Challenges, Yes. But Signs Point To Sales Improving

By Russ Thurman

The industry received a bit of good news in early April when the March NICS background checks were announced. The FBI system conducted 1,356,929 (NSSF-adjusted) background checks in March, a 5.2 percent increase over March 2016.

While the increase may not impress some, it’s a welcome shift from the declines of the first two months of the year. In January and February there were decreases of 23.8 and 12.7 percent, respectively, in NICS checks compared to the same months in 2016.

The number of March background checks was also the second highest for the month in the history of NICS; a record 1,501,730 background checks were conducted in March 2013.

During this year’s first quarter, NICS conducted 3,693,502 (NSSF-adjusted) background checks. While that’s a 10.78 percent drop from 2016, it’s a 4.89 percent increase over 2015. Given this year’s steep downturn, most in the industry would happily embrace 2015 business numbers.

Moving Inventory

To boost sales, businesses throughout the industry are making deals. It’s clearly a consumer’s market. Deep discounts, price cuts and generous promotions — some by companies that rarely promote — are helping to move inventory and jumpstart a recovery.

Smith & Wesson’s “Savings You Can Carry” mail-in rebate for consumers began in April, and runs through this month. Consumers can receive a $75 rebate on the purchase of a new M&P Shield, $50 back on a new M&P Bodyguard 380 and $25 back on a new S&W SD or SDVE.

Winchester Repeating Arms gave consumers a $25 rebate on the purchase of a new Super X Pump Turkey shotgun, and the company’s Tax Break promotion during April earned consumers an 8 percent refund to cover state tax on the purchase of a new Winchester firearm. Browning upped the tax-related refund to 10 percent on the purchase of a new Browning firearm during April.

During March and April, Beretta gave consumers a $75 rebate on the purchase of select models of the Px4 Storm.
In early April, Colt announced a $50 price cut for Colt Competition Pistols.

The push to move inventory is having an impact.

“Smith & Wesson is clearly the leader in handgun sales,” said Michael Halleron, former Chattanooga Shooting Supplies VP of business development. “They are much more aggressive than last year with their dealer packages and consumer rebates.”

Halleron says dealers who are promoting are also doing well.

“We participated in a few dealer promos recently, and one store sold 400 guns in one day. The other sold 2,000 guns in two days through their multi-retail channel approach. And the third sold 200 guns in two days. It appears, if you’re promoting, the sales are there,” Halleron said.

Overall, sales are improving.

“Concealed handguns continue to move well. MSRs, as a category, are doing better, as well as accessories. Optics are doing exceptional for us, especially in the last few months, from the high-dollar down to entry-level models,” Halleron said.

Staying The Course

Obviously, even with March’s improved NICS numbers, it’s too early to declare the slowdown over. Publicly traded companies, as of mid-April, are yet to see their stocks reach November’s pre-election levels. Stock prices are improving — American Outdoor Brands and Ruger enjoyed an increase in the March NICS announcement — but it hasn’t been easy. In addition, there have been hundreds of layoffs throughout the industry, expansion plans have been put on hold and companies have slashed sponsorship and advertising programs.

That said, it’s encouraging to know consumers are still purchasing firearms. This is vital. Unclogging the overstocked distribution pipeline is key to the industry posting a profit, even as it struggles to discover the new business normal.

Also important to business today: firearms and the industry are viewed more favorably than they were during the Obama years. While the anti-gun coalition is still in full-screech, it’s not receiving the fondling media coverage of the near past. Plus, there has been a notable increase in gun ownership, a significant segment of whom are young, urban and women. And one additional key element: The industry is well respected, thanks in great part to NSSF.

Yes, there are plenty of challenges ahead, including the possibility of a real summer slump. However, long-term success is built on staying the course during difficult times, mixed with a heavy dose of business grit.

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