By Russ Thurman
Closing an end-of-business-year ledger can be exhilarating or a relief. For 2018, the industry’s balance sheet favors the latter. It’s been a rollercoaster year.
The industry began 2018 with renewed expectations for improvement over 2017, a year the industry felt the full impact of the “Trump Slump.” While there were still pockets of overstocked inventory in early 2018, manufacturers and distributors reported near-normal product flow.
Plus, an increase in NICS background checks was encouraging, with respectable numbers in February, March and April. Then the number decreased compared to 2017. Unless there is a significant increase this month, the final year-end number likely will be close to last year, when 13,967,825 (NSSF-adjusted) background checks were conducted.
During 2018, the industry experienced a dramatic uptick in anti-gun/industry attacks. These increased exponentially with the horrific shooting at the Parkland, Fla., school in February. The tragic shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh in October further energized the anti-gun movement, with millions of dollars flowing into anti-gun organizations. The anti-gun lobby’s demands for more firearm restrictions and outright bans were a constant during 2018.
Yes, the year hasn’t been smooth. The hardest-hit segment of the industry is dealers, with most reporting decreases — some as much as 20 percent over last year.
However, amid the negative, there are positive signs of improvement. At the NASGW Expo in October, there was a notable lack of doom-and-gloom.
“We’re looking for a great 2019,” said Marty Daniel, Daniel Defense president, CEO. “We’ve got new products coming out that will drive our revenue and brand. Even in the AR platform, folks are trading up to a Daniel Defense. We’ve put a lot of time and effort into dealer expansion and helping dealers understand how to sell our products. We’re going to attack 2019 from every angle and make a great year out of it.”
In an additional sign of improvement, American Outdoor Brands Corp. (AOBC) broke through the negative sales barrier during its first-quarter fiscal 2019, which ended July 31. The company reported a 7.6 percent increase in the quarter, compared to the same period in 2017.
More recently, Ruger reported an improvement in sales. In October, the company announced its third-quarter fiscal 2018 sales, which ended Sept. 29, 2018, increased 10 percent compared to the same period in 2017.
Remington Outdoor Co. (ROC) is making an impressive comeback after years of misdirection. The company is once again introducing “real” new products, including those in brands previously on life support, such as Marlin.
Vista Outdoor is making notable progress in its strategic business transformation plan, which refocuses the company on “shooting and hunting enthusiasts.”
SIG SAUER continues it investment in retailer and sales education, with ambitious projections for next year.
“For 2019, we will focus on new product innovation, outstanding retail management, account management and education. We’re expanding our field-training sales staff to educate dealers on SIG products, and our sales force so they’re the best they can be. We will have significant growth in 2019, regardless of the political environment,” said Tom Taylor, SIG CMO and executive VP of commercial sales.
Another positive indicator: Many companies throughout the industry are investing in new or expanded facilities. An informal survey reveals more than two dozen manufacturers and distributors expanding, with millions of dollars of investment — a clear indication the industry is looking to the future.
Stand Up. Be Counted.
Yes, closing the 2018 business ledger for many is a relief. It’s time to launch a new business year. This year, along with ’17, has provided significant backbone-building opportunities, especially for those new to the industry. Remember the late ’90s? Just as then, it takes tenacity, grit and a keen focus to succeed in the firearms industry.
For 2019, the attacks on firearms, gun ownership and the industry will continue. Fighting those attacks is also part of doing business in this industry. The fight isn’t just the responsibility of the NSSF, NRA and other organizations. Every one of us must get involved. The best place to start is in our towns, counties and states. Learn the issues. Serve on chambers of commerce, boards of supervisors and advisory boards. Visit your local, regional and state legislators. We must let them know who we are and where we stand on issues — and that we vote. Visit www.nssf.org for detailed information on topics important to all of our businesses.
Not comfortable with getting involved in this way? In truth, we don’t have an option. As I complete nearly 30 years in the industry, I’m astounded at how few are involved in fighting the battles that threaten their businesses. It’s time to stand up and be counted. We either get involved or see our businesses crushed. I salute each of you who are willing to join the fight.
I Will Miss Our Chats
Thomas von Rosen (TvR), president of Publishers’ Development Corp., the corporate umbrella of FMG Publications, passed away Oct. 31, following a prolonged battle with cancer. He was 76 years old.
In March 1994, TvR hired me to be the editor of Shooting Industry magazine. Although I had worked for another gun magazine, I was relatively unknown in the industry. TvR was willing to take the risk of hiring an unknown to edit his business magazine. I’ve always been grateful.
A man of great intelligence, TvR knew more about publishing than anyone I know. He insisted on quality, both in content and in such details as the actual paper used in our magazines. One of his foundational creeds: “Don’t cheat the reader.” He reminded us of that often.
He was devoted to those who worked for him. Yes, he was the “boss” and we all knew it, but he was rarely “bossy.” He insisted on hiring good people and letting them do their job. Another trademark: “I trust you.” That trust motivated us to create content that was of value to our readers, and, in turn, to our advertisers. We took risks, pushed boundaries and he cheered us on.
TvR was a behind-the-scenes leader, never calling attention to himself. It was his idea to create the Shooting Industry Academy of Excellence, which for 20 years honored excellence in the industry. He laid out the parameters and then trusted his staff to make it happen. The Academy remains the gold standard for such awards.
It was the same with the Shooting Industry Masters. A publishing company holding a shooting match for those in the industry? He cheered us on in that, too! The last Shooting Industry Masters was held in 2015. The Masters is still talked about today.
In 2008, he relinquished his title as publisher of Shooting Industry and promoted me to the position. I was honored then and still am today.
Somewhere during my nearly 25 years at FMG, TvR and I became good friends. We enjoyed long chats, many of them not related to the firearms industry. He had a keen mind that explored a vast number of topics. During one of our last telephone conversations, I was amazed to note we had been talking for more than an hour, and he, despite struggling with pain, was going strong.
Not surprisingly, TvR put in place a strong transition plan for Publishers’ Development Corp. and FMG. No one should be surprised when the company does what we’ve done since 1955: publish magazines, along with expanding our portfolio with digital content and serving the firearms industry.
A week before TvR passed away, I visited him in the hospital. It was early evening and many of the FMG staff had spent time with him during the day. He spoke of being overwhelmed by the outpouring of affection from those who worked for him. He, in turn, encouraged them.
I am forever grateful for the opportunity TvR gave me in 1994 and for his trust and confidence over the years. I will miss “running a few things” by him.
Mostly, I will miss our chats.
Our prayers go out to TvR’s wife, Dawn, and the entire von Rosen family.
A Final Log Entry
The first edition of Industry Watch was published in July 1994. This is the last edition. I am retiring December 31. Next month, Jade Moldae, SI’s editor, will take command of these pages, something he has certainly earned.
Under Jade’s leadership, Shooting Industry has expanded its coverage of the industry, with an even stronger focus on providing information to “help dealers and range operators stay in business and be profitable.” More than a mission statement, it’s part of our DNA. In truth, Jade and his team put out a better magazine than I did when I was the editor. That’s as it should be. Jade’s “qualification training” was, to say the least, intense. He earned the editor’s position through hard work, persistence and a never-quit attitude. I’m proud of him and his team.
My decision to retire from FMG didn’t come easily. Just as in my career in the Marine Corps, I have a passion for the industry and respect for many within its ranks. I’m grateful to FMG for giving me the opportunity to serve my country in this profession.
And, just as I did following my retirement from the Marines on Dec. 31, 1985, I will continue such service.