IT Geeks, Guns and Money
IT Geeks, Guns and Money
Published in Scottsdale Airpark News, June 2013
North Scottsdale’s National Firearms Dealer Network aims to become the Amazon of guns—by bringing Southwest creatives over to the “other side”
By Jimmy Magahern
At the head of the long conference table in what’s dubbed the NFDN Strategy Room, surrounded by elegantly lit display cases of rare handguns and assorted weaponry, National Firearms Dealer Network president Larry Davis pulls up his company’s website on a laptop and displays the home page on a widescreen monitor on the opposite wall.
“Let’s pretend that you’re walking into a mall,” he begins, focusing on the arresting splash page image his graphic artists have created. The photo-realistic illustration depicts the sprawling interior of a two-level shopping mall—almost definitely late-1980s Metro Center, circa Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure—only all the store signs look like logos from the pages of an NRA magazine.
“But your anchor store, instead of being Dillard’s, is Smith & Wesson,” Davis continues. “Next to that is the Colt Store,” he says, clicking on the storefront on the top floor that most definitely would have been Kay Jewelers in ’80s Metro Center.
“These [virtual] stores are actually owned by Colt, by Smith & Wesson,” Davis says. “We design and build it for them, but they actually own the stores. So as you go through the mall now, what it does is it gives you a complete shopping experience. You can go into the stores of all these manufacturers, and it’s like walking into Dillard’s.”
Except it’s Glock Perfection and Savage Arms whose signs have replaced the Hot Dog on a Stick, and Lotions and Potions. And Winchester and Browning appear in place of Goldwater’s and Dillard’s.
Davis, a long-time Scottsdale Airpark pilot who flew for some of the business icons who were instrumental in constructing the Airpark, just sits back and smiles at the richly interactive virtual mall his tight team of 15 employees has created for him. Built to facilitate the quick online transfer of inventory from major firearms dealers to mom-and-pop gun stores around the country, the National Firearms Dealer Network bills itself as “The Largest Firearms Mall in the World.”
“Pretty neat, huh?” Davis asks, with a smile.
Depending on which side you take in the national gun debate, Davis’ brought-to-life vision of a shopping mall made up entirely of gun stores can strike you as either an apocalyptic scenario or a dream sequence from the ultimate “Rambo” movie.
For Davis, an intriguing mix of former Walmart V.P. and card-carrying NRA supporter—a man who quotes Patrick Henry and Sam Walton, often in the same breath—his NFDmall.com is clearly the culmination of a dream to bring his years of experience as a Walmart executive (among his early achievements, he managed the chain’s first Superstore, in Texas) in service to his love of American weaponry.
But what about the rest of the staff at NFDN, like the hip-dressed young woman toiling over a splash page for Mossberg autoloading rifles? How did Davis manage to corral some of North Scottsdale’s best creatives into producing top-flight web architecture and graphic design for a product not traditionally in tune with the liberal arts?
“You don’t have to be a gun supporter to work here,” Davis insists. “They can hate guns. Some of them, all they like is computers!”
“There are people who work here who don’t even own a firearm,” adds sales and marketing vice president Chad Seaverns, who’s taken over control of the laptop. “At the heart of it, we’re really a marketing e-commerce company and we’re working with computers, helping small businesses succeed.”
Davis is quick to credit his staff of graphic artists, IT team and call center operators, who have brought this slick web operation to life in a under a year, expanding into an office space connected to Davis’ brick-and-mortar store, US Autoweapons, on Northsight Boulevard, between the Scottsdale Gun Club and the Habanero’s Mexican Grill.
“I don’t want this story to be about me,” he cautions. “We’ve got a very talented programming department, we’ve got a very talented graphics department. And then,” he says, patting Seaverns’ back, “we’ve got Chad, our Internet guru.”
Davis leads a quick tour down the hall, past the room of call center operators eying a bank of monitors that show the locations of NFDN’s 500-plus dealers, all linked into the company’s online inventory of more than $300 million of in-stock firearms and accessories, past John in sales (“He takes care of all of our Facebook and Twitter”), to creative services, where art director Shane Wagoner is busy setting up a shot of a new Browning rifle that’s just come into the shop.
Wagoner, who’s worked for close to 30 years in the graphic design field, admits it hasn’t been easy recruiting traditionally liberal creative types to design web pages for semi-automatic weapons manufacturers.
“It is difficult, yeah, because of the nature of it,” he says. But there’s also something artistically alluring about gun imagery—and enough well-heeled financial backers behind the industry—that has drawn some of today’s best graphic artists to the field. However ugly one may view our country’s obsession with guns, the websites for Colt and Leupold riflescopes would look beautiful in any creative’s portfolio.
“What Shane does is, he’ll sit down with his people here and they’ll try and get the culture in their mind before they do their design work,” Davis says. “And that seems to work.”
Whatever their motivations, Davis is just happy to have a crack team busy making his ambitious vision come alive.
“We used to have a saying over at Walmart,” he says, leading the tour back around to the front door, which is kept tightly locked during business hours. “‘Dream it, do it and fix it.’ I dreamed it, they’re doing it, and we’re all fixing it!”