Many firearms retailers have been fortunate to capture a percentage of the past twelve years of booming firearms business. One of the dealer segments that have done extremely well are those that are Special Operational Tax (SOT)-licensed and selling suppressors. SOT dealers can legally sell NFA items such as suppressors “cans,” short barreled rifles “SBRs,” machine guns and other similar NFA restricted firearm items. Not only have these retailers enjoyed sales from tactical products, but they have also captured higher margins and additional sales in the form of NFA products such as suppressors all with just an add-on $500 SOT license.
Suppressors have been the bulk of sales for these SOT dealers as suppressor ownership has spiked over the past decade. Customers are realizing that the $200 tax stamp fee is not the premium it once was considering the benefit suppressors offer shooters. Once customers realize that the process is not that complex and more of an impatient wait, statistically those customers continue to buy additional suppressors, but customers have to start somewhere. Tactical Retailer looked at a number of entry-level suppressor options and expectations of first time buyers.
Waiting Until the Hearing Protection Act Passes
There are many dealers and customers who are waiting on the HPA to pass, however, as we all learned during Saturday cartoons with Schoolhouse Rock, it takes a while for a proposed bill to become law and even then it may not go into effect immediately. Impatience will kick back in and suppressor sales will see a sales spike again in late 2017. Dealers interested in selling suppressors are encouraged to apply for an add-on $500 SOT license. All indications are the proposed law will likely not pass until 2018 and a $500 investment in a SOT license could have a very high return on investment to reap sales from suppressors and also the very hot SBR market.
Unfortunately, most customers mistakenly buy their first suppressor based on lowest price with the thought that all are about the same. Regrets are usually high after purchasing a low budget suppressor, paying $200 for the tax stamp and then enduring the wait. Lessons are learned and then most buyers’ second suppressor purchase is then based on features.
Rimfire suppressors are usually where buyers start. Although there are still a few sub-$200 all-aluminum rimfire suppressors, most of the industry has moved to a blend of aluminum, stainless steel, Inconel stainless steel or titanium components, which are more expensive. The upside is that the technology to manufacture these components has also reduced machining cost, so today’s customers will get a better, more durable suppressor than they would have just ten years ago.
A number of quality suppressor manufacturers are recognizing that customers choose a first suppressor based on price and are now offering suppressors featuring the same technology as their higher end models, but swapping out expensive titanium and Inconel steel for stainless combined with plainer looking design. The result is still a very good, durable suppressor, but one that may just weight a bit more. Retailers should emphasize the heirloom investment and recommend the highest quality suppressor customers can . The old adage is true: “You get what you pay for.”
Rimfire suppressors are typically very heavily used and should be as durable as possible. Most quality rimfire suppressors are now rated for other calibers beyond a less powerful .22LR round and some models are also rated for full-auto fire. These ratings are widely accepted as a durability rating. A suppressor capable of handling .22 WMR, .17M2, .17HMR, .22 Short, .22LR and in some cases, centerfire FN PS90 5.7×28 rounds while being full auto rated for .22LR, is likely going to be one really tough, rugged suppressor that will hold up for years. Premium materials such as titanium alloy that offer durability and is also extremely light comes with a higher price.
Customers are learning to look for suppressors that can deliver a broader array of rimfire caliber compatibility with potentially full-auto rating. Chances are high that a customer may not be happy with their very first purchase of an inexpensive suppressor when it does not hold up to the long-term abuse. Just $100 price increase from the $200 entry point can net a very high quality, more durable, quieter and easier-to-clean design. Rimfire suppressors are also horribly dirty little beasts and require frequent disassembly and cleaning after each use. Make an effort to understand which suppressors will make this an easier maintenance task to have happier customers. Sell customers a great first rimfire suppressor and it will almost guarantee they will return.
With first-time buyers in mind, manufacturers are pushing the concept of one do-it-all, multi-caliber suppressor capable of handling more than just 9mm or .45-caliber handgun rounds. There is a performance trade off to all the caliber flexibility, but first-time buyers love these do-all, multi-caliber rated suppressors.
Almost every manufacturer is now rating their centerfire handgun suppressors for rimfire calibers. Several centerfire handgun suppressors are even rated for sub-sonic .300 Blackout. Liberty’s Mystic X 9mm Suppressor is now rated up to .300 Win. Mag., which makes it one of the multi-cal kings. This adds a lot of versatility to an investment.
Handgun suppressors usually include “boosters,” which help deliver enough recoil to make semi-auto pistols operate reliably with a suppressor attached. Most newer centerfire handgun suppressors are configurable to change to various fixed thread mounts to also allow use on pistol caliber carbines/pistols such as the Sig MPX. Customers are looking for handgun suppressors that can deliver convertibility from a booster to several fixed thread-on mounts and offer at least .22LR, 9mm and .300 Blackout (subsonic) ratings.
Rifle suppressors are usually sealed designs that cannot be disassembled. Due to the science of bullet flight, a significant amount of engineering is applied to the entire field of rifle suppressors. The result is rifles suppressors for different needs. Most first-time rifle buyers will gravitate to more flexible .30 caliber suppressors to provide more versatility on firearms ranging from .223 to .300 Win. Mag.
Accuracy-tuned suppressors are typically the most expensive and designed to enhance accuracy for the precision shooter occasionally at some cost of performance, size or weight. Other suppressors are designed around modularity, quick-disconnect or low weight.
Luckily for the new rifle suppressor buyer, the fastest growing segment of rifle suppressors are rugged basic or “hunter” models, which can start as low as $500. These various models usually are a simpler design with the option for some type of quick disconnect mount or a standard direct thread mount patterns.
Final Thoughts on entry-level suppressors
Today, customers have a huge array of suppressor manufacturers available in a market compared to that just three election cycles ago. The biggest trend is modularity and suppressor caliber flexibility. With more manufacturers in the market, customers have a huge diversity of offerings. Tactical Retailer suggests current FFL dealers consider adding a SOT license, otherwise extra revenue, margin and current first-time suppressor customers will walk out the door to another dealer.
Featured photo: Rimfire suppressors see hard, heavy use.