July 29, 2012 - 1:03 am
The shop window, framed by a white stone facade, shows only a tiny glimpse of the Italian luxury waiting inside.
Plush threads for the adventure set beckon wealthy wanderers. Inside, fashion cravings are satiated by a seemingly never-ending row of meticulously hung plaid button-downs, displays of gracefully worn leather bags, woolen scarves and smart caps, all shown amid expensive mounted trophy animals, hardwood floors and mahogany cabinetry.
And then there are the weapons.
Rows of handcrafted rifles and shotguns costing upward of $80,000 are displayed in a wood-paneled room. Semi-automatic handguns may be viewed on request.
The Beretta Gallery New York lives up to its Madison Avenue address with its collection of high-end firearms and luxury outdoor gear. A similar shop coming soon to Las Vegas shouldn’t disappoint, either.
The Beretta Gallery Las Vegas to open in January in the Shoppes at Palazzo will be the 500-year-old gun manufacturer’s seventh retail boutique, following Buenos Aires, Argentina; New York; London; Paris; Milan; and Dallas.
News of Beretta’s plan was met with an unusual level of controversy in Las Vegas, a town that tends to trumpet its tolerance of personal freedom and embrace Western values when it comes to firearms. But, some casino officials expressed concern about gun sales in the heart of the Strip.
Beretta, for its part, says there’s really no reason for concern.
Brescia, Italy-based Beretta opened its first gallery in New York in 1995, and remains the only gun manufacturer with direct retail operations anywhere in the United States.
Beretta doesn’t need the boutiques – don’t even think about calling them gun shops – to sell the firearms it already markets through more than 1,000 shops in North America alone. The Beretta Gallery is a way to showcase exclusive merchandise and maintaining the brand of a revered company that makes about 1,500 weapons a day and sells firearms in about 100 countries. Its product line includes the U.S. military’s M9 pistol, various assault rifles and automatic weapons, but about 75 percent of its sales are traditional sporting arms such as bolt-action rifles and shotguns.
"The Beretta family saw an opportunity to learn more by being direct to the consumer," said Robert Booz, the international director for Beretta Gallery. "They saw an opportunity to present the product in the best way possible and have more control over displays while providing a knowledgeable, well-trained sales staff."
The Beretta family often looks outside of the gun industry for inspiration, which is one reason why the Beretta Gallery concept came to be, Booz said.
"We’re successful. It is a bit of a niche environment," he offered.
Around the time it created its gallery concept, Beretta diversified its metal-heavy brand by adding a softer element: a clothing and accessories division. Think cozy women’s vests with necklines traced in fur. Perfect for snuggling with a warm Beretta 92FS Type M9A1 9mm pistol (laser sight optional).
"In some ways, it’s a bit like Ralph Lauren, with firearms," Booz said.
Each Beretta Gallery carries products created specifically for that boutique, and Booz said the Vegas store will be no different. Expect branded Las Vegas items with an Old World sensibility. The company also is creating an optics department carrying scopes and binoculars for the Las Vegas boutique. Expanded lines of footwear, luggage and gifts will ensure customers look good while selecting their prey.
When it comes to guns, Beretta’s lineup ranges from airsoft pistols at $19.50 to handmade shotguns that retail for $125,000.
"We have a really broad product range," Booz said.
Because of that, he said customer demographics for the galleries range from "everyday working people" to "customers who are high net-worth or celebrity status."
"We’re not just positioning ourselves at the luxury good end of the spectrum," Booz said.
But make no mistake, Beretta does provide luxury goods.
Prices for outerwear range from $175 to $900. The line includes a suede coat for $1,500, and a tweed sportcoat for $600.
The average transaction in a Beretta Gallery is three items and costs $750. The average shotgun or rifle sale is about $8,500. At those prices, Beretta isn’t remotely trying to compete with more traditional gun stores, which carry a broad range of brands.
Leon Novak, owner of Center Mass Firearms in Henderson, said that as far as locals go, there’s a limited market for hunting rifles.
"The average hunter spends $2,000 on a nice rifle and will keep it the rest of his life," Novak noted.
Because of that, Novak assumes Beretta is targeting tourists who make impulse buys, not his customers.
Beretta’s Palazzo location is indeed prime real estate for attracting well-to-do tourists – including millions of international travelers – whose Las Vegas experience will include ownership of an $80,000 firearm.
"It’s not unusual that we have customers come from other countries where we don’t have distribution," said Booz said, adding that those shoppers will buy 20 or 30 items and spend thousands of dollars on gifts for family.
"We expect the premium items will be special in Las Vegas. It’s something people cherish and like to splurge on," Booz said.
Think of the Beretta Gallery as more of an experience than anything. Many customers will take away an upscale souvenir from their Vegas vacation, not specifically shop for guns that most Americans can get just about anywhere.
When Beretta opens in the space available across from the recently opened Grimaldi’s, to the right of Ralph Lauren, the nearly 20,000-square-foot Las Vegas location also will be home to two indoor live gun ranges and three virtual ranges. None of the other galleries are associated with firing ranges.
"In Las Vegas we’re actually stepping up the entire experience," Booz said.
The company is working with Las Vegas-based architecture firm Creative Design, and Booz said the Las Vegas store’s design will reflect the New York location.
Beretta had considered a Las Vegas gallery in the past, and looked at space in "two big retail venues in Las Vegas," but Booz said it wasn’t until "we were approached by General Growth Properties (operator of the Shoppes at Palazzo) about creating a brand experience that it made sense."
Beretta’s plans were not universally welcomed when they came up for approval by the Clark County Planning Commission. Representatives from Wynn Las Vegas and from Las Vegas Sands Corp., which owns The Venetian and Palazzo, declined to comment for this article, through they spoke against the proposal at a recent commission meeting.
"Our worst fear is the wrong person takes a gun, has ammunition secreted away outside the place and uses the casino floor as a firing range," said Fred Kraus, Venetian vice president and general counsel.
Beretta hasn’t seen that kind of opposition in other cities, Booz said.
And it was perhaps more of a surprise because Las Vegas has many gun stores and shooting ranges within walking distance of the Strip – several let customers fire fully automatic military-style weapons for a fee – and there’s already a gun range with retail gun sales at the Bass Pro Shops outdoor store adjacent to the Silverton near the Strip’s south end.
"Unfortunately, I think what happened in Las Vegas, there was probably some misinformation or they were unsure what the project would be," Booz said. "We’ve taken a lot of security precautions to make sure the experience is safe."
The ranges aren’t open to everyone, and no one will be allowed to bring in their own firearm, according to plans approved by the county.
Only guests who buy a Beretta Experience package will be able to access the virtual theaters, virtual simulator or live-fire range, and then only after a safety orientation. All shooting areas will be locked down, with key card access, and live-fire ranges will be accessible only through a series of double doors much like those used in banks or other high-security facilities where no two doors can open at the same time.
A range master will provide a firearm and ammunition only on the range, and will control the exit to ensure that no one leaves with a weapon or ammunition. Shooters will have to pass through metal detectors to ensure none enter or leave with a weapon or ammo.
Nevada residents buying a firearm at the Beretta Gallery have to fill out the 4473 federal form and submit to a National Instant Criminal Background Check. If approved, the resident then can leave the store with the firearm disassembled and wrapped in discreet packaging. Out-of-state customers’ firearm purchases will be shipped to a licensed gun dealer in their state of residence, where the client will have to go through the same process. The Beretta Gallery will not sell ammo to go.
Booz said those precautions should dampen any controversy.
"We would have liked to have a bit more time before that last hearing to respond to their concerns directly,” Booz said. "We’re not creating an environment to be afraid of or to be wary of.”
Contact reporter Laura Carroll at email@example.com or 702-380-4588.