By Jade Moldae
“Why is someone going to drive 100 miles to see us if we’re carrying the same thing as Walmart?” mused Hyatt Guns Owner Larry Hyatt in the June 2019 issue of Shooting Industry. “It’s our job to have this stuff for customers. We have to go deeper and have more experts.”
Walmart’s early-September decision to “sell through and discontinue” sales of all handgun ammunition and several short-barrel rifle calibers (among other new store “policies”) has opened a door for independent storefront dealers to reclaim and expand sales of ammunition in-store.
In a letter to Walmart associates, CEO Doug McMillon estimated this move will “reduce our market share of ammunition from around 20% to a range of approximately 6 to 9%.” He added, “We believe it will likely drift toward the lower end of that range, over time.” Consequently, this means somewhere between 11–14% of the U.S. ammunition market is ready to be claimed. Is your store ready?
Days after Walmart’s announcement, dealers were already preparing for an influx. An online survey garnering 302 responses from SI digital readers revealed store owners overwhelmingly anticipated an increase in ammunition sales — and had plans to stock additional inventory for customers. Nearly 90% of respondents expected an increase, while just over 50% of them confirmed plans to stock additional ammunition.
It remains to be seen how Walmart’s decision to exit a significant portion of the ammunition market will impact the business of storefront dealers in the long term, but a couple shared their initial reactions.
Hyatt Guns is taking a multi-tiered approach to reclaiming ammunition sales, using its website, mailers and in-store ammunition displays to showcase pricing. Hyatt shared the store is making a push to market its target ammunition, in particular.
“We actually lowered our prices a little bit and advertised them on our website — just to invite those customers back who previously said ‘I’ll just go get my ammo at Walmart’ when purchasing a firearm,” he said. “We’ve heard that enough to know it was definitely an issue, so we’re hopeful of capturing that back.”
Walmart’s policy gives dealers a chance to reestablish contact with customers, according to Hyatt.
“You need to let the customers know you’ve got good prices, too. That’s one area where we lost the battle; now we think we’re back in the fight,” he stated.
In the wake of Walmart’s decision, Bren Brown, president of Frontier Justice (Lee’s Summit, Mo.), launched a promotion that gave customers a discount on orders totaling more than $25 if they brought in a shopping bag from Walmart or Dick’s Sporting Goods (another big-box store virtue signaling against the industry) to carry product out in.
A press release touting the promotion said, “[Walmart and Dick’s] don’t sell freedom, but their shopping bags can help carry your freedom to the car.”
Brown shared this “Make Walmart & Dick’s Great Again” promotion has resonated with customers and elevated her store’s positioning in the local community.
“Walmart pulled calibers that fit the narrative as a way of backing out of the risky business of selling 2A items. Make no mistake, we want that business — we’re in the firearms business,” she emphasized.
NICS Checks Rebound
A rise in background checks represents another development impacting sales behind the counter. Although not a conclusive measure of the industry’s overall health, NSSF-adjusted NICS background checks rebounded in significant fashion in both August and September.
The August NSSF-adjusted NICS figures totaled 1,113,535, an increase of 15.2% over Aug. 2018 (966,809). This was the second-highest August on record (Aug. 2016 had 1,151,679 checks).
September’s NSSF-adjusted NICS also posted a double-digit increase, jumping 10% over Sept. 2018 (from 919,979 to 1,011,636). In addition to July 2019 outperforming July 2018, Q3 2019 NSSF-adjusted totals were up 9.1% from Q3 2018 (2,708,048 to 2,955,750).
Despite every month since May (and six of the first nine months in 2019) posting stronger NSSF-adjusted NICS totals than the corresponding months in 2018, this year is still — marginally — trending below 2018 totals. Through September, 9,197,717 NSSF-adjusted checks have been confirmed, while 9,302,663 checks were recorded at this stage in 2018 (-1.1%).
In mid-October, it’s too early to tell if this is part of a long-term trend or an abbreviated spike spurred by campaign trail rhetoric and reaction to tragic mass shootings. Regardless, as the industry enters a historically busy season, it will be compelling to see how Q4 2019 performs. Stay tuned.
Is your store preparing for a surge of ammunition purchases? If so, how are you planning on meeting the needs of customers? With the recent rebound in NICS figures, has your store experienced a noticeable boost in traffic? email: firstname.lastname@example.org