In 1973 the movie Westworld depicted an android populated world where want-to-be cowboys or gunslingers could live out their wild west fantasies. The price of admission was high but the potential satisfaction of being John Wayne for a week was alluring. Like all apparent perfect worlds, there were problems and in the movie things went haywire.
The Gun World – the place firearms enthusiast live, not the magazine – is experiencing similar problems. With the election of a pro-gun president consumers are not buying because of fear. Sales have flattened and while gun owners are reveling in a new-found ecstasy, manufacturers and publishers are struggling with how to remain relevant.
Like all things in life the answer to this problem is hillbilly simple. So simple its hard for most to see. This is partly because executives think they must present complicated solutions to justify their salary or position, and partly because consumers have forgotten that one of the best parts of gun ownership is actually hitting what they shoot at and having fun.
Here’s my advice.
Consumers need to forget their firearm inspired happiness is directly connected to their neighbor. Take Bob for example, his neighbor Jake has lots of money because his wife works in the medical field. Jake spends lots of his wife’s money on guns. Cool guns. Bob is envious of Jake because he has cool guns, a Land Rover, and a wife with big boobs. So, Bob spends his free time at work surfing the web looking for a bunch of cool guns so he can be like Jake. Problem is, Bob’s wife wants big boobs too, and Bob will be in the dog house if he buys a bunch of guns.
Bob should forget about Jake and jake’s wife. Bob should sell some of those cool guns he purchased only because of Jake; he never shoots them anyway. And, Bob should take some of that money and pay for his wife’s boob job. But most importantly, Bob should take the rest of that money and purchase 2000 rounds of ammunition. He should then save up some money – it will be hard because his wife will need all new clothes to go with her new boobs – and buy a gun he would really like to shoot. Then Bob should save some more money and take a firearms training course at Gunsite to learn how to really shoot and enjoy shooting that gun.
Bob will be happy. He will have a good gun, 1000 rounds of ammo left over, and a wife with bigger boobs than Jake’s. The moral of the story is that having a gun, even a really cool gun you do not know how to shoot or can’t afford to shoot is pointless. However, having a wife – a happy wife with nice boobs – and being able to hit what you shoot at is priceless.
Because of the passion associated with guns and the outdoors, successful companies are those that maintain a cohesive connection with their consumers.
Those who build guns, accessories, and ammunition, undeniably need to make money. But, as large as many of the companies in this industry would like to believe it is, the industry is small. Historically, the companies really successful are those started by a family and that have remained family owned.
This is party because big corporations tend to get executive heavy and those executives soak up a lot of profits. It’s also because big companies feel the pathway to success is to sell lots of units. It becomes about numbers instead of customer satisfaction, and when the fear buying stops, numbers cannot be met, dollars stop coming in, and the high paid executives think of complicated solutions, and spend more of the company’s money.
Most importantly, big companies forget about Bob.
Family owned companies tend to focus more on quality and their customers because the family name/legacy is on the line, and Bob likes to buy stuff that works. This is why companies like Nosler, Hornady, Mossberg, Wilson Combat, Timney Triggers, and XS Sights remain successful. They understand connecting with the customer, providing a quality product – and quality service after the sale – will always be the foundation of a successful small businesses. And, as I’ve pointed out, gun and outdoor companies are really small.
It used to be that gun magazines purveyed stories about guys using guns, they way Bob uses guns or the way Bob fantasizes about using guns. That’s no longer the case. The need to seek advertising dollars has driven the gun press to produce essays crafted to convince guys like Bob he needs the next coolest thing. This helps sell advertising, and without advertising magazines would not exist.
Many publishers and editors have forgotten that Bob wants to be educated about guns and entertained at the same time. They’ve also forgotten that high distribution numbers – the numbers that help magazines sell advertisements – are a result of providing consumers with educational and entertaining stories, not one article after another about how every new gun tested is great. (Yes, a lot of new guns are great but consumers want to read about guns being used, not tested.)
The old axiom remains; if you provide good content, your magazine will sell. (This is why there are best-selling authors who write about guns – and monsters – like Larry Correia.) The solution is simple; educate and entertain your readers and the subscriptions will come. Good content comes from people who use guns, and who convey the fun they have while doing so.
Every manufacturer and magazine will acknowledge they need an Internet presence. But, just like old cops are reluctant to trust new techniques or technology, manufacturers and magazines are afraid to dedicate to the Internet. They will use the excuse that they don’t understand it. Well, guess what? No one really understands the Internet. It is a very dynamic subsection of life, the answers to which – just like the answer to the question of what women want – are forever clouded in mystery.
Gun magazines will pay three to four times the fee for print articles that they do for Internet articles. They claim those using the Internet have short attention spans and are not looking for in-depth content. (Maybe that’s because supposed Internet success is wrongly based on views or traffic.) They think all consumers want is visual stimulation. Granted, visual stimulation is a large part of what the Internet delivers. This is partly why boob jobs have become so popular; today anyone can be a porn star on the Internet. (No, I’m not talking about Bob’s wife.)
But, here’s the thing: using the Internet for the purpose of getting traffic, views, clicks, or likes, is another example of instant gratification. Does it really translate into a sale or a satisfied reader? That’s unlikely. That type of “high” the reader or viewer experiences only fuels the need for the next high…Its like crack cocaine. Click here, click there, click some more, and then forget where you clicked and go fix the toilet or mow the lawn.
Good content also drives traffic, but its loyal and trusting traffic. Loyal and trusting traffic is better for advertisers than lots of traffic. Manufacturers should support outlets that distribute quality content, not clicks. Loyal readers are influenced to buy guns and gun stuff. Magazines should focus on establishing a relationship with their readers through the Internet so ad buyers benefit from the loyalty those relationships foster.
When Jeff Cooper founded the American Pistol Institute at the Gunsite Ranch in 1976 he had little competition. Today, everyone, their brother, and their brother’s wife with big boobs, is a firearms instructor. They all claim their way is the best way and many spend lots of time on the Internet criticizing other instructors and generally trolling their way to stardom.
A firearms instructor’s goal should be to teach folks to shoot safely and better at whatever discipline they desire. If you’re any good at teaching folks to do that you should not need to talk trash about others; your message should inspire shooters to flock to you or your school.
The best tool the Gun World has at its disposal are firearms instructors who teach gun owners to shoot safely, shoot better, and to have fun. This has an avalanche effect. It causes gun owners to buy more ammo, buy more accessories, by more guns, read more magazines, and surf the Internet looking for educational and entertaining gun related content.
It’s unclear how long we will have a pro-gun President in office. I hope we get at least eight, if not 16 or more years in a row. That just might be long enough solidify the Second Amendment and eliminate the anti-gun brainwashing that has occurred.
In the meantime Bob needs to forget about Jake and focus more on his wife and his shooting skill. (If he does it right, his wife and kids might want to shoot with him more often.) Manufactures need to forget about how many executives they can afford to hire and focus on delivering quality. Magazines should rededicate to educating and entertaining their readers and to building relationships with them through the Internet, by using correspondents Bob trusts. And finally, firearms instructors need to stop trying to one-up their competition and focus on creating safe and effective shooters, who want to shoot more often.
This all reminds me of my best friend in high school who was convinced Christine McVie was not only a better vocalist but also better looking than Stevie Nicks. I tried to correct his misunderstanding of music and the female anatomy but in the end he ignored it all. Much to my despair, he ended up marring a woman and having a bunch of kids, only to learn she really liked women more than she did men, or maybe just him. She left him for another woman and his fairy tale turned into a nightmare. (If you don’t know who Christine McVie and Steve Nicks are, get up and go into the bathroom right now. Stick your head into the toilet, flush it, promise never to listen to Justin Bieber again, and then promptly replace the playlist on your iPod.)
Had he simply listened to some hillbilly wisdom with regard to his teenage infatuation, he might have saved himself from all the heartache that eventually found him. Few things are worse than misguided adolescent fantasies when it comes to spoiling adulthood. Youthful fantasies of big corporations with lots of executives in suites are what’s taking the Gun World down the wrong road.
Those of us who live in it know guns and their use are indelibly linked to the fabric of our life. They are not new smart phones or whiz-bang gadgetry that are best shown to us in porn-like presentations. They are tools to be used and we want to know how to use them better and how to use them to have more fun.
It’s not too late for the Gun World to learn, this is a small industry and the consumers that keep the lights on expect quality and they want a solid relationship where they spend their money and get their information.
It’s all about Bob.
It has always been about Bob.
And, it always will be about Bob.
Gun writers, gun manufacturers, and gun magazines who forget about Bob, and fail to establish that campfire-like relationship with him, will soon be wishing Obama were back in office so they could sell a story, an advertisement, a gun, or some more ammunition.
Of course I could be wrong. After all, I’m just a hillbilly.