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Sonoran Desert Institute

All the Latest News, Reviews and Developments happening with the Sonoran Desert Institute!

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Graduate Spotlight: William Haskell

William Haskell served four years in the Marine Corps and worked as a Combat Marksman instructor. He spent his entire life around firearms, whether it was with his grandfather who collected and modified firearms, or when he and his brother used to beg to clean his father’s rifles. William joined the police force in 1997, and after 21 years of service, his passion for firearms has never diminished. One of his friends and fellow officers had completed SDI’s associate degree program and brought the school to William’s attention. A few weeks later, he encountered a Google ad for SDI, and decided he really needed to check it out.

William remembers his grandfather, who adamantly denied being a firearms collector despite buying two of every military-style rifle. One he would modify for hunting and one he would put into original condition as a keepsake. When his father inherited those rifles, William and his brother would beg their father to clean them. Hi dad was a safety-oriented firearms owner and believed that the teaching of firearms was essential if he was to own them around children. Letting his boys clean his rifles was bonding experience, an education, and a benefit: he never had to clean his own rifles.

Today, with more than two decades on the police force under his belt, William works as a detective. And he is also the firearms guy in his department. If something is broken or cannot be identified, his number is on speed dial for his fellow officers. His reputation and enthusiasm for firearms is part of why he sought out SDI.

After starting and not completing an associate program in Criminal Justice, William was a bit hesitant to enroll in school. He knew the time commitment that it required, and his free time was devoted to his family. He also knew that the schedule of a police officer can lack in consistency, so he wanted to make sure he would have the time to fulfill his obligations. William had enjoyed his Criminal Justice classes, but he didn’t have an overall enthusiasm for them like he did with firearms. Still, he had a drive to complete the college education he had started years ago, and after several phone calls with SDI’s Mike Olson, William decided that finishing his education was something he really wanted to do. He had finally found an education that he was passionate about.

Finding a solid time to study was William’s primary challenge. With a family, kids, and a full-time job, it can be difficult to book time to hit the books. He decided that putting time in early in the week so that he was finished by mid-week was his best use of time. “Some of the classes were pretty easy for me. I had a lot of experience with firearms, which was helpful, and those breaks were needed because some of the classes were really challenging. Writing papers was really difficult at first, but by the end of my classes, I was pretty good at it,” said William. The challenge of writing was not unexpected for him. “The reading and writing could get pretty daunting, but this was college and that is expected for higher education.” While William had a lot of experience working on firearms, there were always new things to learn. “Metalworking and checkering were parts of gunsmithing that I had never experienced. It was really interesting, and it took some effort,” he said. “Luckily, my credits transferred from my previous college education, so I didn’t have to retake all of my core classes. That was a huge help to me.”

One of the events unique to William’s education was his meeting with SDI’s President, Traci Lee, SDI’s Vice President, Wes LeMay, and SDI’s Director of Faculty Services, Sara McGilvray. He had decided to attend the Certified Firearms Specialist training in St. Louis, Missouri, where SDI’s staff were also attending. It was a chance encounter, but one that stuck with William. “I saw an SDI shirt and asked the gentleman about it. He said he worked with SDI but did not tell me immediately he was the Vice President. I was really surprised when they asked me to lunch and had even inquired about my grades. Traci Lee told me she was really impressed with my grades. I was pretty surprised that they took such an interest in one of their students.”

Having graduated in November of 2017, William is grateful to now have more time to spend with his family and to take his kids to their competitive trap shooting meets. Initially, he planned on utilizing gunsmithing as a part-time income source in retirement. He imagined that it would be difficult to get his foot in the door in the firearms industry, so he wanted to give it time to develop. Adding to his hesitation to jump right in were his experiences with SDI’s course in business management. “Man, I realized how much goes into starting a business and how precious my time is now. I don’t have the time between my work and my family to do a business correctly,” said William. Fate, however, had different intentions for William. With his reputation as a tinkerer of firearms and being newly graduated from SDI’s program, he was referred to a job opening as a part-time gunsmith. “I realize there are parts of the trade, like machining, that require some significant hands-on time. With what I learned at SDI, combined with my previous experience, I can work my way through most of the problems that I find with firearms. I also have the mental tools to find out how to fix the problems I haven’t encountered.”

William did have a few takeaway pointers for SDI. “I really wanted to learn more about the business side of the industry. The business management course I attended left me hungry for more information, like how to keep a business up and running in years one, five, and beyond, as well as inventory management.” William learned to be proactive with his professors, who he said were transparent about their availability and let him know if there would be a delay in their response. “I was pretty surprised that those instructors, who no doubt have to grade hundreds of papers, typically responded within 24 hours. I just had to be proactive and not sit around waiting for them to contact me; I reached out to them. I even got my questions answered on quiz questions that I felt I missed even though I fully understood the topic.”

William is now an SDI graduate and a part-time gunsmith. He showed grit when the reading was, in his words, like pulling teeth. “Reading and writing papers is hard, but college isn’t supposed to be easy,” he said. The classes he took set him up with a knowledge base that put him on a path toward gunsmithing as a source of employment. William’s passion for firearms has taken him far.

What will you do with your passion?

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Getting your business in order for the holidays.

Yes, the holidays are here. The weather is cold and people are staying inside. So, how do you take advantage of the season to benefit your business, gain new customers, and stay on top of the potential increase in business? We have some suggestions for you!

Christmas and New Year’s bring out consumer spending in droves. According to the National Retail Federation, the holiday season represents nearly 20 percent of total yearly sales. While gunsmithing itself is more of a service industry, several gunsmithing businesses do have retail as a part of their business. Service industries, such as restaurants, can also be an indicator of an uptick in business for the overall service industry during the holidays (USA Today). So how do you use this to your advantage without going crazy during the process?

  1. Prepare

    Nothing can drown a business like not being prepared to take on new business. If your tools are not in order, your retail is not stocked, if you run out of paperwork, or if your filing system is not organized, you could find yourself swimming and overwhelmed. Get yourself together down to where your paperwork is filed. Do you have a stack of paperwork you haven’t filled out yet? Now would be a good time to take care of that. Clean your shop, stock any retail you wish to sell, and make sure you have effectively tracked your backlog for any outstanding work that should be completed before an influx of business.

  2. Get Congenial

    You are the face of your business. If Christmas gives you a case of the grumps, you should probably brush it off in lieu of a friendly, outgoing demeanor. It might seem unnecessary, but your primary duty as a business owner, especially in a business where you work on firearms that carry emotional attachment by your customers, is to make your customer feel at ease.

  3. Have a Sale

    In the spirit of Black Friday and post-Christmas, hold sales during the holidays. And the firearms industry is in a special position for the post-Christmas season. As a potential customer, after that special someone gives you a brand new holographic site or a new walnut stock, you’ve got to find someone to make sure it’s installed correctly. Try running a promotion as simple as giving a discount on service that provides a referral, or offer something a little more straightforward like discounted engraving, a deal on firearms seasonal maintenance, or maybe double down and discount all your services for a limited period. Make sure the sale inspires your audience to make a move by limiting the time your deal is offered.

  4. Update Your Website

    It’s 2017 and your website is as much of an indicator of the quality of your services as your experience itself. If you have a website that looks like it was designed in the 90’s by a teenage relative, you are most likely missing out on potential business. Consumers will take a hard pass on a service that looks like it does not care how it presents itself. People like bright and shiny, and your website should be able to provide it. Your website is also an excellent place to post your seasonal sale!

  5. Advertise

    Marketing can be daunting, but without getting the word out, nobody has any idea you exist. For those of you that can afford it, you can place ads in local publications and on local websites. Make sure they are high-traffic publications and do your research to make sure they target your consumer audience. For example, if your local gun club has a newsletter, it may be a good place for an ad. On the other hand, if your local gardening store has a newsletter, it may not be the best use of your advertising budget.

Let’s pretend you have absolutely zero budget for any kind of special holiday ads. You still have resources available. If you’ve performed your due diligence and gathered the email addresses of your past customers, you can send a bulk email to them advertising your service. Try to use a service like MailChimp or Hatchbuck to do this. If your past customers get annoyed, they may report your email as spam. If that goes back to your business email, it can affect future emails and potentially blacklist your email address. Using one of the services mentioned can prevent this from happening.

Or maybe you’re not tech savvy. You can accomplish advertising your business by sitting down and simply calling your past customers. This is where offering a discount on referrals can help. Finally, get social. Most of us have social media. Most small businesses maintain social media of some kind. This is the cheapest way to reach a large consumer audience.

Christmas time can be stressful for consumers and business owners. By using just one of these steps, you can eliminate some of it. Are these the only things you can do to help your business during the holidays? Absolutely not. There’s always the possibility of parachuting over your town while towing a banner with your sale on it. The key is to pick your pace, get the word out, and participate in the spirit of the season. Have any ideas for increasing business during the holidays? Post them on our Facebook page: https://business.facebook.com/SDIschools/.

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