By Massad Ayoob
Jess Hancock with his three full-time employees behind the shop’s Wilson Combat display. (From left — GM Ryan Ballard, Jacob Coffey, Jess and Scott Lewis.)
Take a veteran police officer who has learned to appreciate the finest quality firearms, add an entrepreneurial spirit and a willingness to work long hours, and you have a successful high-end gun shop in Wichita, Kan. That entrepreneur is Jess Hancock — 23 years on Wichita PD, with four years experience prior with the Wyandotte County Sheriff’s Department. He’s a sergeant working the 5:00 p.m. to 3:00 a.m. shift in charge of WPD’s new Centralized Traffic Division. Currently working motorcycle patrol, Hancock plans to retire in March of 2021.
When asked how he got into the gun business, he replied, “I was always a wheeler-dealer — buying, selling and trading a lot of guns. Wichita had an ordinance at the time that you couldn’t be a home-based FFL. I got tired of the Armslist sort of thing, so I made the big step and leased a tiny 700-square-foot space in 2012. I opened a shop with five Wilson Combat pistols as my total inventory. The ordinance was later challenged, and one can now have a home-based FFL in Wichita, but by that time I needed a commercial location. I rented a little cubicle in the back of a computer store.”
He continues, “I went Class III in 2015 when I opened the current store. We opened as J&J guns, named for myself and my son Jess Jr., but almost immediately changed the name to The Wichita Gun Club. I know it’s an odd name for a retail gun store, but there’s some history behind it. The old Wichita Gun Club ran from the 1930s to the 1970s as a trap club. I liked the idea of revitalizing the proud name.” (The original Wichita Gun Club disbanded in 1973, and the transfer of the name was approved by its surviving members.)
Hancock focused on high-end inventory from the beginning. Today, The Wichita Gun Club’s spacious showroom includes firearms from Wilson Combat, Nighthawk Custom, Ed Brown, Guncrafter Industries and New Evolution Military Ordnance (NEMO Arms).
He highlights a key selling point for NEMO in particular, “NEMO has a proprietary bolt-carrier group that reduces 25 percent of recoil before even hitting the buffer spring. They have a .300 Winchester Mag on an MSR platform that shoots as light as a 5.56. Models start at $4,000 and go to about $9,000.”
Though the shop tends to focus on premium-priced arms, it also sells some mainstream firearms.
“We carry pretty much everything,” Hancock relayed. “We’re the Kansas police distributor for CZ. We joined GLOCK’s Blue Label program and sell a lot of those. Our state troopers are about to transition from the .45 ACP GLOCK 21 to the 9mm GLOCK 17. My own department issues the GLOCK 17 or 19, officer’s choice, with 124-grain +P Speer Gold Dot, and has been very satisfied with the combination.”
This trailer accompanies The Wichita Gun Club team’s excursions to local gun shows, and doubles as additional signage for the store when not in use.
This store’s best-selling guns in terms of contribution to profit are the Wilson Combat line, reports General Manager Ryan Ballard.
Hancock adds, “For the last two years, our single best-selling firearm has been Wilson Combat EDC X9. I think this entry in the double-stack 9mm concept (in the 1911-style) makes it a significant carry piece. It has a Commander-size frame for everyday carry. Wilson Combat tells me these pistols are still 1,600 to 1,800 units on backorder. Another good one is the STI DVC Carry, a $2,700 pistol.”
In pure volume of product moved, according to Hancock, GLOCK’s Blue Label is their biggest sales driver. “We do it as a courtesy to brother law enforcement officers. I see it as more of a service than a profit stream,” he lends.
Wichita Gun Club has five employees, three full-time and two part-time. Hancock shared, “Ryan Ballard, our general manager, makes it possible for me to still work full-time for the police department, and do other things. He does an exceptional job for us, going above and beyond on a daily basis.”
In addition to running The Wichita Gun Shop, Jess Hancock also owns a local shotgun shooting range.
“We closed on our shotgun range, Lynbrooke Sporting Clays, in March 2018. It’s been in existence since 1986. The owners were retiring, and we had the opportunity to make the purchase. It’s an 80-acre shotgun-only facility. Sporting clays, trap, skeet and 5-stand — which is five shooters at once, eight throwing machines and everyone rotates, 25 birds per shooter.”
Since the acquisition of Lynbrooke, Hancock is rarely at The Wichita Gun Club and instead focuses on the range. (It had been a dying business, not profitable for five years.)
“I believe in sports, community and firearms,” he says. “We went in and did all the work needed to be done, [brought in] excavators to remove years of brush accumulation, removed trees, rerouted a creek, etc. Word got out quickly in the Kansas shotgun community. Support from local shooting enthusiasts has been unbelievable.”
Though his clientele at the shotgun range certainly encompass a market for them, Jess does not sell the super-high-priced Perazzi and Krieghoff brands … yet. “They want us to get a year under our belt and get the name up there before they sell to us,” he explains.
Hancock did, however, have an empty 30×60-foot building at Lynbrooke, where a nationally known custom stock and gunsmithing business is moving in — Jim Greenwood of Greenwood Custom Stocks. “Customers pay $6,000–$10,000 for custom Circassian walnut stocks fitted to their shotguns,” he adds.
Family Effort And Ethics
Family is very important to Hancock, and the whole family is involved in The Wichita Gun Club’s operation.
“We’re a family business. Both my sons, Jess Jr. and my youngest, Darius, come out on weekends after sports practice and my wife Christy keeps the books. My daughters Hannah and Grace work the counters at the range when they can; Hannah is a senior in college. We employ two full-time people at Lynbrooke, one to run the counter and the clubhouse on weekdays (and handle sales and trades) and a groundskeeper. Our family picks up the loose ends. We also hold a monthly registered National Sporting Clays Association (NSCA) tournament.”
All this plus full-time police work doesn’t leave Jess Hancock much time for recreation. But the family’s work ethic is not by any means their only ethic. One of their competitors, a multi-million dollar gun shop and “guntry club” range, was recently foreclosed upon with very short notice. This left hundreds of customers hanging, waiting to pick up products like suppressors.
Hancock stepped into the breach, and has been handling those transfers so his competitor’s customers don’t get short-changed. The same firm had been accepting tuition for a class with a guest instructor. The Wichita Gun Club picked up that dropped ball, too, with Ballard expertly coordinating the class and hosting it at their facility — charging not a penny.
In the end, this isn’t just a success story in firearms retailing. It’s a story of vindication — how ingenuity, hard work and values work in tandem in an effort to serve the local firearms community.