Dealers Identify And Respond To Trends Shaping Handgun Sales.
Dealers are accustomed to making adjustments when it comes to shifts in the marketplace. Seasonality of items and stocking new models entering the market have long been common considerations, but how are dealers reacting to overall trends taking place in the handgun marketplace?
Informed dealers and instructors alike agree the “perfect gun” is solely dependent on the customer. Ultimately, your handgun customers must be comfortable with the gun they choose, including its action, recoil and frame size. Narrowing down the selection for each individual starts with the intended purpose of the gun. For example, a customer looking for a target handgun would yield different results than a concealed-carry customer. The ability to respond to these varying purposes requires maintaining a wide selection — so it’s important for dealers to offer a variety of models, frame sizes and calibers to fit those individual needs.
The Usual Suspects
In talking with other dealers, it’s interesting to note no particular manufacturer or handgun model is currently dominating sales, but small- and medium-sized, polymer frame semiautomatics still hold the top spots for handgun sales — especially for the concealed carry market.
“The GLOCK 17, 19, Smith & Wesson SHIELD and the Springfield XD series of pistols still sell very well and we try to keep as many of them in stock as we can,” said Barry Soskin, owner of Lombard Gun Shop and Article II Range in Lombard, Ill. “It’s difficult to say how much impact the GLOCK 43 will have on sales, because they’re still very difficult to get right now.”
Tim Holladay is the owner of Doc’s Guns and Ammo, a firearms and accessory store in Eureka, Mo., and he noted 9mm handguns outsell handguns of other calibers for a variety of reasons.
“Handguns in 9mm continue to be the best-selling caliber because of things such as magazine capacity, the cartridge is readily available and reasonably priced. The manageability of the recoil is also a very big consideration for many shooters when buying a 9mm handgun,” Holladay said.
Although trends in the current market tend to favor new shooters, and semiautomatics, there’s still a considerable amount of activity with revolver and 1911 styles as well. “These models continue to have steady sales, but not really a growth area especially when it comes to new shooters,” Holladay added.
Davidson’s SCCY Blue
An Offer They Can’t Refuse
Manufacturer incentives are helping dealers drive sales as well. Traditional cash rebates don’t have nearly as much of an impact as free accessories. Additional magazines, cases, holsters, etc., are very attractive bonuses for purchases, especially for new shooters.
“Manufacturer incentives definitely help make the sale, especially when it comes to new shooters making their first purchase,” said Holladay.
In addition to manufacturer incentives, shop owners are also providing their own deals to drive new sales. For those dealers with gun ranges, rental programs help by exposing customers to a variety of options to try out before purchasing. The cost is relatively low to the dealer and the customer can find the make and model that’s right for them.
Package deals — such as range bags, hearing and eye protection — along with instruction and range time are useful to attract first-time buyers and casual shooters. It’s not uncommon for someone who purchases their first firearm to come back in just a few days, or weeks to make another purchase. This is why offering service beyond the sale is extremely important to these buyers.
As an incentive to new shooters and new customers in general, many dealers are offering basic pistol instruction as an additional service that can be included or discounted with the sale.
“We always provide a one-hour lesson for free, and a range pass with any purchase,” Soskin said. The range pass provides access to Lombard Gun Shop and Article II Range’s 32-lane indoor pistol and high-power range — offering one of the largest varieties of modern and unique selections of firearms in the area. Customers will also find two full-time gunsmiths on site.
Doc’s Guns & Ammo carries a wide range of small- and medium-frame semiautomatic
handguns to support the increased number of women shooters. Tim Holladay shows
some of the features and benefits of a polymer semiauto to a customer.
It’s Ladies Night
One obvious shift in the marketplace you’ve likely noticed in your store is the growing number of women trying out and purchasing handguns. This trend appears to be consistent across all regions and is a significant shift toward women becoming interested in the shooting sports. The reason for their interest varies as much as the types of handguns they’re buying, but one thing is certain — women are educated on what they want before making a purchase.
Manufacturers have responded to this growing trend by offering several models in pink and purple versions. While these do attract a certain percentage of the market, most women are not as interested in the cuteness factor as much as they are comfort and feel.
“Ten years ago I would walk onto the floor and see a bunch of men standing around talking. Today I see pink and purple. Men are there with their wives, but I also see women coming in alone, or as part of a group of women. They educate themselves via the Internet. They come in knowing what they’re looking for,” Soskin added.
While some women are purchasing handguns for personal protection, others are getting involved out of curiosity, or participating as part of a group activity with other women. Some ranges are even offering “ladies only” classes as well as a “ladies night” where they can shoot and socialize with other women interested in the sport.
“One night a week, we offer a ladies night program where women shoot for free, and the response has been tremendous. We also offer women-only shooting competitions and the interest in that area is growing,” Soskin said.
The women purchasing primarily for self-defense tend to gravitate toward small-frame revolvers because of their concealable size, and they feel more comfortable with their ease of use. Small- and medium-frame semiautomatics tend to be preferred by women purchasing for sporting, recreation and in-home protection.
Dealers report manufacturer rebates have increased handgun sales in their stores.
Springfield’s current “Gear Up & Go!” promotion is giving customers $135 worth of
free gear with the purchase of any handgun.
Not all current trends in the industry are positive. Over the last couple years, the lack of .22 LR ammunition has been the biggest negative impact on the industry.
“I’ve owned and operated Article II since 1977 and I’ve never seen a shortage of ammo like we’ve experienced over the past two years,” Soskin said. “I don’t have enough .22’s to sell to the general public. I use everything I have for classes and range rentals.”
According to Soskin, this prolonged shortage will take away an important “rite of passage” for many younger shooters.
“Ultimately, in my opinion, this will hurt the industry. Younger shooters who traditionally train on the lower recoil, inexpensive ammo won’t enter the market until they’re older and can handle larger centerfire options. Walking into a store and buying a .22 LR target pistol off the shelf for training was once a rite of passage. Now they sit due to the lack of affordable, readily available, good quality .22 LR ammunition,” he said.
Walther’s CCP (Concealed Carry Pistol) in 9mm features SOFTCOIL gas-delayed blowback
technology to enhance shootability for this concealable semiauto. For defense in
populated urban areas, CORBON expanded its Urban Response series to include a
9mm +P 100-grain round, which has a new gilding metal jacket filled with a soft
lead core that forms into a patented “V” shape.
Casting A Wider Net
Dealers are turning to social media as a means to reach new and existing customers. Facebook and Twitter are proving to be effective, inexpensive tools for staying in touch with their customer base. These types of communication outlets allow dealers to instantly update their community with the newest and sometimes hard-to-get inventory.
“I update our Facebook page two or three times a day. When I receive a GLOCK 43 and post it to our Facebook page, it’s gone within an hour,” Holladay said. “It has been a great resource for updating customers about our inventory, announcing any specials we are offering, and attracting new customers with very little expense.”
Other social media tools, such as Groupon, have been effective campaigns for attracting new customers from a much broader base. “It raises range awareness and allows us to reach people outside of our immediate area,” Soskin stated. “I can run an ad at a very low cost and bring in groups for classes, which in turn, drives sales.”
Kevin Russelburg is the owner/operator of Datum Arms, a firearms sales and training business located in Bolingbrook, Ill. Kevin is a U.S.M.C. Veteran, Concealed Carry and NRA-Certified Instructor and also deals in NFA Class III (SOT) transactions.