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Selling the serial number: tips on marketing those limited edition guns.

My first plunge into the Limited Edition market came in the mid-'80s when an acquaintance rushed into my gun store waving the back page of the latest Shotgun News. Ordinarily that publication is not allowed on the premises, but the fellow was a good customer and he knew that he would have to pay a fair mark-up on anything ordered for him out of the thrice-monthly paper.

"Look at this!" he said. "They're advertising a limited edition S&W Model 24 with a 3-inch barrel -- they're going to be very valuable soon, 'cause there'll only be 5,000 produced."

I placed an order before the day was out, and two months later I accepted delivery of a pair of handsomely blued, short-barreled N-frames in .44 Special. Four months later that revolver appeared on the cover of a national "gun-zine," and my customer sold his Special Edition for almost $ 100 profit.

A year later, I realized a slightly greater return on my investment -- but not before some uneasy moments due to (a) the appearance of a similarly priced Limited Edition Model 624 (the identical revolver in stainless steel) and (b) a period of time when the wholesale price of the original Model 24 was slashed $42 and a custom holster was included in the package.

The experience taught me several valuable lessons, not the least of which was "don't try to hit a home run when a nice, solid single will do." If I had taken a different approach and priced the Model 24 at my standard mark-up, I probably could have sold several of them and realized a profit of $ 50 to $ 60 per gun.

Instead, I went after the collectable market and sold the gun at $ 135 profit after keeping it in my inventory for a whole year. Had I kept my profit margin lower I would have turned my inventory faster and I would have been in position to take advantage of the distributor's big price reduction package when he was trying to generate some cash flow of his own.

I was new at the retailing business then and still finding my niche in the marketplace. In subsequent years, I handled other Limited Editions differently, and my customers and I benefitted from the appearance of special models of Colts and Smith & Wessons on an exclusive basis from distributors around the country.

Lew Horton

In case you hadn't noticed, "exclusive" is a hot marketing buzzword right now. The most recent exclusive splash was made, ironically, by the Massachusetts wholesaler Lew Horton from whom I purchased that brace of S&W 24s so long ago. Offering Smith & Wesson Performance Center handguns developed especially for Horton, the big hook was that these five specials were priced extremely competitively for both dealer and customer.

The 686 Carry Comp .357 Magnum, with a suggested retail of $ 999.95, allows the firearms dealer to make a handsome profit of 42 percent and allows the firearms enthusiast to go home with a Performance Center gun at a considerable savings.

Aside from the 686 Carry Comp with its 4-inch integrated compensator barrel, there is a 6-inch 686 Competitor with an integral scope base and master revolversmith John French's evolutionary variable underweight system. There is also a 23-ounce 640 Carry Comp with a full-lugged 2 5/8-inch compensated barrel, based on S&W's wildly successful 1990 reintroduction of its long-discontinued Centennial.

The other two Performance Center/Horton guns are Paul Liebenberg-designed self loaders chambered for the cartridge of the '90s: the .40 S&W. The .40 S&W Tactical Pistol has a 5-inch slide and match-grade barrel, while the Comp .40 S&W Pistol is a compensated version of the first.

Other current Lew Horton exclusives include a S&W 2214 electroless nickel .22 LR kit gun and Colt's El Commandante bright stainless .38 Super, a Commander-size edition of last year's instant sell-out, the El Presidente.


Originally a Greensboro, N.C.-based distributor, Davidson's expanded their operations for the '90s and opened a western operation in Prescott, Ariz. A call to Bryan Tucker at their flagship Eastern office revealed that Davidson's offers a Marlin Model 883 Limited .22 Magnum bolt action rifle featuring a 22-inch barrel, an electroless nickel finish, and a black polymer Monte Carlo stock. The suggested retail is $ 235.95.

However, as Davidson's big supplier is Ruger, it comes as no surprise that there are a number of limited edition guns in that line, including a quartet of convertible Blackhawks in .45 Colt/.45 ACP in blue and stainless with 4 5/8-inch and 7 1.2-inch barrel lengths, all with smooth walnut stocks and target front sights. These single-action revolvers were especially commissioned from Ruger by Sig Davidson and are intended to retail at $ 355.95 (blue) and $ 399.95 (stainless) The most interesting Ruger exclusive is a stainless steel Model 77R chambered in 7.62X39mm, an offshore caliber which bill Ruger introduced in the late '80s with the Mini Thirty. Papa ruger has had Kelly Glenn hawking the Mini thirty as the ideal deer rifle for several years, so a 77R is a logical next step. The Davidson exclusive comes with the Zytel stock Ruger first debuted on its All Weather 77/22, but with wood accents of Goncalvo Alves to soften any appearance shock.

While it wasn't commissioned by Davidson's, the DP (Daewoo Pistol) 51 in 9X19mm is another exclusive due to a limiting importation agreement. Looking very much like a 2nd Generation S&W with frame-mounted, ambidextrous manual safety, the DP 51 has a 4-inch barrel, a 13+1 round capacity, and a fast shooting trigger in addition to what may be assumed is a conventional SA/DA system. The toll for the DP-51 is a suggested $ 499.95.

Fox Wholesale

John Glei at Fox Wholesale in Michigan reports that the latest handgun exclusive offered to dealers, a Colt's Gold Cup Custom Elite, has been doing well. So well, in fact that the initial run of 150 was quickly sold out and another 100 were ordered from West Hartford. At 250 total pieces, this is truly a Limited Edition and it could become a serious collectable. (More than half of those produced were immediately exported overseas.)

Described as a .45 ACP with a stainless steel receiver and a polished blue slide topped by the Eliason adjustable rear sight, the Gold Cup Custom Elite features a beveled magazine well, a serrated front strap, a Teflon-coated wide grip safety and checkered flat mainspring housing. It also comes with an extra magazine, a special rollmark and collectable serial numbering. Fox/Colt also offers a .45 ACP stainless steel Gold Cup Commander with an extended tang grip safety.

Grice Wholesale

Meanwhile, in Clearfield, Penn., Grice Wholesale has what it feels is a winner with a Remington 175th Anniversary Model 7600 in 7mm/08, a non-catalogued rifle with a high-gloss, Monte Carlo combed stock with cut checkering. The left side of the receiver will feature the same commemorative scroll engraving that Remington has reserved for its own Anniversary Editions of one 12-gauge Model 11-87 and one Model 7400 in .30-06. This Model 7600 pump action rifle was commissioned by Grice in a limited edition of 1,000 pieces.

There are undoubtedly numerous other limited edition exclusives offered on a unique basis by other distributors. Clearly there are markets for these firearms, and the canny retailer will effect a meeting of the minds between the distributor who has assumed the financial risk of commissioning or committing to a limited production run, and the firearms customer who may either be a collector or just a shooter who wants one special gun that no one else in his or her club has.

Years ago I special ordered a factory nickeled S&W 449 for a chum who was a fancier of .45 ACPs. When I asked why he suddenly wanted a 9mm mini-gun, he simply said, "I sort of like the looks of it."

Over the years he swapped guns back and forth at gun shows and with other firearms fanciers, but he always held on to the little nickel-plated S&W. Whenever he came back from a gun show, he always had an anecdote to relate about other gun people admiring and coveting his rarity.

I think he held on to that pistol longer than anything else, save his wife and his dogs. He liked being the first (and only) kid on his block to own one.

The customers for those limited editions are out there -- firearms retailers have just got to let them know what's available.
COPYRIGHT 1991 Publishers' Development Corporation
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Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Lydecker, Waldo
Publication:Shooting Industry
Date:Dec 1, 1991
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