Friday, May 25, 2007

Market Forces, Feedback, and the Gun Culture

"Man, that was stupid, why don't they make...?"

"Man, That was stupid, why did they stop making...?"

Insert your "why don't they" here...

Firearms manufacturers seem to do a lot of dumb things, a lot of the time. They discontinue extremely popular models, they introduce dogs that no-one wants to buy, they put in or leave out features apparently in direct contravention to what people seem to want etc...

Sure, all manufacturers in all markets do this a lot, but firearms manufacturers seem to do it more than most.

The worst offender on this score is probably Colt, who seems to think that consumers will simply bow down and worship at the altar of the Prancing Pony no matter what crap they throw at us. Colt has spent the last 25 years disrespecting their consumer, and they've danced around bankruptcy time and again (and are currently in the midst of acquisition, again)because of it.

Only slightly less egregious though, is Ruger; who sometimes seem completely unable to judge the desires and preferences of the gun loving world.

Why is that?

Because Ruger doesn't SELL to gun lovers. That's not their market. Oh, that doesn't mean gun lovers don't buy their guns; obviously they do; it means that that isn't who Ruger is targeting, or whose preferences they are responding and catering to.

Personally, I like Ruger revolvers quite a lot. I bought one for my wife as a personal protection gun for her Birthday two years ago (the first gun she ever owned actually). I'd LOVE it if they made a strong, lightweight, slightly smaller SP101. They'd sell like mad to the enthusiast community. I'd love to see Ruger produce a 5 shot .44 magnum or .44spl on the GP100 frame; I bet they'd sell to every revolver enthusiast on the planet. If they made a titanium framed (Ruger is the number one Titanium manufacturing foundry in the world) model in .44spl... us gun nuts would be beating people at the doors to the shop just to get in first to buy it.

If Ruger made the Deerfield Carbine with a 10rd mag, I would have two of them, one for my truck and one for my house.

If they sold decent factory large cap mags for the Mini-14 I bet Mini sales would double to the enthusiast community.

Then of course theres the fact that many in the enthusiast community feel betrayed by Ruger (or at least by Bill Ruger personally), because of his support for a ban on all magazines holding more than 15rds (a business decision really. he felt that a magazine ban would stave off a complete ban on the guns themselves, which he thought was inevitable otherwise). Many enthusiasts, gun lovers, members of the gun culture refuse to buy Ruger products to this day (of course Colt and S&W at various times also supported a ban, and are also being boycotted by some).

Given all of these problems that enthusiasts an gun lovers in the gun culture had with Ruger, you'd think they would never sell any guns...

But... that's not who Ruger are selling to.

Ruger is the largest manufacturer of civilian small arms in the United States by production volume; and worldwide are only exceeded by FN, and the Chinese Military.

Ruger are the ONLY manufacturer in the united states who make all four major category of sporting arm (rifles, shotguns, auto-pistols and revolvers); and they sell well in all of those markets.

Ruger sells more revolvers than S&W; the 10/22 alone sells more copies than all Marlins (their primary competition) put together (and at times has sold more than all other .22 rifles put together); they are the fourth most popular auto pistol for police (behind Glock, Beretta, and SIG), THIRD most popular among the general non-police public (behind Glock, and all 1911 type pistols); and the Mini 14 outsells every single brand of AR (though of course not all of them combined).

Why is that? The gun mags don't write much about Ruger. The enthusiast community pretty much ignores them, or actively dislikes them. All the market indicators you'd think would have them at the bottom of the pile...


Because Ruger doesn't market to the gun-mag crowd, or to the "serious" gunner; except when they market themselves as the more economical choice.

Ruger sells on price, and on durability. It's that simple.

For example, Ruger sells extremely well in the Over Under shotgun market, because they make a very high quality gun (the Red Label) for a much lower price than their competition.

Ruger sells very well in the large game rifle market, because they offer rifles chambered in African hunting cartridges, in a very strong action, for less than half the cost of their competitors.

Ruger doesn't compete on features, they compete on making strong (hell, nearly indestructible) guns at a better price than their competitors because of their manufacturing processes and efficiency. That's how they were founded and how they are run today.

Rugers primary market is the general consumer, and has been for a long time. In general, firearms consumers are not educated about the issues, either technical or legal, surrounding the guns that they buy. As an instructor and former gun shop employee, let me tell you, better than 90% of the people who buy guns are clueless, and don’t want to be otherwise.

Consumers in the gun market are primarily price driven; as in most other markets. Given the “gun culture” one would assume this is not so; but most gun owners aren’t really IN the gun culture.

I’ve had this discussion with distributors, and believe me, they know what sells, or they'd be out of business right quick. The best selling new centerfire hand guns in almost any “average” gun shop (unless they cater specifically to cops, or higher end gun sales) will be, in order:

1. Glock auto pistols
2. 1911 type pistols of any type (Kimber and Springer lead, Colt's a strong third)
3. Ruger revolvers and auto pistols
4. Kel-Tec auto-pistols (a recent development, primarily driven by the P3AT)
5. S&W Revolvers
6. Beretta auto pistols (they've been falling for years, and may be behind SIG now)
7. SIG auto pistols
8. Everything else

The reason for Rugers strong positions, is because they are typically speaking about 20% cheaper than their comparable competition in any model (as are Kel-Tecs by the way). Handguns, shotguns, rifles; at each competitive position Ruger is generally the least expensive gun with acceptable quality, and are often the most durable to boot.

If consumers were driven primarily by quality over price, semi-custom 1911s, SIGs, and S&W revolvers would top the list. Clearly, they are not.

The fact of the matter is, Ruger doesn’t make large capacity magazines for sale to the general public for Mini 14s, the deerfield carbine, 10/22s etc… because the public as a whole doesn’t make them do so. They have no interest. Their products sell at or near the top of every market they compete in without the legal and PR hassles associated with large magazines, so why WOULD they produce them?

Corporations are in business to make money. If a company is making a lot of money doing one thing, why would they change that to do what you want, even if you are right? Their feedback mechanism is sales, and Rugers sales are excellent.

The only way Ruger is going to change, is if people stop buying their products. The only way that's going to happen is to bring more Ruger buyers into the gun culture, so they know what they are buying, and why their choices are sub-optimal.

Only then will Ruger change to respond to the desires of the gun culture; and only then SHOULD they.