The Tac SHAC story
How to thrive in a market under fire
Very few entrepreneurial success stories are of ‘ greying entrepreneurs who enter a highly regulated, politicised industry that has shrunk by 95% in the past 10 years and quickly grow a successful business’. So when you find someone who has managed to do just that, you need to tell the story… even more when the story involves lifelong passion, a husband-and-wife team, and a business that deals in military-style guns and ammo.
Enter Paul and Lynette Oxley, owners of Tac SHAC – a Johannesburg-based business that has become very successful at selling what are known as ‘tactical’ weapons – typically high-end semi-auto pistols, semi-auto shotguns and semi-auto rif les/carbines that are the civilian versions of military weapons.
Guns and the right to bear arms is an issue that divides people; it’s a sharp fence that doesn’t bear sitting on. So while there may be readers who don’t support the legal right of a person to bear arms, I hope to tell you a story of how an entrepreneur enters a really tough industry and succeeds – please take what you can from the Tac SHAC story.
To set the scene, the South African gun industry has changed a lot over the years, with regulation and politics playing a major role. In the apartheid years it was easy to license a gun (for the white population) and all young white males went through intensive f irearms training in their two years of national service. When apartheid fell and people feared a civil war, the arms industry boomed: guns for self-defence are very much a fear-driven purchase and the white male market had both the training and, in many cases, the fear.
Post the country’s surprisingly peaceful 1994 elections and with the new ANC Government gradually getting on top of legislation, drastic moves to regulate the f irearms industry through the Firearms Control Act of 2000 was taken. Implementation started in 2004, however, Firearm Control Regulations are still being f inalised. This new act made it much harder to become a licensed owner of a firearm, requiring all firearms owners to pass a competency test in knowledge of the law and in the application/use of each type of gun they desired (e.g. pistol/shotgun/rif le/self-loading rif le).
In addition, each gun must be individually justified and licensed, your safe must be physically inspected and background personality checks done. The process takes months even when things run
smoothly. The Firearms Control Act also puts far more stringent requirements on gun dealers, firearms instructors, and the industry as a whole. The challenges of implementing the act have been acknowledged by the Department of Police, which admits that not all systems or procedures are in place yet.
Results of the new legislation were disastrous for the industry: around the dawn of the new millennium, it was estimated that there were over 2 000 gun dealers in South Africa. By 2004, when all existing gun owners were required to begin relicensing their weapons, the industry was in tatters and this number was down to around 800. Nearly a decade later, 90% of those are gone too and now only 70-odd gun dealerships survive. For anyone whose industry exists at the whim of Government legislation, the speed of this change bears some thinking about.
Estimates suggest that gun owners who simply couldn’t be bothered to go through the new licensing process handed in over 800 000 guns to the police for destruction without financial compensation to avoid criminal prosecution. The deluge of applications for renewal by existing owners swamped the systems and meant that almost no new licences were issued for several years. The uncertainty and delays killed the industry. Over 10 000 people working in the f irearms industry lost their jobs. Almost all local gun manufacturers closed down.
The few gun shops that survived did so by rapidly diversifying away from firearms and into knives, mace, air-rif les, bows and arrows, and outdoor gear. Speciality shops died – very few businesses have deep enough reserves to survive a few years of almost zero sales, and while hunting has loyal followers, it’s already a highly seasonal business with practically zero
demand outside of hunting season. So that’s the scene over the last decade: an industry absolutely destroyed by a change in legislation. Why then, would Paul and Lynette Oxley decide to enter the market, and how did they make such a success?
The Tac SHAC story starts with Paul
– whose parents didn’t have guns but he grew fascinated by them, to the degree that he sold his racing bike to buy his first gun while he was still in high school. Then came military service, after which he started studying law and then philosophy at university, and invested some savings into a gun shop. Those savings disappeared when sanctions effectively blocked imports from the USA and the gun shop closed.
Along the way Paul met Lynette and he sold some guns to pay for her engagement ring. At university Paul started a shooting club and offered training courses to staff and students alike. He got involved in the founding of the South African Gunowners’ Association (SAGA) and became active in the administration of sport shooting in the SA Practical Shooting Association (SAPA). Over the years they both maintained an active interest in sport shooting, but worked in other industries. Fast forward 20 years, and the two are still active sports shooters. Paul is now the main mover behind Gun Owners of SA (GOSA). Following an attempted armed robbery at their home, the duo decided to pivot from their African safari tour operation business into the world of tactical f irearms – something that is clearly a lifelong passion for them.
While both Paul and Lynette share an almost evangelical belief that society is best served by a well-armed and trained civilian population, and they live out their belief by drawing ‘non-traditional’ sectors into sport shooting, it is Lynette who is often sought out by would-be gun owners precisely because its so rare to f ind a woman so immersed in shooting and the gun culture.
Now back to the market:
As opposed to the USA market, where there are ±1.5m background checks per month (i.e. roughly 18m new gun licenses being issued each year), the total licensed gun owning population in South Africa is around 2m people, half of whom have one gun only and the others on average have two, making up 3m licensed guns in total. (Recent research suggests another 5-10m unlicensed firearms in SA, which is a far bigger concern.)
The type of long guns that Tac SHAC sells are mostly semi-automatic (or selfloading) – each pull of the trigger fires the gun that ejects the spent shell and reloads the weapon by itself. Getting a licence for these guns is not easy: in addition to the normal competency test and license application you must have and maintain what is known as a ‘Dedicated Sports’ or ‘Dedicated Hunter’ status. This means you have to prove regular participation in sports shooting or hunting and be certified as such by an accredited industry body. The process isn’t expensive but it takes many months. If you want a semi-automatic rif le or shotgun in SA you can get one, but you’ll need to be patient. A rough estimate is that there are less than 5 000 dedicated sports shooters in SA, most of whom will have a pistol, shotgun and rif le. In other words, Tac SHAC entered an industry that had been destroyed by legislation and then, when almost every other gun shop had survived by diversifying into a wide range of outdoor gear, they specifically targeted the smallest, most