Interview with a Gun Store: Fighting Sheep Dog

Have you ever wanted to own a gun store? John and Rachael Young did with Fighting Sheep Dog, a gun store in Powell, Tennessee (14 minutes away from Knoxville), and knows for their Build-Your-Own-AR-15 Class.

When did you decided to open Fighting Sheepdog? 

John, my husband, had wanted to open FSD for a while. Like, years. Almost a decade. He’s been in love with firearms since the first day his grandfather put a Winchester Model 10 in his hands. The process itself is another story. Because we started with a semi-home based business (an existing building on the property next to our house), the ATF was very thorough in wanting to know all about what we planned on doing. It seems a lot of folks will get the home-based FFL in order to get deals on guns for themselves and their buddies without ever planning on generating revenue or turning a profit. That is honestly a waste of the ATF’s time, so they wanted to make sure we were going to actually RUN a business.

How did you pick the name Fighting Sheepdog?

There’s a long and short answer! The long answer is here. The short answer is that when John was in the Marine Corps, he read a series of books by Lt. Col. Grossman. One was called “On Combat” where Grossman talked about the sheep (naïve, looking to be lead, unarmed), the wolves (propensity for violence, prey on the sheep), and the sheepdogs (resemble the wolf but are for the protection of the sheep). The meaning stuck with him enough that, when it came time to open the shop, there was no other name in his book. Fighting Sheep Dog, it is!

Remington ammo

How many employees do you have? How long did it take to make a profit? 

Right now, we have 6 employees. But not because of the Showroom/retail business. We’ve been a gunsmith from Day 1. We also airbrush firearms. We are a Class 3 dealer and are one of the top suppressor sellers in our area due to our knowledge of NFA. But it didn’t all happen overnight. At first, it was just John and I. We opened the week of Sandy Hook (we opened that Monday, the shooting happened that Friday). It was a VERY scary time to be in the gun industry if that’s how you fed your family because no one had stock, no one answered their phones, no one returned emails, etc. However, John found a magazine manufacturer that would let us sell their 30rd stainless or aluminum AR15 magazines (impossible to get at the time) for pre-panic pricing. We were almost the only store in the state of Tennessee that even had them, let alone the only one that didn’t gouge prices! If not for those magazine sales, we’d have gone under for sure. In under a year, we moved into an 1800sq ft facility, and then 2 years later got a 5400sq ft machine shop. Last year, we founded our non-profit (501c3 pending) for recently returning veterans in their reintegration to civilian workforce. It’s a constant drive to move forward. Very little sleep and certainly no vacations. Lol.

Did you do any traditional advertising such as billboards and newspaper ads? Or did you stick with your online presence, Facebook, and word of mouth?

Our marketing has always been direct mail based. Sure, we have done TV ads, radio ads, etc. But the majority of my expertise is in copywriting so that’s what we chose to focus on. We have a pretty good online presence as well on Facebook and Instagram. I’m always looking for ways to stay in the forefront of our customer’s minds.

Do you have a lot of competitors in your area?

It used to be extremely competitive in our area. However, after Trump’s election, 5 stores went out of business within 6 months of him taking office. I think the stores who opened during the panic and didn’t have any experience in running a business, who thought it would ALWAYS be “like that” (panic-level buying, for example) are the ones who folded. It’s still competitive, but because we niched and only focus on ARs, AR parts, and AR accessories, we don’t have the same issues that someone who tries to be everything to everyone who walks in the door might have.

What do you wish you had known before opening a gun store/range? 

I really wish I’d known how HARD retail in a brick and mortar store is! Any business that John and I have had revolved around online marketing, online copywriting, book writing, public speaking. It was never more than he and I and that was always enough. Enter employees and payroll, rent on retail space, POWER at a retail space (which is not the same as at a home), inventory management, special orders, and then thrown in all of the hoops for the ATF on the FFL and the SOT…I don’t know that we’d have even started if I’d known how hard it all is. But you start small, take it one step at a time, and before long look back and realize – hey! We’ve got a successful store, have a kick-ass machine shop that employs mostly Marines, we are doing things to help our community and those around us, and are having a great time doing it with the best customers anyone could ask for! What is there to complain about?

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