By Roger Phillips, Owner and Operator of Fight Focused Concepts
I became a student of tactical firearms training in 1999, back when there was a finite number of trainers and organizations to choose from. Not only was the supply of trainers low, the demand for trainers was also relatively low, but it was still a seller’s market. The established Instructors did relatively well, were able to stay busy, and were able to conduct their training businesses full-time. Courses were not all that prevalent, but they were often well attended, mostly by Law Enforcement (LE) and Security Agencies.
As time has gone by, the number of trainers and the number of students has steadily risen, much of this due to 9-11-2001. I know that it had a profound effect on me, my training, and what would eventually become a career/business. I found that many civilians began to look at training in a different light and their presence inside of advanced courses took on a more prevalent role. It became common place to see courses run, where there were more civilians than LE, Security, and Military (MIL) put together. This led to the start of a virtual heyday for Firearms Instructors.
Since we were back at war, the study of the art came to the forefront and many people began looking at what we were doing inside of our training and began questioning whether it was the best way to be training. Since the private sector is naturally much more nimble and flexible than the LE and MIL establishment, they were able to “research and develop” at a level past what the establishment could do. The Private Sector took on a huge role of advancing the art during this time period, which left the LE and the MIL playing catch up. This led to the LE and the MIL sending their people to the Private Sector Trainers, which took the Firearms Trainer heyday to a whole other level. The demand for good Trainers was very high because the supply of students was very high. It was a seller’s market and the prices of the course kept climbing right in line with “the law of supply and demand.” I was one of those Instructors that filled that demand that had been created. I ran my first class at the end of 2005 and have been instructing regularly ever since then. During this time period, many people hung out their shingle and started a business as Firearms Instructors, in order to fill the demand. Some made it and some did not. See, being an Instructor is not as simple as knowing the material and showing up to collect the cash. It is hard work (especially if you are a traveling Instructor, like I am) and you do actually have to know how to transfer your knowledge to the student.
The market slowly changed as more businesses began opening their doors and as we began to pull out of Iraq and Afghanistan. Many of our military veterans were coming back home to a failed economy, a struggling work force, and very limited opportunities. Many people wanted to hire our veterans, some could actually do it, and some simply could not due to the economy. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) became a very well-known illness and a part of the America’s ever day language. Some people even fear hiring our military veterans due to PTSD.
This reality forced many of our veterans to take their own future it to their own hands and start their own Firearms Training business. I see this as a very good thing for our veterans since I truly want them to have work after they leave the military. They have done so much for America, I would like America to give something back.
This has led us to where we are today…..a buyer’s market. The vast majority of Instructors are no longer in full control of the prices that they charge for their courses. There are some full-time, top-level Instructors who are still commanding top-level prices and filling up course, but these Instructors are far and few in between. The supply of Instructors has grown larger than the demand from the students, and this fact leaves the student in a relatively good position, with decent control of the financial aspect of purchasing courses.
For the vast majority of established Instructors, the prices of their courses have dropped. It is not unusual to see two-day course that used to cost $450 -$500 a few years ago, now being priced at $300 – $350 today. That is directly related to the over saturation of Instructors in the market. Newer Instructors, who have not made a name for themselves can be seen teaching two-day course for around $200. While hardly anyone may have heard of them before, their resume can look very impressive. This is a reality and it is a fact.
If you have ever wanted to look into training to see if it is something that you might enjoy and get a lot out of, there really is no better time to do that than right now.
So, what is it that a student can do to take advantage of this market reality?
The first thing would be to know that you do have a decent level of control on what you will spend for a class. You can get CCW level training for next to nothing, you can get NRA level of training very cheap, and you can get training from a military veteran (who has not made a name for himself yet) at very low prices. Most of the established Instructors prices have come down significantly, but since they understand the amount of work involved in being an established Firearms Trainer, they will only come down so far while they wait for the market to straighten itself out. The student needs to understand that the vast majority of established Firearms Instructors instruct as a secondary job. They have a primary jobs that usually takes care of their financial needs and they mostly instruct because they enjoy it, have a knowledge base/experience level that most people do not have, and for the financial benefits of owning your own business/having a secondary form of income. The prices of the full-time, top of the line Instructors may not have come down, but they may be a lot easier to get into compared to what they were in the past. You may want to ask about discounts on repeat courses, discounts when you bring a new training partner to them, of discounts when you sign up multiple students. Even the top guys are seeing the reality of the market and may make concessions to secure you as a student in a very competitive field.
Take a look at what your goals/priorities are and then do your home work on checking out where you want to train. With the Internet, Gun Forums, and Social Media look for an Instructor that is within your price range and that appears to be teaching what it is that you think that you need. Vet your potential Instructors, because there should be more than enough information out there, to be able to make an educated decision on who you should train with and who you should not train with. In this regard, I have one request. Out of respect for the military veterans out there, please make sure that there is no “stolen honor” being misrepresented inside of your potential Instructors resume.
There are many ways to save money while training, beyond just the discounts mentioned above. Buy your ammo in bulk on the Internet. Look at your lodging as nothing more than a bed and a shower. Bring your food and do not eat out during every meal. If you are flying, book your flight as far in advance as you can and keep an eye out for sales and promotions. Join the rental car clubs and settle for an Econo-box over the SUV. Find a training partner in your area, one who you can split the cost of transportation, possible lodging, and help you earn multiple student discounts. The benefits of a training partner far exceed the obvious financial benefits. I have seen many lifelong friendships forged out of nothing more that training together to make it more affordable. A five-hour drive home from a course, with a good training partner and good discussions, can be just as valuable as the actual course itself.
If you have ever thought about receiving firearms training, but was worried that you could not afford it, this may be the very best time to see if this is something that is for you. We (us Instructors and our student base) have all started out wondering if this was for us. What we found is that it is our hobby, our sport, our passion, the way that we want to spend our vacation time, and that it has the real benefit of being applicable to our duty to protect ourselves and those that are under our care. Most people who have never taken a quality course have no idea what it is that attracts so many people to the activity. There is a certain personality type that will gravitate towards this activity and make it a permanent part of their lives.
Do your homework, shop wisely, look for deals and discounts, do not be afraid to ask an Instructor for some quid pro quo. You may be surprised at their response. While many people may not want to talk about it……..it is a buyer’s market.
Good luck and good training.