By Ashley McGee
Though their history dates back to the late 1500s, airguns — the oldest pneumatic technology — still aren’t getting the credit they deserve. The best thing dealers can do is dispel the stigma airguns are just “toys.”
“Advancements in technology have allowed for more versatility and market opportunity than ever before,” said Richard Turner, president of Umarex USA. “And what we’re seeing is the emergence of unique applications that weren’t necessarily possible before.”
Still primarily used for training, recreational shooting and introducing youth to the shooting sports, an increasing number of shooters are using airguns for varmint and pest control. Innovations in pneumatic technology allow for larger calibers; hunters are using airguns to take medium- to big-game animals where state regulations permit their use.
“A handful of states already allow the use of airguns for whitetail hunting,” Turner noted. “We predict this number will only increase as time goes on.”
To stay ahead of the curve, Umarex will release the highly anticipated Hammer in early 2018 — a .50-caliber big-bore air rifle reported to get 700 foot-pounds at the muzzle. The pre-charged pneumatic air rifle was designed specifically with air hunters in mind. It features a compact configuration and three-shot repeater with a harmonica clip.
In addition to making them more powerful, technological advancements have allowed both airsoft and airguns to be authentic in size, weight, handling characteristics and balance when compared to traditional firearms. For this reason, they have received a boost in consumer enthusiasm in recent years. The good news for dealers is this niche product can produce some impressive profit margins.
“Dealers who know how effectively to stock and sell them can benefit from 30 to 50 percent profit margins — much better margins than traditional firearms,” Turner shared. Coupled with an estimated 50 to 65 percent margin on ammunition and accessories, these products can have a positive impact on a dealers’ bottom line.
Short-term profit aside, dealers should also consider the long-term potential of adding or expanding this niche. “Young shooters are growing up with airguns,” said Turner. “By demonstrating a strong desire to serve their needs now, dealers can lay the groundwork to retain lifelong customers as they grow into adulthood.”
AirForce Airguns TexanSS
Gamo Swarm Maxxim
A Range Of Options
Family-owned and operated since 1938, Kittery Trading Post located in Kittery, Maine, has a keen sense of what their customers want and how best to provide it to them. Boasting over 90,000 square feet of retail space, Kittery Trading Post offers the most extensive selection of brand-name shooting sports gear in New England.
“We’re known for carrying a wide range of products and for offering multiple options within each of those product categories,” said Josh DoByns, Kittery’s buyer for airguns. While many retailers opt to carry a small selection or single lines of airguns and airsoft guns, Kittery Trading Post stocks guns and accessories from seven major brands including Umarex, SIG SAUER, Crosman, Daisy/Gammo and Hatsan.
Stocking every option available is impossible so it’s important to remember each customer has unique needs based on intended use, age, habits, budget and safety concerns. For Kittery Trading Post, their solution is to carry a range of price points starting with low-cost pellet pistols for beginners or vacationers passing through up to high-end air rifles for competitive shooters or hunters.
“When it comes to these products, it’s a hands-on buying process,” said Dobyns. “So for us, it’s important to keep one of every single model we carry on display.”
The retailer also hosts in-store events to promote the advantages of airguns and airsoft guns. A hallmark feature of their annual Septemberfest event, which takes place the week of Labor Day, includes a mobile range trailer for kids and adults to demo a selection of airguns in a safe setting.
“It’s a fun setup with interactive targets that help parents realize they aren’t as dangerous as they might think,” said Dave Massey. Massey is an archery technician at Kittery Trading Post, who is also experienced in setting up airguns, mounting scopes and customization. Aside from having the products available and providing opportunities for customers to handle them before they commit to a purchase, Massey stresses having a knowledgeable staff is the true differentiator. The level of customer service independent brick-and-mortar dealers can deliver is something big-box stores and internet retailers simply can’t compete with.
“Nearly every employee in our archery and firearm department owns an airgun of their own,” he shared. “Just as we are with traditional firearms, we’re well-versed in both product knowledge and safe handling practices so we are prepared to answer whatever questions or concerns a prospective customer might have.”
Crosman Stealth Shot Nitro Piston
SIG Elite Dealer Rolling Display
Shelf Space Limits
For dealers who don’t have the showroom capacity at their disposal like Kittery Trading Post, shelf space is limited and often plays a large role in the amount of niche products they are able to carry.
“We understand this challenge and have worked with dealers to provide a solution,” said Joe Huston, VP and general manager of the SIG SAUER Airgun Division. The manufacturer has developed stand-alone airgun displays with a small 2-foot square footprint to hold several air rifles and pistols.
“Once dealers get them off the bottom shelf and give customers the opportunity to hold and touch them, these products have the potential to be impulse purchases. Dealers ultimately benefit from the incremental sales and margins that go along with that,” he added.
Relatively new to the airgun market, SIG SAUER saw a unique growth opportunity and decided to expand their business into this segment and encourages dealers to do the same.
“Firearm enthusiasts are looking for training solutions when they can’t get to the range,” Huston informed. “Airguns are significantly less costly to shoot, and they’re so quiet they can often be shot in your own backyard without bothering your neighbors.”
SIG’s Advanced Sport Line (ASP) of pellet pistols was designed to allow shooters to train for a quick, accurate response. Modeled after the same pistol used by the U.S. Army, the P320 air pistol features a full blowback metal slide, steel rifled barrel and low audible profile. With a 30-round rapid fire pellet magazine, the newest model from their ASP line has quickly become one of the manufacturer’s most popular models.
However, shooters don’t have to be firearm enthusiasts to enjoy these products. They can also be for just plain fun, making for a broad target audience.
“One of my favorite products is our Texas Star Spinner target,” Huston said. With nine center mass targets spinning around one central axis, the target takes plinking to a whole new level. Each target hit can cause the wheel to speed up, slow down or even reverse direction.
SIG SAUER 1911 Spartan
The Time Is Now
With no recoil, airsoft/airguns are also an ideal avenue to introduce people to the shooting sports — whether youth or those who might not be comfortable shooting real firearms. By attracting new shooters, dealers can make an investment in the future of their business.
Both the airgun and airsoft markets continue to experience growth and dealers who neglect to provide these products are leaving money on the table. Outdoor airsoft fields offering military-style simulation games are popping up across the country and are growing in popularity much in the same way as paintball. Few firearms dealers currently offer the higher-performance models these recreational shooters are looking for, leaving the door open for specialty retailers to open in their backyard.
The time to capture this audience is now. Adding airgun/airsoft inventory, having an educated and knowledgeable staff and making adjustments to how these products are displayed, require minimal investment in terms of time, effort and money. If done correctly, it can have a lasting impact on the future growth of a firearm dealer’s business.