That’s something I’ve always been good at: if there’s a problem, I like to solve it – often in a way that makes little sense to others. I guess that’s just the way I think – the engineer in me (p. 31).
In my last post on the United States Concealed Carry Association’s interest in women, I mentioned Tim Schmidt’s autobiography, Guns, Freedom & The American Dream: The Story of Tim Schmidt and the USCCA.
Reading the book made me realize that Schmidt and I have a few things in common.
The oddest commonality is that we have both strung tennis rackets for money. Schmidt tells about how he got a job working at a sporting goods store in the Boston area when he couldn’t find a job in engineering. He got the job in part by forgetting to tell the store that he had never strung a tennis racket in his life (p. 64). He learned on the job and became an expert racket stringer, like I am now.
Another commonality was surprising for me to learn from his autobiography. When I first saw Schmidt at the United States Concealed Carry Association’s Concealed Carry Expo (CCX) this past April I thought to myself, “That is a big man with a big personality. He stands out even in a room of hundreds of people, and people are drawn to him.
I was surprised to learn, therefore, that Schmidt is (like many engineers) is something of an introvert. He is not a “people person,” as he puts it (p. 9). I can relate. Introverts are not people who cannot interact with others, but people who must expend a great deal of psychic energy in doing so. I don’t have to imagine how exhausted Schmidt must be at the end of every day of an event like the CCX because he describes in his autobiography what it takes for him to meet and talk to people over the course of the three day National Rifle Association annual meetings and exhibits (pp. 129-30).
The third commonality is the most obvious and important one: We are both involved in Gun Culture 2.0. I began this blog to give myself a place to think out loud about my own journey into gun culture. Schmidt’s autobiography tells the story of how he came to be a central figure in the emerging culture of armed citizenship that is at the heart of gun culture today.
Schmidt earned a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering and met his wife Tonnie (also an engineer) at Michigan Tech. After living and working in Boston, Tim and Tonnie moved back to Tim’s home state of Wisconsin and started Schmidt Engineering, Inc. out of their apartment in Muskego in 1997 (p. 11). Although the company in time had some success, the work itself was never satisfying to Schmidt.
Guns, Freedom & The American Dream recounts the story of Schmidt’s evolution from an engineer to an entrepreneur, with an important step being reading Robert Boatman’s “The Constitutional Right and Social Obligation to Carry a Gun,” from Boatman’s 2002 book Living with Glocks.
The article inspired Schmidt immediately to take greater responsibility for his family’s safety, subsequently to start Concealed Carry Magazine, and ultimately to found the United States Concealed Carry Association.
After the birth of his son, Schmidt became more interested in firearms self-defense but couldn’t find the information he wanted to develop this interest. So, he did what most people would in his circumstance. . . . Actually, he didn’t. He “decided to start a magazine” (p. 12). In January 2004, he produced the first issue of Concealed Carry Magazine.
And when he says he produced it, he really means he himself. He was one of the models, “took the photos, wrote the articles [including one under the pen name “Fred W. Black”], laid it out, and bought a mailing list of 30,000 names and addresses” (p. 78). As a marketing ploy to make the magazine seem more legitimate, he said it was “the official publication of the United States Concealed Carry Association (which technically didn’t even exist yet)” (p. 79).
The 30,000 free magazines he sent out yielded a 3% subscription rate, which was not really enough to pay the bills but did give him some confidence that there was a market for such a product.
Some of the most interesting parts of Schmidt’s autobiography are not the successes, but the failures and how he learned and rebounded from them.
As he tells it, he took hundreds of copies of the first issue of the magazine to the SHOT Show in January 2004 thinking that everyone would be as excited about the idea as he was. He could not give away the magazine to attendees. As Schmidt recalls, “that was one of the lowest, most embarrassing moments of my entire life” (p. 14).
Along the way, Schmidt realized that “the only way to make a business work in the long term is to have awesome marketing, too. . . . That was my problem: I didn’t have awesome marketing. I really didn’t have any marketing sense at all” (p. 76).
What saved Schmidt from this failure? In addition to his attitude and drive, direct marketing saved him. Programs like “Magnetic Millionaire” and “Magnetic Marketing,” direct marketing gurus like Dan Kennedy and Yanik Silver, and seminars like “Underground Marketing Online.”
From these Schmidt learned to use “automated, direct response marketing principles” on the internet and transformed his fledgling magazine into a thriving business. Ten years after bringing home almost as many magazines from the SHOT show as he brought with him to Las Vegas, Schmidt’s United States Concealed Carry Association gave away nearly 5,000 copies of Concealed Carry Magazine at the 2014 NRA annual meeting in Indianapolis (p. 16). And the following year the USCCA launched its own show, the Concealed Carry Expo.
Learning better marketing techniques also required and helped Schmidt to clarify what exactly he was selling. It wasn’t Concealed Carry Magazine. In 2005, Schmidt finally got around to establishing the USCCA as an organization and the magazine became a benefit of membership (though now non-members can also subscribe). So, what Schmidt learned to market – using “direct response marketing on the internet” as promoted by Yanik Silver’s Underground Marketing Online seminars (p. 90) – was membership in the USCCA itself.
Growing the association’s membership rolls – i.e., growing the business – requires Schmidt to figure out what benefits to offer members that can be done profitably. Beyond the education and training benefits, the major current benefit of USCCA membership is Self-Defense SHIELD, a legal insurance plan that protects members in the event that they have to use lethal force in self-defense. This was rolled out in 2011 as an option for members, but shortly thereafter became mandatory.
Schmidt reports that the USCCA lost half of its membership – 25,000 members – because of the increased cost. But because the new insurance-backed membership cost three times the previous membership fee, the USCCA generated more revenues (p. 104). And within two years, membership levels had returned to the previous levels, and since that time has doubled again.
There’s a lot more to Schmidt’s book than just this, but this is the part that most interested me. It’s an easy read and there’s something in it for almost anyone whose interested in Gun Culture 2.0, so I encourage you to check it out.