“Clean” Inventory

An Untapped Market

Image: Real Avid

Cleaning, the least favorite part of gun ownership, is now in vogue — and it translates to an overlooked market for retailers.

Firearms enthusiasts of a certain age equate gun cleaning with Hoppe’s kits containing a small bottle of Hoppe’s No. 9 solvent, Hoppe’s gun oil, a small packet of patches, a cleaning jag, a bronze bristle brush and a multi-piece aluminum rod.

Spurred by the demands of high-capacity, high-performance shooters of modern sporting rifles, gun cleaning is now seen as important as maintaining high-performance automobiles.

Every Gun Owner Needs …

For retailers, gun cleaning products represent a lucrative secondary market led by visionary companies like Otis Technology and Real Avid. Their aggressive marketing and attractive packaging encourage many retailers to promote their products as being as necessary as ammunition. 

Those who coast with a passive approach to gun cleaning products are ignoring a great opportunity to enhance their revenue streams, contends Heather Pleskach, director of marketing for Otis Technology. With a little concentrated effort, retailers could exponentially beef up their selections and presentations of these products.

“Selfishly, I think they could do a better job,” Pleskach said, laughing. “It depends on the store. Some store owners prioritize a comprehensive approach for their customers where they’re not just setting them up with a firearm, but setting them up with everything they need be successful with their firearms.”

Every gun owner needs cleaning supplies. Offering the best and latest signals to customers a dealer is current with every other trend in the marketplace, as well. This engenders confidence, and it also attracts new customers whose needs aren’t being met elsewhere.

“You see a variety of gun cleaning and maintenance assortments depending on the store,” Pleskach stated. “Whether you clean once a year or once a month, you need cleaning gear. It’s an easy add-on, especially for new firearms owners. Those are things they need along with eye protection and ear protection — necessary equipment to operate and maintain a firearm.”

Market Research Reveals New Opportunities

Established in 1985, Otis Technology redefined the concept of cleaning firearms by offering products conceptualized around cleaning from the breech through the muzzle instead of through the muzzle to the breech. An Otis kit comes with a coated cable and an assortment of caliber-correct jags and brushes. It eliminated the need for bore guides and crown protectors.

Hoppe’s, the old standard, modernized its game with its BoreSnake, another breech-to-muzzle product that performs all of the cleaning steps with one pass of a single component.

“We pioneered that, and it’s what we’re known for,” Pleskach said. “We did supply solid rods to the military because they wanted solid rods in addition to pull-through cables.”

Surprisingly, Otis discovered a significant portion of the civilian market prefers rods, too.

“We did a survey last year that was prompted by the feelings of several staff who wanted to introduce quality solid rod equipment,” she noted. “Our survey found that 40% of people want to use solid rods. We were missing 40% of the market.”

This revelation prompted Otis to broaden its vision.

“We want to position ourselves as leaders of gun care, and we were limited to pull-through cables,” Pleskach submitted. “People have their traditions. Let’s offer solutions to firearm owners regardless of how they choose to clean. We now offer solid rods and solid rod cleaning tips under the Otis brand. It’s an old concept, but it’s new for us.”

Otis rods and components are solid brass. They are stronger than aluminum and last longer than aluminum, Pleskach informed. The threaded portions are precisely machined so they align precisely, and they are threaded deep enough to prevent wobbling.

Ultimately, the goal of these products is to encourage shooters to clean by taking the dread and drudgery out of gun cleaning. A clean gun reflects a responsible gun owner, and cleaning also familiarizes an owner with his or her firearm. Familiarity breeds intimacy, and intimacy breeds proficiency.

“I equate gun cleaning and what we’re trying to do to what Swiffer did in the floor cleaning segment,” she explained. “The Swiffer is an amazing tool. A Swiffer is quick and easy, and it does a pretty darn good job of cleaning the floor. That’s what I think of when trying to come up with products for cleaning gun metal. People don’t like to clean, whether it’s the floor or a gun. For the most part, it is seen as a chore. How can we make it a more desirable chore for them?”

“Some store owners prioritize a comprehensive approach for their customers where they’re not just setting them up with a firearm, but setting them up with everything they need be successful with their firearms.”

Heather Pleskach , Director of Marketing
Otis Technology

Packaging Plays A Massive Role

Real Avid has spent considerable time and resources tackling that dilemma. Tom Scott, vice president of marketing and product management for Real Avid, said his company offers specialized tools for high-performance shooters packaged in attractive but functional packaging that generates excitement. 

“Packaging is a huge focus for us here at Real Avid, and we design it to attract the attention of consumers with clean visuals and messaging on the front, and detailed feature and benefit explanation on the back,” he revealed. “Most gun enthusiasts get excited about products that do a job well and in ways that save time and effort. Our product design team works hard to develop innovative features and the highest performing products that are easy to use and make an otherwise mundane chore more enjoyable.”

It is well established that trends in consumer firearms parallel military use. The modern sporting rifle is an offshoot of the M-16 military platform, so it’s no surprise the modern sporting rifle also drives the cleaning segment of the industry.

“The AR-15 enthusiast shoots a high number of rounds often, and the nature of the direct impingement gas system causes excessive carbon build faster than with other firearm platforms,” Scott remarked. “Therefore, it is necessary to clean regularly to maximize performance and reliability. This design element and its intricate components create several challenges in cleaning, and it is where we’ve focused our innovation efforts, to make the job easier and faster.”

To this end, Real Avid launched its Master Gun Workstation, which is designed specifically to enhance the cleaning experience. It is packed with features like a one-hand adjustable clamp and yoke, form-fitting Gun Gripper retention incorporated in the yoke and integrated cleaning tool storage.

“Our Master Gun Vise is designed to hold and position an AR-15 in multiple angles and significantly improves the cleaning experience,” Scott said. “Other products, like our Gun Tool Core – AR-15, our AR-15 Master Bench Block and Master Cleaning Station – AR-15, are designed specifically for working on and cleaning this platform.”

Many shooters prefer breech-to-bore cleaning solutions because of their simplicity
and because they don’t damage the crown or throat. (Image: Otis Technology)

At Sunrise Outfitters, Roger Ayres says any product with “AR-15” on it sells —
including cleaning products. Ayres pointed out loyalty to brands is very particular in this segment.
“People do get married to their brands when it comes to gun-cleaning products,” he said.

“AR-15” Equals Revenue

For retailers, the objective is to move products traditionally seen as afterthoughts. Roger Ayres, gunsmith at Sunrise Outfitters in Searcy, Ark., said the name “AR-15” equates to a dollar symbol. Anything dedicated to an AR-15 sells, including cleaning products.

“There’s no doubt that with the amount of AR platform-style rifles available, it opened up a whole market all to itself,” Ayres said. “If you could put the word AR on it — oil or cleaner — people will buy it. Anytime something new comes along, we’re going try it.”

This includes solvents and lubricants as well as tools. CLP (Clean, Lubricate, Protect) germinated from the AR market. Again, Hoppe’s augmented its traditional line of lubricants and solvents with CLP products, but the race never ends to develop easier, more effective products.

The only litmus test is that a product must work. Modern sporting rifle shooters often fire several hundred rounds in a session. A lot of fouling occurs in the works and in the bore of such a rifle. Shooters are eager to try products that simplify the job. If it works, they’ll embrace it. If it doesn’t work, they reject it — and fast.

“An AR-15 is what we call a ‘dirty’ weapon,” Ayres said. “If you go out and shoot 300–400 rounds, you have to disassemble it and clean it. Most people don’t. That’s why people like me exist.”

Even so, a retailer can’t get too carried away. For every customer who wants the latest and greatest, there’s another one who will only use Hoppe’s No. 9, Butch’s Bore Shine and Rem Oil. 

“The people who come through my shop are very specific about what they want. You can’t sell them anything else,” Ayres said. “People do get married to their brands when it comes to gun cleaning products.”

“There are a lot of cleaning products for guns out there, but I am very particular here about what I sell.”

Brad O’Neal , Owner
The Gun Vault Columbia, S.C.

Aggressive Promotion Key

Brad O’Neal, owner of the Gun Vault in Columbia, S.C., said gun cleaning products are prominent components in his lineup, and he promotes them aggressively.

“There are a lot of cleaning products for guns out there, but I am very particular here about what I sell,” O’Neal expressed. “I sell for quality, so there are two things we look at. The low-end products I sell are made by Lucas Oil. They have something for everything. It has good cleaning ability and good lubrication ability.”

The Gun Vault also does a brisk business cleaning guns, about 30 per week. O’Neal said he uses a CLP product called Seal 1.

“It’s a fairly small company, but it’s one of best cleaners I’ve ever seen,” he shared. “It comes in aerosol, liquid and paste. We buy the paste by the gallon, and a gallon lasts me well over a year. It has really good cleaning ability, but it’s also a food-grade product. It has a good smell to it so it doesn’t give you that harsh chemical smell like a lot of solvents do.”

O’Neal said microfiber towels are also great items that he recommends to his customers.

“A lot of people don’t use microfiber, but a low-gsm (grams per square meter) microfiber towel is ideal for cleaning guns,” he noted. “It pulls dirt out most cloths don’t get, and it allows lubrication to stay behind.”

The final, critical component is maintaining a knowledgeable staff who can articulate the importance of a retailer’s products to its customers, according to Pleskach. Training employees in this aspect of a store’s product lineup can be challenging in a business that experiences heavy turnover, but Pleskach said retailers could reap additional profits if their employees are as knowledgeable about cleaning products as they are about optics, triggers and hardware.

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