Wednesday, February 01, 2006

SHOT Show Thoughts

It's getting closer and closer, like the world's largest anaconda slithering toward my helpless hog self!

I mean the SHOT Show, of course.

I thought I'd jot down a few notes before I settled into spending he rest of the day rewriting TRAIL SAFE.

I'm interested to see how the industry is adapting/pretending to adapt to the new retail model that has become painfully obvious over recent months — guns as fashion. Realistically, the vast gun-buying market is not working the way it used to, which was on a "need/use" model" — I need a gun to use for CCW/hunting/competition/whatever; I will evaluate all models in this niche and choose the one that suits me best. That model works best when there's a wide disparity in quality between items in the same niche.

Despite what you read in the gunrags, probably 97% of the firearms manufactured today are within tiny percentage points of other when it comes to reliability, accuracy, ergonomics, etc. It always strikes me as humorus when a gunwriter discovers that an out-of-the-box "X" works, looks pretty good, and is accurate at 25 yards with specific loads. This is a little like discovering that any 2006 automobile starts, looks pretty good, and gets okay gas mileage for its size.

The caveat is the same caveat that has been in place since cavemen starting swapping hides for sharp rocks — you get what you pay for. A $1000 weapon is better than a $500 weapon — but mostly in the area of cosmetics...that $500 gun will still work reliably, shoot accurately, do what you need a gun to do. Differentiating factors are more a question of fashion than function or utility.

Now we come to it, the little secret that Kimber figured out before everyone else. In a fashion-driven market, people buy goods because of style, appearance, recommendations from trusted others, association with formal or informal affinity groups, a whole plethora of reasons that we gun buyers might initially scoff at. But there's nothing wrong with a fashion-driven are always evolving through different paradigms, and it's not unusual for several models to coexist along with the dominent model, some going up; some going down.

It actually only matters if you don't know what kind of market you're in — sort of the manufacturing equivalent of taking your snowboard and woolies on a Carribbean vacation. A quick negative example...say you are one of the most recognized names in firearms around the world and a legendary riflemaker...say you invest a huge amount of resource in developing an entirely different line of rifle cartridges and the guns to shoot them, aimed at the hunting maybe the cartridges are shorter or stubbier or something. And maybe they are indeed better mousetraps. However, you present them with HUGE fanfair to the market, and the only roar you can hear is some guy in the back snoring. You have just made the classic mistake of presenting the perfect new product for a "need/use" market to the fashionistas!

The fashionistas don't need no stinkin' better mousetraps! They want Manolo guns, slingback blasters! In the case of the rifle market, Manolo = Tactical Rifles (or, if you really want to be seriously politically incorrect, "sniper" rifles). Interestingly enough, the fashionista tactical rifle market (as opposed to the for-real market for police special teams or military snipers) is very retro in terms of caliber — .308, .300 Win Mag, you want to get wild and crazy and a long way away, .338 Lapua or .300 UltraMag. You invented a new rifle cartridge for hunting? me when the glaciers move south...

Here's a positive example — Nighthawk Custom 1911s. I haven't handled the guns, but my friends whom I trust tell me they're superb (and at a $2000+ price point, one might expect that). The founders are all master 'smiths from Bill Wilson's shop, so you know they've handled the occasional top-end 1911.

However, with the above market information in mind, read this review of Nighthawks from the Defense Review. The Nighthawk guys totally have their licks down...they know what they're selling, and they know who their selling it to! In the 1911 market, Manolo = Top End 1911s With Flash. There's a reason these guns have military names, proprietary parts and megaflashy finishes, folks. It's worth noting they're flying off the shelves, when distributors can lay their hands on 'em.

Market shift happens.

We'll see, we'll see, come next week.


Anonymous said...

Spot on Mr Bane, gun as fashion. Finally, my apparel merchandising degree will REALLY come in handy selling guns.

Middle Man

Michael Bane said...

Don't forget that the difference between man and beast is the abilty to accessorize...


Jerry The Geek said...

Interesting that you would specifically cite the early KIMBER market as an example.

In 1997 I was looking for a "better gun" to use in IPSC competition (USPSA). I queried the Unofficial IPSC List ("Trusted Friends") and they almost universally recommended the Kimber Custom for my price range, which was the cheapest I could get and still be reliable, with competition-appropriate "accessories".

I ended up buying a Kimber Custom (fixed sights, Kimber-Krap finish) for $247. My only complaint is that I didn't buy two of them.

The accessories I got were a commander hammer, extended mag release, extended beavertail (major priority), adjustable trigger, and good quality on all the small parts.

The accessories I bought after-market were: an S&A magwell adaptor, with attached arched mainspring housing (to better fit my large hands to he slim grips.)

Nothing else. The Kimber had everything I needed.

I also priced the Colt and the Springfield comparable models, but it would have cost me an amount comparable to the purchase price of the Kimber for the accessories.

A few years later, Colt and Springfield started offering the "accessories" in their basic product package in 1911 .45acp, because they were losing too much market share. Of course by that time the cost of all 'basic' 1911s had increased to about twice the price I paid, and since then the price has trippled.

It doesn't hurt to recognize that Kimber was aware of the value of a reliable product, attractively priced, with all the bells & whistles which were then considered "acessories".

Who now offers a 1911 without, for example, an extended beavertail?

Answer: nobody. They can't afford to, because nobody wants it.

The time when people buy because of the name brand is past. Now, we buy because of reputation, and essential features. The gun manufacturers who don't realize that aren't in business any more.

Can you say . . . "Colt"?

I thought you could.

theirritablearchitect said...


Not to be pedantic or anything, but there are, at least, a couple of manufacturer's out there doing the "retro" WWII type .45, complete with original grip safety. Notable to this specific subject are Springfield, and I believe, AutoOrdnance/Kahr, though I am positive that your assumptions are correct about a limited market for this type of thing, as the beavertail IS functional.