by Mikhail Orlov, CEO, 1-800 Guns And Ammo - Wednesday, March 15, 2017
“The race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong, nor does food come to the wise or wealth to the brilliant or favor to the learned; but time and chance happen to all.” -- Ecclesiastes 9:11
I wish the story of 1-800 Guns And Ammo was the tale of the right idea being brought into the world at the right time, resulting in a meteoric rise to fame and fortune. But it would simply not be true.
Rather, the story of 1-800 Guns And Ammo is one of a journey, full of mistakes, dead ends, small victories and disappointments. It’s a story of perseverance.
The origins of the company go back to 2009, when three immigrants from the former Soviet Union – me, Igor Motkin, and Alex Grigorenko (who grew up without direct access to firearms) decided to start a sporting goods company that reflected their passion for three things: the outdoors, the Internet, and retailing.
The original (and current) corporate name is Weby Corporation, chosen as a short word to represent all things web-related, and the first online venture was named Webyshops.
"Passion for three things: the outdoors, the Internet, and retailing."The original idea was to curate multiple small websites, such “riflescopes.webyshops.com,” “AR-15.webyshops.com” and so on. But like many “great ideas” that sound good on paper, we found it to be very difficult to execute this plan.
We simply did not have enough people and resources to make it happen. It was three friends trying to build a website, purchase products and perform customer service.
The first product focus was optics. Several of us had experience in that industry on the manufacturing level, so we started out with what we knew. But very quickly, the product offering started expanding to hunting and shooting products and accessories.
Before long, our customers were asking if they could buy firearms through us.
As time went on, we were confronted with two things that greatly influenced our subsequent decisions:
1) Google’s prohibition of advertising for sites that have firearms for sale
2) Recognition that Webyshops was a “bad choice” from the marketing perspective
The first constraint forced us to re-examine our approach to internet retailing altogether. We sell over 15,000 individual products from more than 500 brands -- some firearm-related, some not. Without the ability to advertise on Google, we were effectively shutting ourselves out from being able to sell things that outdoor consumers wanted, like boots, backpacks or tents.
The second issue was discovered when customers would call us and not be able to pronounce our name properly. We were called “Weebie” or “Webshop” and numerous other iterations. We thought ‘if our customers can’t pronounce our name correctly, how are they going to tell each other about us?’ Our name also did not tell anyone what we sold.
When we pondered on these two issues, we were faced with yet another dilemma: if we rebrand, should we rebrand into one or two websites?
After long hours of discussions, we finally decided to buck the trend and set up two internet properties: www.1800Gear.com, with a focus on non-firearm related products (and friendly to Google), and www.1800GunsAndAmmo.com, which we imagined to be the “Amazon of Shooting Sports.”
Why “1-800 Guns And Ammo,” you may ask?
It’s a throwback to “1-800” toll-free phone numbers (yes, we are dating ourselves a little.) We were also inspired by 1-800-Flowers.com, who built a thriving floral business around a similar approach.
While our online business began growing rapidly, more and more of our local fans kept asking us to open a retail store. Our first store was less than 500 square feet. Version 2.0 grew to 800 and our most recent venture is a whopping 4,500 square feet full of a variety of firearms and ammo.
"Giving back is an important aspect of who we are."The specialty retail business, and shooting sports retailers in particular, is tough these days. Amazon.com dominates almost every single category and retail margins are shrinking.
However, e-commerce and proper approach to these channels is the key to success. One cannot fully serve customers in the local community without access to the customer base across the country. The Internet is the great equalizer. Continual investment into technology and people is what helped us navigate these turbulent waters.
Amazon,com is the gold standard of best price and service when it comes to retailing. But for political reasons, they underserve the shooting sports category, citing “reputational risk.” This is a great opportunity for us or other retailers in this space.
As of the end of 2016, 1-800 Guns and Ammo proudly employs 38 people in the U.S. and 20 more internationally. We’ve reached sales of $28 million in 2016, up from $17 million in 2015, and we are projecting sales of $36 million in 2017. We stock over 15,000 individual products from over 500 brands with access to 250,000 more through partners and distributors.
We want to change the lives of the people around us for the better by creating opportunities in their communities. This work takes various forms. We employ several veterans of the armed forces and raise funds for local charities, like the Scottish Rite Hospital for Children, and support our local law enforcement foundations, like the Arlington Police Officers Foundation. Giving back is an important aspect of who we are.1-800 Guns And Ammo online!