How do you tell them the truth?
by B.B. Pelletier
I’ll have a report on the LASSO big bore airgun shoot tomorrow. Some history was made. But for now, on to today’s report.
I want to talk about a sensitive subject. How should manufacturers and retailers talk about their products? Is honesty really the best policy?
Last week, my neighbor and I were talking about crossbows. He said a friend of his had bought one and was excited about it until he tried to cock it the first time. I empathized with him because there’s a crossbow sitting in my office right now. It has a draw weight of 150 lbs., which is on the low side of normal for serious crossbows these days.
When I bought the bow, I thought about what it would take to cock it; but then I thought about all the ads where people are having fun with their crossbows. I’m of at least average strength, so shouldn’t I be able to cock one? How can there be companies making and selling crossbows if no one can cock them?
If you want to comment on how to cock a crossbow, feel free, though that’s not really what I’m talking about today. I’m talking about the known difficulties of any product — not if it is or isn’t possible to cock a crossbow. Of course, it’s possible; but if it’s also very hard (and it is), then why does nobody ever mention it? I know that there are several different mechanisms that make it easier to cock crossbows; but if they’re needed, why aren’t they pushed to the front of the ad copy?
More to the point, why do we never read about how difficult it can be to cock a magnum breakbarrel springer? Why is it that you can lift 50 lbs. fairly easily, but cocking a breakbarrel that requires a 50-lb. effort seems so daunting?
Here’s my question: Knowing that magnum breakbarrels are difficult to cock, what is a manufacturer’s or retailer’s responsibility for informing their potential customers of this fact? Before you answer, consider that customers will react differently to what they’re told in advertising. One person believes everything they’re told, while another doubts everything. We all fall into this spectrum somewhere.
It doesn’t end there, of course. Besides hard cocking, what about those horrendous triggers that break at 8 lbs. and have a lot of creep? Should the manufacturer say something about them, too? Consider the following two ads:
Comes with adjustable two-stage trigger for precise engagement.
The trigger is heavy and creepy but won’t release accidentally when the gun is jarred.
The two lines of copy describe the same trigger, but with differing levels of honesty.
Here’s another situation. Suppose you’re a retailer and you started your business vowing to never sell anything you wouldn’t personally buy. A lot of people do exactly that before going into business. Now, you’ve been in business for two years; of the hundreds of different models of airguns that are available, you are comfortable with only seven of them. What do you do? Your competition sells all brands and nearly all models, and people are flocking to them for their airguns. You’ve decided that only seven models meet your criteria for acceptance.
You look into this deeper and discover that there are some models that you absolutely detest, but which many people like. These models seem to be overwhelmingly accepted, yet you wouldn’t buy one, nor would you recommend one to anyone else. But people are buying them and, from all reports, they like them. What do you do? You can stick to your high ideals and let the competition sell these guns or you can decide to sell them against your principles or you can go out of business. Are those your only options?
Ignoring the end user…
Edith says she thinks that many airgun manufacturers and retailers don’t have the end user in mind. Just because they make or sell a product doesn’t mean they use it themselves. I see this all the time when I talk to these people at the SHOT Show. The principals of the various companies are often out of touch with their products and completely out of touch with their end consumers — so they watch the more successful companies and try to copy what they’re doing. The blind leading the blind.
…or are they?
But the consumers are also at fault, because they gravitate to things they ultimately don’t like after discovering the hidden flaws. In short — speed sells, no matter what the cost.
Back in the 1960s, Walther designed a single-stroke pneumatic air target pistol called the LP II. It later evolved into the LP III, a pistol that shoots a .177 target pellet at just under 400 f.p.s. with reasonable accuracy. To pump this pistol takes about 36 lbs. of effort, something you notice right away. Shooters thought the LP III was too difficult to pump for a 60-shot air pistol match, and they were probably right.
In the 1990s, the Russians came out with their IZH 46, another single-stroke target pistol, that pumps with less than 20 lbs. of effort. It shoots the same .177-caliber target pellet with about 40 f.p.s. more velocity than the Walther LP III, but the real breakthrough was the lowered pumping effort. Suddenly, single-strokes were viable for match shooting.
I remember pumping an IZH 46 for the first time. I thought the gun was broken, because it took so little effort to pump. But soon I became comfortable with it, and the LP III then seemed impossible to pump.
The point is that it was possible to make the single-stroke pumping mechanism lighter through the improvement of the pump mechanism geometry. But only a shooter would ever care whether or not it was easier to pump. A salesman who didn’t have to shoot them would look at both pistols and figure one was pretty much like the other.
So my question remains: How truthful should the manufacturer or retailer be in divulging the known performance characteristics of the products they make or sell? If they’re very truthful about an airgun’s performance characteristics (i.e., its flaws), will that cost them sales to their less-honest competition?
It seems to me that the honest dealer or manufacturer will lose sales to their less-honest competition. Over time, that may balance out through customer dissatisfaction. But will the honest dealer/manufacturer be able to wait that long? It’s ridiculous to imagine a dealer pointing out all the flaws and shortcomings of each product they sell — but what about the glaring ones? The ones that nobody can possibly overlook. Should an airgun salesman be asked to cock a magnum breakbarrel rifle 25 times for the customer? Or should they invite the customer to do it themselves? (But how are you going to do that on a computer?)
I know this train of thought is idealistic, but products do have shortcomings. Should Chevy be telling the public that the Volt may go only 25 or 55 or 80 miles between charges? Or that the battery catches on fire? Or the fact that it isn’t an electric car at all, but a hybrid?
General Motors’ coverups, spin-doctoring and last-ditch “buy back” offer sounds like a political coverup. We know that kind of intentional deceit all too well. But when the product is less well-known, such as airguns, the ability to scrutinize is also diminished. Nobody takes the time to look into such low-profile products.
So how do you tell them the truth?
Postscript from Edith
After Edith proofed this blog, she told me some things that she believes answers some of the questions. Because she works more closely with the different departments at Pyramyd Air, she’s privy to things that I am not. So, here’s her input.
Pyramyd Air’s product descriptions are intended to inform. If a manufacturer states something that we find out to be inaccurate or exaggerated, we correct it. Generally speaking, info comes from manufacturers’ websites, catalogs and/or owners’ manuals. These are frequently riddled with so many errors that all three of them can have totally different specs, velocities and info about a product. Also, they often lack full disclosure, and we usually don’t find out things until after the fact.
However, Pyramyd Air has a secret weapon: their employees. Customers who made purchases based on employee recommendations usually write glowing reviews about them and the employees who made the recommendations. We couldn’t get more positive reviews if we paid people to write them! On top of that, Rick Eutsler (one of the people who mans the live chat) has a virtual fan club of people who love the guns, accessories and ammo he recommends.
If you call or write Pyramyd Air and aren’t sure what you want and ask for recommendations for the best gun, accessory or ammo for your needs, the sales staff and Rick will guide you to products known to perform well and please you. Instead of bashing the bad, they talk up the good. Compare that to your local big box store, where most of the employees don’t have even rudimentary knowledge of airguns.
At some point, the manufacturers notice that some items sell and others linger on the shelves. Not patronizing manufacturers who make bad products or unsupportable claims is the best way to make them do the right thing (or they’ll go out of business).