Forget Standard Methods — Unleash New Ways To Find Inventory.
Consumers continue to empty handgun displays faster than dealers can stock them, presenting gun storeowners with a variety of unprecedented challenges. Richard Sprague, president of Sprague’s Sports in Yuma, Ariz., says he’s never encountered such high sales levels during his 40 years in the industry.
“It’s common to have people two and three deep at the counter, waiting patiently for assistance,” Sprague said. “It’s difficult to staff when you’re not sure what each day will bring. I keep expecting the demand to taper off, but it hasn’t since December.”
The extraordinary demand has created a volatile market, with dealers desperately searching for handguns to stock. Just as there are more customers purchasing handguns, there are also more dealers out searching for inventory.
“There’s more hands in the pie right now,” Sprague said. “Our industry has experienced tremendous growth. People are off the fence [concerning purchasing a firearm], and our industry has benefited from that. At the same time, there’s more dealers, ranges and buyers out buying than ever before.”
Restock The Cart
Like other dealers, Sprague has developed new, creative strategies to help him keep a healthy selection of handguns stocked and on display, which he identified as one of the top challenges dealers are facing during the surge in the market.
“It’s great to have strong sales, but you have to be able to restock the cart,” Sprague said. “I’ve started shopping through our distributors at nights, on weekends and during odd hours. What you find is 80 to 90 percent of the product is already pre-committed. That leaves very little to go out on open shelves.”
The current inventory shortage doesn’t just affect handguns and most other firearms, but also ammo, which has been difficult for dealers to stock in large enough quantities to meet demands. Sprague hopes to see ammo production within the industry increase in the near future so he can fully stock his shelves again.
“We need to get our ammunition supplies back up and fill the Grand Canyon-sized hole we have in the industry. That way, when a customer comes in wanting a case of ammo, we can actually sell it to him without worrying about running out the next week,” Sprague said.
Consider Other Brands
The lack of readily available handguns in brands Sprague would normally stock in large quantities — best-sellers like Glock, Ruger, SIG SAUER, Smith & Wesson and Springfield Armory — means he’s had to search out products he hadn’t considered in the past.
“I’m bringing in products I typically might overlook or bypass because we just need product to sell,” Sprague said. “I’ve been pleasantly surprised with some of the products, like the SAR ST10 Sarsilmaz, imported by EAA. I discovered it online and found a review that was favorable. It was a nice change-up. It felt good and the quality looked very good.”
It’s important to apply the extra effort to search out such products, Sprague said.
“Typically, you may overlook some things, because they may not grab you right off the bat, but when you bring them in and try them, pretty soon you say, ‘wow.’ The customers like it or you have some key employees who like it, and you may have overlooked a product that fills a void,” Sprague said. “That’s the beauty of being an entrepreneur and a small-business owner. You get to call the shots.”
Ultimately, Sprague said, dealers don’t have a choice but to branch out, considering the high demand for handguns. Any dealer who wants to maintain a high sales volume needs to bring in whatever is readily available; even then, finding inventory means being resourceful.
“When you go to a distributor’s website and they only have 1-percent open stock of what they normally carry, your hand is forced to try products you normally wouldn’t, just to get inventory on the shelves,” Sprague said.
Richard Sprague, president of Sprague’s Sports in Yuma, Ariz., handles a handgun sale.
He says dealers need to develop new strategies to bring in inventory.
Manufacturers report they are manufacturing firearms at a record rate, which should provide more inventory for dealers — hopefully, in the near future. Many of those products are new handguns that will further attract new and old customers alike, especially those who are interested in keeping up with the newest technological advancements in personal defense.
“We are in an industry that is highly technical and evolving,” Sprague said. “New products drive business. This industry woke up to that fact about a decade ago. I felt a very strong energy at the SHOT Show this year. Not all of the exciting new products on the market are AR-platform related. A lot of cool things in the handgun market are also coming out.”
Maintaining excellent relationships with vendors during the upswing in the handgun market is also critical to keeping shelves stocked, Sprague said. Vendors and distributors are more likely to take care of the dealers who maintain a high level of financial stability.
“Don’t assume that just because you’ve been in business for a long time and pay your bills on time means you’re going to get all the product you want,” Sprague said. “If you pay once a month, pay two to three times a month. Make sure if they have an opportunity to send you some product, you have your credit limit paid down.”
Richard Sprague’s mission statement for his operation: “To be the leading shooting
sports specialty retailer in the Southwestern United States. To set the pace in
customer service, product selection and image presentation. To make responsible
firearms ownership and training a value added standard within our industry.”
No Price Gouging
With handgun demand so high, Sprague understands it can be tempting to raise prices on both firearms and ammo. But Sprague points out it’s important to treat each new customer as a potential — and hopeful — repeat customer.
“Dealers need to not take advantage of the situation with price gouging because customers will remember that,” Sprague said. “Don’t price customers out of the market with ammo just because you have limited supply.”
Instead, Sprague recommends encouraging customers to spend in other areas, such as taking classes and training. New shooters are eager to learn and become responsible gun owners, making it critical to ensure all customers know about how they can get involved.
“You want to develop a relationship with the customer, and make sure they know of the available opportunities,” Sprague said. “They need to know our industry is under constant attack in terms of our rights and freedom. We need to provide voter registration information and encourage them to join the NRA and NSSF.”
Sprague’s website, www.spragues.com, provides consumers a wealth of information,
including details on gun safety classes and advance training that doesn’t involve range time.
While the increase in the handgun market means a flurry of new customers, it also means an influx of potential new voters who can support the protection of gun rights. Sprague prominently displays a link on his website’s homepage to Ruger’s Protect Your Rights campaign, which encourages customers to contact their legislators to voice their support for gun rights.
“I think every dealer should have this on their website,” Sprague said. “If you want to help the industry and ensure your ability to do business in the future, we all need to be active on this and become better at articulating the industry’s position.”
Despite the many challenges facing dealers right now, when it comes to handgun sales, the industry is benefiting immensely from the number of new customers who walk into gun stores every day. Sprague sees this growth as a positive sign for the health and future of the industry.
“I’m encouraged by the fact that we have this interest and activity level,” Sprague said. “That bodes well for the future. We’ve got to continue supporting the needs, demand and interest that’s out there. It’s ours to nurture or lose. I know there’s many of us out there who will seize the opportunity.”
By J.K. Autry
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