Firearms are flying off the shelves at a record pace, but can we really determine which guns are selling in 2020? The short answer is no, although there’s no lack of guesstimates circulating. Some are more educated than others, but even the best are a microtone-thin snapshot of the market.
The fact that companies closely guard their real-time volume of sales doesn’t help. They file a mandatory volume-of-manufacturing report with BATFE at the end of the year. That information does not become public for many months, however.
GunBroker.com tracks the make and model of guns sold by vendors that use the company’s services. It issues accurate monthly and annual reports, but the numbers are exclusive to those processed through its website. The figures represent only enthusiasts comfortable buying from what is often a stranger, through the Internet.
The National Shooting Sports Foundation issued a solid report [PDF] this week based on those numbers. It provides a detailed glimpse at the trends and preference of model by geographical region. Unfortunately, it’s not the all encompassing study some claim.
There’s no denying it’s a great snapshot, but it doesn’t encompass a significant—likely majority—of sales this year. The figures do not include purchases made in person at brick-and-mortar FFLs. Enthusiasts still prefer to see if a firearm fits and inspect condition.
Add the volume of first-time gun owners this year, seeking one-on-one advice in their purchase, and there’s good reason sporting goods dealer shelves are empty.
But why can’t we tell which guns are selling in 2020 accurately? I caught up with Tom Taylor, SIG Sauer chief marketing officer and executive vice president, commercial sales, a few months ago and asked about the situation. He provided some great information I used in an American Rifleman article, but my complete interview provides a few more tidbits. It’s below, edited for brevity.
On Which Guns are Selling in 2020
GJS—Do firearm manufacturers have any way to track overall industry sales by make and model, including those from their competitors?
TT—Tracking industry sales is one of the most challenging parts of the firearms industry. There is no one source that gives firearms manufacturers a complete landscape. There are many vehicles that can be combined and/or extrapolated to give us some ideas, but no one consistent reporting for the industry or especially by brand. NICS is a good directional indicator for the over industry performance, but even that is fraught with numerous issues, including used guns being part of the mix.
GJS—Was there ever such a resource?
TT—At one time, a fairly good tool existed to at least help us understand local retail (did not include box stores) and it was AcuSport CLX data. It was a POS [point of sale] measurement tool at the local retail level across over 300 stores, which is enough to be statistically valid. We used that data quite extensively, but it went away when they went out of business. Some have tried to revive the technology, but to no avail so far.
Non-Endemic Detailed Tracking
GJS—Isn’t that somewhat odd for an industry this large?
TT—It is unfortunate that an industry of our size does not have any consistent data management tools. I’ve been in this industry for 16 years and even looking back at my career at the Coca-Cola Company prior to that, our measurement tools were infinite. We knew so much about our own product mix, our competitors, our customers, consumers and more. Many CPG companies have this level of data, but it has alluded our industry.
GJS—Does the BATFE annual report fill the information gap?
TT—The BATFE annual manufactures report is good to know, but it is so old by the time we get it, it’s just interesting and doesn’t help us run our respective businesses. And even that is just U.S. manufacturing. You have to combine that data with import reports, and it gets even more confusing with the manufacturers that import some of their products and make some in the U.S. So it mostly ends up being “nice to know” information a year to a year and half after the fact.
SIG’s Best Selling for 2020?
GJS—What’s your best selling handgun so far in 2020?
TT—We do have very good internal data for our own products and it has been interesting to watch the P365 become our best-selling product. The P320 stays on its heals, but the P365 is our best seller. And what market data we can accumulate tells us the P365 is the best-selling product line in the U.S. today.
GJS—Gunbroker.com retailers, however, indicated your P320 was the top seller the past two months, why the difference?
TT—Gunbroker.com is very misleading when they report “top sellers.” It is only the top sellers in their individual environment (on their website). This can be vastly misleading if guns are not listed there. For instance, the P365 did not show up on their most recent “Top 10” report and it is the best selling gun in the market. I believe the reason for this is that retailers do not need to list hot guns such as the P365 and others if they sell in-store and therefore do not need to be sold on-line.
GJS—Do you think guns from your competitors are under-represented in the Gunbroker.com listing?
TT—I’m sure there are others such as the G43 didn’t show up in the top 5.
Is there a way to tell which guns are selling in 2020? Taylor’s comments make it obvious there is not, unfortunately. In the meantime we’ll have to rely on the few thin, vertical slices of the market made available. Hopefully more of today’s “journalists” will report them as such, instead of the declaring them some sort of comprehensive study.