Getting Into the Reloading Business: Smart Move?

Stocking versatile, quality tools and supplies will help you meet a majority of your market’s needs.

Getting Into the Reloading Business: Smart Move?

Plenty of options exist for anyone interested in getting into reloading, which can be quite enjoyable and rewarding for hunting, plinking, competition or self-defense. (Photo: Tom McHale)

The great ammunition drought of the Obama era would have been a great time to be in the reloading business but for one minor hiccup.

Thanks to epic levels of outright hoarding, there were no reloading supplies to be had — by anyone. Sure, gear and equipment were readily available, but there wasn’t a jug of powder or box of primers anywhere in the northern hemisphere. Those that were on the market cost more than .22LR ammo at the time, and a brick of rimfire cartridges required a mortgage.

Those days are past, so it’s a workable and sustainable time to evaluate whether selling reloading gear and components makes sense for your business. Let’s discuss the minimum gear and consumable requirements first, then explore potential market segments for opportunity.

Basic Gear

Like most any other endeavor, there is a flexible range of gear needed for reloading. The amount and cost of equipment depends on each person’s definition of what defines a “must” versus a “nice to have.” For example, if you change your oil at home, ramps or jacks to raise the car aren’t technically required, but they sure make the job easier. The same principle applis to reloading.


An absolute must-have is the press itself. This tool is the driving force for most reloading operations. Using caliber-specific dies, it knocks out spent primers, resizes the spent brass cases to factory spec, flares the case mouth for bullet insertion and seats and crimps the bullet. While presses come in all shapes and sizes, there’s no practical way to reload without one.

Single-stage presses do one thing at a time and are great for beginners, anyone who wants to make small batches of ammunition and precision reloaders who painstakingly construct each round for maximum accuracy. Progressive presses perform multiple tasks with each crank of the handle and are ideal for producing a lot of ammunition quickly.

Progressive presses are specialized tools and some of the best ones are sold direct by the manufacturer, so they may not be the ideal component to stock. Hold this thought — we’ll come back to potential target customer segments in a minute.

A quality single-stage press is useful for everyone, even those who have invested in progressive volume reloading tools. They’re simple and perfect for beginners. They’re also the perfect tool for small batches or testing new loads and precision loads because the operator has maximum control. If you want to be in the reloading business, you must stock at least one make of single-stage press.

Priming Tool

While many single-stage presses can insert primers, they’re rarely the ideal tool for the job. A better option, hand tools are great for priming hundreds or even thousands of cases. The RCBS Universal Priming Tool is a great one to stock because its clever spring-loaded universal shell holder requires no caliber-specific parts. Right out of the box it’s ready to prime virtually any rifle or pistol cartridge case. Since you only have to stock one thing to cover the market, it’s a great value from an inventory investment perspective.


Technically, reloaders can measure powder with calibrated scoops, but a scale is really a must-have tool. It’s required for safety purposes; to verify powder charges are in the right weight range. It’s also handy for weighing cases, bullets and even completed cartridges for quality control.

An old-fashioned beam scale is affordable and accurate enough to do great work. Electronic scales are becoming affordable and they are a lot faster to use. Lyman, Hornady, RCBS and others make both mechanical and electronic scales.


Every reloader needs to measure. An analog (dial) or digital caliper is used to measure case lengths, overall cartridge lengths and case mouth diameters to name a few. Both digital and dial are easy to read and use, so deciding which to stock is not a critical decision as long as you choose a good one. There’s no need to stock both unless you have the proven demand for each style.

Caliber-Specific Dies

With a few exceptions like .357 Magnum, .38 Special, .44 Special, .44 Magnum and some others, you’ll need dies for every caliber you wish to provide. Pick a solid brand like Lyman, Redding or RCBS and cover the bases for the most common calibers. You’ll also want to stock spare parts like decapping pins as those tend to break periodically.

Powder Dispenser

Unless the only intended reloading scenario is high-precision reloading, where each powder charge is weighed individually, a powder dispenser that meters charges by volume is also a must-have item. The charge dispenser doesn’t take the place of the scale, they work together. The scale is used to calibrate the volume-based charges thrown by the dispenser and for consistency verification.

For the beginning reloader, a stand-alone unit like the RCBS Uniflow or Hornady Lock-N-Load will work fine. Both sell for less than a hundred bucks.

Reloading Blocks

While reloading blocks that hold cartridges in progress isn’t technically needed, single-stage press reloading is done in batches, so a way to hold 50 or so half-completed cartridges is a real life saver. Something like the RCBS Universal Loading Block will fit most needs because its two-sided design fits most any pistol or rifle cartridge case size.

Case Cleaning Option

By definition, reloading involves using spent brass that’s been powder burned and tossed on the ground. To keep the grime out of reloading gear and make reloaded ammo look pretty, case cleaning is a necessary step. You can do it with a shaken bucket and dish soap, but the process is cumbersome.

From a stocking simplicity perspective, a case tumbler like the RCBS Vibratory Case Tumbler or Lyman 1200 Pro Tumbler is as simple as it gets. Since dry tumblers like these use corncob or crushed walnut cleaning media instead of water, there’s no case drying to worry about. As a side benefit, you can stock the cleaning media too. It’s a disposable item so reloaders will always need to buy more regularly. Plain media does the job and is cheaper, but you might consider carrying specialty media that contains a polishing agent. It doesn’t last as long but your customers will appreciate the shiny like-new cases.

Case Trimmer

While pistol cases rarely require trimming, rifle cartridges often do as the brass stretches over multiple reloadings. A hand trimmer like the Forster Original will take a reloader a long way. A solid trimmer like this one is equally valuable for both beginner and expert alike.

Manual and Book

While an experienced reloader will have reloading manuals with documented load recipes, the beginner can get started with just one. Most manuals are published by either powder or bullet manufacturers, so they tend to be skewed towards their products. For general use across a wide variety of bullet brands, the Lyman Reloading Handbook is a good bet.

If you’re going after the beginning reloader market, consider offering a “how-to” book like (and here’s the shameless plug) mine, The Practical Guide to Reloading Ammunition. Many reloading manuals have some instruction, but focus on recipes. A how-to guide will teach the process and all the associated tips and tricks. You might make an analogy to sheet music and a book about how to play the piano. The former won’t do much good until the process is made clear by the latter.

Starter Kits

Most reloading manufacturers offer gear bundles as starter kits intended to get a new reloader going with one box of goodies. The combinations of tools vary, but most include a press, powder scale, basic case finishing tools, a reloading book or booklet, powder dispenser, and miscellaneous odds and ends. Rarely, if ever, have I seen a kit that includes a caliper, so you must cover that base.

Choosing the right kits to stock can be frustrating as different packages focus on different components. You’ll find some ready for rifle caliber reloading that include a case trimmer, but no powder dispenser. Others have no effective priming tool. Be sure to check the components carefully so you can make sure you offer the right standalone gear to supplement whatever your choice of starter kits lack.

The RCBS Explorer Plus is a fairly complete package. It includes everything you need for pistol reloading, including the caliper. Even still, if your customer wants to reload rifle cartridges, you’ll need to add a case trimmer separately.


There is a built-in advantage for local retailers in the reloading consumables market. Powders and primers are classified as hazardous materials and as a result, carry a $25 hazmat fee for online orders. So, as a reloader, if I want to buy one $20 container of unique powder, I must tack a whopping $25 onto my order. When you order in bulk for resale, that fee becomes negligible on a per product basis, so you can provide price value for the customer.


The good thing about powders is that there is always more than one that will do the job. Powders are classified in terms of burn rates and it’s this characteristic that defines which powders are appropriate for which calibers. Slow burning powders are generally better for rifle calibers while the faster burning powders serve pistol and shotgun loads.

As a retailer making stocking decisions, it’ll behoove you to study the load data to find an assortment of powders that is flexible, meaning it can be used in a variety of loads. As an example, Unique powder is a solid option for almost any pistol load, so by stocking that one product, you can serve the needs of 9mm, .40 S&W, .45 ACP and many more caliber options.


Unless you’re in the specialty reloading market for finicky reloaders, you can get by with just one or two brands of primers. I’ve always preferred CCI myself, because they’re consistent and feed well through priming tools. You will have to carry the right sizes for your market. At a minimum, you’ll need small pistol, large pistol, small rifle, and large rifle sizes. To expand the universe, you can add magnum variants and if you have lots of precision rifle shooters in your area, Benchrest primers.


Bullets are easy to buy online, and with flat-rate postage options, surprisingly affordable to ship. For convenience, you might want to adopt a cost-effective, limited-selection strategy. Buy enough of a few broad-appeal caliber projectiles like 9mm, .45 ACP, .223 and .308 to offer fair pricing, but leave the niche and lower volume projectiles to the online sellers. For many reloaders, there’s a value to being able to get what you need right now for that weekend reloading binge.


Even more so than projectiles, case selection can quickly spiral out of control. If you’re selling starter kits to new reloaders, you must have the basics to get them off and running. As they get more experienced, they’ll likely turn to alternate sources of brass. Again, try starting with the biggies before expanding into niche calibers.

Segmenting the Market

As with any new product line decision, it’s important to think about the target market. What segments of the reloading community are likely to value local retail purchases more than shopping and buying online?

Let’s explore some potential segments of the reloading market and consider some business feasibility angles like their propensity to buy locally and the level of stock investment required on your part.

Volume Competition Shooters

Those who shoot action pistol sports like USPSA, IDPA, 3Gun and Steel Challenge burn through a lot of ammo. Race day alone might cost a couple hundred rounds and that doesn’t count any of the practice required to make a good showing during the competition itself. These shooters are interested in lowering their cost per round and will trade their time to get that result. By investing some hours during the week, they can produce enough ammo to keep themselves in the game without taking out a second mortgage.

From an equipment perspective, these folks require some specialized gear. While it’s technically possible to reload as much pistol or rifle ammunition as you want with a starter kit and single stage press, that quickly becomes tedious. High-volume reloaders need more complicated and expensive progressive presses, electronic scales, and efficient high-volume case cleaning and processing tools.

Precision Rifle Shooters

Where I live, there’s a small but dedicated community of shooters who compete in sports like NRA High Power and F-Class. These folks are finicky about precision and spend a small fortune on guns, gear, and almost always, hand-loaded ammunition.

The challenge for a local retailer is that they’re not buying off-the-shelf standard dies and consumables. They value match grade everything: specialty sizing and seating dies, Benchrest primers, premium bullets and particular powders. Unless you’re located near Camp Perry, this may not be a profitable segment on which to focus. The gear is unique, and the community is relatively small.

Beginning Reloaders

The reasons that people start reloading vary. Some are drawn to the appeal of potential cost savings. Others view it as an enjoyable hobby. Whatever the reason, this community likely has the most value for retailers. The need for consulting and education is high, so there’s value to the customer in a local relationship to help them overcome the learning curve. Having the basic required products on hand just increases the odds of turning that “I’m thinking about reloading my own …” discussion into a purchase.

The reloading world can be intimidating. If you think the ammunition, holster and accessory product spaces are crowded, wait until you experience the near infinite variety of reloading gear and consumables. Perhaps more than any other product category, it’s important to develop laser focus on your target customer segment and stock intelligently for that community alone. You might have to say “Sorry, we don’t carry that” to some of the specialty reloaders, but that’s a better alternative than thousands of dollars of niche gear collecting dust on the shelves.


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