We in the retail side of the business have been SLAMMED. To boil it down, the industry has taken a deluge of orders and there’s not enough product to go around. That includes both guns and ammunition.
But there are a few things sticking out that should be highlighted regarding how the industry is reacting to the fear, uncertainty and doubt going around. Let’s start with what’s staying the same.
From a federal regulatory standpoint, nothing has changed. For those who are wondering (and there are a lot of you out there…I’m getting your phone calls) that means:
- Firearms will NOT be delivered to your door
- Firearms will NOT be delivered without a background check
- 4473’s will still be filled out on licensed premises or legal extensions. (Gun shows are the most common extension, but with most states barring large gatherings….all your business is being done in-store.)
From a state regulatory standpoint, some things have changed depending on where you live.
Governors are either opening or closing firearm retailers’ doors (thankfully most are now open now). States are either strongly suggesting or mandating that all work be done by appointment only with appropriate spacing between people.
Many stores are screening these customers ahead of time. Some are even trying to make sure customers do not have flu-like symptoms before being allowed in their stores.
These are all reasonable and workable scenarios that small business owners can accommodate with some extra work to prevent contagion from spreading. I’ve spoken to a number of retailers who’ve said that they actually prefer the appointment-only model.
At the same time we are facing a few real catch-22 situations.
If a governor orders firearm retailers closed, they get sued and draw the ire of the NRA/SAF/FPC and gun owners. But what happens when the stores stay open? This is a classic case of dammed if you do, damned if you don’t.
In my area, there are a number of large chain firearm retailers and a number of large ranges that do a lot of CCW classes and group events. With a massive amount of foot traffic coming on the retail side — many from new gun owners — there are a lot of people wanting to schedule CCW classes.
If a range is still holding those classes (maintaining the necessary distances between people) they then send the paperwork off to state offices…that are closed and won’t process them. Does it make sense to continue the classes before the state offices reopen?
Then there’s the risk. With the high demand for guns and customers still lining up to buy firearms, how do you balance the health risks, for yourself, your customers and for your employees?
Should I, as a business owner, risk getting sick — either myself or my staff — right now? From a business perspective, is that risk worth it just to make a few extra bucks?
Here’s another consideration: let’s say a customer later develops flu-like symptoms, tests positive, and then state officials show up and tell me that person said they spent X amount of time on my range or in my store while they were contagious. They may tell me I should shut down and disinfect the place. That’s not an inexpensive proposition.
Let’s take that worst-case scenario one step further. If the local media find out that someone tested positive and spent time on the range and in the store and they report it, I’m not sure the old adage of “all publicity is good publicity” really applies.
I don’t think many customers will knowingly walk through your doors for weeks, if not longer. They will treat your location as radioactive for an extended period of time, I don’t care how many Lysol wipedowns the staff may have done.
At a certain point, the juice isn’t worth the squeeze. I’ve talked with some other friends in the industry and we are all seeing the same thing. Some small business owners are making the decision to close because they are prioritizing their health and that of their staff.
It’s a call each dealer has to make for him or herself.
And let’s face it…a lot of those dealers are out of inventory with no vendor likely to resupply them in the next two weeks or so. What good does staying open right now really do for them?
What we’re seeing now in the industry is also a whole bunch of really angry people. They’re upset that for 14+ days their online orders for firearms and ammunition have not shipped out.
This is due to a few factors, mostly order volume. The next reason is that many online merchants utilize drop shipping from manufacturers themselves and they never had the item in stock to begin with. Finally there’s magnitude of demand right now — we haven’t seen anything like this in quite a while, if ever.
We are seeing dealers who won’t do transfers because the juice isn’t worth the squeeze. First there’s the manpower issue; there aren’t enough hands to deal with the customers in the store, let alone process transfers for online sales. Also, it isn’t worth it to make $20 or $30 and risk staff health. Many dealers are simply becoming more risk-averse.
Who gets angry about all of this? The folks without a gun, that’s who.
Just today, I had five conversations with people who have ordered guns from online vendors and they’re angry that they haven’t been given any shipping dates.
I’ve heard that many of dealers aren’t even answering their phones because they are so busy. So not only are some buyers out of pocket for the guns, they don’t know when the product will ship. And if they haven’t done their homework, the gun(s) might be going to an FFL that is closed now. They may not be able to call the vendor to try and change the FFL on the order because nobody is picking up the phone.
There’s only one thing worse than not having a gun — paying for a gun that’s due to be shipped to a gun dealer that might not be open or able to finalize delivery to you.
I’ve never been sure why someone would pay for a gun online without getting a shipping date but many people do. While the answer used to be “because it was cheap,” now the answer is “they were the only seller who had the gun I wanted.”
So, what happens when the regular retailers close? A lot of the home-based kitchen table FFL’s are still doing transfers…right?
Maybe not so much.
I’ve talked about kitchen table FFL’s in the past and the experiences vary quite a bit. Most people who have a kitchen table FFL do it as a side job and many are aggressively practicing social distancing.
What does that mean for gun owners? The same thing it meant before all this happened: failing to plan is planning to fail.
The entire business model of internet gun-buying has relied on just-in-time inventory, predictable shipping windows and someone on the other end to crack open the box, run the A/D book and process the 4473.
With everything going on in the world, there are no predictable shipping window now. There may or may not be someone on the other end to receive the package. They may or may not have the ability to get a background check cleared and they may or may not be willing to deal with the risk of getting sick.
Some people call it bad business, but in reality, this is the new normal. And with states extending shelter-in-place orders and the potential for unemployment and crime to skyrocket, the demand for guns and ammo will not let up anytime soon.
Much of this varies from state to state. What are you seeing in your area as far as gun retailers and ranges? Are they closing due to a lack of inventory or fear of contagion? Have you been able to get the product you need?