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Handgun sales making money! Create a steady stream of customers.

A lot of gun dealers sell handguns in the United States. That doesn't mean they do it well. The truth is there's a lot of profit potential in handguns, if you know how to sell them.

"There's a lot of opportunity in the handgun market," said Bryan Tucker, Davidson's president. "By and large, with handguns you don't have to compete with the mass merchants as much as you do with long guns. So there's better opportunity to make a dollar in the handgun market than there is in long guns. You will have to compete with big box stores such as Cabela's. However, that kind of bigbox store makes a decent profit on guns so it's not as hard to compete with them."

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Miles Hall, owner of H & H Gun Range Shooting Sports Outlet in Oklahoma City. Okla., says handgun sales account for more than 80 percent of the firearms sales in his store.

When Hall and his wife, Jayne, opened the range in 1981, which handled all types of firearms up to most high-powered rifles, they noted the majority of their customers brought in handguns to shoot. So, that is what they stocked. Twenty-four years later, they're still making money on handguns.

"We didn't even understand there was a long-gun market until a year and a half ago," Hall said. "When we opened this store, we just thought handguns would be our niche because the Wal-Marts of the world sell long guns. We started out selling handguns because that's what we knew. Today, it's clear that a large percentage of all the handgun sales in Oklahoma come through here."

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Regardless of where you're located, Hall says, if you don't have a strong handgun presence in your store, you're missing out on revenue.

"Don't be narrow minded," he said. "You're missing a significant market, and there's no reason to miss a market in the gun business. Let's use Oklahoma as an example. Here, if all you're selling is long guns, you're missing 25 percent of the market. Do you want a 25 percent growth in your store? If you do, then move into handguns. You'll make more money."

Develop A Balanced Inventory

Another reason to carry a good selection of handguns is handgun sales are less seasonal than the sales of other types of guns, which helps even out the highs and lows during the year.

"You're not hung with carrying over inventory you have to keep through the summer for hunting season or that in the spring you can't even give away," Tucker said.

Hall divides the handguns he sells into several basic categories: defense guns, fun guns for target shooting and plinking, competition guns, hunting guns and cowboy action guns. At H & H Gun Range, defense guns are the lion's share of handguns sold.

"That includes guns you physically carry on you, that you carry in your car or you have at home for defensive purposes," Hall said. "Competition guns, which are .45s, 9mms and .40s, sometimes double as defense guns. Certainly the competition people are big into their 1911s and similar guns."

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Hall says a number of manufacturers offer handguns in the competition/defense category.

"Springfield Armory has several and Smith & Wesson has recently come out with their version of a 1911," he said. "Taurus is coming out with one later this year. So everyone has kind of jumped into the 45 market."

Hall also likes selling cowboy action handguns.

"Those guns go back to our heritage and our traditions," he said. "First of all, they're beautiful; they're just cool looking. And they have their own unique niche."

Driving Sales

Halls says the most important factor in selling handguns is to be sold on the product yourself.

"Do your own research and investigation," Hall said. "Find a product line you believe in and that you can stand behind. If a gun malfunctions or breaks--and sometimes that happens--who's going to stand behind it and fix it immediately? You need to know who does that."

Hall is impressed with the way Smith & Wesson backs its guns.

"Some manufacturers really go all out," he said. "Smith and Wesson is a good example. They do everything to help us sell their guns. Sometimes you have guests--we call our customers guests--who are not as polite to their firearms as they should be, and sometimes they just do things that are stupid. I'm really impressed with Smith & Wesson in that way, as well; if something goes wrong, they fix it and that's what you want."

Want Sales? Advertise!

One important factor that helps drive handgun sales, Tucker says, is good inventory.

"You need a good selection for a wide range of suitable purposes," he said. "That means a good selection of concealment guns, duty weapons if you have law enforcement customers, full-sized guns, and hunting guns. What you choose to carry is somewhat market specific, depending on the concealed carry laws and handgun hunting laws in your state. It comes down to knowing your market."

Beyond having the right inventory for your market, there are a number of things you can do to improve your handgun sales. The first, and most basic, is to promote and advertise.

"When the consumer makes a decision to purchase a firearm, you need to be on the top of their mind," Tucker said. "So it's not just the immediate results of advertising that's important; you want to create store awareness among both existing customers and potential customers."

Hall agrees.

"Advertise, advertise, advertise," he said. "One of the best things retailers can do for our image is to advertise and as an industry, we don't do that. One problem is our industry, as a whole, doesn't understand the value of co-op. Liberty Safe has a good co-op program and Smith & Wesson has one, but other companies don't do anything. So it boils down to the dealer to advertise."

Hall says the value of advertising is very basic to the functioning of your business, and can make a difference in the way you are treated by the media.

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"Advertising pays the bills at a TV station that could make your life very difficult if they wanted to," he said. "If you're paying their bills, they're less likely to make your life difficult. That's true for radio, too. Advertising is powerful stuff."

Advertising in the local media can turn reporters into friends instead of adversaries.

"One of the things Jayne and I have learned is we've put a face to shooting and a face to the sport." Hall said. "So when a reporter gets ready to do a news story, he comes here. I want him in my store doing his story."

When the economy gets tough and sales drop off, many retailers cut their advertising budgets. Both Hall and Tucker say this is a bad economic decision.

"You should tighten your belt in every other area you can, but increase your promotion and sales efforts, including advertising." Tucker said.

Hall says that cutting back on advertising during tough times is the worst thing you can do.

"When times get tough, that's the time to pour on the money in the advertising," he said. "People need to know you're still there." Hall says following that philosophy has had an affect on his clientele.

"When Jayne and I opened this range, it was at the height of the oil boom of the 1970s and 1980s." Hall said. "People shot because it was fashionable to shoot. I had people coming in who had bought their expensive handguns all over town, and they hung out at the range, and this became the place to be."

Then the economy shifted, and people began to shoot for other reasons.

"They began to shoot because they were scared," Hall said.

His philosophy of advertising paid off and he had a steady stream of customers coming in to shoot.

Train Your Staff

Hall says there's one more thing you need to do to sell more handguns: train your staff.

"If there's one thing I'm really big on, that I see lacking within our industry, is a trained staff," Hall said.

Halls say dealers should insist that manufacturers help train their staffs on the features and benefits of their handguns.

"What is it that makes their guns so unique and why would I want to tell one of my favorite guests to buy one?" Hall asks. "Manufacturers need to help us with that."

Then instruct your staff to be very truthful with the customers who come in.

"I would rather lose a sale than mislead a guest," Hall said.

Right Attitude

Selling handguns is more than just making a buck selling a gun or two. It's a whole attitude of treating both the customers and the products the way they deserve to be treated.

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"This is a noble, heritage-rich, traditional filled industry." Hall said. "You just don't find that selling hamburgers. It's special, it's unique and it deserves reverence."

RELATED ARTICLE: At A Glance

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* Ask your customers.

* Don't do this.

* Just like cops.

RELATED ARTICLE: PINT-SIZED GUNS

Small Handguns Generate Huge Profits

With the rise in concealed carry, the category of smaller, pint-sized guns has become increasingly important.

"Concealed carry has become a big thing in just about all 50 states," Hall said. "There are some states in which only the elite can get a permit, but in the other states, the common man can get a permit."

While the big handguns featured in movies and TV shows "look really cool," according to Hall, "they suck to carry."

"I'm a small guy and if I carry a heavy gun my pants fall down, which is not near as cool in public as you think it would be! So small is better. That's why guns have not only gotten smaller, they're lighter. Taurus has their lightweight versions, Kel-Tec has a real flat gun and Kahr has small semi-autos that tuck in real nice. All of those are small because you need small."

In small guns, as in the general handgun market, breadth of inventory is important, according to Tucker.

"Different customers have different preferences as far as weight and caliber are concerned. There also are a lot of considerations when you start looking at how a smaller gun is going to be concealed, whether it's in a purse, a holster or some other type of rig," Tucker said.

What percentage of your inventory should be in smaller, concealable guns?

"About half of our inventory is in concealable handguns," Hall said.

Tucker says that's a question with as many answers as there are gun stores.

"That's going to vary dramatically from location to location, as well as by clientele, and by percentage of law enforcement clientele." Tucker said.

However, there are certain guidelines you can take into consideration when selecting an inventory of pistol, revolvers and calibers.

"Among law enforcement, .40 is still generally accepted," Tucker said. "But you also want to carry some 9mm and some .45s for that market. Some women prefer the smaller size of the 9mm or the .38, especially in revolvers."

Let your own market tell you whether revolvers or semi-autos are more popular in your area. A standard selling approach will provide a lot of information on what will sell in your store. Place several small handguns on the counter and then hand them one-by-one to some of your regular customers. Ask, "Which of these would you carry concealed? Why?"

Also, learn what your local cops carry as their backup weapons. Stocking those firearms will lead to two-types of sales. Law-enforcement and security personnel will frequent your store to buy the latest concealed-carry models, plus many of your regular customers will buy the same models just because they are the choice of police officers.

"Knowing what officers in your area are carrying gives you great authority when dealing with your regular customers," Tucker said. "When you say. 'A lot of the officers in the area are choosing the Glock 27 for their back-up gun,' that goes a long way in making more sales."

The pint-size handgun market will continue to grow. Despite a few states that don't allow concealed carry, the sale of these category of handguns has a bright future. Learn your market, add in what law enforcement is carrying and stock pint-size guns to meet your customer's needs.

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Handgun Sales

American Derringer 231
Beretta U.S.A. 232
Bersa (Eagle Imports) 233
Bond Arms 234
Browning 235
Charles Daly 236
Charter 2000 237
Cimarron Firearms 238
Cobra Enterprises 239
Colt's Mfg. 240
CZ USA 241
E.M.F. Co. 242
European American Armory 243
Firestorm (SGS Importers) 244
FNH USA 245
Freedom Arms 246
Glock Inc. 247
Heckler & Koch 248
Heritage Mfg. 249
High Standard Mfg. 250
Hi-Point Firearms (MKS Supply) 251
H-S Precision Inc. 252
Llama (Import Sports) 253
Kahr Arms 254
Kel-Tec 255
Kimber 256
Les Baer Custom 257
Magnum Research 258
Navy Arms Co. 259
North American Arms 260
Para-Ordnance 261
Phoenix Arms 262
Republic Arms 263
Rock River Arms 264
Rossi Firearms 265
Sigarms Inc. 266
Smith & Wesson 267
Springfield Armory 268
STI International 269
Sturm, Ruger & Co. 270
Taurus International 271
Thompson/Center 272
Uberti USA 273
U.S. Fire Arms Mfg. 274
Walther USA 275
Dan Wesson Firearms 276
Wilson Combat 277
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Author:Boyles, Carolee Anita
Publication:Shooting Industry
Date:Oct 1, 2005
Words:2234
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