by Tom Gaylord, a.k.a. B.B. Pelletier

One great thing about my job is that I get to meet people who are very successful. I’ve been interested in successful people all my life — reading books about them, trying to understand why they’re different than the rest of us. Several years ago, I discovered the reason. Successful people have visions that exceed what the rest of us can see. We see what exists today, but they see into next year and have the ability to see the steps needed to get from here to there.

After reading about them for 40 years, this writing job brought me into close proximity with such people and I got to hear what they think firsthand. That was when I saw their incredible ability to envision.

One of the people I read about was Zig Ziglar, who’s been called one of the world’s greatest salesmen. In fact he was so successful at selling that he wrote motivational books about it and became a well-recognized motivational speaker.

Allow me to share just one story that Ziglar tells in one of his books because it illustrates today’s topic so well. In the middle of the last century, he was selling cookware in the south, when door-to-door salesmen were more common than they are today. His company also had a line of fine china dinnerware, but he didn’t push it because his sales area consisted of lower-income families who needed the necessities of life much more than the luxuries. If you can imagine knocking on door after door, trying to get some time to make a sales pitch to families who watched every penny they had, you can imagine how very challenging this job was.

One day he arrived at a house where he was certain he would make a sale. The woman of the house let him in and he immediately saw she was cooking with pots and pans that were completely worn out. He showed her his line of cookware, feeling certain she would recognize how much she needed some of it. But, although she was patient enough to listen to his best pitch, she refused to make a purchase.

However, when she followed him out to his car as he was putting his pots and pans away, her eyes fell on a piece of the china he carried. When she saw it, her eyes lit up and she asked to see more. It turned out that she had always wanted fine china. She made a large purchase of china from Ziglar that day, and he learned a very important lesson. People buy what they want, not always what they need. So, selling what people want can be easier than trying to sell them what you think they need.

That lesson benefitted him for the remainder of his life, and he used it in much of his material. It’s fundamental to the sales of anything, as the top salesmen will all tell you.

Edith is aware of this story because I told her about it when I first read it years ago. Then, when we were both talking to Wulf Pflaumer, one of the owners of Umarex — the company that owns Walther, among others — several years later, something he said really hit home. “I don’t sell airguns. I sell DREAMS!”

Indeed, he does. All it takes is to hold one of Umarex’s realistic air pistols to realize that they do, indeed, sell dreams. The size, weight and finish of these replica airguns is so close to the firearms they copy that it sometimes takes close examination to tell the difference. People who cannot acquire firearms for various reasons, and those who don’t necessarily want them around can have almost the same experience with an airgun that satisfies their need in nearly every way.

Umarex didn’t start out selling airguns. Years earlier they were selling blank-firing guns in European countries where firearms ownership is prohibited, but noisemaking is okay. They gave the same kind of thrill as airsoft guns; except, instead of hitting a distant target, they sounded and sometimes even operated semiautomatically like firearms. For some people, that’s all that mattered.

When they started making realistic air pistols, they captured the action air pistol market in the United States. These guns were and still are so realistic that they gave us a new outlook on pellet pistols. They not only looked the part, they were accurate, too! I remember my M1911A1 from Umarex was capable of putting 5 rounds into 1-1/8″ at 25 feet — something I hadn’t seen from a repeating pellet pistol before.

So, dreams are what they sell. Because dreams are what their customers want. Not lies — but dreams. Not the promise of high velocities without reasonable accuracy, but guns with the right weight, the right size and shape, and, best of all, the right FEEL. A dream should not turn out to be a nightmare. It should satisfy the desires of those who dream.

Is this lesson lost on the other airgun manufacturers? Not on all of them, thank goodness. I’m not going to run the roster of the good companies and bad ones right now because that isn’t the thrust of today’s report. What we’re trying to do today is understand what motivates people to buy things they don’t need. And that’s done quite easily — by appealing to their desires, then delivering on the promise. But it isn’t a business formula. It’s a frame of mind; and unless you have the right mindset, you’ll never be able to do it.