There is a lot to celebrate these days if you are pro-gun. Restrictive firearms laws are dropping across the country, gun manufacturers are so busy that some are freezing new orders to work through their backlog and the average person on the street is less likely to run screaming to the nearest cop if you accidentally flash your concealed carry piece (depending, of course, on what state you live in). Unfortunately, the gun boom has a dark side, too . . .

The supply of many new guns is getting scarce, which in turn is driving up the prices of used ones. Gun manufacturers are not as concerned about holding down MSRPs as long as they can sell everything they make and gun dealers are not as anxious to offer too much in the way of discounts from MSRP, especially for the really popular guns. On top if this, if you want to purchase a Class III device, the ATF wait times are stretching into the 6+ month range.

On top of this, there seems to be a rising arrogance on the part of some gun retailers, particularly the ones that have been established for some time. This approach reminds me a lot of what happened during the cigar boom of the 1990’s. For those who don’t recall, cigars became a key fashion accessory among the movers and shakers and nearly every male celebrity (and some female ones) graced the cover of Cigar Aficionado magazine at some point during the decade.

Good cigars got insanely expensive (assuming you could find them) and some manufacturers took advantage of the environment by pumping out crap. Along with this, the attitude of the owners of  many long-time cigar shops shifted into what I can best describe as thinly veiled contempt for their customers. Customer service was non-existent – just as in that Seinfeld Soup Nazi episode, you came in, placed your order, paid and got out. No idle chit chat.

I’m seeing a similar trend developing in my local area where firearms are concerned. Some of the established gun shops are really displaying outright contempt for their customers and quite frankly, I think this is a bad plan. To wit, I recently decided to take my brand spanking new gun trust out for a spin to get the paperwork started for a .22 suppressor. As near  as I can tell, there are only two Class III dealers within a couple hour drive and here’s what happened:

Dealer #1

I called and was told that the owner was out and he would call me back. Never happened.  While I understand that given the complexities of the NFA, the owner would want to be involved in every NFA-related transaction, there seems to me to be no good reason why his staff couldn’t at least tell me what the shop has in stock. The next day, I was in the area and swung by the shop. No suppressors in stock, but a shipment was on order.

Customer Service Grade – D.  No call back and insufficiently educated sales staff.

Dealer #2

Dealer #2 has been a fixture in the area for nearly 50 years.  They have an established reputation, not all of it good. I called the store on Tuesday to inquire if they had the suppressor I wanted in stock. The person who answered the phone had to ask someone else, but at least he answered my question – they did.

Based upon the price I was quoted, either the shop is offering a deal that undercuts the best Internet prices by 50% or else he got the names of the products confused.  That said, it was at least worth my driving up to the store the next day. When I arrived, I was told that just like the other store, I needed to deal with the owner to purchase a suppressor. At the time, the owner had three people in his office and a call on hold. Since the boss was so busy, I said that I would just call the next day and make an appointment.

The next day, I called in the morning and the boss was again busy so I left my name and number. I also called a couple of hours later and left a message on his voice mail (just in case the person who took it down lost it). I told him I was interested in purchasing a suppressor and would like to make and appointment to come to the store to do it. A day later, still no call back.

Customer Service Grade – F – Really, you don’t want my money? Seriously?

Unfortunately, in my state, I’m kind of screwed. I’m going to have to deal with one of these two outfits if I want to purchase the product I’m looking for. I really think that there’s an opportunity here for someone who is not an assclown to get into the Class III business. As  was the case during the cigar boom, new stores entered the market that actually paid attention to customer service and, once the boom eased, they did better as the customers remembered them.

Perhaps something similar will happen in the firearms business. I already channel a lot of my non-Class III purchasing through a local guy who does this part time and charges less than the big guys and is more focused on customer service than they are. If some of the little guys decide to get into the Class III biz, we might just have something here.

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46 Responses to Customer Disservice: The Dark Side of the Gun Boom

  1. I’ve also heard that QC is down across the board. New builds of many models from many manufacturers are of lesser quality than those built 10-15 years ago.

    • I can attest to this. I have 2 guns at their respective manufactures at the moment, both of which were produced in ’12 (A Ruger SR22 and a GSG-1911). Ruger at least paid for the shipping. ATI wanted no part of it.

      Now it’s a waiting game to see how they handle my issues and what kind of turnaround I’m looking at.

        • And 2 years more than Ruger, if you read their included no-warranty card (though by all accounts, they do warrant. It’s just not advertised).

          Even with a 2 year warranty on the ATI, the gun was purchased 4 weeks ago.

    • Case in point, the 870 Express. My brother’s is built like a tank. He bought it in the 80s. I handled a brand new one yesterday….trash.

    • If you would like an example of poor QC, then just check out my review of the LCR .22LR on the gun review page.

      To be fair, Ruger was going to pay to have my gun shipped to them and look at it.

      I had just lost my patience with the gun and got rid of it.

  2. I haven’t seen customer service that bad. My favorite shop is very well known for the great service and friendly atmosphere. It is the kind of place where there may be two or three guys may sit down and hang around. The owner is a close family friend, I was taught by both of his kids in high school, and his wife in Sunday school. But I see every time I go into his shop, the way the staff treats me is not an exception. Courteous to everyone. Big reason why I like to shop at the Mom an’ Pop where I actually know the Mom and the Pop.

  3. I’ve been hearing that BATF is dragging their feet on the necessary paperwork for suppressors- what used to be a 60-90 day processing period is now at 9+ months.

    While it does not excuse lousy customer service, it does explain why “a guy who wants a suppressor” is likely to be a lower priority than someone in the shop ready to buy something that day.

    • You heard wrong. It’s 6 months, and it’s obviously demand-driven delays:
      http://www.randominfo.net/NFA/WaitTimeTrend.php

      They’ve got like a dozen examiners. There’s only so much they can do every day. I read that someone at SHOT who talked to them there said that they were talking about hiring more examiners, but that’s not going to be a short term solution.

    • Since most class 3 dealers make you pay for suppressors in full the day you initially fill out the Form 4, that is not an excuse. And really, does it take that long to make a phone call? I spent a lot of money there in the past. No more.

  4. Aside rom holding product waiting on the paperwork and a higher license fee, is there something else that prevents a lot of dealers from getting their class III license?

    • Maybe greater scrutiny from ATF. If you are making enough money on regular sales where is the need to go class III?

  5. Some of the terrible customer service may be due to excessive demand.

    I regularly purchase bulk reloads from two large sources; one has always had outstanding customer service, good prices, great quality, and always delivered quickly, but was somewhat more expensive than my other source.

    The second source offers excellent quality reloads and the best prices that I could find, but is remiss in answering emails or posts on its Facebook page, charges credit cards at the time of order, and has such a tremendous backlog of unfilled orders that estimated delivery dates are no longer even posted. I am still waiting for my February order of a case of .45. In early March I trustingly ordered a case of .40 with an ETA of mid-April. Both of my orders are listed on the website as “In Process”, and they assure me and the others that they are indeed coming, but cannot give an estimated delivery date. On this company’s Facebook page the manager apologetically states that he will no longer give estimated dates as not to upset loyal customers when the ammo is not delivered in time. In its defense, they do process credit card refunds when orders are cancelled, which (according to Facebook) is occurring with more frequency.

  6. This sounds just like Nagel’s in San Antonio. They’ve been around for 75 years, but the store in stacked floor to ceiling with empty boxes, classes of ammo are haphazardly strewn around in the already narrow and cluttered walkways… And if you are allergic to cigarette smoke, you will probably die in this place.
    The employees are reasonably knowledgeable, but rude as hell.
    Lastly, their pricing system seems to consist of taking the MSRP and tacking on another 25%.

    • A year ago, I would have agreed with you regarding Nagel’s customer service. I had to practically tackle and hog-tie a salesman to buy a gun. However, the last time I was in there I was accosted by at least three salesmen wanting to give me a hand. The ownership must have received their fill of complaints as their customer service has taken a turn for the better, although how long that lasts is anyone’s guess.

      As to the subject of this article, with the elections coming up and the possibility of four more years of the Obama regime, gun, ammunition and accessory sales have skyrocketed to the point that the manufacturers can’t keep up with demand, much less the local retailers. Sorry you got overlooked in your two attempts, but quit your whining and keep after it.

  7. I don’t know that it has gotten worse. Of the three shops I generally go to the two that I like I still like and the one that I don’t has been crappy for decades. YMMV as they say.

  8. Customer Service and overall quality are declining as usually occurs when it is a sellers market. I’m going to the gun show today. My observations are that it isn’t just gun prices that are higher. So are prices for knives and other related self-defense, shooting, and survival gear and accessories. I used to buy local to support the local economy and merchants. Now, I no longer have that local Portland attitude. If the Internet provides a better deal then I’ll buy there. I purchased a Becker knife recently off the Internet for 25% less (and that includes shipping) than what the local gun show vendor wanted (and that does not include the $8 entrance fee to the gun show to buy their wares).

    • I’m with you; there aren’t too many places to love in the Portland area. I order guns online, based on price, and have them delivered to my gunsmith/FFL. I save *at least* 25% off the best LGS price this way.

      I value in-person customer service, but there’s no way I’m going to pay an extra $100 just to get 20 minutes of an employee’s time to show me the gun and fill out the papers. My gunsmith will do that for a flat $20.

  9. I’ve found customer service to be very dependent on the location. Some shops were always terrible, and a select few around here have had great service even when they were packed to the gills on a Saturday afternoon.

    However, it’s true that as demand goes up, their need to keep every customer happy goes down. Hopefully, new stores will sprout up and foster competition, the cornerstone of the free market, and the only thing that makes good customer service necessary. Which also happens to be why anything government-controlled is a disaster waiting to happen.

    Can’t have too many gun stores.

  10. Maybe it’s all an indication that the firearm business in general needs an overhaul to bring it into the 21st century? Every other business went through the pains of integrating internet ordering, shipping, tracking, customer service, inventory control etc. that came from the competition of global manufacturing. The firearm business is still stuck in the 1950s for the most part. There is only one shop here in my state that I could say is “modern” in terms of customer service, product knowledge, and inventory. Most of the others still operate like the Edsel is fashionable.

    • It’s funny you say that because a shop out in PA that I buy from regularly does the whole form 4473 process on computers now. I guess some of them are upgrading, but think about how backwards and stuck in the past the ATF is with everything. I mean, NICS checks are still dialed in over a phone and everyone still has to fill out mountains of paperwork.

    • And that’s because the BATFE(ARBF) still requires that they drive a Model T.

      The problem of modernazation (or the lack thereof) amongst gun dealers is a direct result of federal, state, and local regulations placed on gun dealers.

  11. I’m going to purchase a suppresor soon and I’m sort of dreading dealing with the local stores, I’m not too keen on any of them.

    I think there are two suppresor manufacturer’s in this town, so I hope that means I can contact the mand get one of their prefered local dealers.

    • If you purchase a suppressor that is made locally, does the federal government have any say? I know a lot of their regulations are based on inter-state commerce.

      • uncommon_sense, the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, which has been passed by more than one state, attempts to answer this question. It will be litigated to death before we know. Meanwhile, keep your eyes on the Obamacare case now being decided by SCOTUS. The opinion may tell us a lot about a lot.

    • The FFL required to manufacture firearms also allows the holder to deal in firearms; thus, if the manufacturer has paid their SOT, they can sell directly to you, assuming you reside in the same state.

  12. Gun shops have a captive market, the laws and rules on guns make it dicey to buy privately which steers customers in. The profits made on trade ins, consignment, and accessories are huge. If the internet was able to compete more a lot of these small time retailers would be gone, and then people would bitch about the Amazon or Walmart effect on small business.

    When Walmart and KMart quit selling guns this was a huge opportunity for the self owned gun shops. Look how much business for inexpensive GP hunting guns came their way and paid too much for a Remington 870 or some other common firearm.

    Subsequently don’t expect customer service when they are moving product on one end and dealing with ATF regulations on the other. Maybe we should be glad it’s all even possible at all.

    • Where I live there are actually two Walmarts within a few miles that sell guns. 🙂

      Unfortunately, the gun stores around here all seem to suck – way overpriced, not a comfortable atmosphere, yadda yadda.

      FWIW, online deals on guns are popping up left and right now from what I can see. Frankly the only real reason I can see for more people not buying online is the typical demographic range of gun buyers.

  13. *shrugs* My suppressor purchase in early January here in MD was pleasant enough. Gave the shop my money, a copy of the trust, and a check for the Feds, and they did the rest (well, except for the parts of the form I had to fill out, no foul there). Terrific price, too, beat the Internet substantially.

    Part of the key to better service is to go to the shop at off-peak time. A weekday (excluding Friday evening) is going to be way better than the weekend. You go when the place is packed, there’s only so much they can do for you.

  14. If the Cigar Boom is an example, a lot of these merchants/suppliers will be gone in 15 years. Meanwhile, the product itself is better than ever and (not counting the strip mall guys selling meth pipes/cigarettes with a cigar humidor nearby) customer service and prices are fabulous. Boom/bust cycles are a matter of human nature, and those folk who think differently will rue the day.

  15. There’s still good customer service to be had out there. I bought some Trijicon HD sights from James Nicholas at XD-HS2000.com and had him install them. He provided great service. Answered all my questions, maintained great communication at all times, and did a fantastic job. Really fast turn around and great prices too. A great experience in every regard, and I’m extremely happy. He works with all kinds of pistols, not just XDs.

  16. I’m fortunate to have two gun stores in Massachusetts that I really like and where I know that I will be well-treated. However, my local store is not one of them.

  17. It’s not just storefront dealer, there are some distributors and mass-producer manufacturers who are treating the retail dealers like what you’d scrape off your shoe…

    As for the decrease in quality, we’re also seeing it with the guns we transfer through. If you’re in the market for a gun, the used quality older models are often a much better deal than many NIB firearms. Even better, in most states you can purchase privately, cash and carry – and yes, I’m saying that as an FFL holder.

  18. I have some gun shops that are a good ole boy network and could care less if you bought a gun. Some of them are knowledgeable and some not. I have one store that really does want to move the iron, but the knowledge of the sales force is uneven.
    I have a Bass Pro shop that has a wide selection and good prices. Salesmen are uneven.
    Right now may not be the best time to get a new gun. It might not be a bad time to get a used gun.

  19. It seems to me by your writing, the owners think the customer is there to help them not the other way around. Bad business is bad business. Tell them bothh if they are unwilling to treat you the way you deserve as a customer you will either drive further to get what you need or open you own shop to compete. As a businessman myself I can’t imagine treating a customer or potential customer that way. Just my two cents worth.

  20. I thought it might just be my imagination that the quality of currently manufactured guns is down from 10-15 years ago. From the above postings I have not been hallucinating. I have not bought anything of new manufacture in a long time, and I’m not sorry.

  21. I live in Huntsville,al. there are several gun stores here, but the best one is Larry’s Pistol and Pawn. The service is outstanding. The prices are better than anywhere else within 200 miles. The sales personnel are knowledgeable and very helpful.They sale all brands of firearms as well as suppressors. If you want something and they don’t have it , they will try to get it for you.The parking lot is always full and sometimes, there is hardly room to stand in the store.You would have to see it to believe it.

    • +1

      I think Larry’s is the best shop in Alabama. They are so popular on sales days you have local PD directing traffic. Their pricing is around what you would pay at Buds.

  22. Hey , howabout this? After the Revolution to restore the Republic we also restore the second amendment to its former glory as well! Why pay out the nose if you can just order it yourself and wait for UPS to drop it off! Oh Id just love to see class 3 s come down in price too! Remember $485 for a transferable M16? Sure to piss of the vested interest crowd but tough toenails . 🙂 Legalize freedom or face its enemies on the field of battle, and folks that is right around the corner!

  23. Customer service is horrible across all businesses. There is no excuse for it.

    It appears that the author is also complaining about the free market. The only reason to sell a product for less than MSRP is because the product will not sell at MSRP. The reason to sell a product for more than MSRP is because customers are willing to pay for it. The S in MSRP stands for suggested. This country was built on free market capitalism. We have evolved into crony capitalism. Firearms are one of the few bastions of almost free market capitalism left in this country. We should be happy about that. Over-regulation is the only thing stopping it from being a true free market. History has shown that we are all to lazy to prevent further regulation let alone turn back what we already have.

    • You meant to say “Crony Socialism.”

      Also, there is a difference between selling guns at market prices, an just marking them up because they will still sell.

      This is to say that there is a difference between pricing based on supply and demand, and pricing based on captive markets.

      The author is complaining about the facts of a captive market, not about true capitalism.

  24. HSR47 wrote: “Also, there is a difference between selling guns at market prices, an just marking them up because they will still sell.”

    There is? If I was a manufacturer of something that was flying off the shelves at x dollars what is the most logical thing for me to do? A: Do nothing and have people complaining that I’m not producing enough and eventually have them give up and buy from a competitor. B: Increase production which may mean hiring more people, having them work overtime, paying more for raw materials etc which in turns causes me to raise the sales price in order to keep making a profit.

    Say I’m a retailer of the previous item and it is flying off the shelves at price x. What is the logical thing for me to do? A: Do nothing and put up with complaining customers who may go somewhere else resulting in lost revenue or at best ticking off my loyal customers but not providing them with the goods they want. B: Raising my sales price (if the manufacturer hasn’t already raised theirs) which will force some buyers out of the market or force them to pay more than they wanted but it still allows anyone, if they are willing and able to pay to get their product. Demand will go down and supply will go up in my store and those that can pay will get the product.

    The only rational option for the manufacturer or retailer is B. It’s also the best option for the consumer as the price doesn’t matter if nobody has what you want in stock. If the manufacture and the retailer follow option B, though, what you want will be available if you’re able to pay the price.

    People are always complaining about evil corporations and gouging but rarely do they mention that the free market is a two-way street. Companies are free to charge what they want and are in fact obligated to make as much money as possible. Consumers are free to buy from whomever they want and if they are being gouged or taken advantage of they should cease doing business with those companies and eventually the company will either change its tune or fail. That’s capitalism. Consumers are not entitled to the lowest price on products.

    There are captive markets all over the place but they still live by supply and demand. I fail to see why you even brought this up.

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