Active outdoorswoman, Dawn Walrath, has nearly 20 years of experience in the retail sporting goods industry. Her journey into the industry began in 1996 when she approached the owner of a local sporting goods store and shared with him the results of a fishing tournament she had just finished.
The owner congratulated her on her achievements and asked about her future plans. Dawn was fresh out of college and had no job lined up yet. She responded, “I don’t know. You took your help wanted sign down.”
The following week Dawn started at his store. In the years since, she has been in retail sales, retail management, and manufacturer’s sales representation, plus pro staffing for several outdoor companies. She also volunteers for causes and organizations within the industry. Most recently, Dawn was hired as the first female hunting and fishing sales associate in the 83-year history of St. Paul, Minnesota’s Joe’s Sporting Goods.
Dawn says her job is about more than selling products, it’s about helping customers achieve their goals and become better outdoorsmen and outdoorswomen. “It’s so rewarding to have customers not only leave the store with smiles, but then return weeks later after their trip with stories and photographs in hand of them using the equipment you helped them select,” says Dawn. “It’s almost like you were right there with them creating those memories.”
While at various shooting events Dawn notices when men bring their significant others, many who have never actually shot before. “You can see the hesitation on some of the ladies’ faces,” says Dawn. “After you cover the safety brief, explain how the firearm works, what to expect, proceed the firing line and have them shoot, a whole new confidence overcomes them. To see that look of astonishment of ‘I did it’ on their faces is incredible.”
And there are more rewards. “I have had high school seniors on state trap shooting leagues invite me to their graduation celebrations because shooting became such an important part of their life, and I sold them their trap gun or their first gun after completing firearm safety classes,” stated Dawn. “What an amazing feeling to know you had that much influence on someone.”
As a woman in the male-dominated retail sporting goods industry, Dawn’s encountered a few struggles. “Sadly, some people tend to judge a book by its cover,” she says. “Don’t assume because a woman’s nails are done or she’s dressed nicely, she hasn’t just returned from harvesting a deer or catching a meal of fish. I hunt and fish all the time, often by myself, yet my appearance doesn’t imply that. Sometimes male customers hesitate to ask me a question about gear, when in reality I may be purchasing, pro staffing, and just plain using that gear more than they are.”
Dawn sees advantages of being a woman behind the counter when it comes to selling firearms to other women. “Sometimes men can be intimidating for a variety of reasons,” says Dawn. “Women tend to be calm, informative, ask a lot of questions, and most importantly, listen. All of these qualities are important when making a sale, no matter what the item is.
“I have never met a man who enjoys going into a craft store. They’re uncomfortable, surrounded by glitter, glue and a thousand shades of scrapbook paper. They want out!”
She compares men in a craft store to many women when they enter a gun shop. “She is often out of her element and may be nervous or even scared, but something empowered her to walk through your door.” For these women who Dawn sees, “taking a bold step looking for a self-defense weapon or simply shopping for a hunting rifle,” it eases their comfort level to have another woman behind the counter. Dawn also mentions fitting a firearm to a woman’s hand or build can be easier for another woman. “We can relate that a full size pistol doesn’t fit our grip or a compact stock on a shotgun may be more appropriate.”
When Dawn’s noticed male sales associates having a hard time with women customers is when they aren’t taking them seriously. She stresses, “Men will never make sales to women if you don’t gain our trust first.”
We asked: “Is there an advantage for retailers to have female sales associates and managers selling firearms to other women?”
“Absolutely!” exclaims Dawn. “At the rate the firearms industry is increasing by female shooters, it would almost be foolish not to have a woman behind your gun counter.”
When it comes to gun dealers hiring women associates and managers, her advice is, “She needs to be a strong and confident woman with a driving passion for the industry. You may find her at the gun range or as a current customer; there are a lot of us out there! You won’t have to look too hard!
“She will struggle at some point to earn some customers’ respect. Support her by pointing out her background and experience to them. Provide training times with reps and range time for even more experience. The more you invest in your employees – female or male — the more they will invest into your success.”