Lewis Machine and Tool: orders are backed up for 2 years… or not


    My main mission at SHOT has been interviewing AR-15 makers for a longer piece that I’m working on, and as part of that project I’ll be publishing edited transcripts and information from those interviews here on TFB. Specifically, I’ll be focused on updating all of you who are in the market for a new AR on what the pricing and availability picture looks like as of right now. So look for updates on Daniel Defense, Knight’s Armament, LWRC, and others.

    All AR makers are backlogged right now, but some are worse off than others. And then there’s LMT, which is a special case in that the company doesn’t really seem to know how backlogged it actually is, or even basic availability facts about is newly launched, flagship .308 Sharpshooter rifle.

    My initial conversations with some LMT reps revealed that the gunmaker has by far the longest order queue of anyone I spoke with: two years. You read that correctly — if you’re a civilian who puts an order in today with your local LMT dealer, you can expect to see your gun in about two years. (Military and LE orders get priority, so they can expect to see guns sooner.) At first I thought they must be joking — they can’t really expect users to order a gun now, and plan to get it two years from now. But this is in fact LMT’s “best estimate” based on their existing production and the production they expect to bring online over the next year.

    Note that this goes for everything that LMT makes — if you want an upper, wait two years. If you want a complete gun, it’s two years. If you want just a barrel… well, you can’t buy just a barrel, because contrary to what’s advertised in the company’s 2013 catalog, I’ve been informed that LMT intends to make only uppers and complete guns this year, and won’t be selling parts and accessories at all. I’m sure if they were selling parts, though, they’d quote you a two-year wait time.

    But there is a major complicating factor here, described in detail below, which means that LMT customers might actually see their guns a lot sooner. Or not. The end result is that LMT seems to have no idea what its real wait time is. But more on that in a moment.

    LM308 Sharpshooter: known unknowns that would make Rumsfeld proud

    LMT's new LM308SS Sharpshooter

    LMT’s new LM308SS Sharpshooter

    In addition to the confusion around the general product line, there’s also the mysterious case of the LMT’s new LM308SS Sharpshooter, the civilian version of the .308 that the UK’s military has been using since 2010. The company’s printed catalog warns would-be buyers that the rifle “manufactured by LMT in limited quantities,” and “will only be available for a limited time. Now is the time to add the Sharpshooter to your collection.”

    You’re probably wondering what it means that a product with a wait time of two years is “available for a limited time”. Does that mean you have a “limited time” in which to place an order into the two-year queue? Or is the time limited merely because the quantity is limited, and if you don’t get in the queue now then you’ll miss availability. Or has the “limited time” and “limited quantity” language now joined the parts and accessories pages in the company’s catalog in becoming inoperative due to recent events. I asked some reps at the booth for clarification, and they initially didn’t believe that the “limited time” language was in the catalog until I showed it to them. They then referred me to the head of LMT’s sales operation for clarification, and the exchange went something like this:

    Me: “So what does it mean that you’re selling this for a limited time, when the order backlog is two years?”

    LMT: “It’s because of recent events that the time is limited.”

    Me: “Does that mean that I have a limited time in which to order one of a limited quantity of these, but then I wait in an essentially unlimited backlog queue until I get it?”

    LMT: “You have to order now, because it’s for a limited time.”

    Me: “Ok, so what is the exact time limit here? Or is it a quantity limitation?”

    LMT: “You have to order now, because it’s limited due to recent events.”

    Me: “Yes, but what is the cutoff date after which I am no longer able to place an order for this gun.”

    LMT: “I can’t tell you that. We haven’t yet decided what that is. You just have to order now.”

    So there you have it: if you want LMT’s new Sharpshooter package, then you should run out and order it right now, and hope to get it in about two years, because if you wait then you may or may not miss the “limited time” cutoff, which may or may not really exist, depending on what the company decides.

    Dealers, distributors, and the waiting list

    Speaking of things that may or may not exist, LMT may be quoting customers a two-year waiting period, but even they admit that they don’t really know what’s going on with their order queue. But first, you’ll need some background to understand why there’s confusion:

    Unlike many AR makers, LMT doesn’t sell through distributors — it’s all direct-to-dealer. So a dealer takes an order from a customer (presumably without a deposit), sends it to LMT, and LMT puts that order in their queue. Eventually, when LMT arrives at your spot in the queue, you get your gun. Now, with other manufacturers who use distributors, there may be guns out there still in the distribution channel that haven’t been sold yet for whatever reason, so there’s a tiny chance that you might be able to score one if you’re in the right place at the right time; but this is not the case with LMT. LMT just works its say through its order queue on a first-come, first-serve basis. But the problem is, not all of those orders have real buyers behind them.

    An LMT rep informed me that many of their queued orders may actually be the result of guys hitting multiple LMT dealers and placing an order with each, with plans to take the first gun that arrives and then cancel the rest of their orders. It’s also the case that dealers are putting in extra orders in hopes of getting just a few of them filled. So some unknown percentage of LMT’s two-year order backlog comes from this kind of over-ordering; depending how much of this “false demand” there is out there, the real wait time for an LMT could be shorter than the stated two years. Nobody really knows, which is kind of astounding to me.

    At any rate, if you don’t want to wait “two years”, then you can hit a site like Gunbroker or Armslist and expect to pay double MSRP to get a gun today. Even dealers are going to charge you a hefty markup for anything they may have on-hand, and LMT has no price caps so expect to pay insane prices for anything you see on a rack.

    No relief in sight from increased production

    Before the Newtown tragedy and the ensuing buying panic, LMT had already invested heavily in new production capacity. The company bought new space and new machines, and hired 25 new machinists. But it will take them a year to be able to increase their output, because that’s how long it will take these 25 new machinists to get through an apprenticeship program so that they can start working on production guns.

    So while LMT is planning a major production increase, that new capacity won’t be online for another year.

    Postscript: the uncertainty factor

    Incidentally, in talking to different AR makers, I found a range of positions on the “production capacity vs. legislative uncertainty” question. The makers are in various stages of investment in new capacity, and depending on where they are, they’re either doing like LMT and going full steam ahead with a production ramp-up, or they’re holding back to see if an assault weapons ban passes.

    In many cases, those that are holding back probably will probably still increase production if a ban passes, but they need to wait to see kinds of guns will be legal and what kinds won’t before they decide what to produce. In this respect, Feinstein and co. will essentially be in the firearm design business, because these makers will be tailoring their upcoming offerings to fit legislation.