Gun Market Is ‘Fractured’ as Alberta, B.C. Slump, Ontario Steady — This is a “very fractured year” for Canada’s gun market, Wes Winkel, the president of the country’s main industry group, said after hearing from executives this week.

Some companies are doing well, while others are going out of business amid adverse politics, unusual weather, declining spending and increasing competition. Stores that are weak online are hurting.

The mood in the first half of 2017 was soured by the Liberal government’s pending Firearms Marking Regulations, a new law on gun imports that had been scheduled for June 1 and that threatened to cripple the market.

Then British Columbia and Alberta were hit by wildfires and floods that have disrupted hunting and recreational shooting, worsening the effects of a two-year recession in Alberta that has cut spending on guns and gear.

Wholesale, Imports

The biggest casualty is Wholesale Sports Canada Ltd., currently in the midst of closing its 12 hunting, fishing and outdoor stores from Manitoba to B.C. amid intensifying competition from online retailers and slowing consumer demand.

Firearm imports also have dropped, and sank to a 10-month low in September. Almost all the guns sold in Canada come from abroad, making imports the best — and the only — publicly available measure of the health of the market.

‘Very Fractured Year’

Ontario, Quebec and the eastern provinces are doing better, although Quebec’s plan to ramp up tracking of shooters and their firearms will increase constraints and costs for legal gun owners. The federal government is also preparing more restrictive gun laws. That can spur buying before the laws take effect, or prompt shooters to exit the sport.

“It’s a very fractured year,” Winkel, president of the Canadian Sporting Arms and Ammunition Association, said in a telephone interview on Thursday. “Alberta and B.C. are still in the dumps. We seem to be stronger in Ontario, Quebec and the Maritimes. The strong online dealers are doing better.”

Online vs. Walk-In

The accelerating shift in business from walk-in stores to online-only retailers was a big topic on a conference call this week with industry executives, said Winkel, the owner of Ellwood Epps Sporting Goods, about 90 minutes north of Toronto.

Many industries began the shift to Internet shopping more than 15 years ago. The website of Ellwood Epps says the company “joined the digital age with the creation of a website” in 2001.

Online and Walk-In

Business doesn’t have to be all in person or all online, and some retailers excel at both. A 2011 article in Harvard Business Review said Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s Inc., cited by Wholesale Sports as a new source of competition in Canada, “not only have some of the highest-­rated websites; they also have some of the most engaging physical stores.”

Internet-only stores don’t pay rent for fancy showrooms or salaries for salespeople, enabling them to charge less than traditional stores. Shooters are increasingly going to their local shop to see and touch firearms and ask questions, then leaving empty handed to buy the guns online for less, Winkel said.

Frustration, Costs

“A lot of the stores are frustrated,” he said. “It’s the old ‘Future Shop vs. Amazon’ argument. Now we’re beginning to see it in the firearms market.”

“There is a cost to having a place open for display,” Winkel said. “If all the purchases go to non-display places, then pretty soon there won’t be any display places. It’s not going to happen overnight, but that’s the trend.”

What’s Popular This Year at Ellwood Epps?

Comments by Wes Winkel, Owner:

  • “We’re still seeing a very strong market in military surplus,” rifles such as the SKS, Lee-Enfield, M1 Garand and Mosin-Nagant.”
  • “Handguns are still very popular, especially wheelguns and polymer-framed or striker-fired pistols.”
  • There’s been “quite a run on combination guns, rifle-shotgun combinations.”
  • New models: SIG MPX, Norinco T97 Gen 2, CZ Scorpion EVO 3 S1.

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