Even though you’re operating in a legal industry, as a firearms dealer in 2018, you’re no doubt facing increasing resistance from the public and government to simply run your business. Just being able to accept credit card payments for your merchandise can be difficult.
Considered “high risk” by banks and payment processors, there are extra hurdles today for gun dealers across the country to obtain and retain reliable merchant services.
If you’re tired of jumping through hoops and preparing reams of paperwork for a merchant services application only to face delays and ultimately rejection, it’s time to consider Motile. We offer proven solutions for high risk merchants of every legal industry.
- State of the Industry Today
- Struggles Facing Firearms Dealers (and solutions)
- Commonly Asked Questions Gun Merchants Ask
- Industry Tips for Getting Your High Risk Merchant Account
- Additional Resources for Gun Dealers
Gun credit card processing is one of our many specialties, and we are prepared to help your business right away. Browse this guide for a glimpse at some of the challenges facing other firearms dealers, plus ways to confront this volatile marketplace and thrive. Use these resources to find a gun friendly credit card processor today.
1. State of the Industry Today
There have been sunnier days for firearms manufacturers and dealers. The latest Economic Impact report from the Firearms Industry Trade Association shows lower job, wage, and economic impact growth between 2016 and 2017. There are several reasons behind this stagnation, including:
- Unfavorable media attention for various reasons
- Changes in large retailer sales policies limiting sales to certain age groups
- Confidence in the current administration’s pro-second amendment stance
Typically, gun sales soar under the threat of policy changes that would potentially limit access to firearms. Since late 2016, the industry has faced what’s been termed the “Trump Slump” – a decline in sales attributed to the President’s staunch support of the second amendment. However, as long as Americans love their guns and the government embraces them, business will continue to thrive for gun merchants.
Key Statistics on the Firearms Industry
Tracking sales data in the industry is complex and convoluted. First, 40% of sales are not reported because they’re private. Second, while Federal law requires retailers to track sales, the law also prohibits the data from being centrally stored.
One barometer of the industry, though, are the financial statements put forth by the big three publicly-traded US firearms manufacturers. According to these statements, they have taken some hits recently.
- Remington filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2018 after more than a century in business reporting after a 25%+ decline in sales over the past two years.
- American Outdoor (formerly Smith & Wesson) released a statement saying demand is lower and they expect “flattish revenues” to continue.
- Sturm, Ruger, & Company reported a 22% decline in sales in Q1 2018 and decreased earnings by roughly one-third.
Even with the modest downturn, Chris Killoy, CEO of Sturm, Ruger, and Company said, “It’s not all gloom and doom,” adding, “the demise of the firearms industry was likely greatly exaggerated.”
The current sales revenue and publicly traded stock prices for the three industry-leading weapons manufacturers are:
|Companies||5-Year Stock High||5-Year Stock Low||Current Stock Price||2017 Revenue|
|American Outdoor Brands (Smith & Wesson)||$24.49||$8.32||$12.53||$903,200,000|
|Vista Outdoor (Savage/Stevens)||$25.07||$12.36||$15.26||$2,547,000,000|
One positive signal for independent retailers is that mega-retailers Kroger, Dick’s Sporting Goods, and Walmart have begun to limit sales by age, and restrict the sale of specific types of guns. This change opens greater market share opportunities for smaller merchants.
Recent ATF Data
Although uncovering concrete retail sales is difficult due to legal restrictions, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives puts out an annual report (published on a one-year delay) on the manufacture, import, and export of firearms.
Their latest report covers data from 2016, and reveals:
- Pistols manufactured – 4.7 million
- Revolvers manufactured – 856,291
- Rifles manufactured – 4.2 million
- Shotguns manufactured – 848,617
- Miscellaneous firearms manufactured – 833,123
The number of exported guns from the U.S. to other countries include:
- Pistols – 172,408 (3.6% of manufactured)
- Revolvers – 24,587 (2.9% of manufactured)
- Rifles – 147,044 (3.5% of manufactured)
- Shotguns – 24,668 (3% of manufactured)
- Miscellaneous – 8,111 (>1% of manufactured)
Industry Codes (SIC & NAICS)
Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) and North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) codes are used to categorize businesses according to their activity for marketing, tracking, and governmental applications, among other uses.
There are different codes for those that manufacture guns, rifles, and ammunition. Those listed below are the primary NAICS and SIC codes for retailers selling firearms and ammo.
- 423910: Sporting & recreational goods and supplies
- 451110: Sporting goods stores
- 4511102: Specialty sporting goods stores
- 45111026: Specialty line sporting goods stores
- 45111023: Retailing firearms, ammunition, and hunters’ equipment and accessories
- 45439033: Direct selling, all other merchandise
- 50910000: Sporting and recreational goods and supplies
- 594100: Sporting goods stores and bicycle shops
- 594102: Hunting equipment
- 59410201: Ammunition & Firearms
2. Struggles Facing Gun Merchants (and Solutions)
The ability to accept credit and debit card purchases is vital to the health and longevity of your firearms business. Unfortunately, you could be running a completely legit operation, have an established track record, as well as a swath of happy customers, and a merchant services provider may still reject you.
You might also find yourself suddenly barred by a merchant services provider you’ve had for years because of changing policies and practices. Here are some of the top obstacles of credit card processing for firearms dealers, and how you can fight back:
Problem #1: Chargebacks
Chargebacks occur when a customer disputes a purchase made on their credit card (note: these occur more frequently on the internet). For an online sale, the complaint may be that the order never arrived, the wrong item shipped, or it arrived damaged.
Solution: To combat chargebacks, scrutinize identification before accepting a credit card. Use the same name on your merchant account as your shop name. In your payment descriptor, include a valid phone number, so a customer can verify that they did in fact make the purchase.
Problem #2: Potential for Regulatory Changes
Every time an incident of gun violence makes the news, there’s a cry for tighter gun control laws. In response to such public sentiment, Citigroup has begun to ban account holders who won’t abide with stricter regulations on gun sales.
Solution: You can’t alter what others will do that may affect your ability to do business, but you can ensure you always act ethically, hold yourself to a high standard, and develop excellent relationships with customers to prevent potential problems.
Problem #3: Fraudulent Purchases
Stolen cards and ID theft are prevalent in every industry that accepts credit cards, from shoes to Sig Sauers. Even if you exercise utmost caution before accepting a card, it’s still a perceived risk that can see you labeled a high risk account.
Solution: If you sell online, you must understand and utilize best practices to minimize fraud. Plus, you need a merchant provider that understands firearms ecommerce risks. Be prepared to discuss your fraud prevention policies when applying for merchant accounts.
Problem #4: High Dollar Transactions
With firearms averaging $500-2,500 apiece, that’s a higher dollar transaction than the majority of other retailers. Large ticket sales fall into a high risk category of their own, and some merchant service providers may withhold funds or freeze your account as a safeguard.
Solution: Confirm with the processing bank that the charge is going to be made, and be proactive when any disputes occur.
Problem #5: Seasonal Fluctuations
Firearms sales fluctuate at key times during the year (hunting season, etc.).
Solution: Make sure you have a provider that understand the industry, so they won’t suddenly freeze your funds or account when you have a significant uptick (or drop-off) in sales.
Problem #6: Chance of Legal Liability
More restrictions may be leveraged as companies seek to shield themselves from possible lawsuits. A Wisconsin court recently cleared the way for a suit against an online gun merchant in the case of a three-person fatality shooting.
Solution: You can’t control actors trying to influence the judicial system or public opinion, but can groom your professional reputation by adhering to the letter of the law and refusing sales you may feel are risky. Prioritize caution over profit if you’re uncertain about a sale.
All of these problems can lead to application denials for merchant services, or getting your account closed by your existing merchant services provider. Gateway services including PayPal, Stripe, Apple Pay, and Square stated they wouldn’t facilitate firearms sales, and if you’re using them, you’re already at risk.
Signing with a high risk merchant processor is imperative. Read on for our FAQ on coping with account closure and maximizing your experience with an effective high risk payment processor.
3. Common Firearms Merchants’ Questions
If you’ve not dealt with a merchant account shut down or freeze, count yourself lucky. Given the increasingly hostile legal and regulatory environment in which you conduct business, it’s become more and more difficult to find gun friendly credit card processors.
Some of the most common questions asked by gun dealers include:
Question #1: “Why was my account closed?”
Banks can freeze or terminate your account with little to no notice, effectively grinding your ability to conduct business to a sudden halt. Knowing why you were shut down can help you decide on your next move.
It could have been due to excessive chargebacks, high-dollar transactions, a fraud complaint, or the provider may have simply changed their business model. They might have abruptly decided you’re too high risk, or that they want to move out of the firearms space altogether.
Question #2: “How can I lower my processing rates?”
In a high risk industry, your processing rates will be higher than other niches, plus you’ll be subject to longer contract terms, and possibly early termination fees. That’s on top of monthly account fees and per transaction rates that may be both flat plus a percentage of sales.
Ensuring you have a very low chargeback rate is essential. Customer complaints to card issuers can wreck your business. You must screen sales to reduce the risk of fraudulent card use, and ensure that you’re transacting with the authorized cardholder.
Question #3: “Why are my funds being withheld?”
In addition to canceling your account, a merchant services provider may freeze your funds or hold a large amount in reserve, and refuse to release it to you for months after they close your account – claiming it’s a defensive measure against future chargebacks.
With new accounts, withholding some funds in reserve (see below) is expected, but terms and conditions in merchant contracts often allow providers to freeze funds or amplify the reserve threshold without notice. An abrupt change could devastate your business, so be sure to read the small print of that merchant agreement contract.
Question #4: “How can I get a lower reserve threshold?”
Using a high risk merchant provider won’t eliminate the likelihood of a reserve, but it could minimize the size of the reserve demanded. Most providers demand a rolling reserve, which is a percentage of sales that can stymy your cash flow.
Providers usually base initial reserve thresholds on your estimation of sales or prior sales records. Underestimating sales to get a lower reserve isn’t wise, because higher-than-anticipated activity can trigger a freeze, threshold surge, or closure of your bank account.
Question #5: “Can I accept mobile sales?”
As payment gateways like Apple Pay, et al., pledge to ban gun sales, it’s important to have mobile merchant services available if you deal at gun shows. Many dealers report drastic boosts in gun show sales if they can swipe plastic on the spot versus sending customers to an ATM.
Being stuck with a standard credit card processing terminal necessitates being hard-wired at the gun show facility. That puts you in the position of relying on the internet connectivity of the show host. A mobile solution puts you back in control.
Question #6: “What credit cards can I accept?”
As some lawmakers and special-interest groups pressure credit card companies to limit their services to buy firearms and ammunition, it’s a good time to consider diversifying your payment channels. If you accept American Express, VISA, MasterCard, and Discover, if any one card brand bans gun sales, you’ll have other options available.
In addition to protecting you from changes, accepting many cards can broaden your appeal to buyers who have higher limits on certain cards or get cash back rewards on specific cards, and might transact elsewhere if you’re not flexible on payment options.
4. Seven Industry Tips for Getting Your High Risk Account Approved
Tip #1: Be Over-Prepared
Minimum documents required to open your account include:
- Valid government ID
- Voided check from your bank
- Three most recent months of bank statements
- Copies of your property rental agreement and utility bills
- Recent credit card processing statements (if you have an account now)
- Social security number or EIN (preferably the latter)
Tip #2: Be Transparent
You should have a clear business model, a functional and well-maintained website, and a complete roster of inventory and products you sell for the merchant provider to review. If you change, limit, or expand your offerings, you should let your credit card processor know in advance.
File your taxes on time and provide all the records requested by the merchant provider promptly and without question. Ensure you have a good reputation on review sites and social media, and always communicate with customers quickly when issues arise.
Tip #3: Keep Meticulous Records
As a firearms dealer, you should prepare for intense scrutiny from your bank, merchant services provider, as well as tax and licensing authorities. Records are your best defense when fighting chargebacks and other issues as well as ensuring you stay current on licensure and taxes.
Tip #4: Prepare for Aggressive Underwriting Scrutiny
Credit card processing for firearms dealers is classified as high risk, and underwriters for the payment processor they represent will look closely at your business and its history. Prepare to have the following factors dissected by underwriters:
- Personal and business credit score
- Personal resume
- Business ownership and organization documents
- Business and marketing plan
- Chargeback history and ratio
You’ll also need to make sure you have gathered your:
- Bank balances and any overdrafts
- Historical credit card activity
- Issues with vendor payments
- Business license status and history
- Cash reserve on hand
- Social media and review site reputation
Tip #5: Don’t Get Too Attached to One Processor
A merchant services provider can be the perfect partner one month, and then suddenly they turn their back on you. Payment processors answer to investors and the will of the banks they work with, and may be forced to cut off your relationship. Be prepared to walk away if they make it difficult to do business with them.
Rather than parsing alternatives yourself, consider working with agents from a company like Motile LLC to find you the best merchant services options for your firearms business at the most reasonable rates. We do the legwork for you, while you focus on your business.
Tip #6: Work With a Company That Specializes in Processing for Firearms Dealers
Choosing a gun friendly credit card processor that specializes in high risk merchant accounts is a given. Go beyond this, and look for a company that works specifically in your niche and has other firearms dealers in their client portfolio. A provider with industry knowledge and experience is always better suited to handle your specific needs.
If you’re forced into a position where you need to teach your provider about your industry, you’re facing an uphill battle. It’s best to start with someone that already knows the ins and outs, so you’re not constantly scrambling to justify your practices, seasonal fluctuations, etc.
Tip #7: Have a Backup Plan and Be Patient
As mentioned above, high risk credit card processors may try and push high fee schedules, lengthy contract terms, and stiff cancelation penalties on you. If you’re desperate, you might jump into an agreement that can damage your business.
Build a cash reserve and establish other payment alternatives such as ACH and eChecks. If your merchant provider shuts you down, these backups allow you the flexibility to apply with a preferable merchant service provider rather than taking a bad deal to keep the doors open.
5. Additional Firearms Industry Information and Resources
The second amendment offers guarantees on the rights to bear arms, but federal and state laws limit transactions and ownership.
If you sell online or to out-of-state customers, you must be aware of the regulations in the state of your customer’s residence.
You must know the NICS regulations for the state where your customer resides to comply with the system launched by the FBI under the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act.
Understand when and why you need an FFL by reviewing the ATF’s manual and the lack of a “bright-line” rule and threshold.
Stay abreast of industry trends and critical statistics by following recently published data on the Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms website.
Helping customers understand NICS rejections can boost your reputation and encourage referral sales. These resources can help you point customers in the right direction if they have NICS issues.
The National Rifle Association blog offers a host of resources for gun owners and dealers to navigate the changing regulatory and social environment.
Don’t get discouraged if you’ve dealt with delays, rejections, and account closures from merchant services providers. You’re operating in a legal industry and can find reputable and affordable payment processing if you know where (and how) to look. Motile LLC can help. Our veteran payment consultants are ready to find you the perfect partner.