By Rob Southwick, Ben Scuderi & Nancy Bacon
There’s a lot of uncertainty regarding today’s hunting and shooting markets. The best data sources used by the public to gauge the industry’s direction tends to be the FBI’s monthly NICS data — plus reports from publicly traded firearm and ammunition companies. Recent media coverage has been bleak, highlighting diminished sales of both firearms and ammunition over the past 2 years. This can be misleading, as our industry covers much more than firearms and ammunition.
As you know, customers purchase a wide range of products that also include reloading and cleaning supplies, targets, hunting accessories, optics and much, much more. According to Southwick Associates’ 2018 Retail Market Size report, spending in the overall hunting and shooting sports market actually grew in 2018, creating an overall market now worth $21.3 billion in retail sales.
Despite well-publicized decreases in the sales of firearms and ammunition, many hunting- and shooting-related product categories experienced significant boosts in dollar sales over the past year. Categories undergoing the largest growth rates include firearm parts, optics, shooting accessories and hunting equipment. Each of these product categories exhibited double-digit increases in sales as measured in retail dollars.
These increased sales resulted from consumers choosing higher-end or higher-priced products, rather than buying more items. The average value of each sale increased by up to 20% in 2018 versus 2017 for the product categories tracked by Southwick Associates. However, the total units sold in the overall market was down 7%, driven mostly by decreases in the ammunition, black powder, reloading and firearms categories.
“No” To Complacency
It’s our opinion, with the economy remaining strong (it’s still too early to see the impacts of the current tariff war) and with less concern about federal firearm restrictions in the near future, our consumers are accelerating their buying of accessories and gear for their recent firearm purchases and willing to pay for quality. However, we can’t become complacent, especially at the state and local levels where most efforts to further restrict firearms and ammunition seem to be happening.
The Reality Of The Market
Several product categories did show declines in sales, including firearms. Modern sporting rifle (MSR) sales were down in terms of both retail dollars and units sold. This is likely the result of decreased concerns over firearm restrictions due to the current political climate. Decreases in MSR and ammunition sales can also likely be attributed to consumers feeling less concern about future restrictions on sales of these products.
Other data points to a better picture.
A recent survey of independent retailers by the NSSF shows more firearm retailers experienced gross sales increases in 2018 than those who saw decreases. Plus, the average proportional increase for those who saw growth was greater than the average proportional decrease experienced by the others. This same survey also showed increases in the various accessory categories, too. (Note: These insights are only for independent retailers.)
We certainly understand the picture is not rosy for every business in our industry. Manufacturers and distributors with greater levels of dependence on firearms and ammunition sales are having a tough time. Shifts in the retail landscape still present uncertainty across the industry. However, the consumer is still with us, but is choosing to spend their money in other sectors of our industry.
While challenges exist, the hunting and shooting markets are performing better than recent media coverage indicates.