Wednesday, February 6, 2019

10 Years of Reviews - An Industry Perspective

Have fun asking Ruger for this
Limited Edition Mirror Polished SP101 9mm
10 Years and 650 Articles of Reviews - An Industry Perspective

2019 represents my official tenth year writing with over 650 published shooting industry articles. I was writing for another market for a decade before that, but the firearms and shooting sports industry has been a hoot and insanely entertaining. This writing thing that I do is thankfully not my real job and am not solely dependent on it to make a living. Over the years I started with just a few articles and it was Ruger’s Ken Jorgenson who first reached out to me and said “I love your articles, would you like to write for Ruger as an official writer?” He recommended me to a few other companies and that started snowballed into this whole journey. Today my reach includes writing for Shooting Sports Retailer, Tactical Retailer, Taylormade Media, All Outdoor Magazine, and recently I was also asked to start writing for Hunting Retailer, Predator Extreme magazines as well.  All that and I still have people wonder why I am not all about making Youtube videos full time for a lousy $5K a year in Adsense revenue. It is an interesting industry.

For me it has the equivalent of sitting on the top of a fortress with a cold beer and my binoculars watching everything happen during the zombie apocalypse. There have been some sad, happy and downright hilarious moments.

During that time I have seen pretty much everything from the good guys, the bad, and the grey area most people live in.  I have seen married industry guys “rent” hookers, drugs being done at SHOT, been called by suppliers A, B, and C asking if I knew anything about buyer D going out of business and stiffing them for millions of dollars. I have seen starry eyed me-too manufacturers spring up one year only to be dead broke and mentally crushed the next. There have been sex scandals involving coaches with their under age professional shooters, embezzlement, illegal overseas sales of firearms labeled as farm equipment (twice), and a whole boatload of grey-market and black-market skimming, theft, and embezzlement that occurring during the great firearm and ammo shortage. There is also two ladies fighting about who gets the pot of gold from a polymer gun empire. Here I am on the sidelines eating and throwing popcorn like I am having a night at the movies.

There have been some really great innovative ideas brought to the market including affordable precision rifles, amazing electro-optics, match grade triggers for everyone, and a shocking amount of innovation around our beloved AR format. Some of those truly amazing innovations for me include Proof Research Carbon Fiber barrels, SB Tactical Braces, anything from IWI, Hiperfire Triggers, the evolution of the piston guns thanks to PWS, along with dry feet and clothes thanks to really high tech fabrics. Other accessories I can not longer live without include the MagLula and MagPump loaders, affordable rangefinders, electronic game calls, shooting tripods, AR pistols and pistol caliber carbines.  There are also those sweet wonderful areas that have just continued to evolve like the 10/22 custom rifle market which now allows pretty much anyone to print sub-.5” 50-yard groups with thanks to Feddersen, Kidd, Volquartsen, Timney, and Magnum Research delivering amazing parts and rifles.

In that same time my contacts and industry executives have bounced from one company to another with the speed of a ping pong match. Sometimes it has delivered great things and other times people have just walked away from this crazy industry shaking their heads swearing.

About five years ago we really started to also see a trend with more and more women entering the sport than ever before. Girls and gals have thankfully been in the front line of competitive shooting, hunting, and media which has continued to draw in a the other 50% of the American public. Targeting to the female buyer has also moved the strategy of the yearly SHOT show from an indoor strip club to a real industry trade show like no other.

With the largest buying group since the Baby Boomers, the shooting industry either has a huge opportunity to resurge the shooting sports or the Millennials may be the last generation of gun owners. Talking to many knife retailers, Millennials are now buying knives at a record pace and that is a statistical indicator of future tactical firearms sales. These new buyers are both male and female and they are buying much differently than buyers in the past all based on a purchase behavior around the experience of using the product.

There are also the so-called “D-Grade” Youtube and TV celebrities of the firearms industry which no one really knows unless they are uber-into the firearms industry. There is the Miculek family of celebrity shooters who all seem like the nicest people on the face of the planet… and then there are others which do things like scream “do you know who I am” in the middle of the Ruger booth at SHOT show 2017. There is the beefcake and bimbos competitive shooter boom where anyone with a body worthy of branded spandex was gifted a professional advertiser funded sponsorship and 10,000 rounds a years of ammo to learn how to shoot. Meanwhile there have been some amazing shooters mature and grow up in the industry while doing the really hard work with the support of family and friends like Nate Staskiewicz. I personally sponsored Nate for years and he was invited to be part of the coveted competitive Army Marksmanship team after graduation - that was truly my honor to be a sponsor on his right shoulder all those years.

The last two years for me have been really telling with economist predicting a downturn. The only way for many in the firearms industry to survive by targeting the female and millennial aged shooters.  Without a significant political threat to our 2nd amendment freedoms, the next four years are going to be rough. The AR/MSR business is going to get even tougher with an estimated 1000+ companies manufacturing AR components up from just 29 in 2000. The market is not that big and all the big publicly traded and private companies like Ruger, Glock, Sig, S&W, Vista, and Mossberg are flooding product into the market this year just to keep sales numbers remotely close to previous years. I just bought a Shockwave 12-gauge for $250 which normally sells for $350 on sale, so don’t tell me product dumping is not happening.
Yeah I know, Barrett does not offer
stripped un-anodized lower.
But yet here one... actually I have three

This was an awkward year at SHOT show. Typically we see the little guys bringing the big innovation leaps to the market, but now SB Tactical is now not so small and neither is KAK/Shockwave. The large companies like Ruger, Mossberg and Sig are delivering real innovation on product customers actually want to buy. Companies like Brownells which have traditionally been distributing retailers are now also in the firearms and firearm parts game with innovative guns like Brownells Retro series of AR15s and competitively outselling the big box retailers. According to many other distributors, they are pushing hard for more distributor exclusive products that can retail margin and differentiation. Meanwhile conglomerates like Cerberus Capital Management (Remington) and Vista Outdoor are buying and selling companies at a shocking rate that is sure to destabilize a few of these brands.

The firearms industry is a wacky business run a “unique” cadre of people which it could not survive without. My friends… here is to another interesting ten years with the goal of passing the 1000 article mark. Cheers!

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