Although the overall state of the shooting sports industry is very good, there are things going on that should make the upcoming trade show season quite interesting.
It is safe to suggest this industry has changed more in the last six years or so than it did in the 50 years before.
Much of the change has been social response to the Obama administration. However, consider the situation during the Clinton administration, when the gun ban was a political football.
One significant difference regarding the shooting sports industry is the dominance of the AR platform.
The AR platform design existed during the Clinton administration, but it had not reached its total dominance. This is important for a number of reasons: First, it is possible to make the AR design and parts/equipment for it in huge numbers, very quickly and at relatively low cost. So when demand for that design increased, companies were able to deliver massive numbers. Granted, there were times during the peak market when even that was not enough to keep up with demand, but the point is the industry’s ability to respond quickly resulted in a flooding of the market unlike anything that had ever been experienced before. Over time, that market cooled. There are many reasons for that, including the fact that to a large degree, buyers either had all of the units they wanted, or they ran out of money to buy more. Now there seems to be somewhat of a glut on the market for many of those specific models.
The same cannot be said of ammunition and ammunition components. For example, .22 rimfire ammunition has been hard to get and expensive for a number of years. There is little indication the overall picture in that regard is improving.
For a while, component bullets and primers were scarce. By now, those supplies are better than they were, but powder remains difficult for many consumers to find in the quantities they desire.
The industry seems to be in a glut situation in one area, a shortage situation in another and probably mixed somewhere between others.
Sturm, Ruger & Company is publicly traded, so it makes periodic reports, which contain information indicating how that company is doing. Since Ruger products are aimed at the masses, and since Ruger is one of the largest companies in this industry, it can be considered one bellwether.
Ruger’s most recent quarterly report indicates net sales of $140.9 million in the second quarter of 2015 compared to net sales of $153.7 million the year before. Great sales numbers, but down a twitch. For the first six months of 2015, net sales were $277.8 million, compared to $323.5 million for the same period the year before.
However, net sales increased 3 percent from the first through the second quarter. Although a treatise could be written about what those numbers mean, for the purposes of this effort, I’m suggesting Ruger is strong and doing quite well. What has happened to a lot of companies in this industry is politically motivated buying has resulted in wide swings, which means if one looks at specific snapshots in time, the picture can change.
In another area, however, there might be a hitch in the industry’s giddy-up. Ruger indicated in the second quarter of 2015, estimated sell-through of the company’s products from the independent distributors to retailers decreased 22 percent from the first quarter of 2015. It also noted the National Instant Criminal Background Check System checks decreased by 21 percent during the same period.
Inventory of Ruger products at independent distributors also increased 63,500 units during the second quarter of 2015, and the company’s own inventory of finished goods increased by 44,100 units during the same period.
Again, this shows a slowing of the market — or at least a market velocity slower than the manufacturing speed. Similar experiences have been seen anecdotally around the industry.
Remember, we’re on the heels of multiple years of skyrocketing sales that set all-time records. So, even though things might be slowing down, they are still way ahead of where they were before.
The upcoming show season should be interesting. Some segments will continue to expand. Other segments likely will continue at about the same pace.
It is important to stress the customer base has expanded significantly over recent years. The industry now has a higher “normal” than before.
This is good — both politically and commercially. But, as is expected, anytime there are dramatic ups or downs, there will be some shaking out before all is back to anything that approaches a predictable level of activity. During shakeouts, some companies do well — others not so much.
As the show season approaches, perhaps the most interesting topic is which specific product types will be both available and in-demand. Until now, products in high demand have not been readily available.
The shooting sports industry has faced this conundrum before. The problem is no one can know the whole answer until after the fact. If there are pains, they are growing pains, and those are the best kinds to have.