With women entering the ranks of firearms owners at a record pace, the industry finds itself trying to catch up to meet the product needs and wishes of this important demographic.
Traditionally, the male dominated industry addressed the female demographic by simply rolling out products in pink. The "Pink It and Shrink It" tactic, as it's described by Anne Mauro, VP at Syren
, a shotgun and apparel brand for women, refers to the overly simplistic approach of reducing a product's size to, presumably better fit the female customer, and making it pink, because it's for a woman after all and all women like pink.
The use of pink as the primary color option for women stems not from an understanding of the now emerging women's market but near comical assumptions made by men. As Laurel pointed out in her October 8 feature What A Girl Needs (In Shooting)
, women "are not five-year-olds with My Little Pony and Disney Princess backpacks."
Making pink the answer to a product line expansion is not only an outdated paradigm but borders on condescending to the point of risking alienation of the female consumer.
Fortunately, more and more women are rising through the industry ranks and helping companies navigate their way through the market. Or, as in the case with some of the companies Laurel and I spoke to at SHOT Show, the men in charge are wisely turning to women inside their company to reach those on the outside.
And the result is pink giving way to a new color.
Purple is quickly becoming the color of choice for addressing the female consumer without stereotyping, and this rise of purple as a key color reflects the growing input of women. Purple isn't the only color companies are using to appeal to women but it is the most prominent on the new color palette.
But why purple? What is it about this color in particular that makes it so appealing?
When my 4-year-old son offered me a paracord bracelet one day, he wanted me to wear a bright pink one. I asked him why he chose that color. The young man replied, "because you're a girl, and girls like pink." It was sweet, he was trying to include me in his world so I put on the pink bracelet, but hopefully you grown men who run the shooting industry can grow a bit past the initial female=pink reaction you learned as boys.
Men, especially men who seek to sell products to women, need to understand that females grow up in a different culture from males. What we wear is a language, not just a color. Yes, pink is a feminine color, but it's not the only one. What we women put on our bodies are messages, not just clothing. By looking at what a woman wears, I can usually tell her social class, relational availability, confidence level, mood, and how she perceives herself. When I show up at a match, I want what I wear to say, "confident, fast, and accurate." These are three things that a woman says, not a girl.
I don't hate pink, I own pink clothing, but pink is girly. When a girl shoots, she giggles at her mistakes, looking over her shoulder to see if the boys saw how cute her butt looked as she missed that last shot. A girl needs as much help on a range as a toddler, and, "could you, handsome man, be a doll and show me how to hold my gun again?" A girl wearing pink is not competition.
Purple, on the other hand, is womanly. It is strong and calm, confident and composed. A woman listens to good advice on the range, but learns and improves from it. A women doesn't care who is watching her because she's too busy watching that front sight. A woman likes to be attractive, but has a drive to perform. At least in the language of women, purple says these things.
A new color for Hogue, purple has been extremely popular since its introduction. Photo by William Yanes
Lest you think I am making this all up, feel free to do a little research. Take some quizzes from ladies' magazines on colors. Or you could save yourself years of trying to catch up with the female point of view and be smart like grip maker Hogue
and simply ask the women who already work for you.
Hogue originally made grips and accessories intended for females in a bright bubblegum pink, but recently they took a color palette to their female staff and asked the ladies to select the best color. That is how they ended up with the beautiful new purple color grips and accessories.
Hogue's purple grips have been out-selling the pink ones since they added the color. Once females saw the beautiful color, coupled with the quality of the product, orders for Hogue's purple grips have been rolling in. Even fathers of young girls have been calling in because their daughters wanted the purple grips over the pink.
Hogue is not alone in their wisdom. Comp-Tac Victory Gear
turned to its own in-house expert on the female shooting market for color advice, the lovely Randi Rogers. Randi, who has just a smidgeon of insight on what a competitive female shooter wants, pushed for purple. Like most women out there, Randi associates purple with a powerful, royal, "I'm serious," attitude. It was not by chance that when the then 16-year-old Randi won her first world title in Cowboy Action Shooting she was wearing a purple hat. Since that day purple has symbolized winning for her, and wearing her purple hat became a physical way to help Randi enter a winning mindset.
Laurel talks to Randi Rogers about why purple is such an important color choice for her personally and for Comp-Tac's efforts to address the holster needs of women. Photo by P. Erhardt
When I asked Randi about the pink response to female shooters, she said that she didn't appreciate being labeled again. Randi talked about how female shooters tend to be strong, confident women. Women like to have a variety of colors, not just pink, to choose from to show their individuality. On the flip side of that though, Randi was quick to point out how a lot of women, "don't own what they do. We still feel like we don't belong. It's like we're trespassers," in the shooting sports. Men confidently ask for what they want in shooting gear because they expect to get it. Women tend not to because we don't expect to be listened to or have our requests taken seriously. The end result is men selecting pink for us.
Syren USA, an arm of Ceasar Guerini, is another company that takes women seriously. Very seriously, especially as their products are all made specifically for women, which probably explains the presence of purple in their logo and the notably absence of pink in their apparel.
Purple plays a prominent role in Syren's branding. Photo courtesy of Syren
After making many shotguns one-off for ladies, taking precise measurements for the individual, Syren looked at their records and designed a few of the loveliest shotguns based off the female figure that I have ever had the pleasure of holding. And they weren't a silly pink, they were beautiful and noble. Holding lovely etched metal and wood so silky that I had to run my hands all over it, made me feel elevated. I once talked to composer JAC Redford who told me that he bought a specific guitar because it had more songs in it. Syren shotguns feel as though they have more hunting and sporting successes in them. The essence of the guns is Diana and Artemis, not Barbie and Bratz.
As the industry moves to reach the female consumer it will be those companies that ask women what they want, and respond with products based on their responses, that will gain market share.
One such company we found was Frogg Toggs
, a maker of popular rain gear for a variety of outdoor activities. When we visited their booth and looked at the women's line the one color missing was purple. When we asked why no purple we were told that they did offer purple but as an exclusive for a big retailer.
It seems that Cabela's knows a thing or two about what its female customers are looking for – and that would be purple. They move a lot of purple apparel so naturally they were the ones partnering with Frogg Toggs to lock up the exclusive.
Stacy Haraway, sales manager for Frogg Toggs, lets Laurel try on the purple jacket that would soon be a Cabela's exclusive. Unfortunately, Laurel discovered there were no free samples in the Frogg Toggs booth. Photo by P. Erhardt
Unfortunately, not every company is listening to women. My favorite ear protection, ProEars, offers their fine product in the normal blacks and camos, but also offers pink, pink camo, and pink zebra. I asked a female employee at SHOT Show if they happened to have other colors. The lady rolled her eyes and sighed. "We have green. I told them we should have purple, but they didn't listen to me." She explained how she had spoken up at a meeting about adding purple to their product line, but she had been shot down by her male co-workers. "It's such a shame," she added in resigned anger at missing out on potential sales, "because purple is the new pink."
– Paul Erhardt and Laurel Yoshimoto