March 4, 2013
Bare Shelves Mean Tough Times
The opening line in the Charles Dickens novel A Tale of Two Cities pretty much sums up the situation in the retail gun business these days:
"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way - in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only."
If you have product to sell, you're blessed with retail customers who aren't shopping for price, they're seeking product. And they're snapping up almost anything offered, especially ammunition.
Consider then, the small, individually-owned gun shops looking at bare shelves, disgruntled customers, and the constant costs of operating a business when the business has nothing to sell.
For these small stores, times are, indeed, bleak.
They're too-small to hope for any aid from manufacturers when it comes to product allocation. Their sales reps might want to help, there's just not enough product to go around. And a cold fact of business is that in high demand, bigger customers get the priority handling.
So the continuing boom in the firearms industry may actually be the death knell for even more of the country's already endangered mom-and-pop stores.
Small town downtowns are already dead. Today, big box retailers supply the community needs. One of the few remaining areas of small business- the single location gun shop- is now in danger.
Imagine facing business failure during the highest demand for their products -ever. It's the equivalent of starving while standing in a buffet line.
Granted, larger retailers are feeling the pinch, too, but they have other products. When relief finally does come, it simply won't arrive in time to save the small shops.
Last week's canvassing of retailers across the country sounds eerily like a group of political operatives parroting the party line. But I know better. Over the past three weeks, I have talked with retailers in four states scattered across the country. They're all facing the same challenges: none of the highest-demand products - modern sporting rifles and small, concealable personal protection handguns, and ammo shelves that look like Mother Hubbard's cubbard. Some tell of customers coming by or calling on the slim chance that something may have arrived since their last visit.
Oklahoma City's H&H Shooting Sports Complex is one of those large single location facilities where founder and president Miles Hall is amazingly forthcoming about how his business is doing. "As of the time of this email," Hall wrote to me, "we have 41 Smith & Wesson guns in the building. Given that we sell thousands of guns every year, it is clear that this is a problem."
And the "problem" - a shortage of product is beginning to be felt at his ranges, too. Shooters are still coming to ranges across the country in record numbers, but limiting their shooting time, downscaling their calibers (.22 rimfire is in VERY short supply now), and trying to stretch their dwindling ammo supplies without sacrificing their practice time.
We all realize that it takes trigger time to maintain skills, but I'm getting lots of reader inquires about workable alternatives for practice without live ammunition.
That's the motivation behind our work on a series of special features to try and help readers finding practice time slipping because of ammo shortages. We're shooting everything from airsoft to air guns and I'm taking another practice system with me to a shooting event this week. I'm no different that you when it comes to empty ammo boxes.
The supply problem, despite what some might try to tell you, is real; not contrived. So we're talking to instructors and pro shooters to bring you some proven alternatives to live-fire practice.
As we work to bring you that information, as always, we'll keep you posted.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Have a practice technique, tool or suggestion for fellow shooters?
If so, we invite you to share them with us. Send your suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org and you might find your tip included in our series of "helps" for readers. After all, none of us is as smart as all of us, right?