Voices of Leadership: Millions of New Gun Owners, Now What to Do With Them?

Voices of Leadership: Millions of New Gun Owners, Now What to Do With Them?

With a record-setting year for the firearm industry behind us, many industry professionals are starting to ask, “Now what?” Before answering that question, let’s take a look at some statistics that made 2020 a record year.

Using adjusted FBI NICS data as a proxy for firearm sales, 2020 recorded a massive 60 percent increase over 2019. The record 21-plus-million adjusted background checks in 2020 bested the previous record high of 15.7 million set in 2016 by 34 percent. Recent survey data shows that approximately 40 percent of firearm purchasers in 2020 were buying their first gun, which equates to more than 8 million first-time gun owners.

Record growth was also realized in hunting license sales as double-digit gains have been reported during the first three quarters of 2020 over 2019. To put that in perspective, data from the most recent USFWS National Survey showed a 16 percent decline in hunting participation from 2011 to 2016. Should the 2020 increases hold through the fourth quarter, it will equate to more than 1 million additional hunters that went afield in 2020 over 2019. All these additional hunters will need plenty of gear, which means plenty of new sales. The lifetime retail sales value for a million new hunters, on just their primary hunting-related equipment purchases, is more than $20 billion.

So, now what?

With the lingering pandemic and the new political administration there is no shortage of uncertainties for 2021. One thing that is for certain is the fact that if the firearm industry does not engage with, and recruit the millions of people that purchased their first gun in 2020, a major opportunity will be lost.

Just because these folks have purchased their first gun and perhaps gone to the range or field a few times doesn’t mean that they are fully committed to gun ownership. In fact, past industry research conducted by Responsive Management has shown that many first-time gun owners will lapse out and not become active participants if someone doesn’t reach out and help them along the way. So right now, January 2021, is the time to get started and welcome these new gun owners to our community and provide them with information and invitations.

The good news is that engaging these new gun owners is something we all can, and should, do in 2021—and it’s really not all that hard. The responsibility of recruiting first-timers into lifelong gun owners and active participants falls squarely on the shoulders of firearm industry professionals and current gun owners.

Since it is the time of year to make resolutions, why not commit to one that will make a difference and resolve to make 2021 “The Year of Recruitment?”

For those of you that have decided to resolve to help recruit the next generation, feel free to read on for some suggestions on how to not only keep your resolution but have fun in doing so.

January is the time of year when many of us are developing our strategic plans and finalizing our budgets for the upcoming year, so be sure to include resources for your recruitment efforts. Much work has been done by the conservation community on recruitment, and it has been proven that “one-and-done” efforts do not work, so be sure to plan for a long-term, recruitment-focused commitment.

Through e-newsletters, websites and social channels business owners in the shooting, hunting and outdoor trade are already communicating with their customers on a regular basis. They should be sure to provide content that will speak to the needs of first-time gun owners as well. Many people purchased their first firearm for personal and home protection, however many of them also have an interest in the recreational side of gun ownership. Information on firearm safety, proper maintenance and where to get training or how to learn to hunt are important to include. Companies such as RugerSmith & Wesson and Federal Premium are already providing such information to new gun owners as an easy way to engage them, as well as, gain brand recognition, customer loyalty and market share.

Find Partners
State wildlife agencies and conservation organizations such as Ducks Unlimited, National Wild Turkey Federation, Pheasants Forever, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and Delta Waterfowl are already actively recruiting new hunters and target shooters so it will make for an easy partnership. The National Deer Association (formally Quality Deer Management Association) is expanding their Field to Fork program and has worked with several industry manufacturers on internal learn-to-hunt opportunities. Media will be helpful partners to expand this reach as well.

Recruit from Within
A fun, easy and effective way to get involved with recruitment efforts is for firearm business owners to offer their staff the opportunity to learn to hunt or shoot. Being in the firearm industry, they will more than likely have plenty of staff that currently participate and are willing to teach their co-workers. 

Next to these business owners, all gun owners and hunters may be surprised by the number of people they’ve worked alongside for years who are just waiting to be invited to learn to hunt or shoot, so we should not be afraid to ask them. Documenting your internal efforts with a video and social media postings and sharing your story with others will position your organization or yourself as a leader of this effort.

Challenge Your Customers
There are more than 50 million Americans that enjoy participating in hunting and target shooting each year. Many of these active participants are already recruiting the next generation, but communicating the need for them to reach out to these new gun owners is important. You can obtain a vast amount of authentic stories and images from your current customers by simply asking them to submit their recruitment stories. Incentivizing “the ask” as part of a contest or sweepstakes has proven successful as well.

Yell from the Mountaintop
After you have gone through the effort to recruit new participants, be sure to spread the word and tell the story of your successes to as many people as possible. The more folks that hear about successful recruitment, the more they will be willing to get involved as well. 

Stick with It
We’ve all had well-intended resolutions that have gone unfulfilled and there are plenty of excuses not to keep this resolution. Social distancing requirements and lack of ammunition are barriers to large-scale in-person recruitment efforts, but sooner or later they will subside. Bottom line is that the industry has never had so many new gun owners ready and willing to become active participants. If we all stick with our resolution and make 2021 “The Year of Recruitment,” the industry will prosper for decades. 

The lifetime retail sales value of these 8 million new gun owners is well over $100 billion so be sure your organization has a strategy to engage, recruit and make them lifelong participants and customers. 

About the Author
Jim Curcuruto is a hunting and firearm industry consultant with years of research experience in the shooting, hunting and outdoor trade. He reports that traditional recruitment efforts from conservation groups and trade associations to new gun owners in 2021 will be affected due to substantial revenue losses in 2020. It is more important than ever for retail businesses in the shooting, hunting and outdoor trade to get involved in recruitment. For more advice, feel free to email him or call 203-450-7202 to learn more about how your company can position itself to take advantage of the largest opportunity ever presented to the hunting and firearm industry.