By Russ Thurman
Business year 2018 debuted with cautious optimism for a better sales year than 2017. Then, with the horrific shooting in Florida, began a whirlwind of assaults on firearms, gun owners and the industry. No one really knows how much impact these assaults will have on a recovery.
However, in conversations with leaders of major firearm manufacturers, the most important message for the industry: “Don’t panic.”
For those whose reaction to high-intensity anti-gun assaults is to “run through the hall with your hair on fire,” stop it! Yes, it’s tough. The market is still “questionable,” there is still too much manufacturing capacity, the attacks have taken a toll, but “We are not going out of business!”
Another key point: As has been the case for decades, fighting anti-gun battles is a daily part of doing business. Salutes to those companies actually in the fight.
While the assaults are a setback, most companies opened 2018 focused on fresh business ideas, new marketing approaches, plenty of new products and planned business expansions. These form a strong foundation for moving forward, which bodes well — even in the midst of extreme anti-gun battles.
The variety and impressive number of new products introduced this year is a strong indicator companies are not just trusting on their slightly modified, standard offerings to attract consumers. That has happened too often in the past, with manufacturers failing to produce “real” new products. More than just the number of new products is the innovation represented — a vital ingredient to attracting veteran consumers and ever-important new customers.
A good read or reread is Shooting Industry’s 2018 New Product Showcases in the December 2017 and January 2018 issues. In addition, last month’s issue of Shooting Industry and this month’s edition feature expanded 2018 New Product Showcases. (If you don’t have printed copies of these issues, they’re available in their entirety at www.shootingindustry.com/digital-version.)
The wide range of new offerings was a key ingredient and motivational driver at SHOT Show in January, with plenty of new products to handle and deals to be made at NSSF’s 40th anniversary event. The SHOT Show was uplifting and a much-needed morale booster after a tough business year.
The only “industry experts” disappointed in the show were keyboard commandos who forecasted the show would be a “downer.” Their predictions were based on the significant downturn in business last year, which, they said, would impact SHOT Show. Fortunately, the more than 60,000 attendees didn’t get the doom-and-gloom memo.
Another positive indicator of moving forward is the modernization of advertising and marketing campaigns designed to attract new consumers to the industry. The new approaches are invigorating and in sharp contrast to aged, boring ads and promotional campaigns that have a huge snore/no-sell factor. Such efforts to influence consumers are not new, but it’s especially important this year to counter anti-gun messaging, reverse the downturn, stabilize sales and discover the ever-elusive new normal. (See this month’s Outdoor Marketplace column for more insights on advertising trends today.)
The impressive number of new hires is additional proof companies view 2018 year as an opportunity to advance market share. Since January 1, I’ve lost count of the number of new or “looking for” directors of operations, directors of sales, VPs of sales and marketing, VPs of national accounts, VPs of firearms sales, digital marketing managers, CEOs and presidents, product engineers, product managers, manufacturing shift supervisors, senior directors of sales and global business development, national sales managers, etc.
In addition, distributors are expanding operations; including opening more distribution centers and creating more opportunities to service dealers, such as introducing new e-trade shows.
Weatherby’s decision to relocate their operation from California to Wyoming is another positive indicator of embracing the future. “We wanted to move to a state where we can grow into our brand. Wyoming means new opportunities. We are not interested in maintaining; we are growing,” said Adam Weatherby, Weatherby president.
Optimism. No Apologies
Yes, I’m aware the industry faces numerous challenges to regaining business momentum this year. Yes, I’m aware of the outcry for more gun control.
Yes, I’m an optimist, with no apologies.
2018 is the Year of Opportunity for those willing to focus on doing business right, modernizing their approach to the marketplace — while continuing to fight those whose goal is to crush the industry. In addition, and perhaps most important, avoid those with their hair on fire and naysayers who always know how best not to succeed.