Stabilizing Availability Leads To Sales Upswing.
Ammunition sales have been on a rollercoaster ride for the past couple of years, and for a short time, 2015 looked like it might continue this wild ride. At the moment, though, things seemed to have stabilized, and retailers are looking forward to more “normal” sales of ammo and reloading equipment.
Ammunition Market Trends
Bill Carter, owner of Carter’s Country in Houston, has seen trends in ammunition and firearms come and go since 1961.
“There have been cycles like this over the years,” he said. “One of them occurred when the Brady Law was passed, and another cycle happened during Y2K — but the 2013 cycle was the biggest one I can remember. It stretched us to the limit.”
When the ammunition shortage hit, Carter’s Country set limits on how many rounds of ammo a customer could purchase in a day. As a result, some customers would come in every day to purchase their daily limit of ammunition. This had some positive side effects for the store overall.
“First, it made ammunition available to more people, rather than having a few people buy it all,” Carter said. “It also put more traffic in our stores. Traffic is the key to incidental sales that we otherwise wouldn’t have.”
When customers came back day after day, he said, it resulted in more sales beyond ammunition; customers would make impulse purchases of other items as well. This year, Carter’s pleased with his ammo availability and sales.
“Late last year, we started being able to get the ammunition we needed,” Carter said. “We’ve found if we go to all the different manufacturers, we can find pretty much all the ammo we need except for .22, and that’s getting a little better. However, we still have a 500-round daily limit on .22s.”
When the current administration announced its plan to ban green-tipped 5.56 ammunition, Carter thought he might see another round of panic buying, but it never materialized.
“There was a little bit of panic buying until the word got out of what it really entailed,” he said. “The news media reported in error that it was going to be all .223 and 5.56 ammo. Once word got out that it was just the green-tipped ammo, and then in another week or two that it had been put on hold, we didn’t see the panic buying that we saw a year or so earlier.”
At Chuck’s Firearms in Atlanta, Ga., owner Jack Lesher said they have a boutique clientele that purchases only high-end firearms and ammunition.
“During the fear and paranoia time, it was difficult for us to get the high-quality, premium-grade ammunition we specialize in,” he said. “Things have really not gotten a whole lot better, because it’s very specialized-run ammunition, and I think manufacturers are busy just cranking out whatever they can. But we have seen some easement in it.”
New for 2015, Lyman’s Pro-Touch 1500 scale features a touch-screen display and is
accurate up to 1/10 grain. The dual spout powder pan allows for easy use by either
right- or left-handed reloaders.
SIG SAUER debuted its Elite Performance Ammunition line in 2014. New offerings
include FMJ centerfire pistol cartridges and 300 Blackout Subsonic and Supersonic
Carter is having no trouble getting customers into the store to purchase ammo.
“We’ve found keeping our customers fully informed through our weekly ad, which announces when ammo is available, works really well for us,” he noted. “We just let our customers know that we have it.”
Even though he has a very active Facebook page, Carter said he doesn’t have to do a lot of special promotions to get customers in the door.
“With the limited amout of personnel we have, Facebook is more of an informational medium for us,” he explained. “It works really well because getting the word out to our customers has been very helpful to us, and to them, too. That way they don’t make trips to the store when we don’t have what they need but they do make trips to the store when we do have it.”
Similar to Carter’s experiences, Lesher said he hasn’t had to do anything special to try to maximize sales.
“When we have target shooting ammunition, we do offer specials to customers,” he noted. “We don’t have a range, but we can sell range ammunition for less than they sell it at the ranges.”
Winchester Ammunition’s range of offerings includes a selection for hunters
and varminters, as well as competition and recreational shooters. Bill Carter,
of Carter’s Country, stocks ammunition for a cross-section of shooters —
leading to increased traffic and impulse purchases when they visit his stores.
During the ammunition shortage, Carter saw a large increase in customers buying reloading supplies.
“We’re going back to the reloading clinics that we did years ago,” he said. “When we have the clinics and teach people the ins and outs of reloading, and the safety aspects of it, that works out well for us. We bring people into the store, train them and provide them with information that they need.”
Chris Sanders, marketing director at Buffalo Arms in Ponderay, Idaho, said the shortage hit their reloading business just as hard as it did their regular ammunition business.
“We do primarily old and obsolete calibers,” he said. “We got hit with the trickle-down from the shortage; companies are making so many .223 and other bullets that are in demand we can’t get the older, less popular calibers. I’ve had a box of .323 70-grain bullets for my Mauser on backorder for over a year.”
Those unusual calibers are still difficult to obtain, Sanders said.
“Our general manager is looking for people to manufacture brass for us so we can have ammunition available,” he said. “We’re the only federally-licensed manufacturer of black powder ammunition in the country. For instance, if you have an antique rifle that’s not made for modern powders, we’re the only place you can go for ammunition for it. We even do older smokeless calibers, like .30 Remington.”
Although Buffalo Arms specializes in older calibers and cartridges, Sanders noted the store also has a broad inventory for all kinds of reloaders.
“We carry all manner of reloading dies and projectiles and brass,” he said.
The store is currently in the midst of a new marketing effort to broaden its customer base.
“We’re gathering information right now using Survey Monkey and digital flyers,” Sanders said.
The goal of the marketing campaign is twofold. The store is trying to encourage existing customers to purchase additional items, and to develop new customers in the reloading segment. Sanders said Buffalo Arms has four major categories of reloading customers.
“We have lots of reenactors who buy lots of black powder, and we also have a fairly large market of cowboy-action shooters,” he said. “A fairly decent-sized segment of our customer base includes collectors, and then we have people who are long-range professional competitive shooters.”
In fact, he said, the owner of Buffalo Arms, Dave Gullo, a well-known long-range shooter that has been filmed successfully shooting his Sharps-Borchardt Model 1878 at a gong more than 1,100 yards away.
Gullo has also won six NRA Creedmoor Championships.
Where the ammunition and reloading market is headed the next couple of years is anyone’s guess.
“If things settle down completely, we should see a better availability of premium quality ammunition,” Lesher said. “But with another election coming, it’s hard to say what will happen.”
By Carolee Anita Boyles