January 19, 2018
With apologies to the Grinch, Christmas isn't the only thing that comes without ribbons, comes without tags, comes without packages, boxes or bags. A mere one month after Christmas, the SHOT Show pops up from the fertile ground in Las Vegas like a spanking new Amanita Phalloides mushroom, ready for all unwary hikers.
To be honest, all of us in the industry have a love/hate relationship with the SHOT Show. It's often our first chance to see new product, have expensive dinners with sponsors and talk to industry people we desperately need to talk to. It's also crazy big and operating at a frenetic pace - remember, SHOT is a trade, not a consumer, show, and everyone is there to do business, not talk.
Still, SHOT is important because it gives us a window of how the industry is responding to the present "downturn." I say "downturn" because 2017 wasn't a bad year, but it was a drop over previous years. A lot of people in the business, especially the marketing side, have only seen the Obama "bubble" and have never had to deal with "business as usual."
Still, in 2018 the industry is facing a couple of brutal challenges.
The first is that many people bet heavily on a Hillary Clinton Presidency. That means making as many ARs as the machinery could turn out, and a lot of those ARs are still clogging the arteries of distributor and retailer shelves. The situation has been so bad that one wag suggested giving away an AR-15 with each purchase of a Happy Meal. That's great news for consumers as prices continue to drop, not so great news for manufacturers who have seen their margins vanish like morning mist.
The second challenge is that to make all those ARs, many companies expanded, adding equipment and in some cases factories. That means a lot of expensive additional capacity sitting around gathering dust. Not a good place to be, which is why there are rumors all over the place of dedicated AR manufacturers looking for other ways to keep the CNCs humming.
So what's the good news? Well, people are buying guns...lots of guns. But they aren't necessarily buying black rifles, with an interesting exception. High dollar ARs, such as those from Wilson Combat, are selling just fine. The low end of the business is, however, being driven lower and lower ($299 is the lowest I've seen for a decent AR, with the average commodity price in the $500 arena).
Here are Ten Trends that will shape SHOT and 2018:
- A potential flood of new products. New products are the classic Business School 101 way of working through a downturn, and the biggest players - Ruger, Sig Sauer, Glock and Smith & Wesson — know that. Ruger, for example, has products queued up like jets circling Atlanta. Just in recent weeks Ruger has rolled out the Rimfire Precision Rifle, the Hawkeye Long-Range Target Rifle in .300 Win Mag, the PC Carbine in 9mm, The hammer-fired Security 9 and the budget EC9s mini-9mm and a few more. Glock has been trickling out its Generation 5 pistols, plus the G19X, the civilian version of their entry into the Great Army Handgun Sweepstakes. S&W is touting the Shield 2.0, the M&P 2.0 line and versions of their surprise hit, the .22 Victory pistol. And Sig Sauer shook the markets last week with their one mini-9mm, the P365, the largest capacity tiny gun on the market and a guaranteed home run.
- No niche left unfilled. It's said Nature abhors a vacuum, and exactly the same is true in the 2018 gun market. You'll notice the list of new products is fine-sliced - something for everyone. For example, a couple of years back Ruger roiled the precision rifle market - a bright spot in growth - with their Ruger Precision Rifle at $1599 MSRP, a bomb in a market where most rifles were in the $3-6K universe. This year, Savage, Remington and Mossberg are offering their versions at prices once unheard-of for tack-driving long range rifles. Last year newcomer SCCY Firearms proved that the sub-$300 handgun market is a growing area; this year, look for everyone to offer guns in that niche (obviously, the Ruger Security 9 and EC9 are aimed squarely at SCCY's market).
- Get aboard the new caliber express! Sure, you have a 5.56 AR and maybe even a .308 AR-10, but do you have a .22 Nosler? 6.5 Creedmoor? .224 Valkyrie? 6mm Creedmoor? .260 Remington? 45-70 Rimless? .500 Auto Mag, .338 Federal? .458 HAM'R? And where's your .300 Blackout, 6.5 Grendel, .458 SOCOM, a nice retro .204 Ruger, 9mm, .10mm. .45, .22???? During the Obama Bubble, companies were frantically trying to keep up with 5.56 and .308 black rifles. Now, with that extra capacity we mentioned above, there's a flood of new, and some old cart ridges for the AR15/AR10 platforms. Hey...it makes sense! Think of it as a combination of points 1 and 2 - it's new and it's niche, and more are on the way!
- What's old is new again! Nobody wanted the 10mm cartridge until, strangely enough, everybody did. Col. Jeff Cooper's bastard child is every bit as much of a hot new cartridge now as it was when Sonny Crockett hid his Bren Ten under a pastel sport jacket. Everybody has a Big 10 semi auto or revolver; soon you will, too. Trust me on this...you can feel your Visa card twitching. And hey, don't forget bolt action hunting rifles! Sure, they've been available since the 19th Century, but now they're hotter than ever. If you don't already have one in 6.5 Creedmoor, it's unlikely you'll ever be invited to the "A" List parties. Really.
- Wheel guns are cool again! When Kimber launched the K6 .357 Revolver and Colt reintroduced its Cobra .38 Special, it signaled that revolvers were not only back, but bigger than ever. Ruger and Smith & Wesson are riding that wave; Kimber's expanding its line of revolvers; Magnum Research's BFR ("Biggest Finest Revolver"), Ruger's Blackhawks and Redhawks and S&W's .500 Magnums are benefiting from a rising interest in carpel tunnel syndrome-inducing big bore revolvers like the .454 Casull, .480 Ruger, .500 Linebaugh, even the venerable 45-70 and 30-30 in revolver platforms. Hint...wear a glove!
- Concealed carry guns are at MAX! What can I say? CCW has been the engine driving the handgun market for years. There are now so many choices, the market split in so many different directions, that everybody is feeling the pain of a slowdown. As the commercial says, you can have it your way. In fact, there's so much out there it makes my head ache, which causes me to carry a Glock. Caliberwise, .380 and 9mm are the two big winners. Nobody can remember a time when people thought .40 S&W was the bee's knees for concealed carry, and only Really Old Guys™ carry .45 ACP.
- Glass, glass, glass...and red dots...lots of red dots! This year is the single greatest year for optics since Hans Lippershey tried to get a patent for the first telescope in 1608 (he didn't, BTW). In the last few years we have seen quite literally a revolution in optics, both the glass and the electronic kind. Scopes have made a quantum leap over what was available as recently as five years ago, and, even better for us, prices are dropping. A couple of grand will buy you a scope that would make Bob the Nailer weep with joy. And that's not to mention electronic optics...keep your eyes on low-cost red dots and watch for the increasing convergence of traditional optics and electronics.
- The mainstreaming of mil-tech! You want thermal, you get thermal. You want night vision, you get night vision. You want scopes that practically aim themselves, you get scopes that practically aim themselves. You want drones, you got drones. You want a fully equipped M1 Abrams Main Battle Tank...well, maybe not this year. But the trickle down of military technology has become a flood. We are now approaching 2001: A Space Odyssey author and futurist Sir Arthur C. Clarke's Third Law: Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. And now it's magic you can afford. '
- Today's new hunter and shooter is a woman, and she's tired of being ignored! And trust me, she isn't being ignored any longer. In fact, one of the fasted browning niches in both shooting and hunting is women. And - and is this a surprise to anyone? - there's more to accommodating the new female market than pink guns...and pink, well, everything else. Women rule 2018.
- Expect the unexpected...again! Short-barreled shotguns that aren't shotguns at all? Check! Short-barreled rifles that aren't rifles or pistols? Check! Pistols that look like rifles? Check! Rifles that look like pistols? Hmmmmm! A Glock the folds up like origami? Roger that! A semiauto civilian legal FN 249 SAW in FDE? Oh yeah, baby! Yet another Caracal that won't be recalled? Fingers crossed! An actual real life product from Heizer Defense? Well... Long Range Precision .22s? Coming thing! Another thousand high end 1911s? Of course...where's your credit card? MP-5 clones? Under every table! 80% everything? Break out the Dremel! Flashlights with a lumen output that will melt steel? By the ton! The Taurus Spectrum again? Shipping, baby, shipping! Holster that won't work? For sure! Shotguns you can't afford? Take your pick! Stuff I haven't even thought about that I must have? Well, if past is any pricedent...
- Yes, I know I said "10," but this is important: NO MORE ZOMBIE CRAP!
Have a great SHOT Show!
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