A Buyers Market – The Reality of Firearms Training in 2015

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.

The Paragon of Excellence

By Roger Phillips, Owner of Fight Focused Concepts

“Never accept the limitations set down by another man. Only you know what you are really capable of and you will only discover your capabilities after you have obtained the knowledge and put in the work.”

I have been using that quote for a very long time. It is the epitome of striving for excellence! It is the paragon of how we should live our lives!

I have done very well in my career pointing out where people refuse to put in the time to gain the knowledge and the work to obtain the skills. There is nothing weaker that those that self impose their own limitations by repeatedly whining  “I can’t, I can’t, I can’t!” There is nothing more embarrassing than to read and hear how they try to justify their own failure by trying to convince others that it cannot be done.

I do not care what you cannot do. I do not like reading or hearing about weakness and negativity. I want to see effort, I want to see work…….I want to read and hear about what you can do. I want my students to bust through the imaginary walls of ignorant limitations imposed on us by people who do not know what they do not know. I want to see people striving for excellence and obtaining excellence.

“What am I really capable of?”

This is a question that I asked myself that was the very genesis of my career as the developer of the Fight Focused Concepts family of courses. This is a question that every true student of the art of violence needs to be asking themselves. This is boldness in action!

Fear is a killer! Fear of failure is the sign of weakness! Accepting fear in your lives will always hold you back from being the paragon of excellence.

“Never accept the limitations set down by another man. Only you know what you are really capable of and you will only discover your capabilities after you have obtained the knowledge and put in the work.”

Strive for the paragon of excellence!

Why We Do What We do

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By Roger Phillips, Owner of Fight Focused Concepts

The holidays are here and I want to wish everyone the very best of times. As always, the Phillips Clan gathers as often as possible and never misses out on the family get-togethers over the holidays. I often find myself just sitting back and watching the family enjoy themselves and the company of those that they love. I am often amazed at the group of people who I helped bring together and the absolute happiness that runs through the entire group. As usual, I think about where I came from and how far I have come. This naturally leads into the ever-present reminder of why I do what I do and who I am to my very core.

I have written about being “A Dad” before and it seemed to resonate with many Dads, that see things very much as I see things. I strongly believe that the article carved me out a niche as a Self Defense Instructor, but that niche could and should be much larger than a niche of just Dads. What I am talking about is the very large group of people out there that see themselves as the protectors of those that they love.IMG_2939

As an Instructor I have traveled the country and met the most amazing people, people from all walks of life. Meeting and training these people is the ultimate of honors, because the one over-riding trait, that the vast majority them possess is the fact that they are the self-appointed protectors of those that they love. When you feel and live at such a level of dedication and resolve, seeing it in others, just as strong as you see it in yourself, is the ultimate of honors. Such an honor can only be met with the highest levels of respect, integrity,and pride.

I have told my story on why I teach. The undeniable honor of teaching people, the very best material that I can find, is something that can never be taken lightly. Matters of “life and death” are one thing, matters of “life and death” for those that you love is a whole other thing. When the protectors among us come to be taught the skills that they need, to be as deadly as they can be for their loved ones, there can be no compromises. There can be nothing given, but the very best effort put forth by the Instructor. The protectors came for a reason and nothing should get in the way from the Instructor teaching the very best course that they can.

In all of my years as a student, nothing disgusts me more than an Instructor that obviously holds back information for business or money-making reasons. The reason that so many protectors/students state that taking a class from me is “like drinking from a fire hose” is because I feel that I have a moral obligation to give as much quality information to the student/protector as I can fit into the purchased amount of time.

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We all know the answer to that question as the student. We want as much information as the Instructor can teach, within the purchased amount of time, because we are looking at this from the perspective of the self-appointed protector of those that we love. We have dedicated the time and the money and we want to feel as if the Instructor cares about the value that we received for our sacrifices.

Unfortunately, just as it is with many of the Martial Arts, information and knowledge is dealt out in small increments to assure that the student has to come back for more. But, there is a big difference between training in a typical Martial Art Dojo and taking a Firearms course………and that difference comes down to the cost of the courses.

I may not be the smartest business man in the world, but it would seem to me that giving a protector/student a very good value would increase their customer loyalty. Call me stupid, but it would seem that an Instructor that is, first and foremost, loyal to the protector/student would receive loyalty in return, due to his obvious understanding of the paramount importance of training the best protectors that he can possibly train.

This is about “life and death,” this is about “family”, this is about “loved ones”, this is about “the protectors” among us being as ready as they can possibly be, just in case they are called on to use their hard-earned knowledge and skills to do the most important thing that they can possibly do.IMG_3088

“It’s who we are, it’s what we do!”

If it is “who we are”, then it is the Instructors moral obligation to try to make “who we are” as deadly as we can possibly be. If it is “what we do” then it is the Instructors moral obligation to make the “what we do” as high quality as he possibly can.

The day this becomes more about money, than about the importance of teaching the protectors among us, is the day that you should close up shop and move on to another line of work.

How Good is Good Enough?

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By Roger Phillips, Owner of Fight Focused Concepts

This is a rhetorical question that I have asked many times, from many different people. The question is not just about the answer, the question is much more about the journey. Everyone has individual based goals and dreams, to sit back and judge another persons goals and dreams, without the requisite knowledge base is the height of ignorance and arrogance. If you have no idea what a persons goals are, how can you judge the perceived path from your absolute position of ignorance. I find the vast majority of people to be overly judgmental of people who they hardly know anything about.

We all know that there are people out there that lack motivation and are happy with their mediocrity. But, they are not really the topic of this article. The topic of this article is those that strive for excellence, excellence in whatever arena that you so choose. It does not really matter what area the excellence is pursued, because the pursuit of excellence is conceptual and there are many corresponding, overlapping, and congruent similarities across all of the categories. The focus of this article is on your mindset and the way people perceive you due to your quest for excellence.

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This is an attitude and mindset that permeates from those that seek out excellence. It is an understanding we will never know everything and everything can still be improved on. This belief leads to a very fulfilling life of exploration, discovery, accomplishment, and triumph to those that have the wherewithal to take on the journey. Some people will join in and help with the journey and some people will jump in to come along for the ride to have the opportunity to benefit from the journey. Some people will be dragged “kicking and screaming” until there is no other option than to accept the truths that were discovered during the quest that they did not originally see as being necessary.

Unfortunately, there is also a group of “close-minded naysayers” (CMNs) that will never accept the work that has been put in, never admit to the excellence that was achieved, and never even get that there was a need to push for that level of excellence. People such as these are the bane of excellence! They do everything they can to make people believe that the work was not necessary and to hamper it in whatever manner they can. The CMNs are the type of people who the only way they can lift themselves up, is by attempting to tear down those around them. We have all met people like this, their game and their weakness is plain as day. But, unfortunately there is a minority of people who actually allow the CMNs to have an effect on them and follow their lead in their quest for mediocrity.

For the most part, the CMNs are easily circumvented. But, sometimes they have to be cut from your life like a cancer.

Never allow anyone to stand in your way for your quest for excellence, because “good enough” should never be accepted by those that want to hit the paragon of excellence.

Why Do You Teach?

By Roger Phillips, Owner of Fight Focused Concepts

We all have our reasons why and some of those reasons are much more honorable than just doing it for money. Sure, it is nice to be paid for an expertise that you have acquired due to spending your hard-earned money and your extremely valuable time. But money is not everything! Sometimes we teach due to a much higher calling.IMG_1146

So I ask those that do teach, “why do you teach?

I’ll start with my story.

I have been teaching in some form or another since I was a very young boy. My father taught me how to fight and I passed those skills on to most of my friends. It was one thing to know how to fight, but it was always better when all of my friends knew how to fight also. Alone, you were a force that caused concern……together, almost nobody messed with us. When you are on the streets……nobody messing with you is a very important thing……a matter of “life or death” thing. So in the beginning “teaching” was done as something that ultimately benefited me. Sure, were there times that I had to fight friends that I had taught? Of course there were! Having friends that pushed you to a higher standard was always seen as a plus. ”

“Iron sharpens iron as one man sharpens another.”

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In this time period, teaching was about self-preservation, status, and the strength of the pride.

As time went on the call of the street began to fade and the endless crime and violence were beginning to take their toll on me. I was already dead and had nothing to live for past that final inevitable fight. Then I met a man, an Instructor, and a God send, his name was Jerry Shopfner. He could teach any course in the Community College, but he chose to teach the people who were the roughest in the school, the Auto Collision Repair students. He chose to teach “the street” because he was once “street.” When he was young, he was labeled a “moron” because he had dyslexia before anyone knew what dyslexia was. He dropped out of school at twelve years old and started working at a body shop. At eighteen he met a man who understood dyslexia and taught him that he was not a moron. Jerry went back to school and took courses every year until I met him. He was sixty-three when I met him and a Professor that could teach any course in the College. Inside of these so-called “Collision Repair Courses” Jerry would also teach us business, philosophy, psychology, and anything else he thought that we needed. “Street” would pass on going to lunch to just hang out in Jerry’s office while he taught us the tools to fight our way out of the gutter.

I credit the man for saving my life.

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Teaching took on a new meaning to me. It became a moral obligation, to pass onto others what had been done for me. I will never reach the level of greatness that Jerry thrived in, but I will spend the rest of my life trying. Before I became a Firearms Instructor I taught numerous “rough around the edges” guys, how to achieve the American dream. I cannot possibly tell you the number of guys that I took from being unemployed to six figures, within a couple of years. And once again, did I have to compete with some of these guys? Yes, I did! A hard man never shy’s away from quality competition. Fear is for wimps! Do what is right, never look back, and always remember to honor those that have given you so much by passing on the blessing that were bestowed onto you.

Becoming a Self Defense/Firearms Instructor is as natural as breathing to me. Teaching  good people how to protect themselves and those under their care is the most honorable thing that I can possibly do. I have some things to make up for and teaching matters of “life and death” to the very best of my ability will give me a chance to make amends, honor Jerry for what he did for me, and to do the most good that I possibly can. My perception may be skewed due to my past, but to me, being an Instructor is the most honorable thing that I can possibly do. Due to the extent of this belief I have made some very clear choices and take on a very solid oath.

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I will never teach or sell anything that I do not have a 100% belief in. There will be no compromising on this oath, because to do so wipes out everything that I have worked towards since my life was saved by a man who taught me what he had a 100% belief in.

Next story!