From Fast And Frenzied To Slow And Steady

How Are Long Guns Faring In New Environment?

By Tim Barker

In a story that likely rings true for most of the industry, John Stephenson, general manager of Metro Shooting Supplies in Bridgeton, Mo., recalls the turmoil faced by stores and their customers over the previous eight years. The worst of it came in the weeks following the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December 2012.

As talk in Washington, D.C., focused on the potential renewal of an assault weapons ban, sales of MSR-style rifles went off the charts. At the time, the suburban St. Louis store had some 1,000 MSRs in stock. Three weeks later, they were all gone.

“And then you couldn’t replace them,” Stephenson recalled.

It’s a different story today: “I wouldn’t call MSR sales stagnant,” he said. “But I wouldn’t call them hot either.”

The experience is similar at Arms-R-Us in Spring Creek, Nev., where co-owner Robert Buckley said there’s been a noticeable shift in the business. And that’s made it far easier to find inventory for his store.

“It’s changed dramatically in five months,” Buckley shared. “Before the election, I couldn’t get online and order an MSR. But now I can go through my wholesalers and get just about anything.”

Perhaps the best way to describe the evolution of the long-gun market over the course of just a few months is this: shoppers now have time to think before they buy. Both stores have watched this play out. Customers no longer have the looming threat of gun bans and magazine restrictions forcing them to make quick decisions.

Long-Guns-Lead

“Customers aren’t making any rash purchases,” said Stephenson of Metro Shooting. “They’re buying guns they’ve always wanted to own.”

And while some stores have reported slower business in the wake of last year’s unexpected presidential election results, Stephenson said Metro’s sales have remained brisk, with the store ahead of where it was a year ago. Sales at the store (which has nearly 9,000 square feet of retail space — and a sister store in nearby Belleville, Ill.) are still dominated by the handgun market.

Still, MSRs and home-defense shotguns are popular; bolt-action rifles aren’t much of a draw in this urban market. Still, they have seen sales of some of the higher-end rifles, including the Ruger Precision Rifle, MasterPiece Arms and the Savage 10 BA.

In the shotgun market, it’s the home-defense models attracting the most attention. Top sellers include the Remington 870, Mossberg 500 and 930 JM Pro Series.

“The most popular are the standard configuration, police models,” Stephenson observed. This includes the Mossberg 500 Persuader, with the pistol grip option — even if customers aren’t actually installing the pistol grip. “People like to have the option,” he said.

In the MSR segment, the most sought after rifles are those around the budget-friendly $700 range. Top sellers include the Smith & Wesson M&P Sport 15, Ruger AR-556 and Springfield Armory’s new Saint. In the higher-end range, standouts include the Smith & Wesson M&P 15T and rifles by Daniel Defense.

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Winchester SXP FDE

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Nosler Match Grade

Hunting, High-End Drivers

At Arms-R-Us in Nevada, rifle sales (there’s a pretty even split between MSRs and bolt-actions) are often driven by local hunting seasons. In the spring, this means a heavy emphasis on controlling pests — like ground squirrels that wreak havoc on local farms, ruining crops and digging holes, which injure cattle.

“I have people who will go out and shoot 20,000 to 40,000 squirrels every spring,” Buckley said. “They need guns and ammo; it drives rimfire sales this time of year.”

And while .22 has long been popular with those hunters, a scarcity of the cartridge has pushed many of those hunters to .17 HMR.

When the focus shifts to coyotes, hunters generally opt for .223 and .243. For deer, they choose 7mm and .30-06. Then, for the elk and other large game, it’s .300 Win. Mag.

But even without the hunting, the region’s wide open spaces are increasingly encouraging recreational shooters to consider some of the larger long-range calibers for target shooting, Buckley noted.

The store has something of an unusual dynamic, it’s located smack in the middle of gold mining country. The men and women who work in the mines make a considerable amount of money. And they tend to spend it fast.

“The amount of money in this county is pretty high as far as wage earners. Impulse buys are pretty strong,” Buckley shared.

As such, he tries to maintain a broad range of offerings in his inventory, though he has a heavy tactical emphasis. His MSRs generally run in the $600 to $1,800 range, providing options for the budget-minded buyer as well as the mineworker looking for something special.

“The family guy who’s broke a day after payday is the guy who’s buying the cheap AR,” he said. “The guy who doesn’t live paycheck to paycheck is spending $1,000 to $1,500.”

At the higher end of the scale, he’s had good luck selling rifles by LWRCI, Daniel Defense and Barrett. Popular mid-range brands include Smith & Wesson and Del-Ton. And at the lower end, he sells Diamondbacks for around $600.
“It’s a nice little gun that gets you out the door and you have an MSR,” he said.

Most of his stocking decisions, he said, are based on the prices he can get for customers, provided the gun is something he’s comfortable selling.

“I know I have to keep lower-end items in the store or I’m going out of business,” he said. “I look at what’s on sale first. I want to offer something that’s quality at a good price. I could buy cheaper MSRs, but I don’t want to sell them.”

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John Stephenson (top) and Robert Buckley have found success in offering both
entry-level and high-priced long guns to customers. A welcoming, customer-friendly
environment provides an additional storefront benefit.

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Ruger Precision Rifle

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Christensen Arms Mesa/Daniel Defense DDM4V7

Cause-Worthy Ventures

Both stores tout the importance of strong customer service, particularly in an environment that could become increasingly competitive without fear-driven buying. Arms-R-Us offers CCW classes aimed at women, aimed at women and also supports local youth clubs.

And back in Missouri, Metro Shooting offers an occasional “Ladies’ Night” with discounts for women. They’ve also sponsored a youth shooting team and offer free range time for kids under the age of 12.

They’re also making a push to be more involved in social media, particularly Facebook, Stephenson said.
“Now we have a guy who keeps his eye on it full time, we’re seeing the use of it step up,” he said.

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