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March 29, 2019

Personal Defense Ammo Considerations

By Tim Barker, FMG Publications

When we look back to the days when fear was the driving force in gun store sales, perhaps no segment was harder hit than ammunition. Fresh in everyone’s mind are images of empty ammo shelves — or about to be.

At least for now, those days appear to be behind us. Indeed, if there’s a particular flavor of ammo customers would like to have, chances are pretty good you can lay your hands on it — enabling you to outfit those concerned with personal defense.

It’s one of the reasons why Jim Payne, manager of Larry’s Sporting Goods in Nampa, Idaho, is optimistic today. There are, after all, advantages to being able to offer customers the things they want — rather than just what’s available.

“Now, when someone comes in looking for something, you can point to where it is on the shelf. So, we aren’t missing out on those sales,” Payne said.

.380’s Enhanced Popularity

When it comes to handgun cartridges, it would surprise no one to hear 9mm remains the top seller at Larry’s, where the best-selling brand is CCI’s Blazer Brass — the company is based in the state. Other popular cartridges include .45 ACP and .38 Special. But .380 ACP continues to gain traction as one of the hotter-selling calibers.

“We’ve seen a huge demand over the past 5–6 years for small handguns,” Payne informed.

And while manufacturers continue to bring out 9mm guns rivaling the .380s in terms of compactness (such as the SIG SAUER P365, GLOCK 43X), it hasn’t appeared to dampen the output of new offerings in the smaller cartridge. With customers still eager to purchase the diminutive pocket pistols, there are more on the way.

SIG SAUER - Personal Defense
Last year’s introduction of the SIG SAUER P365 further elevated sales of 9mm defensive ammunition. Staying up on trends will give your store an advantage over the competition.

Mike Rust, general manager of Oklahoma City-based H&H Shooting Sports, sees no reason for the demand to fall anytime soon. (Recent hits, such as Smith & Wesson’s M&P 380 Shield EZ and Springfield Armory’s 911, lend further credence to this development.)

“They’re still riding that wave, with new guns coming out,” Rust added.

There does, however, appear to be a different fate for the once popular .40 S&W cartridge. Nobody is buying them at the Oklahoma shop.

“The number of people walking in the front door to sell us a .40-caliber handgun is way up. We’re starting to turn those people away,” Rust said. “The cartridge is dying a slow death, I would say.”

Specialization Leads To Opportunity

On the ammo shelves at Hyatt Guns in Charlotte, N.C., you’ll find pretty much everything you’d expect to see there. There are boxes and boxes of 9mm, .45 ACP and other common cartridges. But if you look closer, you’ll also find a few unusual offerings.

Need something for an old surplus army rifle? How about a box of 7.7 Japanese or 6.5 Carcano? Or maybe you’re looking for a wider assortment of options for your .410 shotgun. Hyatt may just have what you need.

Hyatt Guns
Hyatt Guns has made a concerted effort to stock the odd and unusual — attracting interest from a wide radius. Once a customer is in the door, Larry Hyatt’s team is able to cater to those interested in personal defense and a variety of needs.

For 60 years, this has been one of the shop’s calling cards — looking for ways to offer customers a little more than they might find elsewhere, particularly at the big-box stores that have made life more difficult for smaller shops.

“Why is someone going to drive 100 miles to see us if we’re carrying the same thing as Walmart?” Hyatt asked. “It’s our job to have this stuff for the customers; we have to go deeper and have more experts.”

It’s a strategy also employed by Frank’s Gun Shop in upstate New York, where Owner John Havlick takes pride in carrying obscure cartridges. He rattles off a list, which includes the likes of .22 Remington Jet, 7.65 Argentine and 7.62 Nagant.

“We carry a big line of very odd ammo for guns that have been obsolete for years. It’s what we’re known for,” Havlick confirmed. “My dad’s motto: Carry the odd stuff. When you get people in the store, they’ll buy other stuff.”

And the other stuff? Obviously, we’re well past the days of the frightened ammo purchases that left store shelves empty during the Obama years.

“Pretty much you can get anything you want — whether you want a box or an entire pallet,” Havlick lends.

Offer Deals To Customers

Similar to the experiences at both Larry’s and H&H, handgun ammo sales at Frank’s Gun Shop and Hyatt Guns are dominated by 9mm, followed by .45 ACP.

To boost sales, Havlick offers regular deals on those core cartridges, along with .40 S&W and .380 ACP, where customers can buy four boxes and get a fifth free. And while stores in other states might not be seeing those fear-based purchases, things are a little different in New York, due to the state’s own political climate.

Personal Defense
John Havlick, owner of Frank’s Gun Shop, stands in front of a wall of ammo boxes. To boost sales, he’ll often offer deals on core cartridges (9mm, .45 ACP, .380 ACP) when customers can buy four boxes and get a fifth free.

Back in North Carolina, handgun ammo sales have been strong, despite the store not having its own range.

“We’re in an urban area, where a lot of indoor ranges have opened,” Hyatt informed. “We’re priced competitively. We don’t have a range, but people buy their ammo here.”

But while there may be a strong appetite for range ammo, there’s no particular brand drawing the most interest from customers. Basically, it comes down to cost — as long as the customer is convinced the ammo in question is well made.

“Today, it’s hard to be brand loyal with target ammo,” Hyatt said. “It’s about price. One month, Magtech will have the best deals. The next month it’s Remington. Then it’s Winchester.”

Customers are, however, a little pickier when it comes to self-defense ammo. Often, they’ll come in looking for something specific.

“Maybe it’s something they read about in a magazine or saw on YouTube,” Hyatt added.

Hornady is the top seller. Followed by Winchester and Federal.

“There are a few exotic brands out there we’ll get calls about. We listen to our customers,” Hyatt said. “We aren’t going to blow them off. In some cases, we’ll go ahead and order it.”

Everyday Carry Makes Impact

Everyday carry has developed quite a following; a simple search of “pocket dump” on YouTube yields thousands of videos (some capturing views numbering in the millions). Most customers interested in everyday carry for self-defense aren’t looking to fill every available pocket with a weapon or gadget. Instead, they’re generally focused on a firearm, holster and ammo.

Aside from what’s on their shopping list, however, these folks may not have a lot in common. The everyday carry customer could be anyone, according to Scott Stirrat, owner of Idaho Guns in Boise, Idaho.

“You’ve got businessmen. You’ve got students. We get a lot of women these days. There’s really no one type over the other,” he observed.

The vast majority of his concealed carry sales (they make up about half of his handgun sales) are in the 9mm market. Top sellers include the S&W Shield, GLOCK 43 and 19, and the Springfield Armory XD-S. The key, he said, is making sure the customer is getting the gun that fits his or her needs. If they plan to do a lot of shooting and target practice with it, they try to steer people away from smaller, snappier guns.

Counter display - Feceral Ammo
Counter displays represent a key sales tool — as you already know add-ons at the counter provide a bottom line boost.

“If you’re going to go out and shoot cans while camping, it’s not the best option,” Stirrat affirmed.

There’s also an educational aspect to the market, suggests Keith Stewart, owner of Firearms Solutions in Duncan, Okla.

The former police officer got his start in the business more than a decade ago when he and a friend decided to open a business teaching concealed carry classes after retiring. It eventually morphed into his current gun shop.

After 10 years of running classes once or twice a month, he figures he’s taught at least 10,000 students.

“Every year, I think this is going to be the year where we run out of people — but they just keep coming and coming,” Stewart said.

Stewart also generates a fair amount of demand for self-defense gear (including ammunition) through the classes he teaches. Along with the one or two concealed carry classes each month, he offers a rotation of practical pistol courses and recently opened a shoot house for use with simunition.

Students coming out of the courses are often eager to buy ammo and holsters. And it’s not unusual for someone to decide the gun they were planning to carry might not be the best option.

“There hasn’t been a concealed carry class where I don’t sell at least two or three guns,” he concluded.

Keeping abreast of trends in the consumer (and manufacturing) sphere and stocking a diverse mix of ammunition will enable your store to stand out from the competition.

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You may also be interested in:

The Concealed Carry Market Study

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