By Russ Thurman
Closing the books on the 2017 business year comes as a tremendous relief for many in the industry. Overall, the year hasn’t been pretty. It began with a downturn in sales; actually, the drop started in December 2016. The “Trump Slump” had begun.
Overall, firearm and ammunition sales have seen the most impact. Sales likely will end the year 20 percent down compared to 2016, perhaps more. While the final data is not available at this writing, the number of firearm NICS background checks conducted during the year likely will drop 9 to 10 percent (NSSF-adjusted) compared to 2016.
However, the decrease may be more severe. The NICS data includes background checks for used firearms, which can create a false impression regarding overall firearm sales. This is especially important, since dealers report a notable increase in the sale of used firearms. That’s welcome news for retailers, but it doesn’t help relieve the backlog of new inventory in the supply chain.
The slowdown has also hurt companies that increased their manufacturing capacities. The lack of major orders has resulted in layoffs.
On the anti-gun front, the movement is making advances in several states, including ongoing efforts to ban certain firearms and restrict ammunition sales, with additional threats to hunting, ranges and more restrictions on gun owners.
The insane shooting in Las Vegas derailed the Hearing Protecting Act on Capitol Hill. The act would have significantly increased the sale of suppressors. Numerous manufacturers are now burdened with significant suppressor inventory.
It’s not all negative. Slowly, there have been signs of a recovery. In addition, many product segments in the industry have not experienced a downturn. A notable number of companies report their sales will exceed record-setting 2016. Dealers for the most part report solid sales, with little drop from last year, and ranges continue business at a nice, if not brisk, pace. Even in this down year, new gunshops and ranges have opened for business.
There also continues to be an expansion of the consumer base, with a refreshing increase in younger gun owners, who are not overly influenced by anti-gun messaging.
While there have been layoffs, large and small companies are still hiring new people, many of them in sales and marketing, with a notable emphasis on those with expertise in social media.
On the political front, there is also positive news.
Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke overturned the Obama Administration’s ban of lead ammunition and fishing tackle, and throughout the year he signed proposals and orders that support and expand hunting and other outdoor opportunities. In August, Zinke signed a proclamation declaring August National Shooting Sports Month — a direct endorsement of NSSF’s National Shooting Sports Month.
In May, U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.) began a major effort to urge the State and Commerce Departments to complete Export Control Reforms for the firearms and ammunition industry. This would be a major boost to U.S. manufacturers competing for international contracts.
Mid-September, U.S. Rep. Steve Russell (R-Okla.) introduced the Federal Firearms Licensee Protection Act of 2017. The act will strengthen the criminal penalties for thefts of firearms from retailers and impose mandatory minimum sentences.
Sweat Equity, Backbone
No, this has not been a year for the faint of heart. It’s been challenging. Armed with plenty of battle scars and lessons learned, it’s time for the industry to close out the year with a strong, enthusiastic focus on 2018.
Such increased attention was palpable at the NASGW Expo and Annual Meeting in San Antonio in October. The event is about serious business: manufacturers rolling out new offerings and distributors purchasing the products they believe will quickly move through the supply chain. It’s a time of deal-making, which always brings big business.
However, there was a higher level of intensity at NASGW this year. Manufacturers, distributors and importers are not in panic mode, but are strongly focusing on new products and programs that will ignite a strong recovery, or at the least, a moderate one. That’s encouraging.
The 2018 business year is going to be a better year for the industry. Yes, there will be challenges, many of them. Success will require a healthy investment of sweat equity, “real” and “exciting” new products and keen awareness of how to motivate the consumer market, all mixed with unwavering resiliency. And, mostly, backbone.
Val Forgett debuts the Midland line at the NASGW Expo in Oct.
Forgett Debuts Midland Single-Shot Line
Val Forgett, president of Navy Arms, Old Western Scrounger and Gibbs Rifle Co., has launched a new brand, Midland Arms Co. Featuring single-shot firearms imported from Turkey, the line is designed for young shooters.
“We see an opportunity in the single-shot market with updated features that appeal to younger shooters like adjustable lengths-of-pull, inserts for different team colors, interchangeable barrels and screw-in chocks. We want a brand themed back to earlier times, to Americana. Our ads look like they came out of Saturday Evening Post in 1958,” Forgett said.
While Midland’s ads have a retro look, the firearms reflect a modern design.
“Youth today want guns that are modern and look like what they’re playing in video games. We’re using blued finishes and black stocks, so it has an AR platform look — which appeals to a younger shooter. However, the advertising is a throwback to the ’50s and ’60s, to appeal to the older person who is making the purchase decision,” Forgett said.
Initially, Forgett is offering five shotguns in 12- and 20-ga. and .410 bore, with varied barrel lengths and an MSRP of $149.95. Separate, interchangeable shotgun barrels are also available. During the first half of 2018, separate, interchangeable rimfire barrels will be available, followed by centerfire barrels by the end of 2018. These barrels represent a major selling point.
“With Midland, the consumer can buy a shotgun to start and then purchase interchangeable rimfire and centerfire barrels. So, as a son or daughter grows, and if they want a .22 for plinking or a .243 for taking their first deer, they can do all of it on the Midland platform for about $400 retail,” he shared.
The Midland line is being offered by RSR, Zanders and Bill Hicks, with more distributors likely to be added in the coming months.
“To support the distributor and dealer, our stocking dealer program is very aggressive. If a dealer buys any six Midlands from any distributor or mix of distributors, we will give the dealer for free a seventh gun for their inventory. We will do it on an annualized basis as a way to find very good dealers, who are willing to make the investment, and not just in dollars, but also in terms of shelf space for our product. We want them to see what a value Midland is for them; it’s a brand that will make them money and won’t come back with headaches,” Forgett said.
If you are attending SHOT Show 2018, you can meet Forgett and examine the Midland line at booth #11946.
Tom Ables takes his station aboard the USS Alabama in 1946 (left) and during a visit to the ship in 2012.
Salutes To Tom Ables
I have the privilege of knowing a lot of fine people in the industry. Among the finest was Tom Ables. In October, the industry lost one of its foremost gentlemen when Tom passed away at age 91. He was the president of Venture, a marketing and communications firm in San Diego.
Tom was someone you truly liked being around. He was a genuine all-around nice person, who had a special passion for life. He loved this country and the industry.
During World War II, he served aboard the USS Alabama, and in 2012 took his old station while visiting the ship, which is a museum in Mobile, Ala. It would have been an honor to have served alongside him. Salutes to you, my friend.