By Massad Ayoob
Behind the counter is where you’ll be able encourage add-on sales and other value-added services to increase your
store’s profits in 2018. These initiatives can all be promoted via your store’s website and social media accounts.
(Pictured: The Range Of Richfield, Richfield, Wis.)
When the market is soft, it belongs to the buyer. Unfortunately, there aren’t many ways to get around it. One way is to demonstrate to the buyer you’re giving a better value than he or she could get before. Sure, dropping prices is one way to accomplish this — but another is to show improved comparative value.
You may remember when General Motors came out with the now-iconic slogan, “This is not your father’s Oldsmobile.” This catch phrase has become so widely used, many of those in the millennial generation probably don’t even know where it originated. Today, it’s used commonly as a meme: “This (current product) is not your father’s (version of said product).”
Let’s apply this to firearms and related accessories in today’s retail market. Suppose you could honestly advertise, “The guns we’ll sell you are better than what your father (and even grandfather) had access to. And adjusted for inflation, they’re proportionally less expensive!”
You know what? You can — honest and true.
Then And Now
Many have called the 1950s America’s Golden Age. Dwight Eisenhower was president, the United States was at peace and, for the most part, happy. My generation, the “post-war baby boomers,” grew up to be, demographically, some of your best customers today. We’re the grumpy old farts who look at a 100-pack of .22 LR and grumble, “Back in my day, a box of .22 LR only cost 75 cents!” (Admit it: You’re picturing some of your customers’ faces right now, aren’t you?)
Well, for this segment of your customer base and for your younger ones — who are also cost-conscious and have a skewed idea of dollar value from online pricing that does not include transfer costs — let’s look at some figures.
For the economy in general (as well as the firearms market), a crude rule of thumb might be things are about 10 times more in MSRP than they were in the mid-1950s. In both cases, some things have increased more in price, and some have increased less. For example, things like real estate inflation and the cost of cigarettes seem to have outpaced consumer goods well beyond a 10:1 ratio. On the other hand, some consumer staples have become comparatively much cheaper: A dozen eggs went for 61 cents in 1955, and a Google search for “price of eggs” at this writing showed an average price of $1.46 a dozen.
What’s important for the equation, of course, is household income. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the median, inflation-adjusted income reached $59,039 in 2016. Compared to 1955, when the median income was under $5,000, American families earn around $1,000 per week. Let’s keep those figures in mind.
Key Price Comparisons
The 20-inch barrel, 12-gauge pump shotgun has long been a classic home-defense firearm, though today it has given up much ground to the MSR platform. Such a Remington 870 was listed in the 1955 Stoeger Gun Bible at $77.50. Today, with a utilitarian gray finish, the Remington Express 870 starts at only $417, barely over half the ballpark 10:1 inflation rate over the intervening period.
The Smith & Wesson Centennial Airweight, a “hammerless” five-shot DAO .38 Special with 2-inch barrel, sold for $64.60 in 1955. Today — in an improved stainless format, capable of handling +P ammunition as well — the analogous S&W would be the hugely popular Model 642, which presently carries an MSRP of $649, far below the rate of inflation.
(And, let’s not forget a lot of gun shops sell that gun and others for below MSRP. This was not the rule of thumb in 1955, when a manufacturer’s suggested price tended to be adhered to as if it was a rule of law.)
If someone wanted to buy a new .45 auto in 1955, the choice was Colt and, well, Colt. At that time, a brand-new Government Model .45 retailed for $64.60. Colt’s direct descendant of the commercial 1911A1 would be the 1991A1, which now starts at $799. Now, this is actually slightly over a 10:1 inflation ratio, but an identical-in-form-and-function Rock Island basic 1911A1 built in the Philippines by Armscor carries an MSRP of $529, well below a 10:1 inflation rate.
The price of ammunition is something customers complained about even before the “ammo drought” of the Obama years. In 1955, the Gun Bible listed .22 LR ammo at 67 to 74 cents per box of 50. At this writing, .22 LR is running about $5.95 per 50 at The Range of Richfield in Richfield, Wis., — well under 10:1 inflation.
In 1955, 9mm Luger was available in only one flavor, FMJ, with the choices of 115- or 124-grain bullet weight, at a uniform $4.75 per box of 50. Today, we’re looking at about $16.95, closer to 4:1 than 10:1.
This concept applies to the .45 ACP and .38 Spl. cartridges as well. In 230-grain “hardball” format, .45 was $5.15 to $5.45 for a 50-round box; that figure is $28.95 now. Additionally, for 158-grain lead roundnose .38 Spl., the standard self-defense load for what was then the most popular handgun caliber for police and armed citizens alike, ran $3.50 to $4.20 per 50-round box. At The Range of Richfield today, the equivalent is now 125-grain FMJ .38 Special at $23.18 per box — still below typical inflation rate.
Good hollowpoint ammo in defense calibers was pretty much unavailable commercially in 1955, and today it’s the best it’s ever been. Don’t let that selling point go unnoticed!
When you crunch the numbers, some (though certainly not all) gun and ammo values have stood up well to the tests of time and inflation. It’s highly likely your customers aren’t as aware of this as they should be. Your role? Advertise it as such (in as many ways feasible) that your store has a better selection of guns and ammunition at proportionally more economical prices than yesteryear!
Remember the above-mentioned sales meme that became so successful because it was so true: What we can sell you now is not what your father and grandfather bought — and it’s proportionally more affordable now, too!