FREDERICKSBURG, Va. – Dave and Robin Mathis are like most Survival Industry business owners. They run a small independent distribution company called D&R Trading, the products they sell are conceal carry purses, hip purses and knives, and their markets are buyers prepper expos and gun shows.
To help attract the attention of potential customers, Dave and Robin give away free Bibles. And usually, they can measure their sales by the number of Bibles they hand out.
But the weekend before at a different show, purchases and Bible giveaways were not brisk. They didn’t know what caused the slower-than-usual sales. Was it a fluke of weather, competing events, or poor advertising by the gun show promoter? Or could it be that the prepper market is less motivated to purchase survival gear these days?
Or could it another reason?
Both were hopeful this joint prepper and gun show would attract large crowds. They never considered the idea that Fredericksburg borders the solidly Democratic voting portions of Virginia, and that liberal voters might skip a gun show, or be turned off by a business offering Bibles to entice sales.
Either way, they hoped for the best.
Everyone Has an End of The World Scenario, And It’s Trump’s Fault
A new phenomenon called the “Trumpocalypse” has taken hold in the minds of the media, Survival Industry businesses and Progressive voters, and it’s being blamed for several “end of the world as we know it” scenarios caused by the election of Donald Trump. But who this “Trumpocalypse” impacts, and how, depends on who you talk to.
On the Right, many blogs such as Michael Snyder’s “The Economic Collapse” claims the Trump victory pushed interest in prepping to “an all time low” and that many in the Survival Industry could go bankrupt.
Snyder’s article went viral, and Survival Industry businesses and bloggers feared for their income.
“It’s like a nuclear bomb went off in the prepping community,” wrote Snyder. Unfortunately, all his sources were anecdotal, and unnamed.
But, his logic was sound: the concerns that drove millions of preppers seemed to melt away overnight. Gun control, federal government overreach, punishment of hate speech (i.e. conservative speech), the war on Capitalism, and the threat of martial law, were all feared under a Hillary Clinton presidency. But with Trump’s victory, the stock market bounced, gun ownership was safe, free speech was protected, and so on.
On the Left, the “Trumpocalypse” will end government protections that make millions of people feel safe. The fears appeared to grip minorities, immigrants, LGBTQ communities and Muslim immigrants the most. Other Left-leaning voters feel Trump’s aggressive approach to foreign policy and trade will create such geopolitical destabilization that wars, terrorist attacks, and economic collapse are just over the horizon.
So far, neither has materialized, exactly.
Slowing Survival Sales
Since election day, prepper-oriented businesses have felt pain. Although the reasons why are still unclear.
Dano Productions ceased its prepper expo operations shortly after the election, claiming that its trade shows were losing money despite universal applause for the quality of the company’s prepper expos. However, Dan O’Hara, the company’s CEO, was open about losing money months before the elections. Backwoods Magazine this week announced that it’s going out of print, and will strictly publish on digital platforms for now. Meanwhile, companies like Mountain House and Ready-Made Resources both admitted to a slow down in sales following the election, but both said sales were seasonal and thus normal for holidays.
Other prepper-oriented companies interviewed by Paratus Business News have admitted that sales have tumbled since election day, but none of them wanted to be identified for this story.
Shawn Tipping, a principal of Game Plan Experts, a prepping business in Kansas City, says he also witnessed a slowdown among traditional survival customers.
“It seems like traditional preppers are still buying things, just at a little bit slower rate. They appear to be looking for newer items versus picking up more food or water supplies,” he said. “Since the election, we have noticed lower sales at gun shows for preparedness products. We have also seen lower sales at (one) pure preparedness expo (so far) this year.”
A New Market Emerges
But like the death of Mark Twain, the demise of the Survival Industry appears to be entirely premature for one simple reason: on the Left, their nightmares are just beginning.
According to too many news outlets to count, more and more Liberal voters are taking up arms and learning survival skills.
For some, this could explain why sales have been brisk. Author Jim Cobb, whose books are often geared for beginner preppers, reports brisk sales of several of his titles, with “Prepper’s Long-Term Survival Guide” leading the pack.
Firearms retailers apparently are doing well too.
The National Shooting Sports Foundation reported that gun sales have not slowed, meaning people are not relaxed (despite some dire predictions). And the results are backed up by FBI figures on gun sales after the election. One news report said that on Black Friday, the FBI “processed a record 185,713 background checks — the most ever on a single day in the 20 years the system has existed.”
According to a recent McClatchy DC Bureau report, “Gun shop owner Michael Cargill told NBC News the gun classes at his Austin, Texas store are selling out. He’s noticed an increase in LGBTQ, African-American, Hispanic and Muslim customers. Store owners told NBC they’ve seen up to four times as many minority customers than is typical.”
Organizations such as The Liberal Gun Club report increases in paid membership, and interest in firearms sales and training that is traditionally the purview of the Right Wing. Lara Smith, spokesperson for the Liberal Gun Club, says paid memberships increased 10 percent.
A new Facebook group called Liberal Preppers was started after the election, and its members are growing steadily, as are the number of readers for the Left Wing Survivalist blog.
While the McClatchy report, which was picked up extensively on social media and the blogosphere, focused on everyday Liberals buying gear and guns, and learning skills; the BBC, National Public Radio and The New Yorker magazine all reported on the extensive prepping efforts by executives in Silicon Valley, generally fertile ground for Democratic support.
The CEO of Reddit admitted to having eye surgery to correct his vision because relying on glasses in the apocalypse would be limiting. Many executives at Facebook (often the target of Conservative ire) admitted that they purchased land in New Zealand, and/or have their private jets spooled up and ready to fly on a moment’s notice.
But the rich, as we know, represent a small margin of the American population. So when reports that half of the “99 percent” are living in fear, their opinions are worth serious consideration.
“I do buy into the concept of Liberals getting into prepping primarily because the climate and atmosphere of society today has a lot of people on edge and worried. And this is going to include people of all political stripes and colors. Sure Liberals are a hard sell on guns, but they’re not as hard a sell as you might think. If rednecks think tree huggers are p—–s, they should step lightly,” said Les Stroud, the survivor television star known as Survivorman.
The bottom line is that if the news and anecdotes are accurate, today’s Survival Industry could experience the largest shift in its customer base in at least a decade. Of course, that depends on whether these businesses embrace the new market.
“Right or wrong, the prepper community is very much associated with the far right or alt-right groups,” said Laura Heller, a longtime mass market retail reporter and current contributor to Forbes.com. That reputation could cost many businesses a lot of money if they”re turning away potential customers by insulting their values.
In a review of more than 300 survival business websites, Paratus Business News concluded that in most categories – tactical, firearms, outdoor, specialized survival gear, food and water retailers, expo promoters, bunker companies and others – less than 1 percent marketed their company and products in an overtly politically partisan way.
However, the story is very different for the survival blogs and prepper news sites. Of nearly 60 blogs and news websites reviewed by Paratus Business News since the 2016 presidential election, approximately 50 percent published Conservative or Right Wing-partisan articles and opinion pieces.
One thing is certain, if business owners and bloggers ignore the fears of millions of potential new preparedness customers, or simply choose to insult those potential customers, they will lose money, and possibly their business.
An Opportunity for Good and an Honest Assessment
By definition, a business exists for the sole purpose of making a profit.
Today, at least half the nation is unhappy with the results of the last election. In addition, large numbers of people are actually fearful of what may happen in the near future, and these Americans are looking for ways to prepare.
If the shift by Progressive voters to turn into preppers is just an emotional reaction to the election, or if the industry dismisses these customers because of politics, this will be a short-lived phenomenon. But if the industry embraces the sewn market, turns the new interest into a lifestyle change for the new customers, the survival/self-reliance industry could grow for the longterm.
By definition, this is called a business opportunity.
The customers need advice on what to prepare for. They need to find retailers to sell them survival gear and self-reliant living products. And they need training.
Said Tipping, “Our store, Game Plan Experts, in Lenexa, KS has seen an uptick of buyers, many seem to be newer to the concept. They ask more questions and have been making larger purchases than our more traditional customer. Buying full kits versus buying items piecemeal.”
Taking advantage of the new market is a win-win. The business finds new customers, and grows, while Americans find the help they need.
“We move marketing to where the business is,” added Tipping. “Our mission is to help others prepare; we don’t worry about their political beliefs. If we can help them, we will. As an industry, we should look at the softer side of prepping with more education and training.”
Virtually all marketing and business experts agree that there is a connection between how a business speaks to its potential customers, and whether those consumers will spend their time, and money, with that company.
If a business turns away a new market, i.e. money, because of the business owner’s personal political beliefs; or the owner refuses to adjust a marketing strategy that is geared towards a right-leaning audience which has suddenly lost its passion; it not only threatens the viability of the business, it calls into question an owner’s business acumen.
Heller, the author of the Forbes.com retail news blog “The Point of Purchase,” is an expert on the retail industry. In addition to her current position, she’s spent more than 20 years with print magazines such as Discount Store News and digital publications like Fierce Retail covering everything from the fall of Circuit City, the introduction of home improvement stores like Home Depot, and the global rise of Wal-Mart and Amazon.
Heller thinks a corporate culture is reflected in a business’ operations, even though consumers may not recognize it. However, how a company speaks to its customers, or potential customers, is abundantly clear and can make or break a sale. In other words, if a business’ advertising or website insults or belittles consumers who think differently than the company executives, don’t expect consumers to spend their money with that business.
“If a customer’s beliefs have been mocked, or they’re made to be afraid of a group of people, they will not go into that business,” said Heller.
Lara Smith, The Liberal Gun Club’s spokesperson, agrees with Heller’s observation and even takes it one step further. When asked if she would advise her members to ignore a business’ conservative views even if their products and services are what the member is looking for, “No. Because most of the companies that are partisan have said really horrific things about liberals, and why should our money go there? There are plenty of businesses that provide great products and info that are neutral or positive about having liberal customers.”
It’s simple math for a retailer. Sales rise and fall quickly. But for bloggers that depend on advertising, it’s more complicated. Yes, readership can rise and fall quickly too, and that can drive advertising revenue. Yet, even steady readership isn’t enough to protect the blogger’s business if advertisers don’t want to be associated with the blog anymore.
For Heller, the idea of politics driving a business’ success or failure through the use of tools like boycotts is familiar territory. She recently covered the L.L. Bean boycott/support story, and she’s opined on whether these actually make sense.
For large companies that get caught in a political spin cycle, “They have to weather that storm,” she said. Of course, that’s easier when it is a multi-billion dollar company. For most small, independent shops, an actual boycott would drive them to bankruptcy.
For the most part, the Survival Industry is prepared to respond positively to the shifting marketplace.
In the Paratus Business News review of the Survival Industry marketing efforts, food, general and speciality retailers, tactical and survival gear retailers, bunkers and weapons retailers all kept the focus on the products and services. Same goes for training companies.
For this review, we did not consider any focus on weapons, military or law enforcement products to be political, unless they specifically target political candidates or issues such as gun control. Of course, a consumer that has traditionally shied away from guns is not likely to embrace a retailer that is overly gung-ho in its camouflage, bump helmets, night vision gear and AR-15s, when they can go to an average general consumer-friendly store like Dick’s Sporting Goods and purchase many of the same products.
The story is very different of the survival blogs and news sites.
With 50 percent the Survival Industry blogs and news websites targeting a politically Right-leaning customer and business base, a new type of the preparedness enthusiast is making the case that it’s time for many survival and related entities to re-evaluate their business models.
“It’s strikingly partisan out there,” said the author of a six-year-old blog called the Left Wing Survivalist.
When asked about his impressions of the industry’s marketing, its political angles, and who he would recommend any to his readers, his answer wasn’t entirely encouraging. “I’d have to do some digging to find ‘non-partisan’ authors. Bloggers tend to take sides, as well. I hesitate to make any recommendations as to businesses. I’d put forth Emergency Essentials, The Ready Store, and Ready Nutrition as fairly even-keeled.”
How to Embrace the New Market
So how does anyone with a survival business embrace the new market?
“I think if the survival industry keeps its focus on the skills, the gadgets and the techniques for survival, what should it matter about political preferences?” said Stroud. “They should steer clear of just trying to fit in with right wing, conservative, gun-toting individuals. The ability to survive everything from a wilderness accident to a pandemic or war is something everyone needs to know, not just people addicted to the cliche of camo clothing.”
Heller agrees and says there are plenty of real-world examples for businesses to learn from.
“I think that for someone who is new to prepping, there is a huge learning curve, and the need for education. They don’t know where to even begin,” she said. “Look at what the big trends are in the broader consumer market and retail industry. You’ll see more personalized experience, in-store experiences – be it entertainment, clinics or sampling – that is driving business and people to these stores.”
Think outside the box, the Forbes writer advises.
“Take a page from the home improvement industry,” she adds. “They teach basic classes – how to paint a wall; how to hang dry wall; how to install a toilet – on a Saturday morning when people are engaged in home improvement projects. Or go to a gun range on a Sunday after church, and maybe offer a basics class (for your customers). Lululemon holds free Saturday morning yoga classes to bring people into the store to learn about the products they’re selling, and the activities they are practicing, that their products are geared towards.”
Now is the time for businesses to act.
Of Bibles and Business
As for Dave and Robin Mathis, their Bible giveaway didn’t seem to hurt, or particularly help, on their weekend in Fredericksburg. Of course Robin, the most up front face of the business, doesn’t talk politics. While Dave will speak his mind.
On the first day of the expo, they gave out 24 Bibles, and sales were slow. On Sunday, they gave out 50 Bibles and sales were better. Overall, the weekend was average for the Gun Toten Mama.
Of course, gun shows are notorious for the business owners who wear their politics on their sleeves, and liberals looking for a gun and accessories may opt for a neutral site like a national sporting goods store. That said, it will be interesting to see if the survival industry does shift to a more liberal customer, or if this is just speculation by the media and bloggers driving a new narrative.
To be on the safe side for our readers, Paratus Business News is fully exploring the concept of the “liberal prepper” in this edition. Enjoy and learn from Q&A stories with The Liberal Gun Club, The Left Wing Survivalist and Forbes contributor and retail business expert Laura Heller. Also, our editorial, “If We’re Honest With Ourselves, The Survival Industry Could Heal the Nation’s Divide.”