June 24, 2024
Grow Your FFL Business

Hand Loading for Dollars

Reloading has been popular with serious shooters a long, long time, but now, especially with lingering ammo shortages, retailers are turning to reloading and custom loading to provide quality ammo at a competitive cost for their customers and to boost storefront income.

At Buffalo Arms in Ponderay, Idaho, custom ammo has been a significant part of the store’s business for more than 25 years now.

“Dave Gullo, the owner of this store, is a competitive long-range black powder shooter,” said Chris Sanders, marketing director at Buffalo Arms. Gullo would wait for long periods for the ammunition he needed, so he started loading his own, and eventually started loading for other people; the retail business came about as a result.

“We’re the only federally licensed manufacturer of black powder ammunition in the country,” Sanders said. “If you have an antique rifle that’s not made for modern powders, we’re the only place you can go for ammunition for it. We also do older smokeless calibers, like .30 Remington.”

Buffalo Arms has four major categories of custom ammo customers.

“We have reenactors who buy lots of black powder, and a fairly large market of cowboy action shooters,” Sanders said. “Some of our customers are collectors, and we have people who are long range, professional, competitive shooters.”

The specialized ammunition that Buffalo Arms loads attracts just as specialized customers and employees. Besides Gullo, who has won six 1000-yard NRA Creedmoor Championships, one of his employees and two customers also have won the same annual competition.

“At any one time, you can have four national champions in the building,” Sanders said. “Often, people call to ask for information about reloading black powder. At least half of our customers are reloaders who come in and buy ammo, and then buy dies and start reloading the particular ammo themselves.”

Justin Lampert, vice president of National Armory in Pompano Beach, Florida, said reloading has become a large part of National Armory’s business, too.

“We sell at gun shows and supply other ranges in the area,” he said. “We also load just about everything police departments shoot.”

One reason National Armory started reloading, Lampert said, was to use the brass they have available from the range portion of their business.

“By using the brass we have, we can cut the cost,” he said. “We’re still paying for powder, bullets, and primers, and we’re paying someone to load. But we’ve cut the cost down tremendously versus buying regular ammunition.”

One important cost of reloading is insurance.

“We have a $2 million insurance policy on our ammunition,” Lampert said. “Our insurance policy for the store, the extra insurance on our ammunition, and everything else is around $25,000 per year.” Lampert said they arranged their insurance through the National Rifle Association; the policy is with Lockton Affinity in Overland Park, Kansas.

You’ll also need a Class VI FFL.

“A Class VI FFL is inexpensive,” Lampert said. “It’s $500 initially, and the upkeep on it is $250 per year. Make sure you pay the Federal Excise Tax on any ammo you produce that’s sold as just ammunition.”

Dillon Presses at National Armory in Pompano Beach, Florida
Dillon presses lined up at National Armory in Pompano Beach, Florida can crank out the ammo. A good operator can load 800 – 1,000 rounds per hour per press.

The biggest hurdle the store faces with reloading, Lampert said, is finding employees who understand reloading and can run the equipment.

“The automated machines we use increase production and make a higher end product,” he said. “They also get rid of errors. An average person who’s good at loading should be able to run 800 to 1,000 rounds an hour on a Dillon machine.”

Reloading has been a windfall for National Armory’s bottom line.

“We’re working at about a 50 percent margin instead of a 30 percent margin,” Lampert said. “Selling your own ammunition gets your name out there and brings a whole new group of customers into the store.”

Loading custom ammo is a niche market that may not be for every retailer, but given the potential profits it’s an option worth exploring.