I’ve been reflecting the past couple years on the growing availability of products in our industry, available for sale online. With the COVID pandemic, online giants like Amazon, Walmart and others reaped a windfall of profits because many were stuck at home, afraid to go out for fear of spreading the virus or just not wanting to deal with the mask mandates.
Decades ago, the late Thomas P. "Tip" O'Neill, Jr., Speaker of the House of Representatives, became rather well known for saying, "All politics is local." What he meant by that is that a politician’s success is overwhelmingly impacted by his ability to understand, work on and lobby for the issues his constituents most care about. Usually, those were not “big ideas” but simple, run-of-the-mill and everyday concerns impacting common citizens. He suggested that if you mastered the ability to represent those “local concerns” at a national level, then you’d be a success. I believe he was right.
I’m going to suggest today that like politics, all business is local. And we do ourselves and our neighbors a great disservice if we forget that. Your local retailer, like your local politician to a certain extent, can be your advocate on getting the things you need, sharing tips and tricks, working hard to service your firearms, maybe offering a place to shoot and test, and providing great advice about ammunition, optics and other accessories that match your firearm. Plus, when you buy something locally, and something is wrong or you need to return it, local retailers are there to help. When you buy from big online suppliers, that’s not always the case.
I don’t think I’m spreading any big secret here, but large online vendors are interested mostly in profits. Your local retailer is of course interested in profits too, but they also have a vested interest in you as their customer, because they see you face to face. You’re not some faceless or anonymous buyer out in the hinterlands. You’re their neighbor and in many cases their friend. This is true all the way through the distribution channel, from consumer to retailer to wholesaler and all the way to the supplier. These companies and suppliers have built relationships spanning decades in many cases. Who at the big online retailer cares about you like your local retailer will? I kind of think that might be a little different story.
The last couple years have been especially profitable for major, online companies. However, our main street businesses were not as fortunate. And that’s an absolute shame. It’s shameful particularly because those giant online behemoths are not supporting the local baseball and soccer teams or donating money to keep the fields and facilities looking good. They certainly aren’t paying taxes or employees locally. Those companies are probably not assisting the local American Legion with its programs or the local gun range with new targets or upgraded benchrests.
All those community projects and programs happen because local businesses and local donors dig in and dig deep to donate and volunteer their time to make sure those charitable efforts are a success. When you buy online, you may have saved a few dollars, true… but the bulk of that purchase went to line the pockets of big companies who oftentimes don’t represent you or your values in any way. And those dollars did not go into the pockets of your community members who could have put them to very good use.
When I go shopping, I like to see the items, read the boxes, check out the demo models and get my eyes and hands on the item if I can. It helps me understand the quality, the fit, finish, etc. I either walk away empty-handed because the item didn’t pass my standards test, or I walk away with the product in hand. Seems I almost always walk away with a few things I didn’t expect to pick up when I walked through the door. (My wife does NOT need to know this so ssshhh!)
Admittedly, it’s been a bit hard to walk away with products from your local retailer over the past couple years because demand has been ridiculous, and supply has been thin. But now, as things return from the stratosphere, store inventories are starting to replenish. I was very pleasantly surprised to find a whole wall of ammunition in a variety of calibers relevant to me, along with a diverse selection of guns, when I made a visit to a local sporting goods store this past weekend.
Of course, there are sometimes good reasons to buy things online, particularly if they aren’t available in your local area. And darn if it isn’t convenient.
I guess when I boil it all down, what I’m asking is that folks in our industry please just consider as much as possible the broader implications of ignoring our small family owned and main street gun shops, along with local businesses outside of our industry. When we choose to buy things online, which are available close to home, we are putting at risk a lot more than we might realize. If a local gun shop is relegated to just the “gun transfer hub” because folks are buying all their ancillary products online, what incentive does that business have to remain open at all? I’d prefer not to have them even consider closing the doors. Government regulation makes staying in business hard enough. We don’t need to make it harder for them buy doing all our shopping online.
So, I’d just like to encourage you to do as much of your business as local as possible. It’ll be good for your community, and it will definitely be good for the long-term viability of our industry and the retail community who supports us.