Rules of the Gun Show–The Casual Seller’s Perspective

The gun show can be like a themed garage sale, but you're competing with a lot of others sellers for attention.

The gun show can be like an efficient garage sale, if you know what you’re doing. But you’re competing with a lot of others sellers for attention.

Most of what I write about on GunsAmerica has to do with buying decisions. Guns reviews are informational, but they’re also useful for those trying to decide if a gun is the right gun to buy. But what about sellers? GunsAmerica is all about selling guns, and our network of FFLs help everyone stay above-board with the legalities of buying and selling. But this piece is about something altogether different. The old-fashioned gun show.

Each year, I set up at one gun show to relieve the overcrowding in my garage. I call it the Annual Force Realignment. I have developed some rules to be successful- if you have any ideas to add, please jump in with comments!

Tag-team the event. But make sure your partner knows your prices and trade interests.

Tag-team the event. But make sure your partner knows your prices and trade interests.

Invite Friends

I always have at least one friend who has some stuff to sell, but refuses to get a table for one reason or another. If they agree to some form of cost-sharing for the price of the table, I will share my table-space with them.

  • Several of my friends will pay for the table if I’ll agree to watch it for them and handle their transactions. Most of these friends will have less than half a table of items to sell.
  • Some of my friends will pay for the table, and only want to come to the show for a limited time. This results in a win for everyone: they get in free as a vendor, and I get a break while they watch the tables.
  • I know some people who just want me to sell their items for them at my table, in exchange for a cut of their sales. These arrangements can be percentage-based, or a fixed per-item value. My only expectations are that they are up-front about the prices they are willing to accept, and that they don’t waste everyone’s time with overpriced or unsalable items.
There's always something at the show that I want to take home. So long as I bring home less than I take....

There’s always something at the show that I want to take home. So long as I bring home less than I take….

Only Bring What You Plan to Sell

When I go to a show as a vendor, I want to achieve two things: create space in my home, and convert my junk into cash. I have developed a couple of tactics to help me come to grips with parting with my belongings: price to sell, and don’t ever think about what I originally paid for the item. What I paid has nothing to do with the item’s current value, which is what will determine the current price that people are willing to pay.

  • If there are multiple people selling the same items I’ve brought to the show, I need to lower my items below market price to move them. Remember goal number one: Get Rid of It!
  • Always keep in mind what the listed price is, and the lowest amount I’ll take in a haggle. Both values matter!
  • “Quick nickels beat slow dimes.” If I can sell many items quickly to a few people, I will. Sure, they could very well be dealers who will mark up the price and resell at my expense. So what? They are looking at 20 shows a year, and I only want to attend one. Let them make their money if they want to do the work.
  • Sell early and fast. Saturday morning, right after the show opens, is the best time to make deals! I’ll never wait until Sunday to drop the price; there may be no one there to drop the price for!

Have a Money Plan

Money is what you will be moving the most. Have a simple but effective plan. Have a plan to keep your money secure, too.

  • Bring change for the show: singles, fives and tens.
  • Am I going to add tax, or is it included in the price? (if applicable)
  • Credit Cards are easy enough to take if you come prepared, and the fee is low. It’s much better to take a card than a check.
  • Unless I’m selling to someone I know very well, I will never take a check.
  • If you’re sharing the table, keep the money separate for each person from the start. Each seller has their own bank and change. This makes bookkeeping simple, and prevents potential conflict.
Make sure you have prices on everything. Should you really price things higher than you'll sell them for?

Make sure you have prices on everything. Should you really price things higher than you’ll sell them for?

Merchandising is Key

You will always sell more if you have some logic to the way you lay your goods out. I have a few rules I follow.

  • Price everything! I put tags on all my guns, and I have a price gun for everything else.
  • While pricing, consider the change you will likely be making. For example, don’t price everything at $49.95 with a pocketful of quarters and no other coinage.
  • Print out signs with bargain prices before arriving.
  • I have 2 banker boxes that I put loose/junk items in. One is labeled $1.00 Each and the other is labeled $5.00 Each. No matter what the boxes contain, people will stop and go through them. I’ve found that I sell more by using the boxes than if I individually price small items on the table.
  • Table covers are a must!
  • Put like items together: ammunition, handguns, long guns, etc.

Keep it Legal

This is not legal advice and I am not a lawyer! These are just practices I maintain. And I’m not going to make any predictions, at this point, about how recent planned executive actions might change the way gun shows operate. That is a story unto itself.

  • If I sell a gun, I will ask the purchaser for their ID, then lay it on the gun they are buying and snap a picture of both of them together.
  • I always ask “Are you legally able to purchase this gun?”
  • If I buy a gun, I will ask the seller for their ID, place it on the gun and take a picture of both of them together.
  • If I buy a gun, I will not sell it at the show. It is going home with me, and I have violated Rule Number One (I’m supposed to be making space not buying stuff!)
  • Always pay the Sales Tax if you are required to do so!
While there are fewer first time buyers at a gun show, you still need to communicate with everyone who comes up to the table. Answer reasonable questions, but don't get sucked in.

While there are fewer first time buyers at a gun show, you still need to communicate with everyone who comes up to the table. Answer reasonable questions, but don’t get sucked in.

Spend Time with your Buyers

I’m going to be blunt here. There are only two kinds of people that will approach your table: Lookers and Buyers. Don’t confuse the two with Talkers and Non-Talkers. I will always ask a clarifying question when someone strikes up a conversation, with the intention of distinguishing whether the person I’m speaking with is a Looker or a Buyer.

Here are a few of the questions I’ll ask. Let me know in the comments section if you have some!

  • “Are you interested in buying a (insert item they are looking at, touching or talking about)?”
  • If they ask whether you will take less than the posted price: “What will you offer today without backing out?”
  • “Are you looking to trade that (gun, knife, whatever they’re holding)?”

These questions will tell you if they just want to talk about what you have for sale, or they want to own what they’re looking at.

Minimize Your Cost

If you give your money away in expenses, you will never come away successful, no matter how well you implement the strategies above. One of the ways I save money is by only selling at a show I can drive home to afterwards, to save the cost of a hotel room. I will also bring a cooler of drinks and snacks to keep me away from the over-priced snack bars. When planning your Gun Show sales, keep the tips above in mind, and always look for ways to save money!


{ 3 comments… add one }
  • Chuck Roast February 8, 2016, 7:05 pm

    I have no problem providing my identification to a seller of a firearm for them to examine in order to verify my identity. However, the minute you whip out your camera and attempt to take a photo of my drivers license (as you state in your story) is the minute I pick up my license and leave you at your table still the proud owner of your firearm. I am not about to take a chance of being a victim of identity theft just because you happened to shell out fifty bucks to rent a twenty dollar folding table and possess a digital camera. And anyone who does allow it is not the sharpest knife in the drawer.

    • Dale Everett March 13, 2018, 11:30 pm

      There is almost nothing someone can do to steal your identity from an ID.

  • James M. February 8, 2016, 12:51 am

    1. All firearms that are or could possibly be out of sight for a moment should have retention devices attached. (Cable, chain, whatever your choice). 2. Small extremely valuable items (knives, optics) should be kept behind glass or out of reach. .22 ammo towards edge is fine, where as .50 cal towards the back. I hate to say it but from my experience the little guy seems to take losses to theft more than the big guys that have 4 employees running their tables. Lastly when I do go and run a table I will walk through opening day, yet most of the time waiting til Sunday to purchase. If it’s still there I can normally get the price cut quite a bit. Especially if from a dealer close to my table, well my father’s table (trade is also wonderful thing).

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