“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.”
Well, every market has a finite number of customers. With less disposable income, I can see fewer people buying $2000+ guns (especially non-LEO civilians for whom the guns are basically plinking toys.)
But while the black-gun market is finite, the AR platform is expanding beyond black guns. There are a number of AR-based sporting rifles out there. The Remington R-15 was the first but there are more. The chief advantage of the AR-style system is its modular nature. Once you own a decent "lower", you can change the "upper" portions (which includes the bolt, bolt carrier, barrel, sights, etc) which allow you to transform it into a completely different gun (I'm already saving up for a 7.62×39 upper so I can take advantage of the low prices on ComBloc ammo, and the .30 caliber cartridge is actually suitable for hunting at sub-150 yard ranges.)
I think in just a few years we'll see a dramatic increase in the number of hunters, target shooters and other non-militia-types using AR-based rifles for all sorts of non-nefarious purposes.
The rush for dealer black-gun orders upon the news of Obama's election had its logic. Only, this Daley-machine backed gun-grabber has been distracted by more pressing issues of late: the economic collapse, healthcare, and unemployment specifically. He simply doesn't have the political horsepower to tackle the NRA at this time.
Three years down the road? Things may well allow this leopard to show his spots when it comes to his anti-gun position. Should this come to pass, the responding surge in black-gun demand will put Wilson Combat, Rock River Arms and all makers of AR-style firearms firmly back in the, er, black.
In the meantime, if you've the spare scratch, take advantage of the gettin' while the gettin' is good. While I consider 223 (5×56) to be pretty much a poodle shooter, it does have its charms.
This is good knows for those of us who are budget minded! I like low cost, high fire power.
While .223 might not be the biggest horse in the stable, my first rifle (age 13) was a .223 Win and it's proven itself against deer in the woods of Pennsylvania and, as the up pressured slightly different cased 5.56, on the battlefield.
Personally I plan on having an AR in 5.56 for fun and SHTF scenarios and a .308 bolt action for those situations that require a bit more kick in the kick-ass.