If you’re dreaming of moving to the country, your move will be far more successful—and you’ll be much happier—if you have a plan. Starting your own gun shop might not be in your plans, but it was for one young couple. This couple provides an excellent example of the maxim “Look before you leap” and the success that can come from starting a business you love.
Starting Your Own Gun Shop
Meet Hillary Dube and her fiancé, Ross Rivkin, the owners of HNR Gunworks in Inverness, Fla. Previously, these two young people lived in Cromwell, Conn. While there, Rivkin, a trained custom gunsmith, worked at JoJo’s Gun Works in Southington. But in January of 2017, the couple thought about moving to the rural South.
“We wanted to live in a warm climate where we didn’t have to fight traffic every day,” Dube explained. “We researched small towns in Florida specifically due to its mild weather, and we knew Florida’s gun politics were favorable to gun owners—it’s known as the Gunshine State.”
Then the couple made a list of the people they knew who lived in Florida. “I knew no one, and Ross only knew one person,” Dube said. “We called and asked if we could spend a week with him while we researched the possibility of moving to Florida and setting up our own gun shop.”
“Prior to traveling to Florida, I must have called what seemed like 800 different realtors,” Dube said. “I got a list of properties that met our needs in different Florida counties so that when we arrived, we could consider about 10 properties per day. I also researched demographics and the population counts in each county we were considering as well as the median age of the residents and the number of armed forces veterans there. We wanted to live somewhere that was small enough that, when we walked down the streets, people would recognize who we were, smile at us and would know our names.”
2A State of Mind
Some of the counties that Dube and Rivkin considered had a large number of retired military personnel. They knew that those people generally owned guns and liked to hunt and shoot. They learned that many Citrus County residents were veterans.
Dube also contacted Friends of NRA. It’s grassroots program that raises funds for shooting sports. She talked with Bret Eldridge of North Florida. He gave her the names and phone numbers of people he knew who might be interested in custom gunwork and repairs and others who might buy guns. She also researched Citrus County’s gun clubs, gun owners and pawn shops; this gave her an idea of the number of people who might need repairs or purchase a gun.
“Ross is passionate about working with guns,” Dube said. “We knew before we moved that we wanted to own a gun shop that did repairs and custom gunwork and sold guns. My job would be to identify customers who would come to our shop, operate the business with the skills I’d learned in my college degrees in accounting and marketing, gain clients and operate a financially successful business.”
Housing and Business
During Dube and Rivkin’s weeklong trip in search of a place to live as well as a business site, they spotted a storefront for rent that wasn’t on their list. Because the couple would have to put a major portion of their capital into renting and renovating a building, they realized they wouldn’t have enough money left over to buy a house and land. So, the practical solution was to rent, at least temporarily. They found just such a home less than a mile from their business location. As soon as they rented the building, they applied for a Federal Firearms License (FFL).
Dube started working with the Citrus County SCORE organization, made up of volunteers who are active and retired businesspeople. This group provides free counseling and mentoring and gives advice to new small businesses. It also provides access to documents, templates and tools and helping businesses that are moving there.
“In February of 2017, when we came to Citrus County, I made a 20-page business plan with SCORE to determine how much we’d have to spend to begin our business and how much we’d have to make to sustain the business and have a profit,” Dube said.
From their research, Dube and Rivkin knew Inverness had 7,000 residents. They also knew that three gun shops were already in business there.
“We wanted to have good relationships with the Inverness gun shops already in existence,” Dube said. “Today, we help them out, and they help us, too. We divided our building in half with one side of it set aside for selling new guns and accessories and the other side for Ross’s machine shop. Although we like to sell guns, repairing, modifying and building guns is the bulk of our work. We also sell guns on consignment with our company taking 15 percent of the guns’ selling prices.”
Dube and Rivkin bought their equipment in Connecticut and had it shipped by freight line. HNR Gunworks started with an entire machine shop full of equipment and tooling. Because of that, it offered more services than the other gun shops in town.
As Dube emphasized, “We’ve provided the other gun shops with a way to get custom work done on guns that they weren’t equipped to do.”
“We moved to Inverness on Easter weekend of 2017, made the modifications we needed to make to the building, set up our equipment and opened our doors as soon as we could on June 13, 2017,” Dube said. “I planned a ribbon cutting to announce the opening of HNR Gunworks. We had people come in to see what we were all about, and the local newspaper did stories about who we were.
New Customers at the Gun Shop
After the opening, Dube networked with group within the county. The local word-of-mouth marketing took quick effect.
“Ross and I set up our booth at events at churches and festivals, we went on cycling rides, I took a pottery class to meet people, and we sponsored a bowling team,” Dube said. “A number of people showed up at the ribbon cutting, which offered food, raffles and giveaways.”
Since the ribbon cutting, it’s been busy. Dube said gun cleaning and repairs are a large part of the business at HNR Gunworks.
“We’ve had many customers come in with pieces and parts of guns they’d had for years because they didn’t know anyone who could repair their guns,” Dube said. “A big flood occurred in Inverness 10 years before we arrived. So Ross saw many rusty guns and those that needed repairs from the flood, and that created our initial business. Today, we’re doing more custom work like porting and threading barrels, trigger jobs and putting Cerakote on guns.
“With our marketing program, we’ve reached out to several surrounding counties. We now have customers coming to our store from Tampa, Orlando and Gainesville. People have also contacted us from all across the country on our website; that draws about 10 percent of our business.”
Growing the Gun Shop
Within six months of opening, the majority of business came from a radius of about 60 miles from the shop. Their two-year goal was to grow enough to consistently draw business from the entire state.
“I’m convinced that the growth and future of HNR Gunworks will come from people hearing and learning about us, boxing up their guns and sending those guns to us,” Dube said. “Once we repair their guns, we’ll ship the guns back to them. We’ve found that most of our customers prefer not to leave their homes to get their guns repaired, modified or rebuilt. Usually, we can fix a gun within a day, unless it’s a major custom or refinishing job. Then we may require a week to work on it.
“In the next three years, I hope we can double the inventory of new guns we have for sale,” Dube said. “Within five years, we hope to have grown our business enough to hire two to three more gunsmiths to work with Ross. I’d like to see our online business grow, too.”
Since they moved to Florida, Rivkin and Dube have worked together all day every day. They also don’t have to shovel snow or sit in traffic to go anywhere.
“Ross and I have a very good working relationship,” Dube said. “He knows what his responsibilities are, and I know what mine are for our business. We’re both very efficient, and we get lots done in a day’s time. Ross does the physical work, and I’m responsible for the paperwork and sales. HNR Gunworks plays to both of our strengths and interests.”
Dube also believes in giving back. In January of 2018, Dube joined the Friends of NRA board. She’s also an ambassador for the Inverness Chamber of Commerce. She attends ribbon cuttings for new businesses and goes to mixers where businesspeople get to know each other.
The future of HNR Gunworks is extremely bright. Rivkin and Dube spent time doing mountains of research to identify a promising market. Then they determined what would separate their business from others. They also studied the growth potential for their business, made and followed a plan for that growth, and became very involved in the region’s events to become new pioneers. For more information, visit hnrgunworks.com.