Top-Tier Partners

Dealers Rate Favorite Handgun Makers

Image: Ruger

Gun stores have no shortage of manufacturers to choose from when deciding which pistols and revolvers to order and display for customers.

As with anything else in life, some are better than others, offering products or services that move them ahead of competitors. Some do a better job of communicating with dealers or going the extra mile for a big promotional weekend.

To get a sense of the current market, we talked with three stores spread across the country.

Our panelists: Kurt Davis, one of the owners of Accuracy Firearms in Effingham, Ill.; Ben Romanoff, owner of Ace Sporting Goods in Washington, Pa.; and Frank Hansen, manager at Sprague’s Sports in Yuma, Ariz.

(Answers have been edited for brevity.)

SI: Which manufacturers do you most like working with and why?

Davis: Smith & Wesson is probably one of the easiest companies to work with. Being in a buyer group and having sales reps who are dedicated to us makes it easier for ordering. If we have an issue, or we accidentally order the wrong gun, it’s easy to get the problem resolved. Also, during hard times, like COVID, when my store was barren, I could always count on Smith & Wesson to get guns.

Romanoff: In terms of dealer support, it would be Smith & Wesson, Ruger and then Springfield Armory. We’ve had a long relationship, especially with Smith and Ruger, and they’ve supported us, and we appreciate everything they do for us.

Hansen: The companies that support us the most are going to be Ruger, Smith & Wesson, SIG SAUER and Springfield Armory. It’s their range programs, co-op programs, promotions and timeliness at getting us information about new products. When those new products are launched, they make sure we’re receiving them early and getting them on order.

SI: Can you talk about the importance of relationships between your store and the manufacturers?

Davis: I think it’s imperative. I order more from companies that have reps who take the time to come to my store — whether they just intermittently swing by, they schedule appointments or come in during show times. There are thousands of companies that want your business, but the ones who get the most attention are the ones who give me the attention. I get hundreds of emails, but if somebody actually takes the time to come sit down with me, it makes the process much easier. And I’m more apt to buy from those companies.

Romanoff: It’s the most important thing, especially when it comes to new products. A lot of manufacturers have made changes where they’re homing in on their top-level dealers, and they’re working on getting those products to them ahead of time.

Hansen: This industry is entirely relationship-based. It makes a big difference with the allocation of products. Communication is important. It helps us to be better prepared for what’s new and what’s hot, and helps us with moving products that aren’t hot anymore.

“There are thousands of companies that want your business, but the ones who get the most attention are the ones who give me the attention.”

Kurt Davis, Co-Owner
Accuracy Firearms • Effingham, Ill.

SI: Which brands are the most trouble-free, in terms of customer complaints or returns?

Davis: GLOCK and Smith & Wesson. I rarely have to do anything with those. They just work and if they do fail in some manner, we usually have the parts on hand to just fix them if the customer comes in. Another one is Walther. We’ve had Walther rental guns in our range program that had 10,000 plus rounds, with very few, if any failures. With Ruger, we’ve had some dealings with them on their customer service side of the house and they’re phenomenal. We’ve never had an issue getting a part or sending a gun back for a repair.

Romanoff: SIG and Kimber are at the top of our list of not being problematic.

Hansen: GLOCKs hardly ever have returns. Smith & Wesson, SIG, Colt and Browning have very few returns.

SI: Which of the manufacturers are most willing to come out for promotional events at your store? What sort of support do you receive?

Davis: We only do two big promotions a year. One is in August, which is really tough for a lot of the manufacturers because they’re already starting their prep for the fall shows. We’ve had Staccato come and do a couple of promos at our store and they did a phenomenal job.

They’ll bring swag, but it’s also nice having somebody there from the company who can speak directly to the customer and tell them all the ins and outs of their guns. I think the customers value their opinion because it’s direct from the manufacturer.

Romanoff: Once again, Smith & Wesson and Ruger. Springfield has been out and GLOCK has been supportive as well. You know, it’s impressive whenever you get somebody like a Smith or Ruger rep who will show customers whatever they want to see, regardless of the brand. They’re here supporting the store. They help us with giveaways — including swag and firearms — and advertising and promotions.

Hansen: Ruger and Smith & Wesson. Typically, they’ll provide promotional money and things we can use for advertising, either in free goods or free products. They’ll often come down and work a weekend or two. It makes a big difference. We’ll advertise that the rep will be on hand and people will come in looking specifically to talk to them.

Kurt Davis with a S&W Model 686 (L-Frame, 6” barrel). He highlighted GLOCK,
S&W, Walther and Ruger as being phenomenal business partners.

SI: Are there any dealer education or rewards programs you find most valuable in terms of helping you sell handguns?

Davis: ExpertVoice is an education program a lot of companies use. I know Beretta was using them for a while. It’s great for educating your employees. A lot of times the employees enjoy it because if they take the training, they get rewarded with a discount or a deal on a gun.

I think the biggest thing is having a consistent rep. There are a couple of gun companies that change reps almost on a yearly basis. It’s pretty frustrating. I probably have 40 or 50 reps. With the reps I’ve had for years, I know how to contact them. I probably have their cell number. So, all it takes is a quick text when I need something fast.

Romanoff: Springfield’s support and reward programs are second to none. It’s really easy for our sales guys to upload their information and see what’s available to them. Smith & Wesson has theirs, and SIG has a good reward program. It’s easy to use and they deliver quickly. The whole idea is that these manufacturers want our guys to earn these guns, put them on their hips and use them so they can talk about them with customers.

Hansen: We get a lot of participation in the SIG program. Smith & Wesson has one that’s been fairly good. Some of our guys are also taking advantage of FN’s program. They encourage them to make sales and to get one of the guns. Once they have one, they’re selling it even more. It kind of snowballs and builds.

“I would prefer to see manufacturers focus on something that wouldn’t capitalize on retailers’ bread and butter. Those add-on sales are higher margin and critical to keeping our doors open. ”

Frank Hansen
Sprague’s Sports • Yuma, Ariz.

SI: Are there any wholesalers or sales rep groups that have been helpful with sales?

Davis: Our buy group (Worldwide Buying Group) is always working to find exclusive products and deals on buying certain items in bulk. Buy groups are pretty amazing. We weren’t in a buy group for a long time and we got in roughly four years ago. It’s been extremely rewarding in some of the stuff the buy groups do for you.

Romanoff: We’re part of a buyer group (Sports Inc.). We’ve been a member for 20+ years. You’re part of a conglomerate, so there’s a better price when you buy directly from the manufacturer.

Hansen: We have a fantastic relationship with the folks at Davidson’s, and they tie into Ruger as well. A lot of them are very useful to deal with on a daily basis, but I would say Davidson’s goes above and beyond. They’re very prone to participate in programs and have specials and things they offer to us. If we have a sale coming up, they’ll make sure we have an allocation of products to back up that sale.

SI: Is there anything you would like to see from manufacturers, in terms of dealer support?

Davis: I know it’s hard these days to keep employees, but consistency in sales reps and reps reaching out personally, not just through email. One of the things we try to do in our business is provide a service for our customers. The gun industry needs to do the same thing.

I would also like to see, from the manufacturing side, a condensing of SKUs. If you’ve got something older or out of date, remove it from your purchasing sheet. Manufacturing consistency would be nice as well. There are several companies out there that take a year or two after receiving an order. It’s tough to run a business when you don’t know when you’re going to get products.

Romanoff: Some smaller manufacturers need to work on their support and realize it’s where the rubber meets the road. If we have to send a gun back and we get bad treatment from them, I don’t forget that kind of stuff. If they aren’t there to support their product, it’s kind of hard for me to stand behind them and sell their product here.

There’s always room for better communication. Smith & Wesson is very proactive when it comes to asking what’s going on in the industry and looking for what’s selling, what isn’t selling and what they need to do better. Their communication with dealers is tops, in my opinion, because they’re always talking to me.

Hansen: In recent years, manufacturers have promoted their firearms by giving away free goods, magazines and accessories, but those accessory sales are the lifeblood of the independent retailer. 

So, whenever they’re offering a magazine as a free good, they’re taking away from our magazine sales. I would prefer to see manufacturers focus on something that wouldn’t capitalize on retailers’ bread and butter. Those add-on sales are higher margin and critical to keeping our doors open.

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