Gunsmithing: A Proven Moneymaker


Image: Wilson Combat

In the first two installments of this series, we explained the strategic aspects of employing a gunsmith in a firearms store.

This final segment answers the only question that really matters: Is it profitable to employ a gunsmith?

Jim McQueen, owner of On Target in Kalamazoo, Mich., declared the answer is a resounding yes.

“Yeah, it is profitable,” McQueen confirmed. “As a stand-alone service, I’m not sure it’s worth it, but if you consider second- and third-order effects, I think it is.”

If an owner uses a gunsmith strategically and incorporates gunsmith services into an overall marketing and branding paradigm, a gunsmith will help a gun store grow and thrive, according to Gene Kelly, owner of the American Gunsmithing Institute. The proof lies in the sheer amount of product in circulation that will need elective or interventionist gunsmith service.

“If there are 400 million firearms in the U.S. at any given time and only 10% need professional cleaning and customizing, that’s 40 million guns,” Kelly stated. “Distill it down to the local level, to an individual. If 10% of my guns need customization or  professional cleaning, or if it needs something else done to it, the store owner who provides this service is positioned to profit from it.”

If an owner uses a gunsmith strategically and incorporates gunsmith services into an overall marketing and branding paradigm, a gunsmith will help a gun store grow and thrive.

Loss Leader Or Opportunity Generator?

Essentially, employing a gunsmith entails two strategies. A passive approach offers a gunsmith as a form of buried treasure. Customers with a pressing need will find a gunsmith. Hopefully, they’ll lead more customers to the store.

While this strategy can work very well over a long period of time, a gunsmith in this situation is not an integral part of the business’s operating strategy. The gunsmith serves a “loss leader” role — an auxiliary service to attract people to the store in hopes they’ll buy other things.

McQueen said his gunsmith certainly satisfies a loss leader role from a retail standpoint, but he also serves a vital in-house function to service guns he buys for resale or takes in trade. Those guns must be inspected and serviced, if necessary, before they are resold. McQueen needs his gunsmith even if his customers don’t.

“I think a gunsmith definitely has value from a loss leader perspective in terms of between getting people in the door and doing all things other staff can’t do,” he shared. “I can’t put a value on having an expert who really knows guns and can fix something quick because we buy so many guns off the street.” 

Another “Touch Point”

Kendall Knapik, owner of Pioneer Valley Arms of East Longmeadow, Mass., contends the demand for basic gunsmith services justifies employing a gunsmith in his shop. He said years of experience in the industry prove it’s a necessary service.

“It brings in more customers for trigger jobs and sight jobs — and it definitely does get more ‘touches,’” Knapik explained. “I’ve always been in a business that has a gunsmith on staff. I’m not familiar with an environment without one, but I do hear customers complain about stores that don’t have one on staff. It’s one reason why they come here.”

It’s not enough to have the gunsmith tucked away, unapproachable and inaccessible, Knapik added. Everyone on staff at Pioneer Valley Arms is a gunsmith or an armorer, but the master gunsmith is the most knowledgeable person in the house. Being able to visit with the master gunsmith instills confidence in customers, and it also makes them feel valued.

“100%, yes,” Knapik asserted. “When they come in and they request speak to him, he comes right out.”

“It’s definitely profitable, it just goes back to advertising correctly, and also about educating salespeople to be able to steer people in that direction.”

Gene Kelly, Owner
American Gunsmithing Institute.

An Aggressive Approach

An aggressive strategy promotes the gunsmith as a marquee service — anchoring and defining the business. In this scenario, a gunsmith reinforces buyer confidence in the firearms they purchase. 

But he or she also adds an additional dimension to the retailer’s presence that attracts and holds a more dedicated type of customer. These are not occasional customers who buy one gun every two years or two boxes of ammo per year. These customers inhabit the store frequently. They have their guns serviced, but they also talk up the business to the casual customers. 

This can (and does) convert a casual customer into a frequent customer with an ever-deepening interest in the retailer’s products and services.

Retailers who spurn the aggressive approach, according to Kelly, limit the potential of their business by shackling the economic power of their gunsmiths.

“I see no reason why it needs to be a loss leader,” he said. “Your choice is, ‘I’m going to sell this gun and make 10-20%, or I’m going to sell this gun and make another $200 gunsmithing it.’ This can radically change your economics.”

The first exposure to the gunsmith might certainly be in the loss leader category. For example, a gunsmith can mount a scope on a newly purchased rifle at no charge or install at no charge an aftermarket recoil pad on a newly purchased shotgun. Many store owners do this anyway, but those loss leader services can lead to more involved gunsmith projects a customer might not have otherwise pursued if a gunsmith were not on staff.

“People will pay more for gunsmithing than they paid for their firearms,” Kelly stated emphatically. “Take a Ruger 10/22. Most of us probably bought them when they were $100. If you want to make it a competition .22 or a varminter or a backpacking gun, there’s all kinds of stuff a gunsmith can do to that gun.”

A built-in advantage to this approach, Kelly contends, is gun buyers are largely resistant to sticker shock. Guns and accessories are expensive, and while customers certainly seek the best deals, they expect to drop heavy coin on anything firearm-related. They understand the value of a good gunsmith and the value a gunsmith represents to their investments, so they don’t hesitate to pay a premium for a gunsmith’s services.

“Some of the shops I see are rivaling automotive shops in their fees,” Kelly observed. “They don’t have the same equipment and overhead as an automotive shop, but I’m seeing them breaking a hundred-dollar bill on an hour of service. I know one place that averages $168 per hour in gunsmithing services.”

“There’s a process to it,” he added. “It’s all about maximizing the highest and best use of time, batching your work and operating in the most efficient manner.”

Sentimental Ceiling

Unquestionably, a gunsmith is a worthy asset to a staff, Kelly said. Customers will tell you if the gunsmith is bolstering the business, and they will tell you if your marketing efforts are effective or ineffective.

“It’s definitely profitable,” he noted. “Again, it just goes back to advertising correctly, and also about educating salespeople to be able to steer people in that direction.”

If a retailer integrates maintenance into firearms sales the way car dealers do with their service departments, loyal customers will bring new customers with them, lends Knapik of Pioneer Valley Arms.

“We always talk about sentimental value with customers,” Knapik said. “A gun has sentimental value, and we’ll spend more because it has perceived value. At the end of the day, it’s really their decision how much money want to spend. It doesn’t involve high-pressure sales. Give them all the information they need to make an educated decision.”

If your store is positioned to accommodate those customers, you’re in a better position to control a greater percentage of an area’s market share. 

Editor’s Note: This concludes our three-part look at the gunsmithing segment. Parts one and two are available online at

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