Carry The Odd Stuff, The Rest Will Follow

By Tim Barker

On the ammo shelves at Hyatt Guns in Charlotte, N.C., you’ll find pretty much everything you’d expect to see there. There are boxes and boxes of 9mm, .45 ACP and other common cartridges. But if you look closer, you’ll also find a few unusual offerings.

Need something for an old surplus army rifle? How about a box of 7.7 Japanese or 6.5 Carcano? Or maybe you’re just looking for a wider assortment of options for a .410 shotgun. There’s a good chance Hyatt may have what you need.

For 60 years, this has been one of the shop’s calling cards — offering customers a little more than they might find elsewhere, particularly at the big-box stores that have made life more difficult for smaller shops.

“Why is someone going to drive 100 miles to see us if we’re carrying the same thing as Walmart?” asked Larry Hyatt, owner of Hyatt. “It’s our job to have this stuff for the customers. We have to go deeper and have more experts.”

It’s a strategy also employed by Frank’s Gun Shop in upstate New York, where Owner John Havlick takes pride in carrying obscure cartridges. He rattles off a list including .22 Remington Jet, 7.65 Argentine and 7.62 Nagant.

“We carry a big line of very odd ammo for guns that have been obsolete for years. It’s what we’re known for,” Havlick confirmed. “My dad’s motto: Carry the odd stuff. 

When you get people in the store, they’ll buy other stuff.”

And the other stuff? Obviously, we’re well past the days of the frightened ammo purchases that left store shelves empty during the Obama presidency. 

“Pretty much you can get anything you want — whether you want a box or an entire pallet,” Havlick said.

As expected, handgun ammo sales at both stores are dominated by 9mm, followed by .45 ACP.

To boost sales, Havlick offers regular deals on those core cartridges, along with .40 S&W and .380 ACP, where customers can buy four boxes and get a fifth free. And while stores in other states might not be seeing those fear-based purchases, things are a little different in New York — due to the state’s political climate.

“They’re starting to stock back up again because of our governor. It creates more havoc,” he shared.

Back in North Carolina, handgun ammo sales have been strong, despite the fact the store doesn’t have its own range. 

“We’re in an urban area where a lot of indoor ranges have opened,” Hyatt said. “We’re priced competitively. We don’t have a range, but people buy their ammo here.”

Although there may be a strong appetite for range ammo, there’s no particular brand drawing the most interest from customers. Basically, it comes down to cost — as long as the customer is convinced the ammo in question is well made. 

“Today, it’s hard to be brand loyal with target ammo,” Hyatt observed. “It’s about price.  One month, Magtech will have the best deals. The next month it’s Remington. Then it’s Winchester.”

Customers are, however, a little pickier when it comes to self-defense ammo. Often, they’ll come in looking for something specific.

“Maybe it’s something they read about in a magazine or saw on YouTube,” Hyatt speculated.

Hornady is the top seller at Hyatt’s, followed by Winchester and Federal.

“There are a few exotic brands out there we get calls about. We listen to the customers,” Hyatt said. “We aren’t going to blow them off. In some cases, we’ll go ahead and order it.”

Larry Hyatt’s team prides itself on carrying hard-to-find calibers like the 6.5×50 Japanese Arisaka and 7.35 Carcano.

Long-Range Trends
You don’t need to be based in a wide-open western state with 1,000-yard rife ranges to find customers interested in long-range shooting. Frank’s is located at the base of the Adirondack Mountains, giving the shop a strong hunting clientele. For those shooters, .308 Winchester is the top cartridge.

True long-range shooting isn’t really an option in the area, where the longest public range reaches out to 250 yards. Still, local clubs are putting on monthly long-range competitions, which has spiked interest in other rifle calibers.

“We’re getting more and more people coming in looking for 6.5 Creedmoor or .338 Lapua,” Havlick said. It’s particularly true with the former, with “every Tom, Dick and Harry coming out with a gun in the cartridge,” he added.

Sporting Clays
Due largely to growing interest in sporting clays, trap and skeet, both stores have seen growing interest in shotgun shells. 

“There are a lot of places you can shoot those, even in urban areas,” Hyatt said.

“In the last few years, it’s really made a comeback around here,” Havlick concurred.

The top seller is still 12-ga., but Havlick said they’ve seen increased interest in 28-, 16- and .410-ga., fueled by lower prices on those shells. “With prices dropping, now people are starting to look around. It’s a big driver,” he said.

Stocking new “hot” calibers is also a key ingredient for expanding sales of ammunition today. Winchester’s new-for-2019, straight-walled .350 Legend Cartridge has been generating a substantial amount of interest from hunters.

Reloading REBOOT
Falling ammo prices — along with widespread availability — haven’t done anything to boost sales of reloading supplies. 

“Reloading is down now from what it was a couple of years ago when we had the ammo scare,” he stated. “Right now, ammo is so cheap it competes with the reloading.”

It’s prompted several of Hyatt’s local competitors to cut back on their own reloading inventories. His shop, however, has expanded a bit more in this sector. It is, after all, one of those areas where he can offer customers an advantage over online-only stores.

When customers shop locally, they don’t have to pay hazmat fees on powder and primers, and they don’t face high shipping costs for bulk bullet purchases. So, he tries to carry a wide range of powders and primers.

Those advantages, however, do not extend to the reloading presses, dies and other equipment — all still easily ordered online by customers. Still, he keeps a healthy range of products from Lyman, RCBS, Hornady and Dillon: “They have a unique product and a real following,” he added.

The story is similar at Frank’s, where the store has set aside a room for reloading supplies — a variety of presses, several dozen flavors of powder and nine 22-foot-long shelves full of bullets. It’s one of the things the store is known for. “We have people coming from hours away just to go through our reloading store,” he said.

Neither shop currently offers reloading classes. At Frank’s, it’s more of a space issue. But after he relocates to a larger building down the road this summer, Havlick expects it to change — with classes offered four or five times a year.

“We’re definitely going to have reloading classes,” he said. “People are always asking for them.” 

At Hyatt, however, the demand for reloading classes started drying up after ammo once again became plentiful on store shelves. Even so, Hyatt said he wouldn’t be surprised if the demand for those classes returns, particularly if ammo ever becomes scarce again.

“With the cycle of gun politics, we’ll probably see reloading regain popularity before too long,” he concluded.

Sticking to his dad’s “carry the odd stuff” motto, John Havlick’s store attracts buyers from across the Northeast. He’s found particular success in a “buy four boxes, get the fifth free” program.

Getting The Word Out
Both stores use a mix of promotional tools to find new customers and to urge old ones to return.

Hyatt’s website is the top driver of traffic, with Facebook also lending a hand in keeping the store’s name out there. 

“We don’t do as much TV, radio or newspapers as we did 20 years ago,” Hyatt shared. “Email blasts are great, but I think people are getting numb to them.”

They also have a few promotional events each year. But he sees it as a challenge to figure out the perfect way to draw customers in for those.

 “We need to do more. It takes a pretty big advertising push. The internet alone won’t do it,” Hyatt said. “It’s a struggle for us to find a way to do it better.”

Frank’s leans heavily on its Facebook page and nearly 8,000 followers. They also use email blasts, a website and three big sales events each year — on Memorial Day, Fourth of July and Labor Day.

Those events, however, are constrained by the store’s current physical limitations, with a parking lot unable to handle more than a dozen cars. Once they move to their roomier location, Havlick plans to kick things off with a large event — complete with a manufacturers’ tent and food truck.

Even now though, they haven’t been shy about using traditional advertising outlets.

“Overall, it’s been good. It’s about repetition,” Havlick said. “I’m constantly on the radio. Constantly on TV. Constantly in the local paper. You need to keep your name out there.”

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