“During the pre-Obama surge, black gun dealers way over-ordered,” John May tells TTAG. “There are lots of deals out there right now. Plenty of dealers are selling AR-style rifles at cost, trying to clear out their inventory. And they’re still not moving.” You might think that Wilson Combat‘s Sales Manager would be a little concerned about the possibility of a cratering black rifle market, what with the custom gun-maker offering four products in that category: the UT-15 Tactical Carbine, M4-T Tactical Carbine, SS-15 Super Sniper and the SPR Special Purpose Rifle (hold The Jerk jokes). Not so much. May’s employer is firmly positioned at the top end of the market; all four hand-built rifles retail for $2000 and up. Bottom line: Wilson Combat’s survival doesn’t depend on volume. “We see a lot of long-term potential in the black gun market,” May says. And, to paraphrase Rick Blaine, “we’ll always have parts.”
Wilson Combat is deploying the same business strategy for its high-end, military-style rifle business as it does for its legendary 1911-style handguns. The gun-maker sells high-margin, meticulously engineered and assembled custom rifles and provides first-class customer service; protecting and maintaining the Wilson Combat brand. At the same time, they leverage their brand equity to sell a large(r) volume of lower margin, first-class parts.
“We’re concentrating on developing our own rifle parts and accessories,” May reveals. “We’re looking to create the highest quality, best designed products in the business. For example, our quad rail is significantly better than other products on the market, and our new flip-up front sight is something unique.”
The rail ($419) and sight $161.95 plus $67.95 for the sight post) are just two of thirty parts Wilson offers black rifle customers looking to buy a piece of Wilson Combat “magic”—without shelling out two-plus Grovers for the whole package. [download work form pdf here]
Meanwhile, is the Arkansas gunsmith lowering its prices to keep its rifle business looking healthy? “We don’t do discounts,” May responds flatly. “Our quality and customer service puts us at the top of the market. That’s who we are.” More specifically, “It’s a hugely competitive market out there. If you build crap, you can’t under it. You’ll never win.”