Part 8: Getting a Home-Based FFL: FFL Arrived! Signing Up with Distributors

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Just three weeks after my interview the IOI, my FFL arrived! Its sending was completely unceremonious, using the FFL itself as the address for the envelope. I wasn’t expecting major fan-fare, but I would think the Government would at least include a cover letter and maybe send tracking information that a Federal License was on its way. I digress…

With the due diligence now done, bank account open, and business credit card in-hand, I was keen to start building inventory as fast as I could and start selling. I mean, what is the point of an FFL, if I cannot get product and sell it on (and technically, the ATF requires you to use your license “engaging in a business” or you can lose it).

Brimming with enthusiasm, I immediately ran into roadblocks. Many of the largest distributors would not accept home-based FFLs and or required a large initial buy-in. Being a small company and not flush with cash (and further, only a credit card), it became difficult to get inventory in. As such, I had to spend some time hunting through policies, being rebuffed, and enjoying the occasional success getting through and set-up to get product.

Who will Accept Small and/or Home-Based FFLs?

Not everyone, that’s for sure. The largest and most established distributors typically will not touch the home-based FFL. I don’t understand why… My only theory as it may be the effort to sell to them may not be worth the volume.

So, I had some additional due diligence to complete. To save others the trouble, below is the results of my searching. The list may not be complete or may have changed, as time has passed since my search and this publishing:

Distributors Accepting Home-Based (Non Retail Location) FFLs:

  • Zanders
  • Davidsons
  • RSR Group
  • AGS Armament
  • MGE Wholesale
  • Lipssys
  • Shooting Sports Wholesale
  • Williams Shooters Supply

Updated 12/23/2015 @ 6:06 PM – A few other distributors & companies contacted me to indicate their small-business friendliness.:

  • Interstate Arms
  • CzechPoint

And those who will not:

  • Jerry’s Sports South
  • Big Rock Sports
  • Bangers
  • Bill Hicks & Company
  • AcuSport
  • Camfour / Hill Country Wholesale
  • AmChar Wholesale
  • Ellet Brothers
  • LM. Burney

There are also a few OEMs who work directly with FFLs and do not use wholesalers or will have a hybrid arrangement where wholesales sell some high-volume product and the OEM sells others direct. The list is not exhaustive, but it does have a few notable companies:

  • Faxon Firearms
  • Fostech Outdoor
  • Elite Iron
  • Liberty Suppressors
  • CMMG
  • Rock River Arms
  • Rhino Arms / AP Customs
  • SB Firearms
  • Mag Tactical
  • Lone Wolf Distributors
  • Stag Arms
  • Devil Dog Arms
  • Sun Devil Manufacturing
  • Huntertown Arms
  • Allen Arms Tactica

Signing Up:

To sign up with an OEM or Distributor, one will typically need to do the following:

  1. Fill out an application with details on the business & register on a website (if applicable)
    1. Name
    2. EIN
    3. Location
  2. Send in a copy of their FFL
  3. Send a copy of their Tax Certificate

How to Order?

On the larger distributors, the wholesaler will have sales representatives who can accept a Purchase Order or will call on a semi-regular basis to check-in and notify you of specials. If you have a sales rep, USE THEM, these people can help you get hard-to-find firearms (especially if you order more than just the one gun). The two that stood out to me was RSR Group and Davidson’s who both have excellent sales staff’s.

*Author’s note – I want to thank Mike Mantie from RSR who spend many hours with me as a small shop when I was getting off the ground. He got “allocated” firearms sent my way on a regular basis and was just a stand-up guy. 

On the other hand, as a small FFL you may not be assigned a sales rep or they are inactive given the small size. In these cases, the companies typically have a website that you can login with on dealer credentials to place orders (Lipsey’s uses this practice).

How Do I Pay for an Order?

The policies vary across the board. Typically wholesalers will require payment at the time of order (credit card or wireless ACH) where the smaller OEMs can often extend terms after the first order (which will require another application). For wholesalers, its very typical to have orders offered on Cash on Delivery terms (meaning Fed-Ex or UPS will actually collect payment as part of the delivery).

ACH, COD, and similar payment methods require cash in the bank to pick up the inventory. Being a small company, I did not have much of that, which hampered my business with quite a few of the of the distributors. For example, Davidson’s does offer terms but without a solid established sales history or a compelling business status, getting terms as difficult. Further, they did not accept credit cards.

So, to get the inventory rolling, I was limited to companies that would accept Credit Cards. Often, this came at a small percentage of sale fee, but it was a small price to pay for being at least able to bring the inventory in. Of the wholesalers I signed up, two really stood out on service, selection, and accepted credit cards:

  1. Zanders
  2. RSR Group

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Further, a few of the smaller outlets were good to go:

  1. Midwest Gun Exchange
  2. Shooting Sports Wholesale

Between the four of them, I was able to pick up nearly anything I or a customer could want. Most offered free shipping once a certain minimum order was met (typically $750-$1000), though handguns could often be extra, as they are required to ship overnight).

So, I quickly maxed out the company credit card and had inventory flowing in which brought up the next question: how to sell the inventory?

That will be the focus of Part 9 which will cover the successes and tribulations of attempting to move on-the-shelf inventory.



Nathan S.

One of TFB’s resident Jarheads, Nathan now works within the firearms industry. A consecutive Marine rifle and pistol expert, he enjoys local 3-gun, NFA, gunsmithing, MSR’s, & high-speed gear. Nathan has traveled to over 30 countries working with US DoD & foreign MoDs.

Nathan can be reached at Nathan.S@TheFirearmBlog.com

The above post is my opinion and does not reflect the views of any company or organization.


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  • Glenn Bellamy

    Congrats, Nathan. It’s only just begun . . .

  • Set

    There’s a distributor that does accept home-based FFLs that’s not on your list: Crow Shooting Supply. Something to consider.

  • nova3930

    Thus was the part I’ve been waiting on. My previous understanding was there were very few distributors who would deal with home ffls. Glad there’s some dispelling of that.

  • oldman

    Congrats and good luck.

  • njb

    What happened to parts 6 and 7?

    • They are published.

      • Pontificant

        They don’t come up in the search. Are there links available?

      • Terry Mixon

        I can’t find part 6, either. Could you supply a link? And as a suggestion, in a multipart series, providing a link to the part that came before the one you are publishing would be helpful. Thanks for the great info.

  • Rick5555

    I usually know what I want. I’ll order from your home based business. I use a great FFL who’s mainly a shotgun collector. He only charges people the $10 background fee. He said charging money ($25-$35) for doing a 4473 is ripping customers off. If you’re willing to ship to TN (to my FFL). I definitely help your company, by ordering some firearms. After Christmas is over. I plan to pick up a Lefty Tavor and want another CZ EVO to SBR it. Also, need a new Ruger Mini-14. Have to have a ranch rifle. Will be in contact with you soon. Also, my sincere best to this new endeavor.

  • John

    Congratulations, dude.

    Keep in mind your market. The people around me that specialize exclusively in tactical gear aren’t doing very well. Hunting gear and handguns are far more popular.

    And don’t buy a lot right now. Take the Kel-Tec approach and pay for everything in cash profit.

  • Cal.Bar

    Well, you can scratch Stag Arms off your OEM list!

    • JamesRPatrick

      ha!

  • janklow

    “There are also a few OEMs who work directly with FFLs and do not use wholesalers or will have a hybrid arrangement where wholesales sell some high-volume product and the OEM sells others direct. The list is not exhaustive, but it does have a few notable companies:
    -Stag Arms”

    …uhhh

  • claymore

    Great article letting the readers what it’s really like getting started. I found once you start regular business with those you have already set up you may be contacted by reps from some of the ones that would not work with you at first. I guess they network together and once they realize you really are in business you will get more invites. At least that was how it worked with me.