by Tom Gaylord
Writing as B.B. Pelletier

This report covers:

  • Prepare for the show
  • Tie your airguns
  • Price all your guns
  • Table coverings
  • Packing the car
  • Be careful
  • Asking to “borrow” table space from a friend
  • Theft
  • Watch what you say!
  • Common stuff you always need
  • Watch out!
  • Loading in and out

This report was requested by reader Michael and elaborated on by reader Siraniko. At first I didn’t think I could write much that would be of interest, but Siraniko opened my eyes to what Michael was asking. I have been selling at gun shows for almost half a century and at airguns shows since 1994, so I have hardened to all those things that might puzzle someone new. It is a worthy topic, and if it gives just one person the courage to have a table at a show, it will have served its purpose.

Prepare for the show

It might seem obvious, but the first step is to get ready for the show. A major part of that is deciding which airguns you want to sell. Maybe there is one you aren’t sure of. You like it a lot, but it’s also something that will attract a lot of attention. I like to put those guns on my table, so I price them in such a way that if they sold I could live with it. Put yourself in the shoes of someone who is attending the show. Maybe they are like you and would like to see a Sheridan Supergrade for sale. So price it at $1,800 and be prepared to sell it if a buyer comes along. These days a working Supergrade is worth $1,250-1,500, so pricing it like that assures that only a serious buyer will be interested. However, if it is a gun you truly love, like I love my Diana model 27, then either don’t take it or mark it not for sale.

Tie your airguns

I make everyone tie their airguns at my shows for safety. That’s electrical cable ties around the trigger or the cocking mechanism to prevent cocking and firing the gun. I have seen many people shoot themselves at airgun shows in the past. I don’t allow dry-firing at my shows. If there is a range where the public can try the gun, so much the better, but remember — no gun shows allow shooting. You take a chance when you buy a firearm at a gun show and an airgun show can be the same. Tie all your guns before packing them for the show, because when you set up you won’t have time.

Price all your guns

Put prices on all your guns, or attach labels that say they are not for sale. Some people think if they don’t price their guns people will be forced to talk to them. I feel they are being deceitful, and I almost never ask the price. It seems to me they want to size me up and price the gun accordingly. In my experience as many as 75 percent of the dealers with no prices on their guns are, in fact, deceitful.

Table coverings

Don’t forget to pack coverings for your tables. The tables are provided at every show I have attended, but the coverings are not. Years ago I bought four 100-percent wool Swiss military blankets for $10 apiece, They have now increased to $65-90 apiece, but I continue to use them. Being wool they protect the guns from damage when they are laid down hard, and they hide the stuff I have stashed under my tables.

Gun show tables range from 6 feet to 8 feet in length, and the length makes a big difference in the amount of stuff you can display. They are all uniformly 24 to 30 inches wide. Find out how long the tables you are renting will be (most shows tell you up front, in the table fee info) and plan accordingly. If I lay rifles on the table I can get about 12 on a 6-footer and 18 on an 8-footer. But I have racks that allow me to put 9-16 long guns, plus 12 handguns on one 8-foot table — if it will take the weight.

When you put the covers on the tables make sure they do not extend to the floor in front of your tables. If they do someone will step on them and pull them off your tables, along with everything on top of them!

Packing the car

Think through the loading-in process. The first thing you will need for your tables are the covers, so pack them last. If you use a wheeled dolly to transport your guns, put it on top of the load, so it’s the first thing out, after the table coverings.

Be careful!

One thing about laying rifles on tables is they almost always have to hang over the edge of the table on one side or another. My advice is to hang them over on your side — not the public’s side. When the show gets busy people don’t always watch where they are going and can knock your guns off the tables. They may bump them as they pass by, or a purse or backpack strap may catch a rifle barrel and pull it without the person being aware until it’s too late. You can be more careful on your side of the table.

Asking to “borrow” table space from a friend

You have three airguns to sell. You don’t want to rent a whole table for just that, so you ask a friend if you can put some of your stuff on his table. I am of two minds about this practice.

First, this is what kills airgun shows. The promoter has to rent to hall, the night guards and there may be additional expenses he incurs. I have seen whole airgun shows die when people do this, because it minimizes what the promoter earns.  For that reason I am against it.

On the other hand, if all the tables in a show are sold out and there is no way to get one, and if the offer is made to put your guns on a table, I have no problem with it.

But I would never ask to put my guns on somebody’s table. I might prearrange to share the table rental fee with a partner, but the split would be done before the show. I would never impose at the show.

Rather than borrowing space on a table, why not carry your airguns with you through the show? This is a very common practice at gun shows. It actually gives your guns more exposure than laying on a table. I do this all the time at gun shows and have made some very good transactions as a result.

Theft

It does happen. At one show in ten I hear of some theft from a table. I have been lucky so far in over 100 shows, but it is always a possibility. Some firearm shows demand that all guns be attached to the tables by means of a cable that is locked. I carry such cables and locks in my show bag, but no airgun show has ever required it.

Watch what you say!

Almost every gun show will have at least one undercover agent from the ATF walking the show. If you know what to look for you can sometimes spot them — mid 30s to mid-40s, fit, close-cropped hair and often wearing a gun in an ankle holster. But if it turns out to be a middle-aged woman who looks like a bored housewife, don’t be surprised. Watch what you say in public, because you never know who might be listening.

Small stuff you always need

I carry a salesman’s sample case loaded with everything experience has taught me I will need:

scissors
magnifying glass
tactical flashlight
tool kit with lots of Allen wrenches for scopes
cable tie cutter (diagonal cutter)
Gorilla tape
scotch tape
extra labels
extra cable ties (all lengths)
plain 5X8-inch white cards to make signs
Hobo knife (knife, fork and spoon for eating lunch)
shop towels
Ballistol-soaked cloth in a plastic bag
wire cables and locks to fasten guns to the table
ballpoint pens
Sharpies (felt-tipped pens)

I also use this case to carry small things that go with the guns I’m selling — things like magazines that can disappear off a table fast if you’re not careful. I also carry pellets in the calibers of the guns I’m selling, so people can try them if the opportunity arises.

Once I get to the show I put the diagonal cutter in my pocket, so I can cut cable ties when people want to examine a gun closer. I also put the tactical flashlight in my pocket (Pelican 1920 is the best I have found) and I carry a Swiss Champ Swiss Army Knife in my pocket for its tools and the magnifier. My smart phone also has a magnifier app for enlarged images when the magnifier on the knife doesn’t do the job.

I always have two pocket knives with me. A larger one is a camp knife the army used in WW II and the smaller one is a Swiss Army Midnight Manager that has a powerful light and a pair of scissors.

Watch out!

Here are some common things to watch the public for. First is the guy (always a guy, by the way) who sets his wet coffee/soda cup down on the pristine dust jacket of your $75 collectible airgun book or magazine. He is looking at your $700 air rifle, which he will pick up with his wet hands, hoist to his shoulder five times, then place back on your table upside-down before walking away. This is cousin Eddy who has $15 in his pocket and as far as he is concerned, this isn’t an airgun show, it’s a living museum that’s granted him the right to touch and handle everything. I can spot these guys coming and can usually defend against them.

Then there are the knobdickers. That is a technical term, by the way They are the guys who love to twist and turn all the knobs on your scopes. They never got over their Busy Box as children and need something to play with. I’m thinking of taking a Slinky to shows for them.

They are followed by the incurably curious who will cock your airguns before you can stop them. They see how it works and they have to show everyone they understand. The last one of these cocked a Daisy Number 25 BB gun on my table, then was surprised to discover it couldn’t be uncocked. So he put the muzzle on top of his shoe and pulled the trigger. The gun was loaded (my bad) and he shot himself in the foot. I wasn’t at the table, but Edith told me his face turned red and he coughed up the $75 for the gun, just to feel less embarrassed. I thought of using that as a sales technique for all my airguns, but then good sense set in.

Yes, that actually did happen many years ago at Roanoke, but seriously, whenever I hear someone dry-fire an airgun at a show I call, “CEASE FIRE” in a loud voice, hoping to embarrass the miscreant. In all the years I have only had one person take exception to my doing this. I had to endure a lecture about how BB guns are not that dangerous and he certainly knew how to handle them safely. To which I responded, “Then you’d better start doing so!”

Loading in and out

When you load into the show or out after it’s over. look around for people who are having difficulty. Invariably there will be a few folks who can use some help. Help them if you can, because one day it will you who needs help.

If you have parked your car close to the building, move it after you have loaded in. Then someone else can use that close spot. Some shows will remind you to do this, but even if they say nothing, do it anyway.

If you brought a trailer or large vehicle to the show, move it after you have loaded in. Be mindful of others who have to load their stuff, too.

These are a few of my pointers. Setting up at an airgun show is not difficult. Heck — running a show isn’t that hard. If you have airgun friends, you can always start with them and grow from there.