Some of the businesses in the shooting industry must be wondering if they fell asleep and woke up in an alternative universe — a universe that combines land-office business on the one hand, with government-mandated inability to fill orders on the other.
After several years in the doldrums, with sales of ammunition and loading components lagging, with retailers offering ever-larger discounts and package deals and some companies laying off staff and cutting back production, the situation changed overnight. Suddenly, there was panic buying in the face of the expected epidemic. Retail stores began running out of ammunition, and sales of components soared.
With many retail stores closed and people ordered to stay home, not unnaturally, buyers turned to the internet and began ordering from companies like Graf & Sons, MidwayUSA, and Buffalo Arms. So far so good (for them) except that, laboring under the same restrictions as everyone else, they were forced to close their retail outlets, suspend customer pick-up options and have their remaining staff work under handicaps like face masks and “social distancing.”
In late March, I placed a couple of orders with Graf’s. At that time, they were warning that shipping would be delayed eight to ten days, but eventually both orders arrived. Yesterday (April 28) I placed another order, and they advised that they were then working on orders placed on April 13, so I should look forward to at least a 15-day delay in even processing the order. Furthermore, anything involving a HazMat fee (ammunition, powder, primers) would be delayed even longer.
A quick check of MidwayUSA’s website revealed similar difficulties. As if all that were not bad enough, many items were out of stock, with no indications of when (or even if) new supplies might arrive.
Then we come to the suppliers themselves. Companies like Hornady are laboring under some severe constraints, with orders for their most popular items back logged and staff trying to make and ship the products while still abiding by the health regulations.
As of now, a few states are starting to loosen up the restrictions and allow some businesses to reopen, but you don’t gear up an ammunition plant to start churning out 9mm and .223 overnight. It doesn’t take too many log jams in the production and shipping chains to really hamper supply. Last time I looked, many internet companies had suspended even back-orders because their systems had been overwhelmed.
All of this is occurring as we head into a presidential election, an every-four-years event that almost always involves some panic buying, depending on who looks likely to end up in the White House. Right now, we don’t know who that might be, or even how it might come about, especially if traditional voting methods are restricted. More uncertainty, and hence more panic buying, should be expected. Anyone with an interest in shooting would be well advised to keep haunting the internet supply chain, hoping to find some of what they want, in stock, somewhere and get their order in while it’s still possible.
Although it’s looking rather far ahead, this whole episode raises the question of how ammunition and other shooting supplies will be sold in the future. Internet operations like AmmoSeek, and internet ammunition sales companies, have been developing a serious edge for several years. For example, you can log onto AmmoSeek, tell it you want .380 defense rounds, and it will search the internet for you, list all the options and prices and allow you to simply click on a link to the seller to place an order.
Many of the ammunition supply houses do not have retail stores or even conventional warehouses. At least two I know of, set up state-of-the-art facilities in low-cost areas like the wilds of Oklahoma, whence they fill orders all over the country via UPS and FedEx. For convenience and low prices, that’s very hard to beat. Regardless of how the whole pandemic thing unfolds, it’s hard to see a return to the old system of retail gunshops stocking ammunition and the customer having to make do with what they have in stock.
Almost everyone is predicting wholesale changes in the way we do things, from grocery shopping to health precautions. It appears the shooting industry will be no different.–Terry Wieland