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By Tim Barker

It’s funny how much can change in a single day.

Marlon Knapp remembers the way eager buyers flocked to his store — Knapp Weaponry in Wichita, Kan. — in the days leading up to the November presidential election.

“That Monday and Tuesday, we literally had a line out the door,” Knapp recalled. “By Thursday, it was tumbleweeds and crickets.”

Now, Knapp (along with pretty much every other gun shop owner in the nation) is dealing with what we might call a return to normalcy. Gone are the days of panic buying, when news events had the power to fuel a frenzy of purchases aimed at getting ahead of potential new restrictions on the ownership of guns and related items.

As of May, Knapp estimated his handgun sales were down 15 percent in the wake of the election. Everyone has a theory as to why, exactly, the demand has fallen so quickly. Some blame it on the pre-election surge. Shoppers were spending money, according to the theory, they didn’t yet have. If so, it could take a few months for those shoppers to pay off their credit card bills before buying again.

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Knapp, however, worries the overbuying trend may have extended well beyond the two months leading up to the election.
“I would stretch that out over the last eight years,” he stated. “People have overbought. But now they can breathe a sigh of relief.”

Looking around his own town, Knapp sees plenty of reasons to support his theory. In 2013, there were 62 gun shops in the Wichita area. Three years later, the number had ballooned to 90. And now that trend is likely to reverse itself.
“I’ve already seen several stores close,” Knapp said. “We are back to the pre-Obama types of purchases.”

A similar story is told by Paul Bastean, managing director of Ultimate Defense Firing Range & Training Center in St. Peters, Mo., a suburb of St. Louis. The shop has seen handgun sales fall 14 percent from the previous May.

“I think it’s a return to normalization. People aren’t scared. There’s no sense of urgency,” said Bastean, who opened his store in 2010. “A lot of times, they just need a reason. With Trump in office, people have lost that mental justification. They see no reason why they can’t wait until later.”

Christensen Arms A4

SIG P320

The Staples Deliver

Back in Wichita, Knapp’s handgun sales are also dominated by concealed carry and home defense. “We do see some target shooting, but it’s the minority,” said Knapp, who’s been in business nearly seven years.

His top sellers consist of the M&P Shield, GLOCK 19 and 43 and the Ruger SR9c. At the lower end, it’s the S&W Sigma in 9mm or .40 cal. And not surprisingly, the SIG SAUER P320 has become very popular following news it was chosen to be the Army’s new sidearm.

“It was instantaneous. As soon as they saw the military went with the P320, they were burning up the phones. We sold everything we had in stock in two days,” Knapp shared. “They have the ‘tacti-cool’ factor.”

For now, Knapp Weaponry has had no trouble maintaining a steady supply of the popular guns. But Knapp wonders if this will change once SIG starts ramping up its military deliveries.

Looking at what’s coming out this year, Knapp has seen customer interest in several new guns — including the new CZ P-10 C and (while not a handgun) Mossberg’s pump-action Shockwave, a 12-ga. with a 14-inch barrel.

Most of this year’s offerings he considers fairly typical. “But the Shockwave was pretty unexpected. We’ve got four to five people on the pre-order list,” Knapp said.

Colt Cobra

FN 509

Attracting New Customers

So how do you thrive — or even survive — in this new environment? Both men talked about the importance of providing strong customer service and using social media to reach new customers.

To get people in the door, Knapp has increased the store’s social media presence, with accounts on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, as well as a standard website.

“We’re very active. We try to post at least three times a week,” he added.

Posts include updates on new inventory, including a “just out of jail” feature for used guns now available for sale. They also encourage customers to spread the word about the store through social media, with discounts available for those who share mentions of the store.

But getting new customers to the shop is just the first hurdle. You also need to make them feel comfortable. So, Knapp instituted a feature that might seem a little odd at first: “There’s no exterior door handle. We have to walk over and let customers in,” he shared.

This is meant as more than a security measure. It’s part of the store’s effort to make sure everyone feels welcome. Every customer through the door gets a greeting: “The biggest complaint customers have is being ignored,” Knapp said.
Ultimate Defense in Missouri is also making a strong social media push, with Facebook and Instragram accounts. They encourage customers to post photos from the range. “We get a tremendous amount of new clients that way,” Bastean informed.

As is the case for many dealers, Ultimate Defense Managing Director Paul Bastean
sees the concealed-carry segment as a primary driver of handgun sales. The S&W M&P
Shield, GLOCK 43 and Springfield Armory XD-S are among his top sellers.

Image Courtesy of Browning

The store also works to broaden its appeal beyond the traditional market. Much of that is in the attitude of the employees, he said. But they’ve also designed the shop as a well-lit, modern retail environment. “They won’t see a bunch of dead animals on the wall when they first come in,” Bastean stated.

This is one of the things that makes the store more accessible to women. But the treatment of female customers is key. “What women want is to be comfortable,” he said. “They don’t want to be talked down to.”

The store also relies on special events to help generate traffic. These can be the typical industry-type events, featuring gun manufacturers. But on the more creative side, Ultimate Defense offers special range events that have proven quite popular.

Those have included a “Shoot the Mannequin” weekend, where a dummy was brought out on the range every hour. There was the “Kill Your Office Machine” day when people were allowed to bring in office supplies (laptops, cell phones, printers, etc.) for stress relief on the range. And then there was a July 4th event featuring watermelons. That one, Bastean said with a laugh, was a little crazy: “What a huge mistake. It took two-and-a-half hours with a pressure washer to clean the range.”

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