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Several weeks ago I wrote an article describing the history, development and advantages of the .40 S&W cartridge. Each day I receive updates emphasizing the passion that gun owners have for their favorite firearm. The discussion has been intense and words have flown in every direction offering an incredible insight into the buying process.

While I have enjoyed the exchange of ideas, it is hard to escape what is truly important when considering which firearm to buy. And as it bears on the struggle to identify the perfect handgun caliber, I thought it would be worthwhile to write down what was learned and identify, oddly enough, what was not discussed.

Here were the main themes supporting the readers choice of caliber:
1. Recommendations are incredibly impactful to the new buyer who often describes their need to purchase a firearm, or for that matter, the reason they chose a particular firearm, to be based entirely on what a friend or Seller said to them. They look for expertise they do not possess and are willing to put money on the table when they find a degree of expertise.
2. Fit, feel and finish came in second as buyers will admit to choosing the higher priced model simply based on their perception of how the handgun fits in their hand. Oh, and they want to look good while holding it!
a. One interesting point is that in the hundreds of responses across a dozen forums, not one response mentions that the seller changed out the back strap to seal the deal from a buyer who was 90% on why he liked the handgun offered.
3. Experience they say is the best teacher and that teacher creates a relationship, whether positive or negative, in the mind of the buyer. Those with service in the military or the law enforcement will give greater consideration to the calibers they know best. Other buyers will relate experiences like “Once my dad let me shoot …” or “I got the chance to hold my friend’s …”.
a. I am often disappointed to observe Sellers who ignore the opportunity to capitalize of these positive experiences. A few qualifying questions would allow the Seller learn more about the customer’s intention for his or her purchase. Instead, Sellers launch straight into their own sales pitch for the ‘Hot Deal of the Day’. The tendency to discount the customer’s experience leads to many a disappointing sales interaction as money walks out the door.
4. Tactical use is noted as one qualifying question Sellers do occasionally ask. The popular open ended question, “Whatcha gunna do wit it?” allows the Seller to rule out full sized handguns for concealed carry buyers and .25s for personal protection against bears.
a. I suspect that in almost none of the cases did it reveal the Buyers intention to bring harm to or threaten another human being. However, just as soon as you imagine that something is ‘Idiot Proof’, someone comes along a builds a bigger, better Idiot. I, for one, would be thankful to witness an ethical gun dealer tell the ‘Idiot’ to leave their place of business and never come back.

The lesson here for gun sellers is straightforward as to the major reasons why the gun buyer purchases a particular firearm. Note that cost wasn’t high on the list of repsonses. My observation is that high $300s to low $600s is the typical expected price range for the new firearm purchase. More is often considered extravagant and less equates to the perception of poor materials quality or poor workmanship.

The takeaway that may seem the most perplexing to die hard enthusiasts is the inverse relationship between technical information and the customer’s enthusiasm for a particular firearm or caliber. Eyes glaze over once you get past general descriptions of the ballistics of each caliber. i.e. ‘.45ACP knocks people down!’, ‘9mm puts holes in things!’, ‘.22LR is cheap and only good for plinking!’

These general perceptions have value in the minds of the buyer who wants simple, easy to understand and easy to relate descriptions that they can impress their friends at the gun range with. Often the better the relatable ‘quip’, whether it is derived from personal experience, manufacturer statistics or is a tagline borrowed from an ad in a magazine, the more buyer enthusiasm is generated.

Still more confounding is the missing idea that the handgun is simply a platform for ammunition carried. Discussions of more technical ballistic data such as muzzle velocity, stopping power and penetration are confusing to the new buyer who doesn’t initially make the connection to the concept that different brands of ammunition have different ballistic expectations. Can you find similar performances between 9mm, .38 Special and .40 S&W? Yes, and while the idea offends whichever team you are on, someone will eventually answer the question on this blog with ammunition ballistic comparisons.

I believe that the reason this concept is not discussed is that many Sellers are afraid to upsell the customer after they agree to the significant purchase of a firearm. Stand in a gun store and watch the interactions. Invest the time in talking to the Buyer! I suspect your average items sold will go up and you will develop a happier more educated returning customer.
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