Part I: Introducing Nova Firearms
Nova Firearms is a locally owned and operated gun store in McLean, Virginia. Owners JB Gates and Rachel Dresser recently moved their location just a clip down the road from their former (and much smaller) shop, and were met by staunch opposition by the local community. Despite protests, political conspiracy, and negative press, Nova Firearms has been phenomenally successful since the move. The fact is that JB and Rachel provide warm service, a wide selection, and easy convenience to local firearm enthusiasts. This Veteran Owned Small Business belongs in the Encyclopedic definition of “no press is bad press.” After drawing animosity and protests from a mix of local and out of town anti-gun activists, business has skyrocketed- but that’s just one contributing factor to this local success story.
Born and raised in La Plata MD, JB Gates spent 4 years in the Marine Corps: security forces, then infantry. Upon his exit from the Corps, JB was part of restaurant staff that opened a Buffalo Wild Wings location in Bowie, MD. Rachel Dresser was also part of the team, and during the following year working together in the restaurant, JB managed to win her affections. After his time behind the bar, JB moved into the private security business. In 2009, he fed his entrepreneurial side by getting his FFL (the license required to sell firearms) and starting up a side gig building AR15s. Building rifles was the primary passion that led JB into the gun vending business. By 2013, Rachel had set up the LLC and was busy using her years of customer service experience to help operate the burgeoning endeavor. Later in the year, a friend and co-worker discovered through a contact that a local gun shop had just gone up for sale, and they had enough saved up to move on it with a partner. JB and Rachel went into business in Virginia before they could even legally purchase firearms here.
I first met JB while trying to track down a Smith & Wesson Performance Center M&P. I called the shop, and the guy on the phone graciously set one aside for me and marked the box with my name. This was at the original location on Elm Street, which was a cramped little room that would have been too small for a seamstress to work out of. Even with limited space, JB and Rachel were able to keep plenty in stock. JB also hand-selects interesting items to keep on hand so that Nova’s inventory is never boring. My first impression of the little closet-sized shop was that it really felt like a local bar. Every time I walked in people would be chatting or laughing, and not really seeming like they were spending any money. Nova has always had “regulars” who stop by and just shoot the shit (pun intended). They stick around because it’s fun to talk guns, and it’s fun to talk guns in a shop that doesn’t have the air of righteous superiority that some local stores do. Questions are answered kindly and thoroughly and banter is perfectly acceptable.
The soul of the shop really originates with JB’s passion and personality. He’s the kind of person who is so unrelentingly cheerful and courteous that upon first glance, one might question his sincerity. Our first few conversations left me feeling that he was trying really hard to go above and beyond for his customers (in an endearing way). Upon getting to know him a bit better, I discovered that JB is an intensely kind individual for whom the golden rule reigns supreme. This core element of his character is the root of Nova Firearms’ entire ethos: treat your clients well, and your shop will become a part of the community. Nova is a local gun store- they’re not going to be able to compete with big-box vendors on price. What they will do is take care of you and repeatedly earn your business.
If JB is the soul of the store then Rachel must be the heart: she keeps the place running. With a background in customer service and a sharp mind, she was able to adapt to the life of a brick-and-mortar retailer quickly. Insurance, inventory, taxes- many of these tasks fall to her. Rachel is knowledgeable and friendly, with the air of a very busy person who always tries to make the time. She’s happy to turn on the no-nonsense switch with an unruly protestor or pushy journalist, and probably has a badass streak that you don’t want to invite out. She and JB are a great team, and deliver predictably excellent experiences to their customers as a result of her quiet efficiency and his passion for all things shooty.
The Move Forward
After their business partner decided to move on, JB and Rachel took over the shop. The dramatically successful little store had to expand. Increasing demand for a local gun shop in McLean had turned the Elm Street Closet into a veritable hoarder’s nest of guns, ammunition, and accessories. I’m sure that JB would have been happy to lock himself in the store and just bathe in high-end shooting tech, but the path of expansion was just too damned obvious to ignore. Their first choice was in Arlington, but after local troubles with poorly informed, macchiato-sipping malcontents, Nova relocated to a historic building just a quick walk down the road from Elm Street in McLean. We’ll get into the embarrassing controversy around their relocation later on. The point is that since their move (which happened this year), Nova Firearms has seen such success that they’ve opened yet another location and have started offering a number of courses for customers. Their expansion is best described by JB: “we went from 300 square feet to 3,000 square feet.”
Firearms entered JB’s life mainly through his experience in the Marines. He grew up somewhat around guns, and had a shotgun for hunting when he was sixteen, although he didn’t hunt much. His grandfather and mother were both military, and taught him firearms safety from an early age. Rachel had less experience with guns, but grew to love them as a function of her relationship with JB. We were somewhat curious about the responsibility shouldered by gun vendors as a part of their trade. Whatever your opinions of firearms might be, there is some sort of implied moral obligation to be selective in the transaction process.. The violence of a gun-related death carries perhaps more morbidity or darkness than an auto accident does for car dealerships, and we were curious about how JB and Rachel dealt that subject. Their responses were thoughtful and adult: “If we don’t feel right about selling a gun to someone, we calmly ask them to leave- we do it all the time.” Although background checks provide a sort of safety net, shop owners and staff work together to make sure that they conduct their business in a safe and common-sense manner that’s refreshing. Education is perhaps they best way to promote safe handling and use of firearms, so they naturally decided to offer this is an option to their clientele.
Classes at Nova Firearms
The large new “Nova Firearms” sign hanging over the heart of McLean has piqued the interested of the community. Hordes of new customers flow into the store daily, many of whom have little or no experience with guns. JB and Rachel have put together an exceptional cadre of instructors who are experts in their fields, including a friendly Special Operations veteran in order to educate new hobbyists. They are proud to offer courses on a variety of topics including Firearm Basics, Make and Model-Specific Gun Care and Operation, Concealed Carry Courses, and are expanding into actual live-fire training at local ranges. Currently, classes are conducted in a full sized classroom on the second story of the shop. Red Hatchet Outdoors will be attending the April 24th Concealed Carry course, and we’ll report back on our experiences. We’ve got plenty more coming about Nova including a tour of the shops, an account of the relocation controversy, and more- check back soon!