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by Marty Hayes
It is the day after Black Friday as I write this month’s column. Since both Gila and I have been afflicted with first a cold then the flu, it hasn’t been a particularly enjoyable start to the holiday season, but we are not complaining. Nevertheless, I am absolutely taken aback at the commercialization of this coming Christmas holiday. The increase in attempts to get those bucks out of our wallets and into the bank accounts of the marketers is intense. Whatever happened to free choice, and giving the consumer just a shred of respect? In college when I took business classes, specifically advertising, the theme was to use the advertising media to build name recognition, something that is called now “branding.” We studied firms like banks and car companies, and tried to emulate what they were doing. This dovetailed nicely with my early lesson of “build a better mousetrap, and the world will beat a path to your door.” I guess that is why I am drawn to quality companies like Mercedes Benz, Honda, Weatherby, Rolex, etc. While I can’t necessarily afford the top of the line items these companies sell, at least if I buy a used item from one of these manufacturers, I know I have purchased quality. These companies built their reputations on quality first.
When I built my first business, the Firearms Academy of Seattle, I did it under the premise that first, the cost of our training courses should be affordable to most anyone who wanted to get some good training, and second, our training be the best there is for the money. I also gave respect to those people who were thinking about attending our training courses, by not trying to brow beat, frighten or over sell our training courses, but instead, simply tell them what we had to offer, and let our reputation close the deal. After 21 successful years in business, I sleep well at night knowing that we have fulfilled that mission, and continue onto our 22nd year of business with a staff of over a dozen instructors, dedicated to continuing that degree of excellence.
This, of course, brings us to the Network. Over the last several years, we have had many, many people attempt to persuade us to be something we are not (and don’t even want to be). The first push was to make enrollment in the Network much cheaper. People wanted to join for 35 bucks a year, not $85 per year. After all, that was the cost of many other gun owner organizations, why not ours? Well, if we wanted to build up the Network to what we think it could be–that being an organization which could seriously assist its members with their legal needs after an act of self-defense–we needed to have the income to accomplish that. And, we also knew that the most logical market for our membership to come from was the serious student of the gun, the person who took training courses and likely could afford the $85 per year without too much difficulty.
In addition, we also knew at the time that in order to mount a legal defense, our members needed to be able to testify to documented knowledge of the legal issues involved in legitimate self-defense. That meant producing the DVDs we provide to our members. Of course, in order to do that we needed the financial resources to pay for the production up front and to warehouse several thousand DVDs at a time. And, not to be over looked is the need to pay people to do the work of the Network. So, when we choose the $85 yearly dues, it was with these considerations in mind.
I write this column this month to let you know that you are part of something very special. You are part of a group of people who all share a common bond. Our members carry guns for self defense AND are deeply concerned about the legal aftermath of a self-defense shooting. Members of the Network take their responsibilities as an armed citizen seriously. They are likely members of several pro-gun organizations, and many are active in pro-gun politics. They take training, and if they are in a situation where the training is not easy to accomplish, they take the time and energy to educate themselves. And, they are smart enough to know that membership in the Network is worthwhile and valuable.
I also write this column this month to remind our members that while we are a business entity, we are not driven by making the almighty dollar. The ONLY reason that we structured the Network as a for-profit business was the ability to control the direction of the Network without interference from people who might not have our best interests at heart. Many years ago, I was a member of an organization of law enforcement trainers, which was formed with all the best intentions. For years it operated under the original board of directors and its executive director as an efficient, member orientated non-profit. But after a few board of director elections, power struggles and infighting ultimately resulted in the founding executive director leaving the organization. The appointment of one individual, then after a rocky term, another new executive director, and of course, more board elections followed. Eventually the organization basically imploded. For those readers who know whom I am referring to, please understand that I mean no disrespect, but only use this as an example of how things can go sideways in a non-profit organization run by a board of directors.
We don’t need that drama here at the Network. What we need is a few more years of keeping the nose to the grindstone with goal-oriented decisions made by a small group of owners who only want the Network to succeed, both financially and institutionally. With that said, I will close for now, with the thought that your Network is stronger than it ever has been and more committed to reaching our goals than ever. Have a great (and hopefully relatively non-commercial) holiday season.