By Jade Moldae
Entering the final four months of 2019, uncertainty continues to be a formidable force facing dealers, range operators, wholesalers, manufacturers and importers. By many measures, this year has been, largely, a challenging one for the industry with softened sales. Recent devastating shootings in Gilroy, Calif., El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio, have further added complexities to the market — along with renewed calls for political action against gun rights.
A Mixed Bag
Throughout this year, positive news has been tempered by the realities of the market.
NSSF-adjusted NICS background checks have been trending below recent years, with year-over-year decreases in three of the first four months of 2019. However, since May, there has been a three-month streak posting increases in background checks over 2018’s corresponding months. As of July 31, 7,072,546 NSSF-adjusted background checks have been conducted — still tracking below previous years, but the recent uptick is welcome.
Two of the industry’s prominent public firearms companies — American Outdoor Brands Corp. (AOBC) and Sturm, Ruger & Co. — reported contrasting results in their latest quarterly financial announcements. June 19, AOBC announced increases in its Q4 2019 (2.2%, $172 million to $175.7 million) and 2019 net sales (5.2%, from $606.9 million to $638.3 million). July 31, Ruger reported net sales for the company’s Q2 2019 sales were $96.3 million — down 25% from the corresponding year’s quarter ($128.4 million).
While United Sporting Co. filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy June 10, both Davidson’s and Chattanooga Shooting Supplies Inc. have announced aggressive expansions this year to better serve dealers.
It’s certainly a mixed bag, but progressive dealers aren’t sitting on their hands waiting to see a turnaround.
“We’ll be having a Labor Day sale, Black Friday sale and, of course, a Christmas sale. Right now, it seems those dealers willing to go that ‘extra step’ in deals and service are reaping the rewards,” said Clay Ausley, owner of Fuquay Gun in Fuquay-Varina, N.C. “The Debbie Downer dealer waiting on business to just increase … well, they may be waiting awhile.”
We asked several dealers to share their insights on what products are currently popular with customers — and their plans for “gearing up” for the end-of-the-year buying season.
“We anticipate a boost in concealable handguns — especially those in 9mm,” said Mitchell Tyler, co-owner and VP of SafeSide Tactical in Roanoke, Va. “We also believe there will be an increased focus on live-fire range training for those looking to shoot for the first time or increase their proficiency with a firearm.”
Handguns also figure to be a prominent driver of sales at Manitowoc, Wis.-based T&L Tactical, according to Co-Owner Laurie Fettig.
“Handguns for home defense and concealed carry is what we anticipate will continue to sell throughout the year,” she lends. “With our concealed carry courses selling out three months in advance, this is where people are spending their dollars. Our instructors are investing in additional training to expand our course offerings, as well.”
“Right now, it seems those dealers willing
to go that ‘extra step’ in deals and
service are reaping the rewards.”
Clay Ausley, Owner
At the Georgia Gun Club, General Manager Wade Cummings plans on stocking “hot” items this buying season.
“The hot new items are always trendy during the holiday season,” he said. “Personal protection and affordable (under $500), concealable 9mm pistols are also popular holiday doorbusters.”
Jason Gentz, manager at Arnzen Arms (Eden Prairie, Minn.), revealed his end-of-the-year outlook.
“No one category has been showing huge promise for growth this year. Pistols are always top performers, and I think they’re always good to focus on for higher inventory levels,” he noted.
Jared Sloane, Shoot Smart operations director (a three-store chain located in the Dallas-Fort Worth area), says customers aren’t looking for anything in particular — price is more of a factor.
“Can’t say I have customers talking about any interests they have, other than looking for more bargain deals and keeping the cost of ammo cheap,” he shared.
Boosting Foot Traffic
While stocking trending products is an important part of expanding interest from customers, events and community engagement serve as reliable strategies for encouraging in-store visits.
Tyler announced plans to incorporate specials in concert with NSSF’s National Shooting Sports Month (NSSM), which took place during the entirety of August.
“We’re rolling out dozens of specials for NSSM, but looking toward the fall we’ll be taking advantage of manufacturer ‘takeover’ days where we feature a particular brand on the sales floor and offer free rentals (with ammo and range time) for customers to try out the brand,” he said.
Fettig shared her store will be taking advantage of another NSSF program, encouraging her customers to participate in the +ONE mentorship initiative.
“Throughout the next few months we plan on continuing the NSSF’s +ONE campaign, which encourages customers to bring one new person to the range with them. We’ve slashed our guest prices for the range by 50% to encourage shooter participation,” she relayed.
Anniversary events also represent a ready-made platform to host customers; Arnzen Arms will be holding an event in honor of its seventh anniversary this fall.
“We always have our anniversary event in the fall, and have around 20 of our main manufacturers in-store. Our customers really appreciate the opportunity to meet them,” Gentz noted. “We’re also considering doing an off-site rifle sight-in event prior to hunting season.”
Cummings highlighted package deals come into focus for his store during end-of-the-year buying.
“In light of the holiday buying season we
create package deals that include common accessories like cleaning kits, cases,
ammo and ear/eye protection with gun purchases. This year we’ll also feature
air rifles and accessories as well for the
next generation of shooters,” he added.
Carmen Lout, assistant manager of the range at Shooters World, revealed the Florida-based chain opened its third location in Orlando — with a Grand Opening weekend event Sept. 6–8. She believes a top-class facility is key to bringing in customers of all experience levels.
“Each Shooters World location offers a state-of-the-art indoor training range, firearms training facility and retail showroom — a one-stop shop for novice and experienced shooters alike,” she said. “The Orlando location is 74,000 square feet and features 58 lanes, including a 100-yard rifle range with nine lanes able to accommodate up to .50 caliber.”
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