It’s Time To Evolve!

Eyewear + Hearing Protection Sales Trends

Image: Walker’s

Firearm sales remain strong despite falling behind the record pace set in 2020 and 2021. This year is on track to be the third- or fourth-strongest in history for the shooting sports industry.

How is the robust firearms market affecting the sales of shooting accessories, specifically eyewear and hearing protection products? Has inflation hurt eye/ear protection sales? Which products and brands are moving best for retailers? What merchandising and sales strategies are the most effective for these products? Which new hearing protection technologies are the most popular these days with shooters?

To get answers to these questions and more, Shooting Industry spoke with Jared Millhouse, general manager and lead instructor at Redstone Firearms in Burbank, Calif.; Mark Abramson, president of Los Ranchos Gun Shop in Albuquerque, N.M.; Jeff Monroe, president and CEO of 22three, Inc. in Lebanon, Ohio; and Larry Hyatt, owner and president of Hyatt Guns in Charlotte, N.C. Here are the insights and personal experiences they shared.

SI: How do sales of eye/ear protection today compare to earlier in the demand surge?

Abramson: We have seen a large number of new entrants in the marketplace, which has created demand for a slower approach to the sale. We work to be sure the guest knows how to operate their firearm safely. Many times, eye/ear protection is a tertiary concern, and we have to bring up the subject. We believe sight and hearing are value-added propositions to the new shooter.

Millhouse: The sales for both eye/ear protection have been steady since 2019. The increase of gun sales and the need for shooting instruction have kept the demand up. We’ve seen a bit of a dip in recent months due the same dip in handgun sales.

Hyatt: While sales in every aspect of the market have slowed down, eye/ear protection is still in relatively high demand.

Monroe: For us, the sale of eye/ear protection is directly correlated to overall sales. As the demand surged for firearms, eye/ear protection followed. Now firearm and ammo sales have stabilized, we find the sale of eye/ear protection supplies has also normalized.


SI: What’s driving this current sales trend? Has inflation impacted your eye/ear protection sales?

Monroe: Inflation appears to be impacting the amount of ammo people are willing to shoot. That has a relationship with range use and, in turn, the need for eye/ear protection.

Millhouse: I don’t believe there’s a “current sales trend.” People are starting to take their own protection and the protection of their loved ones into their own hands. Based on this, even inflation hasn’t caused people to shy away from purchasing firearms, so ear protection sales have been steady.

Abramson: There is a lot more manufacturer marketing of ear protection, especially in-ear electronic solutions. Much of the higher-end sales seem to have gone online. Our sales include disposable earplugs and entry-level, old-school and electronic muffs. For guests looking for a more customized option, we refer them to a local vendor who does a great job with custom in-ear protection.

Hyatt: The best driver of sales of eye/ear protection is the safety for the customers. Losing your hearing is never a good thing and eye protection is another vital item when it comes to the shooting sports.

“Having the products on display is the best thing for sales. Merchandising is all about placement, so if clients see it as they’re checking out, they are more likely to ask questions about it or even purchase it.”

Jared Millhouse, GM & Lead Instructor
Redstone Firearms • Burbank, Calif.

SI: What strategies have been effective in selling eye/ear protection to firearms buyers? 

Hyatt: The most efficient way to sell electronic ear protection is to let the customer experience them. Even if it’s in the middle of your store, they’ll be able to hear the amplification of voices and commands. They really do sell themselves if you give them an opportunity.

Monroe: The eye/ear protection products with the highest sales velocity are price-sensitive models purchased because they’re needed to shoot in the range. Customers looking to purchase higher price-point options are likely to research items before making a decision. This research generally includes online reviews, as well as talking with sales team members.

Millhouse: When selling eye/ear protection in the store, there really is no need for a “strategy.” The items sell themselves. Customers purchase firearms, and they want to learn how to use those firearms effectively and safely. We offer different levels of training. Most of our customers sign up for basic firearms training. They’re the demographic who have absolutely no gear whatsoever and are first in line to buy any eye/ear protection we recommend.

Abramson: Typically, as we get to that point in the sale, it’s hard not to make it sound like an afterthought. We believe in these safeguards, and try to emphasize these are absolute must-haves for range time.

Jared Millhouse says even with rising inflation, customers are buying firearms and safety-related gear.

SI: Eye/ear protection merchandising: What works? What doesn’t?

Millhouse: Having the products on display is the best thing for sales. Merchandising is all about placement, so if clients see it as they’re checking out, they are more likely to ask questions about it or even purchase it. There’s a specific flow we use in the store where they start on one side, transition to the middle and end up on the other side checking out and purchasing all of their necessary accessories. Placing the eye/ear protection at customers’ eye level — but just out of arm’s reach — seems to be the most effective way to foster conversation about it. This way it allows us to answer any questions they may have, offer our own personal opinions and be able to get the item for the customer to provide a true customer service feel.

Monroe: Merchandising is important for all our product categories and eye/ear protection must be presented in a way that shows the customers what’s available and the differences between varying price points. We try to have a good, better, best option and help customers differentiate between these options.

Abramson: We’ve moved our display up front for our guests to see. However, we have not been as intentional as we should be in encouraging these safety devices.

Hyatt: Eye/ear protection is fairly easy to sell to new shooters. They’re required to wear both at any range they go to, plus it’s important to protect themselves. The upsell from passive to electronic ear protection is a bit harder, but easy with the correct salesperson’s knowledge of the product.

SI: Is there an eye/ear manufacturer with a good point-of-sale or range rental program?

Abramson: Not to my knowledge.

Hyatt: We’ve not experienced a range rental program with ear protection due to potential health and safety concerns. There are a few companies, SureFire and Safariland come to mind, with passive in-ear protection that make good displays we can place on our counters for easy add-on sales.

Millhouse: We’ve had most of our success with the Walker’s Razor. Walker’s stands behind their product, is cost-effective to the customers and gives a decent amount of options for the novice shooter all the way up to and including experienced shooters and hunters.


SI: With all of the first-time buyers joining our industry, do they have different preferences compared to the industry’s “typical” customer (older male and who lives in a rural area)?

Hyatt: We’ve seen a pretty vast increase in the amount of electronic ear protection we sell. I’m sure part of it is due to the advances in technology in the past few years. At our outdoor shooting complex, it’s fairly easy to sell electronic ear protection to new shooters after they shoot for their first time using passive ear protection.

Millhouse: Today’s first-time buyers tend to purchase things based on cost. They’re mostly not concerned about quality or reputation to the industry. They’re concerned about getting something they were recommended by a friend or family member or a familiar name they’ve heard in a movie. As they get more comfortable with this industry, their preferences start to change. They take their time to research and to ask more questions about how different items operate, the reliability as well as company warranties. The “typical” customer from the past is expanding to include customers from urban areas, major cities, different ethnic groups and different genders. YouTube has expanded everyone’s ability to see and hear firsthand reviews on products. Both the new and the old customers are starting to see the same thing and changing their preconceived views into something new.

Abramson: In-ear protection is growing rapidly, especially in the electronic area. We predict these will take off long-term. However, for entry-level shooters, their focus is on the gun and being armed. We encourage our guests to come back so we can show them how to clean their gun and discuss the next steps, which certainly includes improved hearing protection.

Monroe: The industry is wise to understand customers come to us with varied backgrounds, different reasons for wanting firearms and different needs when it comes to eye/ear protection. We often hear about first-time buyers. We do better when we help customers find products that fit their individual needs.

“We do better when we help customers find products that fit their individual needs.”

Jeff Monroe, President & CEO
22three Inc. • Lebanon, Ohio

SI: How frequently do customers transition from passive ear protection to electronic ear protection? Is it a tough sell?

Hyatt: We see the jump to electronic ear protection a lot, mostly after someone goes to the range and uses passive ear protection. Or during our sale, our employee makes use of a demo electronic pair that allows the customer to use the product and see what the hype is all about. It’s often not a tough sell after someone is able to experience both.

Abramson: The entry-level electronic muffs have come down in price. To gain the benefit of electronics in the $30–$50 range was unheard of a few years ago. However, there is competition in this area now. This offers a shooter a real opportunity to be able to talk with their range buddy or hear range commands and still enjoy the benefit of reducing the decibel level.

Millhouse: In this segment of 2022, ear protection is big. Most of our customers would rather have electronic ear protection. A lot of the older customers are concerned about how loud their guns are. No one seems to have a problem with paying more to save their hearing. There really is no selling involved when it comes to electronic ear protection. Customers want what is going to reduce the amount of harmful sound.

Monroe: A shooter’s interest in better equipment increases as they go to the range more frequently. Although some customers want to start with a better product, we find a lot of our customers will graduate to electronic ear protection as they become more interested in the shooting sports.


SI: What new technologies or products have stood out to you in this segment in 2022? Do you see any trends building momentum into 2023?

Abramson: We’ve been busy looking at other areas of our business, but the key is getting new gun owners to the range. We are concerned the “fix” for pandemic concerns was buying the gun, and we need to refocus on training — and more training.

Hyatt: I see the continuing uptick in sales for electronic ear protection as we go into the future. As more new shooters come into the market, the desire for better hearing protection will increase.

Monroe: It’s exciting to see smaller electronic hearing protection that integrates with cell phones. We have come to expect our phones will seamlessly connect to our cars and other Bluetooth devices. Likewise, our customers are looking for hearing protection able to do the same thing.

Millhouse: My favorite product for this year has been the Walker’s Razor 2.0. This product has changed the way I think about ear protection. The ability to use this for more than just protecting the ears is setting a new standard. It’s Bluetooth compatible for use with your phone and the ability to control the volume as needed is a huge benefit. They seem to be more comfortable than your standard over-the-ear design. Walker’s has continued to set a standard in this part of the industry and I can’t wait to see new advancements as technology evolves.

SI: Any recommendations for dealers who want to expand their eye/ear protection inventory? Anything new they should try?

Abramson: Don’t forget disposable ear plugs. Many new shooters will develop a flinch and other bad habits as they anticipate recoil and a loud report. Easing this by encouraging them to wear disposable plugs and ear muffs will minimize the effect as they get used to the “bang” as part of the firing process.

Hyatt: We have had great success with electronic ear protection; the main two brands being Walker’s Razors and Peltors. The ability to have a demo unit of some kind has made a world of difference to our sales!

Millhouse: My recommendation is to try multiple products. Tell the customer exactly how it works for you. Be honest with them and don’t hold back. The more they look at us as real people and not “gun people,” the more they’ll see the benefit to listening to our guidance. Considerations for purchasing eye/ear protection are the same as when purchasing a firearm. It’s going to be different for each person. Some people like your traditional foam earplugs, others like the most modern over-the-ear design; still others love the super sleek and small earbuds. As far as retail is concerned, you should not be afraid to experiment with other types of ear protection, other than the ones we’re used to. The more options we have for our customers, the better the outcome will be.

Monroe: It’s critically important to meet customers where they are. We must understand their specific needs. We have to have sufficient diversity of products to meet their needs, and we have to present the products in a way they can appreciate the differences. Finally, as with all customer service, having friendly, knowledgeable staff your customers can trust is key.

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