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Gunsmithing business

Discussion in 'Gunsmithing and Repairs' started by Jim K, Jan 13, 2012.

  1. Jim K

    Jim K Well-Known Member

    A number of posters have asked about starting in as a gunsmith. A few have taken me to task for suggesting that they first take courses in how to run a business, insisting that anyone can do that.

    I have also been beat about the head (figuratively) for advising against having the business in the house or adjacent to it.

    Here is a lament I recently heard which, IMHO, shows that my advice should be at least considered.

    An acquaintance was lamenting about relations with his local gunsmith, a man who does quite good work. BUT....

    He is open only four days a week and not on Saturdays.

    His shop is a build-on to his house, so he is always locking the door and going for a snack, to the bathroom, to fix this or that, to help his wife, to watch a TV show, etc.

    He makes appointments and doesn't keep them. A customer will call and be told to come in at 2 pm. When the customer comes in at 2 pm, he finds the door locked; if he calls on his cell phone, he gets an answering machine. This happens repeatedly.

    He promises that work will be done in some set period, say a week. But it never is. He didn't have the part and had to order. He was sick. He was out of town. An emergency came up. He didn't get the work to his co-worker (he farms out almost everything, but won't tell the customers that).

    Even when he calls the customer to tell him the work is ready, and makes an appointment for a time to pick it up, he won't stick around; the customer finds the door locked.

    The last time my acquaintance actually talked to the gunsmith, the man was lamenting that business was bad, and blaming the economy. My acquaintance tried to tell him some of the things he was doing wrong, but the gunsmith just kept blaming the Obama administration.

    Not Obama. Not even Bush. Or Clinton. Or Abe Lincoln. That man has no one to blame but himself for his "business" going down the drain.

  2. Mac's

    Mac's Well-Known Member

    You're absolutely correct. Another thing that I would add is of a legal nature concerning running the business out of your home. Like any business, it's good to protect yourself from idiots and other assorted morons. Liabilty insurance is expensive, especially so since it involves firearms. A Limited Liabilty Corporation is a good idea and a good alternative to liabilty insurance. A lawsuit can only get the business, not you or your home, etc. The problem arises though when the business is part of the home. What part is business and what part is home?
    Regarding taking a business course: WOW! That's advice that I wish I had taken before starting this business! I learned it the hard way. "Huh? What do you mean I have to pay taxes? Well, why can't I deduct my beer and coffee? Those are operating expenses! Advertising? Advertising? I thought they would just all know about how great we are! Why CAN'T I hire my freinds to work in the shop? Oh so now we're back to the beer huh? I told you already! Those are operating expenses!!"
    Keep yer powder dry, Mac.
    Mac's Shootin' Irons
  3. dfariswheel

    dfariswheel Well-Known Member

    I'm in the same boat.
    I've tried to explain to people that a self-employed gunsmith is NOT a gunsmith.... he's a businessman who happens to own a gunsmithing business.
    Many otherwise good gunsmiths have gone out of business because they didn't understand this and pay attention to the business aspects of it.

    Too many people have the picture in mind of them working away in a nice shop working on guns.
    The reality is that you spend a LOT of time doing paperwork for one level or another of the government, ordering parts and supplies, talking to potential customers, handling customer complaints, doing the books and tax paperwork, and paying bills.

    The people who don't understand this soon find themselves out of business, deeply in debt and wondering what in the world just happened.

    The other side is a poor work ethic and work habits. Too many people are too prone to shooting the bull with friends and customers and taking long breaks instead of understanding the hours versus wage dynamic.
    These people often suddenly notice that they somehow went out of business while they were on break.

    Being a gunsmith can be a lot of fun, but you better understand that it's a business first. You have to do whatever the business requires irregardless of whether it's a particular job you hate doing or your best bud Joe wants to talk about something.
  4. FROGO207

    FROGO207 Well-Known Member

    I was in business for myself for 10 years. Not gunsmithing. I decided after this amount of time that when doing the math working for $1.25 an hour while billing the work out at $25 an hour was not worth it.:banghead: I was a good guy and had a lot of "friends" that would not pay until the next problem needed addressing for one thing. Also I had a lot of inventory "shrink" as I shared a space with a couple other guys that did not pay any attention to people wandering through while I was gone on service work.:cuss: Many other things added to that and I decided to just work for someone else and not be on call 24-7. I was glad that I had a different job skill that I could fall back on and distance me from the previous profession. One thing that stands out was that I was in my apartment (attached to the business building) in the bathroom sitting on the toilet. The door opens and a customer walks in and sits on the side of the tub and starts to describe the problem. I hit the roof and started swearing at him and HE was offended that I would swear at him while he was talking.:what::what: That same day I stopped taking in work, thought over what was happening, finished my obligations, and shut down the shop within 2 weeks.

    Yes the term "a businessman owning a gunshop" is a correct definition. You will spend twice as much time on the paperwork part as you do on the gunshop/smith part I will tell you before you start. Also just because you can fix a few gun problems this does not make you a gunsmith. After you break a couple or a dozen high end firearms and have to replace them then you will realize there is a need for at least an armorers course for that particular firearm. I thought I was smart till I actually attended one of these and had my eyes opened up. Dont forget the liability insurance either.:eek: I will say you are way braver than I if you do open your own gunshop.:scrutiny:
  5. Jim K

    Jim K Well-Known Member

    Boy, oh, boy. I have posted several times about just those points and have been called crazy and told that I was trying to discourage folks from making big bucks as gunsmiths. I have been told that a gunsmithing course is stupid and unnecessary; that a business course is not needed; that machinist training is silly; that $1000 in capital is more than enough.

    I don't want to discourage anyone from going into business for himself; it is the American way. But to start a technical business while completely ignorant of both the technical and business aspects, seems to be heading for disaster.

    IMHO, a home gun business can attract some very nasty folks, but I know of one case that almost resulted in divorce. The family was roused at 4 am on opening day of deer season, not by burglars, but by a guy who wanted the gunsmith to repair the rifle he broke last season. The wife was not amused and only a quick deal on a business location saved the marriage.

  6. Frogomatik

    Frogomatik Well-Known Member

    as others have said, the reality of being a self employed gunsmith is spending as much or more time managing the business as actually doing any gunsmithing. You really have to be dedicated and prepared to put in a lot of very long hours for only a modest income.
  7. BBBBill

    BBBBill Well-Known Member

    This ought to be a sticky. Whenever anyone brings up the subject, they could be directed to read this (homework) and be prepared for a test afterwards. :D
  8. moto_stevo

    moto_stevo Well-Known Member

    What is a realistic expectation for gross income. I'm considering a job change at 41 years old. I've been a carpenter for 25 years specializing in trim carpentry. My wages have gone down with the illegal labor here in Colorado and the housing market stinks. I've managed to keep food on the table but that's about it. I also know my body can't take it for 20 more years. The Colorado school of trades is not too far, but I'm trying to figure out if the commitment will payoff
  9. Clark

    Clark Well-Known Member

    Q: What would you do if you inherited $100,000?
    A: I would gunsmith, until it was all gone.
  10. Mizar

    Mizar Well-Known Member

    I can only add - gunsmithing is an art, it's a gift - same as being a musician, or painter. Vocation if you want... Everyone can become armorer, very few can become gunsmiths.

  11. dfariswheel

    dfariswheel Well-Known Member

    What is a realistic expectation for gross income.

    Income depends on many factors.

    You'll "probably" make more if you work for someone else, especially a larger company. Big custom shops like Wilson and the gun companies all employ gunsmiths. So do large companies that do research and use gunsmiths, Federal agencies, and the bigger gun stores.
    In these you usually get at least decent money with benefits, etc.

    If you're self employed, once you figure in the hours you spend doing the businessman functions, most gunsmiths aren't making much more then minimum wage.
    The one's that do make more money have gained national reputations and are in great demand. These people also are able to to world-class work FAST.
    The people who make real money are people like Wilson who are running a big shop and employ a number of gunsmiths.

    Generally, gunsmiths don't make a lot of money, so you have to get "paid" by job satisfaction and live a lower key life.
    You won't be earning big money , living in a large house, and driving an expensive car.

    Again, there's the old joke:
    "How's a large pizza and a gunsmith the same?
    Neither can feed a family of four".
  12. Clark

    Clark Well-Known Member


    I am an amateur gunsmith, with all the TIG welding and lathe equipment, but I got a REAL gunsmith to fix this forcing cone that I blew out. He welded in drill rod material.

    He charged me $30.

    My brother has a TIG welding certificate, and HE can't weld that well.
  13. JohnBT

    JohnBT Well-Known Member

    My buddy has been a self-employed working plumber with a couple of trucks on the road for 35 years. He does paperwork/computer stuff/ordering/billing every morning from 4 to 6 a.m. to get it out of the way before he heads to the first job.

    Another friend has been a self-employed bankruptcy attorney for a similar period and he has the same type of paperwork headaches and overhead expenses (not counting the expense of keeping trucks on the road.)

    Ever notice how many of the very successful gunsmiths soon develop a line of products like sights, 1911 parts or scope mounts for revolvers? You can only make so much money working with your two hands due to the limited number of hours in a day.

  14. FROGO207

    FROGO207 Well-Known Member

    Believe me---If I coulda' I already woulda'.:D
  15. Jim K

    Jim K Well-Known Member

    A point touched on above, but which needs more attention. If you do set up a gunsmith shop, find enough money to hire someone to work the counter. Gunsmith shops attract gun nuts (OK, I plead guilty, your honor!) who want to gab (er, talk about future work) and if the gunsmith stops to gab he loses money, big time. The gunsmith can be everyone's friend and adviser, or he can be a gunsmith, but not both. So get someone at either end of the age spectrum, a kid who wants to hang out in a gun shop or a retired person who knows guns, to take care of the customers. If a customer really needs work done and wants specifics, then the gunsmith can chip in. But the counter guy should be able to handle the fellow who wants his .30-'06 "rechambered" to .223 or his old Damascus-barrel double reamed out to take 3 1/2 inch Magnum shells.

  16. JRH6856

    JRH6856 Well-Known Member

    You may be a self-taught expert on one or two platforms, may be able to do 2 or three things well enough to impress your friends and have strangers begging you to do the same for them. You may know enough about other platforms and procedures to be able to figure it out. This may encourage you to go into business doing these things. You will soon find that 95% of the customers that come in have problems you have never seen before and have no idea how to solve. You may be asked to do a lot, but rarely is it the things you do well that led you to offer these services to others. And if you try to limit yourself to just the things you do well, you won't get enough business to pay for the coffee that you will have plenty of time to drink.

    If you turn away people who have problems you can't fix, they will usually not be back when they have problems you can fix. So you take in the work and try to find someone to farm it out to. Then you have to pay him to do the work while you still have to do the paperwork and you won't make enough off the job to pay for your time. Pretty soon you find that you are just an agent for several other businesses and next thing you know you are just like the guy in JimK's opening post.
    Last edited: Jan 18, 2012
  17. blarby

    blarby Well-Known Member

    Ok, heres a little chum for the pot :

    Anyone know any smiths taking on apprentices ?

    Most blue-collar type employment offers this... a quick google-moogley reveals not so much on the gunsmith.

    Most, if not all, of the training that's being offered here would come in on an apprenticeship pretty easily, yes ?
  18. Fleet

    Fleet Well-Known Member

    Most blue collar trades come with unions that provide the apprenticeships, yes. Or you might be able to start as a "helper" somewhere, like the local large truck dealership. As has been pointed out, most gunsmiths are one man shows.
  19. Burnie

    Burnie Member

    Well there goes my retirement dream. I own a small franchise business and was thinking that gunsmithing would be nice to work into retirement. I'm glad you all burst my bubble and brought me back to reality.
  20. ColtPythonElite

    ColtPythonElite Well-Known Member

    I know two gunsmiths. One is a machinist by trade and learned gunsmithing hands on over 5 decades out of passion. The other got a piece of paper from a community college hoping to make a living. The first is still in business, but will tell you he doesn't do it for the money. The latter closed up shop in less than 2 years after bumming up more guns than he fixed.

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