Sales to New Gun Owners

by John M. Buol Jr.

When asked about the state of gun sales in the United States Scott Blackwell, Chief Sales Officer at the Freedom Group said, “It’s about the long-term effect on the shooting sports as a whole, as well as our industry, and how we collectively can do a better job at educating, informing and ultimately leveraging all customers. Think of all the new pistol and AR-15 purchases by people who didn’t own them before. How do we as a group get them out shooting their new product more and enjoying the sport?” This growth in personal responsibility and activity is where the opportunity for the firearms industry lies: Taking those uncertain first-time gun buyers, in addition to inactive current owners, and turning them into enthusiastic participants in shooting, whatever their individual preference.

Miles Hall is the owner and founder of H&H Gun Range and Shooting Sports Complex in Oklahoma City. His facility was the first formally recognized with a Five Star rating by the National Association of Shooting Ranges. In a presentation given shortly after this achievement he attributed hosting regular organized shooting events and competitions as the primary means of his success, noting that such activity was an “A-plus necessity.”

When asked about the so-called gun sales “bubble”, he says that it has not burst but it has certainly shifted, with new customers appearing at his sales counters and continuing to return. “The clear majority of people who came in over the last two years were first time buyers. They are still in – along with their friends. Sales numbers are just under last year by single to very low double digits. When comparing to 2008 sales, 2010 was up in the mid- to high double digits. The issue is that this industry is not reconnecting to them.”

Hall has backed that position with definitive actions. For six weeks, H&H hosted free lectures on the Second Amendment led by Don Powers, a professor at UCO and former judge. The response? “It started off as a handful of people,” Hall told a local TV station, “and it has morphed into close to 100 people. That is an awakening.”

Hall also says the new shooters are definitely not the normal buyers of old and require a different mindset. “They watch the major networks, not outdoor channels and they identify with local dealers, not manufacturers, and – universally – they do not understand the shooting sports.”

That, Hall believes, is the true opportunity the industry should be addressing, saying the consumers are making it known through their actions that they want to get involved.  “We see classes booking months in advance and ranges are at capacity not just on the weekends but during the week and mid day,” he explains, ” The worry for us here is in the ability to reconnect to these folks. Advertising is the means that this group will respond to, but dealers are severely held back by low margins and little to no co-op money to buy air time.”

“I worry, Hall says, “this group – and it is in the thousands just here in Oklahoma – will move on with their lives if not made to feel wanted and welcomed. We are doing all we can, but sure could use some help.”

Read more in our April 2011 issue. Back issues are available.

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