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December 06, 2007

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Little Shop of Horrors

Been in a gun shop lately? How was the customer service?

I ask because customer service is a fast-disappearing aspect of the American retail experience. Here’s an example: a friend interested in a new deer rifle walks into a store where he encounters two salesmen engaged in conversation with a customer. As my buddy politely waits his turn, he realizes the “customer” is a friend of the countermen, and the “transaction” in front of him is merely an extended bull session. He leaves without receiving any acknowledgement whatsoever from the staff.

“How does a store like that stay in business?” he asked me.

I dunno.

My pet peeve—besides not being greeted by the staff—is to walk into a poorly lit retail operation and realize the shelves haven’t been dusted since the end of the Bronze Age.

I’m not alone in this assessment.

Miles Hall, owner of H&H Gun Range & Shooting Sports Outlet in Oklahoma City, says, “Frankly, a lot of gun stores are dark, depressing and intimidating.”

Hall, who is an enterprising fellow, realized that to attract the next generation of shooters his store needed to appeal to the younger shooter’s sense of style. So he looked at how the stores at his local mall looked. He then changed the style, color and feel of his store accordingly. Guess what? His business is booming.

All of which tells me there’s no need for us to endure rude countermen and shoddy customer service—like the guy I heard about who tried to pawn off a .338 as a varmint rifle! So, tell me your retail horror stories. I don’t need the name of the store, just how you were treated.

–Slaton White



Gun stores were almost ran completely out of business by Walmart and other chain stores.

Then the internet came along and people started buying alot of the ammo and accessories online.

So meanwhile, the poor schumck that your whining about is barely hanging onto his business. He can't afford to expand or keep inventory like he used to because Walmart and Dicks's sells guns cheaper than he can buy them.

The only thing keeping many gun stores open is the fact the chains don't sell AR's and many chains don't sell handguns.

He can't afford to update and yes in many cases his store looks crappy. But he's still there to answer your questions and let you handle a gun before you buy it from Gunbroker.com or have your local Walmart ship it in.

Now add in the government and the way they are trying to force gun shops out of business over paperwork issues and you can't understand why some of these guys are cranky?

Maybe you should look @ it from the other side before you complain about things you don't understand completely.

Gregory Morris

The thing is, there are good gun shops and bad gun shops. If all of them were being destroyed by the government and Walmart, etc. then I would expect none of them to be friendly.

Here in Tampa, we have a few really nice, well lit, clean gun shops with helpful, young, friendly staff. We also have a couple of real pits. A coat of paint, and a little bit of dusting goes a long way. Hiring knowledgeable staff that understand the needs of a woman who wants a self defense pistol vs. a man who is big game hunting makes a huge difference too.


And as far as crappy customer service in retail. Look @ why.

The people who work in these places have no vested interest in the store's success. If it closes down, they just go to the next chain store thats opening and get another job there.

The big chains don't care because if they piss a customer off in city a, city b,c,d and f take up the slack. It isn't like it used to be when your neighbor Tom owned the store and needed to keep his customers happy. Now they don't have to keep you happy or coming back. Their customer pool is huge.

Example: I recently purchased a washing machine and dryer @ a chain store. The dryer started acting up after 3 months, I went to the store and asked for some help. The manager (who looked to be about 9) gave me a number to call for service and proceeded to tell me that the store just sells them and service isn't their problem. I called their corporate headquarters and was told the same thing. I didn't expect them to replace it, but hell couldn't they arrange the repair? I just spent $1,000 there.

Obviously, they don't care and don't have to care. We sold our retail souls for longer hours and cheaper prices years ago. Now we all complain about crappy customer service.

You get what you pay for skippy, you get what you pay for.


" ... you can't understand why some of these guys are cranky? "

So a dirty, disorganized store and zero customer service is the solution?


Went to what I would consider upper scale outdoor store. Small Personally owned business. I was filthy from work and it was on my way home. the sales people took plenty of interest in me. They followed me around like I was gonna steal something!! Never once asked me If I needed help. Ill spend my money at wal mart before I spend it there!! I will even bust out their name if anyone asked! now on the other hand I went to a Gander Mountain and the sales people couldnt help me enough. Even with the drool runnin down my face!!LOL


You need to reread the post. I said and I quote:

"He can't afford to update and yes in many cases his store looks crappy. But he's still there to answer your questions and let you handle a gun before you buy it from Gunbroker.com or have your local Walmart ship it in."

I think that's customer service above and beyond what you will get in a chain store. Plus, try selling your used gun in many chain stores. It's not happening.

I had one guy who owns a shop tell me about a "customer" who came in and wanted to transfer a gun from Gunbroker.com into his store. When the guy told him there would be a fee, the "customer" bitched, paid it and after he received his gun, told the owner, he'd never shop in his store again. Shop? And again you wonder why some of these guys get tired of dealing with tire kickers and whiners?


I deal with one of the largest gun shops in ontario. It is a long drive away from my place so i didnt get there to much. The first rifle i bought there had a oversized chamber and a year later they took it back(no restocking charge, offered me twice the price i paid in trade). These guys take really good care of me and so they get most of my business. They will match anyones price no matter where it is from. How many shops can you go into and spend all afternoon just talking and drinking coffee.

In this shop they will show you anything you ask and will explain any of the odd ball stuff. They also know tha ti collect old winchester and marlins so they keep the guns they think i will like stashed in the back room. I return the favor by recomending customers to them.

I will not deal with a couple of certain stores (bass pro) becasue they dont carry used guns and they also dont know what they are talking about.

If your buying guns north of the border the place to look is ELLWOOD EPPS.

B. Cameron

I've shopped at many, many, many sporting goods stores in my travels. Some have been exemplary, some have been tolerable, and some have made me turn around and walk out.

I'll name names, because I see no need to protect the guilty, and I'm happy to sing the praises of those who deserve it.

So, in not-so-brief:
Dick's Sporting Goods - big chain, average selection of the most common shotguns and rifles. It's going to be hit and miss on finding staff with a clue, and it's usually one person at the gun counter - meaning if they're involved in doing a NCIC check and transfer, you're likely going to be waiting a while. Management is usually clueless about legality of forms of ID, and will always err on the "safe side" - and not sell a gun. A new store policy forbids the sale of pistol ammunition to anyone without a valid pistol permit, even if the intended use is a carbine.

Bass Pro Shops - the staff tends to be slightly more knowledgeable, but extremely pushy. I wanted to wander and think about a gun I was looking at, and the clerk literally followed me around the store asking if I had decided yet. I walked out and ended up ordering the gun from Dick's. Their selection tends to be above average, both in guns and ammunition.

Gander Mountain - The selection tends to be excellent, the staff is helpful, patient, quick, and prices are excellent. Guns - new and used - are out on open racks to be handled, fondled, inspected, drooled upon, etc. Lighting is bright, stores are clean, and it tends to be a very pleasant place to shop.

Cabelas - to me, this is the holy grail of sporting goods. I wish there was one closer, but my wallet is happy there isn't. Racks and racks of used guns are out to be pawed through, staff is readily available, and the selection is extraordinary (only place I have EVER seen ammo for my .25-20WCF!).

LLBean - Staff is cheerful, friendly, knowledgeable, and while the guns are all locked up, they're more than happy to take them out for droolers. I love LLBean as a matter of course (particularly my boots), but their prices tend to be a bit on the high side.

And finally, the local place. Osgoods Guns and Ammo. What a nightmare. Poorly marked (I drove by three times), run from the back of a garage, horrible service, grouchy staff (owner), and incredibly slow turnaround on repairs (eight weeks for an ejector on a .22?!?). Dirty, dingy, poorly lit, shambled shelves. Little to no stock.

I prefer to support my local businesses - but I expect a lot back for my support.


There's one gun shop here in Omaha... mainly concerned with shotguns and clays.

My father-in-law, who buys cheap crappy S&W auto trade ins, is treated like a king.

I, who shop for Springfields and Kimbers, am ignored and then treated like a gangbanger thug when I ask to see something.

The difference, as you may have fathomed, is that pa is grey-haired and I would look 12 if it wasn't for the beard.

On the upside, if I ever want to shop and NOT be harassed by the help...


Im sorry if you misunderstood me jstreet. This is one particular store. Another I go to is in a place if you didnt know was there you wouldnt get out of your vehicle. Its so crammed with the stuff of your dreams. Soon as you walk in you are a member of the family and it is a family run buisness. They hand me a bib at the door!LOL

William Giordano

I would rather buy from a local gun shop than a chain but what drives me up the wall is the " you should be honored that we let you shop here attitude". Another thing is the owners ignorant brother-in-law who has a job there to placate the owners wife and knows as much about guns as the teen aged salesman at Dick's.
That being said, I have received some of the best and most knoledgable service from the guys at the Wal-Mart that I go to for cheap shotgun shells and clays.
One big thing to remember. If you buy a gun at a chain and have a problem, you're on your own. They don't want to know. Contact the manufacturer is what you'll hear


I, as a gun buyer, am very lucky. The local Dick's has a friendly and helpful staff and low pices. Cabela's in Hartford and Kittery Trading Post have some of the best used guns all displayed on racks to hold and look at. The 2 small locally owned gun stores both have a good selection of new and used guns and are full of friendly advice. One holds a contest each deer season and the person who shoots the best buck gets it mounted for free. I go to the local stores more mainly because Cabela's and Kittery are both a couple hours away from where I live in Mass.


I went into the same chain store several times before anyone even acknowledged my presence. I was looking for a shotgun but their disinterest in service sent me to another store where I was not ignored.


I completely understand the situation as described in your opening. There is a "gun store" in my area that I do not frequent anymore for one reason. The staff completely ignore you and act like you are putting them out if you ask any questions. I am a middle aged man with expendable cash and you can bet I will shop where I am treated like a friend not just one of many nameless customers. The shop I currently buy all my shooting equipment from has treated me like a long lost friend ever since I first walked into the place.


Read the article and found B. Cameron had virtually written my note before me. I have to add:
Dick's: I was handed a double barrel shotgun by a high schooler who seemed to have never touched one. No sale. I buy sale ammo there, cheap, not guns as I feel out of place handling a gun they own.
Cadela's: Our store manager is a fisherman, big time. Shelf price tags are missing, guns are locked down, maybe half the staff seems knowledgable or gives a hoot. Best sales person : an young lady that understood customer service. Have not seen her lately.
Local shops: Be in the "Click" or forget it. You can have the clerk that tells you your guns suck, the one that does not care, or the manager that wants to move you on. "Do I know you, uh, I mean can I help you?"


I live in Montana and can tell you that there are, to my knowledge, there are 4 good gun shops, in the state - The Fort in Big Timber, Shedhorn Sports in Ennis, Capitol Sports in Helena, and Ronan Sport and Western in Ronan. These are stores that have interesting inventory - Not 870's and Mossbergs - Knowledgeable, friendly staff with a real interest in guns and hunting. And this is in Montana, where guns rule. The 3 shops in Billings that sell the most - Scheels, Big Bear and Shiptons, are bad jokes, especially for staff. The people that work there could give a rip about the actual customer, or, heaven forbid, a customer that doesn't want a gun, right now, cash in hand.
Glad to know we're all about in the same boat.


I perceive in Western Upstate New York there are a number of specialty stores that can sell and service excellent shotguns and rifles for any taste, need and level of experience. There are also those dealers specializing in handguns for any need and desire. These stores have good staffs and are gracious. The chain stores are here, but they have a tough time competing since their prices aren’t all that below these specialty dealers, nor can they service the aftermarket shooting needs. My opines of chain stores:

Dick’s Sporting Goods—basic dealer for entry level shooter in all areas. Staff seems indifferent.

Cabela’s—Great PR and packaging by scoundrels. Corporate Management always seems to be sued or have problems with the communities where they built stores by not following through on their end of the bargain. Don’t ever get on their credit card unless you like epic court battles on consumer violations. How can you trust buying from a corporation that’s out of Star Trek’s Furinge [bible is the 200 laws of acquisition]. No Cabela store in NY. Think our AG and consumer protection commission would immediately have them in court.

Wal-mart—Don’t like buying shooting stuff in a store that also sells mayo. See Dick’s Sporting above.

Orvis—Class and quality products for the serious sports person. Staff is excellent. Bring your money. Their fishing and shooting schools are a very positive experience and vacation for a couple.

Filson’s—Likely the best outdoor clothing going, but many of their products are very pricy.

Bass Pro Shop—People seem very paranoid in the gun department. Not a friendly place. I wonder how many guns they really move?

David Loeffler

I own small gun shop in small town rural New Mexico. I try to give good service and usually it isn't a problem. My peeve is when a customer comes in and asks me for a price and then tells me, after I tell them the list price but before I can mention that I can do better than that, he/she/it can get it cheaper at pick your favorite big box. Well, maybe so but I take care of my customers and even those who shop at the big box, if I can.
I don't know how much Wally-world, Gander Mountain, Cabela’s, or Sportsman's Warehouse charges for ammo or whatever, and, frankly, don't care. I will try to get you the right ammo, not 30-30 when you want 30-40. I know that 6.35mm auto is 25 ACP, 8mm Mauser and 8x57mm are the same thing and the difference between 7mm Remington Mag and 7mm Remington Express, etc. If you’re not sure of the ammunition I don’t have a problem with you bringing the gun in so I can check. If you insist, I’ll sell you something but then you might have a problem getting it exchanged if I told you it was probably not the right stuff, you’re an adult after all. More importantly, if I don't know something I'll tell you and do my best to find out. I don't mind calling the manufacturer or another shop to get answers.
I might make as much money on something as the big box makes by putting on the customer's 'scope or fixing the botched job the clerk at the big box attempted, both have occurred lately.
When a new customer comes in I do my best to acknowledge them but I might already have several others in the store and I fail sometimes. Sorry. I try to keep the counters clean and welcome you as a potential friend.
Young customers, women and anyone new to the sport are welcome here. I work with local sporting clubs and schools to get more people interested in the shooting sports. I've been in sporting goods for over 30 years, hunted in the States and Africa but I like to listen to customers' stories, too. I make time for customers but cut me some slack; I’m only almost human.

Sid Lark

I don't understand the knock on large outdoor retailers. They provide a service, have a huge inventory, plenty of help, clean and well lighted, and fair prices.

I have made many purchases from both Cabela's and Bass Pro, no complaints after 10 years of doing business with both.

We also have a few local gun shops that suffer from some of the conditions described by others. That said, at least one local family owned/operated gun store seems to not only remain open but also retains a good customer base.

The "small shop" is able do so by offering the things that the larger stores can't, quality gunsmithing and very personal service when required.

Both types have their place but when I want to look over several gun makes/models and not spend a weeks wages on fuel, I'll go to Cabela's or Bass Pro for my needs.


I recently went into the Dunham's in Escanaba (MI) to purchase some reloading supplies. The clerk (a young man of about 25 yrs), standing behind the counter in the firearms section, had no idea what I was talking about, he only knew about "bullets" that came in a box "ready to shoot"!


The worst & best expiriences were at the same Gander Mountain store. I went in after Xmas one year to exchange some items in the gun dept, the manager was at the exchange desk by the door & ok'ed the exchange. I went to the gun dept. & the 5 clecks were involved in a discussion among themselves. after 15 minutes of being ignored I went back to the manager & asked if I had to drag one of the clecks across the counter to get some service back there. She went back & took care of me & several other customers herself & the next time I stopped in there were all new people staffing the gun dept. that were eager to help the customers.


Ya know when I go into any shop lookin at guns I want to be the only person they think exists. Gee I think thats called customer service? I dont care if it is a small gun shop or a large chain as long as I get the service I want Im happy. Thats on a purchase on a gun. As far as tweakin a weapon Ill take the small personally owned shop everytime! Crap they know what they are talkin about!The chains could give a crap after the sale. I want someone I know when it comes down to the proverbial nut cuttin! Even if it s the same person at that chain store, Aint happened yet!!


Too add: I dont have alot of disposible income. Dumb thing and a motorcygle! Ill spend a little more for someone that can show me about repairs Instead of just handing it off and get it back fixed!

Big Daddy

Here in Pa small local gun shops are still alive but not as it was back in 1970s. It's hard for them to compete with the chains when 60% of the buyers are hunters whom shoot just 1 box of ammo a year at the most. An are happy with 1 rifle of $450 and an Moss.500.
The small shops that thrive handle reloading componets and sell guns as an attractant at near chain prices. some make a few dollars on trade in guns that they resell but their new gun inventory is kept low to keep overhead down.
Add into the mix wholesalers whom won't quote the small dealers a price only an estimate plus shipping charges.
What does this do to customer service? You can be assured that most "SAVY" small shop owners will go out of their way to aide you. While the "I'm stuck in the rut" owner digs himself in deeper!

B. Cameron

Big Daddy:

"60% of the buyers are hunters whom shoot just 1 box of ammo a year at the most. An are happy with 1 rifle of $450 and an Moss.500."

I don't quite fall into that category, but truthfully, how many of us are that far away?

I own several guns (.17HMR, .22LR, .223Rem, .270Win, .30-06, 12ga, 20ga, .50muzzle), but truthfully, how much do I shoot in a year? A box or two in the .17, almost nothing in the .22 (it needs replacing, stupid Remington 597!), a couple hundred rounds of .223 for fun, *maybe* one box of .270 and .30-06, ten or fifteen shots in the muzzleloader, five or ten slugs from the 12ga and a couple hundred rounds of trap. Nothing significant. Add up the prices:
.17HMR @ $12.50 x 2 = 25.00
.22LR @ $ 2.00 x 2 = 4.00
.223 @ $ 6.00 x15 = 90.00
.270 @ $15.00 x 1 = 15.00
.30-06 @ $15.00 x 1 = 15.00
.50 @ $15.00 x 1 = 15.00
12slug @ $12.50 x 2 = 25.00
12shot @ $ 4.00 x16 = 64.00
20shot @ $ 4.00 x16 = 64.00

Total: $313.00.

Annually. Now, I consider myself a pretty avid hunter, and I probably do spend a bit more than that - a few boxes of turkey loads, some accessories (gotta love a gadget...), etc...

But truthfully, how much do MOST of us spend on shooting goods in a year? Not on "capital" items like the guns themselves, which are essentially investments and rarely depreciate or wear out except through our own stupidity, but on the true money-makers - ammo, cleaning supplies, ammo, ammo, ammo... ?