By Massad Ayoob
Collectible firearms represent a profitable category for savvy dealers. Iconic names,
like this Colt Python, have seen prices skyrocket in recent years. Ethical marketing
plays a key role in your store becoming a trusted “go-to” in your area.
My work takes me all over the U.S., stopping at gun shops en route. Some sales trends are regional, but some things are more constant — even during the current softened market. Here are a few examples you may find helpful in achieving improved sales.
When I poll students in defensive shooting classes as to what they want from their local gun shop, the single most common answer is: “Good holsters and ammo carriers!” (And, yes, the exclamation point tends to come from them, not me.)
Have at least some of the big-name quality brands on hand for the most popular “serious” carry guns: GLOCKs, S&W M&Ps, 1911s and so on. Blade-Tech, Comp-Tac, Safariland and Galco are among the many names that have become synonymous with quality. Don’t forget good “value-priced” holsters: Shops carrying the Don Hume brand, for example, seem to find them steady sellers. Hume’s JIT design — a belt-slide type able to work with all handguns of the same frame size irrespective of barrel length — makes one SKU suitable for many handguns.
Another trend is almost every community seems to have a gun hobbyist who has gotten into making Kydex holsters and magazine pouches. Many are quite good, and some have become nationally recognized for the quality of their work. One or more of them may already have sought you out. Pick one or two of them, and make a deal with these local craftsmen. Their ability to custom-build holsters for customers with uncommon guns is a plus your more serious customers will appreciate. It also reduces the amount of inventory you need to keep on hand, another positive.
Good magazine carriers are even harder to find than good holsters, and your more experienced customers will be grateful to discover you have some in stock. With 1911s seemingly more popular than ever, good magazines are critical. I’m partial to the Wilson EDM series, and as an instructor, I can tell you a great many jamming 1911s have been cured simply by switching to Wilson magazines. (New for 2018, Wilson released updated 1911 magazines. See more info in this month’s New Product Showcase.)
After the 2016 election season, many experienced voices predicted there would be a shift in consumer buying trends because fear-induced buying immediately dissipated. In my travels to gun shops around the country, I’m seeing this come true more often than not — at least to some extent. Several dealers report while sales of MSRs slumped badly in 2017, sales of junior-size .22 “starter rifles” have held better and in some stores are actually up a bit.
And amidst those slumping MSR sales, some dealers tell me the .22 LR versions (notably S&W’s M&P 15-22) are slumping less. Make sure you have some of those little “Cricket” rifles in inventory, and short-stocked youth model hunting rifles and shotguns.
Hume JIT Holster
Across the country, dealers tell me one category where sales are speeding up is older collectible guns. In shop after shop, classic Colts and Smith & Wessons are being scooped up as soon as they hit the showcase, often at impressive prices.
There are some converging trends to account for this, and they track repeatedly to the boomer generation. Having reached the peak of their earnings/savings years, this generation is able to finally afford the guns they longed for in their youth. For example, witness the skyrocketing prices of Colt Pythons.
Within the same generation, boomers are now in their 60s and 70s. Some are dying off, and some are at an age when it’s time to downsize and recoup on their investment guns. It’s more so for The Greatest Generation, which preceded them. Thus, more collections continue to come up for sale. How do you tap this market?
Well, you can start by becoming your local community’s resource center for selling no-longer-wanted firearms, and inherited guns. We’ve all chuckled when we first heard the gun collector’s prayer: “Dear Lord, when I die, please don’t let my widow sell my guns for what I told her I paid for them.”
At first, it might sound morbid or ghoulish for a gun dealer to approach the bereaved about buying the property of a deceased loved one. But, if undertaken with dignity, the dealer can be an honest associate in handling old firearms. The widow finds the price tag of $125 on the box the Colt Python came in when her recently deceased husband bought it in the late 1950s. Is it fair to allow her to sell it for that, not knowing gun values the way her late husband did? The gun dealer is in a position to buy it outright or take it on consignment and give her a much fairer value on her inheritance.
Google and the Yellow Pages will bring you to probate lawyers and estate administration specialists in your area. Reach out to them with discreetly worded letters explaining how often those who inherit firearms sell them for far less than intrinsic value, and explain you stand ready to give fair value to their clients who wish to dispose of inherited guns. Remind them private citizens selling guns can be a tricky thing legally, particularly in some jurisdictions, and many heirs feel intimidated at the thought of navigating those waters — but you, the established dealer, can take care of it all for them quickly, painlessly and with the peace of mind of knowing everything will be on the up-and-up legally.
Thinking creatively to bring in profitable used gun inventory in a manner that gives good value to the customer who brought you the gun and the customer who buys it later, is ethical marketing at its most exemplary, and is obviously helpful to your own bottom line. It’s win-win.
This is not the most lucrative period in the history of firearms retailing, by any means. However, staying on top of what the customers want is an all-too-easily forgotten key to successful retailing. What’s selling strongly in your area? We want to hear from you, send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.