Part Of A Trend

A number of people have been angered by Walmart’s recent decision to stop selling guns and ammo of various types.  I’m a little angry myself, but no that much — because I was wise to Walmart’s game a long time ago.  Here’s what I wrote about the giant chain back in 2003 (!!!):

Guns, And Walmart

February 26, 2003
8:10 AM CDT

I’m aware that a whole bunch of people out there buy guns and ammo from Wal-Mart (not to mention all the other household stuff), and that’s fine.  A couple of people know that I don’t especially care for Walmart myself, and have written to talk about it.

I’ve worked in and around the retail industry for over twenty-five years, for small operations and huge chains, and on two continents, so I know a little whereof I speak.  Here are my thoughts on the matter.

1.  I don’t like one organization, especially a retailer, to have a huge (or near-monopolistic) market share.  I don’t think it’s healthy for the economy, despite the short-term consumer savings that a large organization brings to the market.  When most of the smaller operations get put out of business, the community suffers, both economically and in spirit.

2.  Despite the folksiness of their public demeanor, Walmart is a pretty damned predatory company in their dealings with both suppliers and competitors.  They go after competition with a ferocity and lack of conscience that are truly disturbing.  That’s fine, of course—it’s good business—but at some point, that attitude will turn around and bite the consumer too.  When you become the only game in town, eventually you become arrogant.  If Walmart tries to deny that this will happen to them, they’re ignorant of history:  it always happens.  Always.

3.  Most insidiously, when one store becomes the sole channel for a specific product, it becomes progressively easier for that product to be controlled by legislation.  When there’s only one faucet, it’s easy to stop the flow of water—when there are thousands, it’s more difficult.

4.  Along the way, eventually, product choice becomes narrower when only one or two stores control all the sales.  When all a store cares about is what sells now, the more esoteric items disappear because they either don’t move quickly enough for the store to generate profit, or the price is increased to generate a larger profit.  So you either won’t find it, or it will be too expensive.  This is Retailing 101.

That’s it.  I don’t think that Walmart is good for the country in the long-term:  near-monopolies seldom are.

As far as the gun business is concerned, I don’t think Walmart is good for the country right now.  To their credit, they’ve made guns and ammunition cheaper in rural areas, and many people swear by them.  But when you live in Wahoo WY and Walmart is the only game in town, don’t think for a moment that you’re going to have the ultimate gun store in Walmart, because you won’t.

Frankly, Walmart doesn’t give a shit about the gun business.  It’s just another product category to them, like shirts or jeans, and most of their decisions are made at head office in Bentonville, not at the local level.  If guns and ammo become too problematic for them in terms of regulation, product movement or return on investment, they’ll drop the category without a second thought—once again, that’s good business, and you can’t fault them for it—but gun owners will be totally screwed.

Sure, the gun store is more expensive:  because he doesn’t have the daily profits from other categories like toys, CDs and sweatshirts to keep him in business.  I know how it works:  you shop around at the local gun stores, get all the information from the guys behind the counter, and then go to Walmart because that Remington 870 is $80 cheaper there.  Congratulations.  You got a great deal—and shafted the guy whose entire living depends on your dollars.  If you’ve done this kind of thing before, and this paragraph didn’t give you a twinge of conscience, you ought to be ashamed of yourself.

Walmart can survive without selling guns and ammo.  Your local gun store can’t.  Think about it.

Then in April 2006, I noted this development:

Walmart Stores Inc. has decided to stop selling guns in about a third of its U.S. stores in what it calls a marketing decision based on lack of demand in some places, a company spokeswoman said Friday.
The world’s largest retailer decided last month to remove firearms from about 1,000 stores in favor of stocking other sporting goods, in line with a “Store of the Community” strategy for boosting sales by paying closer attention to local differences in demand.

Once again, Walmart demonstrated that as far as they’re concerned, guns are no different from jeans or audio CDs:  no sales, bye-bye.

None of our Plano-area stores sell guns or ammo, I suspect because there are about a dozen gun stores (including Bass Pro and Cabela’s) in the immediate area;  and I suspect that we’re not a price-sensitive group anyway so cheap shotguns aren’t going to attract too many buyers when for a dozen dollars more you can get personalized service from a proper gun store.  And as far as I can tell, most gun owners up here have been buying their ammo online for over a decade — I being one of them, for sure.  So it’s unsurprising, from a purely merchandising rationale, that Wally World doesn’t stock any gunny goodness in this neighborhood.  Frankly, I wish WalMart would make it policy across all  their stores (although I don’t think they will because of their rural stores’ contribution).

Now read what the CEO of Hornady has to say about dealing with these assholes:

In my previous life, I worked for a company that lived and died by Walmart.  And like many companies, Walmart treated them poorly.  And, as we were going through these things with Walmart, I decided that if I was ever in a situation where I didn’t have to do business with them, I would not.  And when I got to Hornady, we were doing some business with them, it wasn’t a lot, but they started to become difficult to work with again.  I was in a situation where I made the decision for our company to walk away and everybody in the company supported my decision. And we have not looked back.

And here’s my favorite part:

“As long as there is a Hornady at Hornady, we will never sell Walmart direct. They don’t support our industry.” – Jason Hornady, 2007

He points out, by the way, that if perchance you see Hornady products at Walmart, those would have come through a wholesaler — and from his tone, I don’t think Hornady is too happy about it.

So there you have it:  Walmart is not our friend.  Make changes to your own shopping habits as it suits you.  And support your local gun store, regardless.


  1. I live in an area dominated by Walmart (three Neighborhood Markets, and FOUR Supercenters within five miles of my house), so I don’t really have that much of a choice in retail anymore. I have noticed recently that the store brands are becoming more prominent. Onn in electronics, Ozark Trail in sporting goods, and Great Value in food. It may be that suppliers are finally telling Bentonville to piss up a rope. These brands aren’t really high quality, or even really decent in a lot of cases.

  2. Walmart is a problem but it seems like the entire corporate sector is going full commie these days with the gun stuff and that Business Roundtable abomination. I have a debate with myself as to whether Walmart or Amazon is the most evil. It goes back and forth depending on the latest outrage. Unfortunately, here in a rural area, it is most difficult to live without one or the other due to the trends you note.

    Kroger’s CEO is so busy keeping guns out of his stores, he can’t manage to keep product in his stores. No OJ for 10 days now and other stuff is missing too.

  3. On the flip side…

    The sad truth is that too many Local Gun Stores (LGS) are run by smug assholes who charge outrageous prices, talk down to customers (when they talk to them at all) and generally treat their customers like the Comic Book Guy from The Simpsons. It is an unfortunate effect of the “hobby business”, that is, when someone takes a hobby and tries to turn it into a business. You can also see it in other “hobby businesses” like Ham radio, bicycling, computers, Radio control aircraft, etc.

    Add to this the short hours that make it inconvenient for people to visit and the limited inventory carried by most LGS and you can see why the Wal Mart model is successful. The number of LGS that are run by people who are actually BUSINESS people first and gun enthusiasts second is small. That’s also why LGS seem to open and close with the frequency of restaurants. There are very few in my area that have been in business longer than a decade, and most of them are constantly teetering on the edge of bankruptcy.

    As to whether Wally World stops selling guns, it gets a big “meh” from me. When I turned 18, 40 years ago, you could buy guns at:

    JC Pennys
    Montgomery Wards
    And several other major retail chains that are now long gone.

    The fact that Sears, Pennys, Target and K-Mart stopped selling guns (most of them in the 80’s or 90’s) has not, to my knowledge, affected anybody’s ability to buy a firearm anywhere.

    If Wally World stopped selling guns tomorrow, that business would shift elsewhere. Probably to the likes of Bass Pro/Cabelas and Sportsman’s Warehouse – two companies that use EXACTLY the same methods as Wal Mart when it comes to squeezing out LGS.

    Final point: The notion that the LGS is an old American institution is a myth. The LGS is a creation of the Gun Control Act of 1968 that sharply regulated who could sell firearms. Prior to that, most guns were sold by mail order or in hardware or general retail stores. I know that in the little Oklahoma town where I spent my earliest years, (1963 – 67) there was never a “gun shop” as such. If you wanted a gun you either bought it from the Sears in the nearest big city or you bought it locally at the OTASCO (Oklahoma Tire and Supply Company) in the middle of town which was pretty much the “general hardware store” back then.

  4. I’ve heard on good authority guns in Walmart are “seconds”, not up to snuff through normal channels. I’ve never bought a gun at Walmart so I have no experience. I have, however, bought (4) 100 rd boxes of Winchester 12 ga shotgun shells and every single shell that I shot through my fairly new Rem 870 had problems ejecting the empty, meaning I had to jamb a dowel down the pipe to get it out. None of those shells were problematic when fired through my 100 year old Winchester model 12. I never had that problem with any other shells in my Rem 870. I even spent a few hours with the Dremel honing the chamber of the 870 and the Winchesters still hung up in it.

    FWIW, I frequently use the Walmart brand of foods, Great Value, and have no problem with them. My fav is the Great Value Spam and I eat a couple cans a month, saving a little money each time over the name brand version. Bring on all the Spam snobs.

  5. Kim, everything you said about Walmart then is just as true today. I live in a larger version of Wahoo, WY & Walmart is the only department store-like business in town but on the flip side, living in The Great State of Wyoming means liquor stores with drive-thru windows and gun stores that pop up like mushrooms after the rain & I’ve never had a problem with prices or customer service. Mrs. Hash & I have been getting as much stuff as possible from Amazon (I know, another evil, soulless corporate predator) but at least they have stuff. The local Walmart is a joke. Items not restocked for a month, 2 check-out lanes out of 30 are ever open, & sketchy quality.

    Hornady proves that a company can be profitable and principled. The rest of Corporate America, not so much.

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