In today’s firearms market, suppressors offer significantly more growth potential than any other product offering. According to information given to the American Suppressor Association (ASA), as of August 2018, around 1,554,000 suppressors were registered with ATF. Although the registry has amassed these suppressors over the past 84 years, over 80% have been added since 2011 – the very year that ASA was formed. In many ways, the growth curve of the suppressor market mimics that of black rifles following the sunset of the assault weapons ban in 2004, albeit on a smaller scale. However, unlike the current AR market, the suppressor segment still exhibits incredible potential for growth. The demand is most certainly there; industry just needs to tap it.
In the U.S., there are about 400 million firearms in circulation, owned by roughly 100 million firearm owners. Although not all firearms can accept a suppressor, revolvers being the primary example, many can. With more and more manufacturers offering “factory threaded” options, the percentage of guns that can host a suppressor is skyrocketing. Based on data from ATF, ASA estimates that the 1.5 million suppressors are owned by around 300,000 individuals. Based on these statistics, approximately one-third of one percent of firearm owners own suppressors and less than one-third of one percent of the firearms in circulation use a suppressor. These miniscule percentages have never been more ripe to grow.
Suppressor sales are, at times, driven by the same fears and anticipations as the broader firearms market. Following the announcement of ATF Rule 41F in January, 2016, which changed the process to purchase suppressors, the industry swelled with unprecedented demand for suppressors. However, once the rule took effect in July of that year, demand sharply declined until the start of 2017.
ATF statistics indicate that 2017, was a relatively “normal” year for suppressor purchases, with over 110,000 units sold. If the current trajectory for 2018 is maintained, ASA estimates between 130,000 to 150,000 units will be sold, resulting in the second highest year on record for suppressor sales, behind the 312,000+ sold in 2016.
While the Hearing Protection Act (HPA) caused some consumers to delay purchasing in hopes of its passage, it served as the single best marketing opportunity that our industry has ever seen, educating millions of gun owners on the benefits of suppressors and the fact that they are legal. Barring passage of the Hearing Protection Act – with its likelihood waning following the mid-term elections, or the threat of another catalyst like ATF 41F to drive demand, what will be the next facilitator of growth?
Education is a space where the major firearm manufacturers have an extreme advantage, yet are almost completely missing the mark. Legacy manufacturers, especially those that have entered the suppressor market through acquisition or in-house innovation, have a considerable untapped resource at their disposal. Unlike smaller manufacturers who only make suppressors, these companies have the ability to reach a large, loyal fan base who do not yet own suppressors, and likely know little to nothing about suppressor technology or suppressor ownership. Larger companies can simultaneously educate their customers about the benefits of suppressors, teach them about legalities and the purchase process, and convert their captive audience into consumers of their suppressor offerings.
Traditional firearms manufacturers sit on the precipice of the largest growth opportunity in the last decade - to convert existing loyal customers into first time suppressor buyers. In order to realize this potential, a holistic approach to marketing needs to be established – one part education, one part sales, and one part advocacy. Converting one customer into a suppressor buyer not only creates an immediate sale, but often future sales, as very few people ultimately stop at one suppressor. Whether through simple conversations at the range, or membership in ASA, these new customers generally advocate for more suppressor use, strengthening our voice and setting the stage for meaningful change.
To many manufacturers and distributors, an existing market of 150,000 units is not something to get excited about. Many companies will make or sell more units of a single handgun or rifle SKU this year. Once you factor in that the marketplace for suppressors is becoming increasingly crowded, and many existing customers are fiercely brand loyal, the incentives to invest in taking market share become bleak at best. This is not because the opportunity for true growth doesn’t exist; it is because industry is looking at the problem through the wrong lens.Instead of focusing on existing market share, the industry should focus on expanding the proverbial pie. After all, even 50% of 150,000 units is child’s play compared to 25% of 1,000,000. If the major manufacturers and distributors work together with ASA and NASGW, 1,000,000 units per year could easily be achieved in the very near future. Again, the demand is most certainly there; help us help you tap it!