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Not just a lot of hot air! Airguns and paintball sales have never been better!

Airguns and Paintball Sales Have Never Been Better!

Airgun sales are growing at an astounding rate. Big names in the gun industry, from Colt to Walther, are seriously engaged in the airgun business. From realistic reproductions of the Colt 1911 (C[O.sub.2]-powered with full-functioning controls) to the .357 Magnum revolver look-alike from Gamo, dealers have a lot to offer their customers.

Much of the new interest in airguns stems from landlocked outdoorsmen and women who have found it difficult to find open spaces for shooting, hunting and just plain "walking the prairie."

These frustrated commuters provide a rich market for airguns. Target punching, the periodic eradication of pesky varmints like gophers, snakes, rabbits and other small animals, and basic shooting and hunting skills can all be accomplished with a air rifle or pistol.

In addition, in most neighborhoods, as long as it's done safely, recreational airgun shooting is still welcomed and politically correct.

Airguns have advantages that far outweigh their misperceived low power. At over 1,000 feet per second, a .177 caliber high-quality pellet delivers a powerful punch. Accuracy is legendary and a quarter-sized group at 25 yards is commonplace.

You get all this power and accuracy with inexpensive ammunition, quiet operation, no EPA concerns about gunpowder or loaded cartridges and almost invariably, positive social acceptance.

In the hands of mature shooters, airguns are useful tools for teaching youngsters gun safety, the basics of marksmanship and even introduction to hunting small game.

Coming Of Ago

Airguns have grown up during the last 15 years. Today's $150 to $500 adult rifles and pistols are competition-proven and perform in the field almost like a .22 when the range is under 30 yards or so. Owners take pride in their RWS air rifle, a Beeman Kodiak Magnum .25 caliber hunting rifle or a Marksman Laserhawk air pistol in. 177 caliber.

Smith and Wesson's introduction of the Model 586 and 686 .177 caliber C[O.sub.2] revolvers has raised some eyebrows. These top quality revolvers have the barrel lengths (from 4 to 8 inches) and the heft (around 40 ounces) of their real-gun counterparts. They feel solid in the hand and offer the ability to practice in the garage.

Most consumers, once they become involved, buy steadily and upgrade quickly when it comes to the extensive accessories associated with airguns. If there is an air rifle in the house, the kids are almost invariably involved in shooting and that promotes growth in the industry.

Making A Profit

Are airguns good business? Many gun dealers consider the airgun market to be an important part of their overall retail sales. David Okerlund runs Accurate Arms Gun Co. in Temecula, Calif. He wouldn't give up his airgun section.

"Some marketing ideas are basic to the industry. The idea that 20 percent of your inventory does 80 percent of your business is one of those concepts," Okerlund said. "Airguns can be an important part of that 20 percent if you can generate the interest and turn your inventory four or five times a year."

Okerlund's display of rifles and pistols is a modest one but he covers the entire range of interests.

"I may only have one of some models, like the ultra low-end $20 BB rifle - and I don't even try to compete with the big 'marts' on the price point - but you've got to stock the entire range to show your customers you're in the airgun business," Okerlund said. "You'd be surprised how often a regular customer doesn't mind paying those extra few bucks on an entry-level gun, rather than go to the mart down the street."

To build a solid airgun business, Okerlund advises making every customer a "regular" by offering great service and a wide selection of products.

"Customers can buy most of this stuff anywhere," he said, pointing to his display of rifles, pistols and accessories. "Often they can buy it cheaper at other places. So why should a person come into Accurate Arms and lay down their hard-earned money and buy an air rifle from me? Service is the only answer. Period."

Okerlund doesn't just talk good service. He provides it. One of his regular customers purchased a high-end air rifle and scope, but had problems with accuracy. Okerlund and his staff took the rifle and shot it in the store for several days.

"It's 50 feet from the front of the store to the back counter, so we set up a trap and started to figure this one out," Okerlund said. "We couldn't get the rifle to group until we used a higher-grade pellet. Then, groups could be covered with a dime. We had a smiling customer." Try that one at the local Wal-Mart!

The Right Product Mix

Okerlund says that to enter this market, dealers should stock products from Crossman, especially their Model 760 pump (a classic in the marketplace), the Daisy Red Ryder, several models from Gamo, Beeman, RWS and others in the $180 to $250 range. Finally, if you can afford it, stock a couple of models in the $400 to $500 range. Adults who get the airgun bug aren't afraid to spend the money for better performance and higher quality.

"Make sure you have a full range of accessories like targets, traps, shooting glasses, scopes, pellets, cleaning gear and oil for airguns. These are all easy add-on sales and you're foolish if you don't send your customer out the door with their hands full," Okerlund said. "If you sell a $30 BB gun, then a $3 pack of BBs, a $2 target pack and a $1.99 tube of lubricant, you just increased your sale 20 percent or more with a tidy profit margin."

Making A Splat

Another "air" market that's proved very profitable is the paintball craze. These guns range from a low of around $140 to a high of $600! The accessories have a strong mark-up built in. A dealer can profit nicely if they go at it seriously.

For those dealers who establish a "paintball corner" in their store, word will get out quickly among the paintball crowd. Soon, legions of 18- to 35-year-olds are leaving their dollars on your counter. This young customer base is not afraid to spend money on paintball.

The paintball craze is an important part of the business at Accurate Arms.

"I started into paintball about a year ago with a $2,500 investment and now have about $7,500 in inventory. It turns about five or six times a year and that isn't anything to laugh at in anyone's book," Okerlund said. "We keep the margins close, so I make sure we turn the inventory to keep the gross profit up. We sell the dickens out of it and the kids it brings into the store are potential future customers for other products we carry. You just can't go wrong."

Okerlund sponsored a local kid's paintball team recently and it garnered very positive acceptance from the community.

"Most entry-level customers in this sport spend a minimum of $250 to $350 to get going. We offer 'packages' of a gun, mask, paintballs and other accessories to make it easier," Okerlund said. "One of the best things about this sport for dealers is shooters constantly wanting to upgrade their equipment. First it might be a better mask, then a buttstock for their pistol, then a bigger C[O.sub.2] tank and finally a better gun.

"We also do well on the refills for the C[O.sub.2] tanks that supply the guns. We keep a tank on-hand in the back and recharge for around $3.50. Let's just say I'd like to do that all day," Okerlund said.

Building The Future

Okerlund is a classic example of a dealer taking the initiative to venture into a new area and make serious results happen. He stresses quality service, greeting customers promptly and welcoming women.

Moms often accompany their kids into the store who are there to buy paintballs and recharge C[O.sub.2] tanks. Okerlund wants to make these women feel his establishment is professional, well-tended and that he understands the needs of his customers. He believes this is an important investment in attracting the next generation of customers to all areas of his business.
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Copyright 1999 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Huntington, Roy
Publication:Shooting Industry
Date:Oct 1, 1999
Words:1382
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