Just Because It’s New!

Increase In New Offerings Sparks Long-Gun & Accessory Sales.

The long-gun market received a major infusion of new products at business venues that launched the 2015 Business Year: NASGW, distributor shows, buying groups events and SHOT Show. This is a notable shift from 2014 when many manufacturers presented a relatively modest number of “real” new firearms.

Driven by record-setting sales in 2013, the rationale going into 2014 was, “We can’t keep up with the demand for our present products. Do we really need that many new products?”

Then the crash of 2014 occurred. The lack of new products was cited as one of the reasons for the drop in sales.

“The estimated sell-through of our products from distributors to retailers in the second quarter was adversely impacted by the reduction in overall industry demand, the aggressive discounting of many of our competitors and the absence of recent, significant new product introductions from the company,” said Mike Fifer, Ruger CEO, in late July 2014.

Ruger responded quickly, introducing numerous new products throughout the latter part of last year, capped with additional offerings at the beginning of 2015. Other manufacturers also greatly increased their long-gun offerings for this year, creating much-needed excitement as the industry distances itself from 2014.

There has also been a notable increase in new long-gun accessories, with manufacturers seeking ways to add sales in a soft firearms market.

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Leupold Carbine Optic, new for 2015, is “lightweight, but hard-as-nails.”
It has a wide field-of-view and a one-minute-of-view red dot.

Welcome Increase

Joe Keffer, owner and president of the Sportsman’s Shop in New Holland, Pa., applauds the increase in new products.

“I think it’s good for the dealer. I spoke with Mike Fifer at the SHOT Show and I told him, ‘Keep them coming,’” he said. “There’s always somebody who is going to have to have it just because it’s new — not that they need it or that it fits any particular niche.”

Keffer points out that new offerings don’t always have to be “revolutionary new products” to generate sales.

“We all have those customers who have disposable income, and they walk in the door and you say, ‘You don’t have one of these.’ And before they leave, they do — just because it’s new,” Keffer said.

Keffer entered 2015 on a positive note, with a welcome increase in long-gun sales.

“Our hunting long-gun sales were better this past fall than they have been for a number of years. Even after the hunting season, it carried over into the Christmas season. Those sales were up fairly significantly, I’d say in the 20 percent range, compared to the same period in 2013. The bulk of those were in the low- to mid-price point range,” he said. “Customers who had been putting off buying a hunting rifle decided it was time. I think it was pent-up demand,” he said.

Keffer said his hunting shotgun sales continue, but not on the same pace as hunting rifles.

“Hunting shotguns continue to be soft. Having said that, we did see a bit of improvement in over-and-under shotguns, which had been dead. Those also were in the entry-level models like the Franchi Instinct L and SL — the $1,000 to $1,700 range, as opposed to $2,000-plus models,” Keffer said.

In bird hunting, Keffer’s sales are mixed.

“Waterfowl shotguns continue to be steady. Upland game is not strong anymore. Spring turkey is strong; however, that season doesn’t result in the purchase of a lot of turkey specialty shotguns. Consumers are still shooting sporting clays, with many of them buying a semiauto shotgun and using it for hunting and target shooting,” he said.

In rifles, the Ruger American is the top seller at the Sportsman’s Shop; Benelli is the top-selling shotgun line.

Who are Keffer’s hunting-rifle customers?

“They’re a mixture of men and women customers, but predominately men. However, since companies have come out with more compact versions of hunting rifles, women have taken notice and are buying rifles that are lighter and fit them better,” Keffer said.

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Boyds offers more than 100,000 gunstocks, including new models for virtually every
long gun a dealer can offer customers. For 2015, Ruger greatly increased its new
product offerings, many of them in the long-gun category.

The MSR Factor

Keffer says MSRs play a role in his traditional hunting rifle sales.

“A lot of consumers spent money on firearms they thought they might not be able to buy later. So a guy who bought an MSR didn’t have the money to get the deer rifle he wanted,” Keffer said.

At the Sportsman’s Shop, MSRs continue to sell, countering prevailing reports that such sales are non-existent.

“A young husband and wife came in around the week before SHOT Show to buy an MSR for her. Earlier, the husband bought an MSR, which she shot, liked and they bought an entry-level MSR for her. Primarily, our MSR sales are made to younger customers, the under-40 demographic.”

Keffer says he’s also seen increases in sales of higher-end MSRs.

“About MSRs — and this has been going on for awhile — a lot of people who bought entry-level rifles have bought some accessories, such as stocks, optics, vertical grips, what-have-you, and they continue to do that. However, there is also a fair number who are buying an upgraded MSR, and most are keeping their entry-level rifle. That is good for us,” Keffer said. “If there’s a strength in the MSR market, that’s where it’s at for us.”

What are Keffer’s upgrades in MSRs?

“An upgrade may merely be from a Smith & Wesson M&P Sport to the M&P Tactical. The other upgrade models we carry are the LWRC and Daniel Defense lines,” Keffer said.

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On The Sportsman’s Shop website, Joe Keffer, owner and president, discusses a major
expansion of his operation, which will open in July. SI Digital readers, click the
“Hot Link” logo.

Accessories, Promotions, Profits

As always, long-gun accessories are vital to profits.

“Optics are far and away the biggest sellers in long-gun accessories. There’s always a strong percentage of customers who are looking to upgrade the optics on their hunting rifle or slug gun,” Keffer said.

Keffer’s top-selling optic lines are Leupold, Burris and Bushnell. The “MSR factor” also impacts Keffer’s optic sales.

“We’ve seen a lot of MSR customers, who didn’t buy an optic at the time they bought their rifle, coming back for an EOTech or tactical rifle scope. That’s how we’ve been able to move some of the SKUs we were a little heavy on. We package MSRs with a lower or mid-range optic, which makes it attractive for customers. We package bolt-action hunting rifles with optics, as well,” he said.

These packages are heavily promoted in sales flyers, advertisements and on Facebook.

“We include a little of everything, from muzzleloaders to hunting rifles, to shotguns, to MSRs, to handguns. We try to cover the gamut, even during certain times of the year when we know we may not sell a lot of bolt-action rifles, such as in June or July. We want them to be in front of our customer so when he decides he’s ready to buy; he knows we have the product.

“Have it in inventory” is one of Keffer’s tips for increased long-gun sales.

“First, you’ve got to have them, and you’ve got to have them other than just the three months leading up to hunting season. Keep a variety of calibers, a couple of compact versions and perhaps a couple of left-handed models,” Keffer said.

“Second, even though rimfire ammo has been difficult to get, be sure to stock bolt-action and semiauto rimfire rifles. People still enjoy going out and plinking with them. The rimfire ammo supply is getting better. It’s not as inexpensive as it once was, but it’s available and it’s a lot less expensive than some of the things your customers can do for recreation.”

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One of Mossberg’s “The Big 5” for 2015, the Patriot Bolt-Action with Vortex Scope
was a big hit with dealers at SHOT Show. Mossberg has consistently introduced
“truly” new products, resulting in significant gains in market share.

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Benelli enters the over-and-under market this year with the 828U, which is
available in nickel-engraved (shown) and black-anodized models. Both sport
interchangeable 26- and 28-inch barrels.

No Doom & Gloom

Given the turmoil in the market during 2014, what does Keffer forecast for 2015?

“I believe this year, barring unforeseen events, we’re going to see sales where they were last year, which is not bad; 2014 was not a bad year. There are some, when they hear that — referring to 2014 — it’s doom and gloom. They view it as a bad year. But, if you look back over five or six years, last year was pretty good. If we can do that this year, I don’t think that would be terrible,” Keffer said.

To “tour” the Sportsman’s Shop, including a preview of Keffer’s expanded operation, visit www.thesportsmansshop.com.
By Russ Thurman

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