Niche market advancement
by Tom Gaylord
Writing as B.B. Pelletier
This report covers:
- Benjamin Discovery
- The $100 PCP
- The bottom line
- The legal silencer from AirForce
- Air Venturi
- Lloyd Sikes
- This blog!
- We are waiting for:
Reader William Schooley mentioned today’s topic in a comment last week. We were talking about how many airguns needed to be sold for a company to take a customer’s recommendation seriously. Here is what he said.
“I may be way over my head on this, but isn’t this just the type of situation which creates niche markets and micromarketing? It seems to me that where a small but specific group wants a product that’s not being addressed by other larger firms, smaller more specialized companies will develop products to fill the niche. What is your historical take on niche or micromarketing in the air gun community?”
Man, did that ever get my neurons firing! I immediately thought about the development of the Benjamin Discovery, and Chris USA seconded my thinking, so let’s begin with that.
I owned a USFT field target rifle and knew that an air rifle can shoot fast on low air pressure. My rifle used a fill of about 1,650 psi to get 55 consistent shots of Beeman Kodiaks at 915 f.p.s. At 51 yards 25 shots went into 0.663-inches.
I thought this was a wonderful idea for a new sporting PCP. It could top out at 2,000 psi and get a shots that went 1,000 f.p.s., or thereabouts. That would make it easy to fill from a hand pump! It wouldn’t need to huge diameter reservoir of the USFT to get a reasonable number of shots. So I explained the idea to one airgun company who told me it would never work. That got me motivated to not only make it work, but to do so in a big way!
I knew that Crosman wanted to get into precharged airguns, but they were struggling with just how to do it. They had sold Logan PCPs for a couple years, but it didn’t work out. I thought they needed to make their own PCPs, right there in New York. So, over the Christmas holiday of 2005 I put together a proposal of not only what I thought they could make but also how they should market it — with a hand pump and some pellets all in the same box! I pitched it to them in February of 2006.
My idea was to modify the Benjamin 392AS (an obsolete CO2 rifle that used 88-gram cartridges), but after I pitched the idea they brought me back to meet with them a couple months later and had two prototypes to show me. Ed Schultz had built them from the 2260 that’s now sold under the Sheridan name.
The rest is history. Thousands of Discoverys sold in the first year. The next year the Marauder came out and sold even better. Then came the Maximus and the Wildfire. Crosman went from not knowing how to market precharged airguns to being one of the top precharged manufacturers in the span of just one decade.
That is the best example of what a niche market builder can do. If it hadn’t been for Tim McMurray and his USFT, none of this would have happened.
The $100 PCP
We are not finished with this story yet. The Discovery was a landmark airgun design, but I knew there had to be something more. Dennis Quackenbush and I discussed whether it was possible to build a PCP that could retail for a hundred dollars. Dennis knew immediately what to do and he did it. Then he sent it to me to test and blog. That was a project that played in the series, Building the $100 precharged pneumatic air rifle. Turns out it’s not only possible — it works better than expected! I know for a fact that that series gave Crosman the motivation to develop the Benjamin Maximus — because they told me.
But it didn’t stop there. Oh, no! Today there is a flood of low-cost PCPs coming to market. Manufacturers are rushing to bring out affordable PCPs because they have discovered there is a market for them. It’s a market they have to grow and nourish (that’s called marketing), but it’s very real and getting bigger every day.
The bottom line
Here’s the deal. Companies don’t make a lot of money selling precharged airguns for such a low price. But PCPs are the most attractive airguns for many reasons — no special hold is needed, no CO2 cartridges to buy, no recoil, very accurate, etc. Once you get people shooting them they tend to move up to the more expensive guns with more and better features and a small but reasonable profit. The low-cost PCP is a wonderful entry into airgunning. It’s way better than the mega-magnum 1,400 f.p.s. springer that cocks too had and feels painful every time you shoot it.
The legal silencer from AirForce
Little did John McCaslin realized in 2001 when he launched the AirForce Talon SS that he would change the airgun market forever. At the time AirForce was a new company that was very small, but eager to grow. The Talon SS provided the nourishment they needed for that growth, and McCaslin was very nimble to take advantage of all the opportunities it brought his way. Where some airgun companies acted like large D10 Caterpillar bulldozers, AirForce was more of a Bobcat — lightweight and easy to transport to the job site and able to work all day.
The biggies wouldn’t move unless they saw sales in the thousands; AirForce was quick on their feet and listened to their customers. As a result, just 16 years later AirForce is a major player in the precharged market. They gave us the shroud that is now mandatory for all PCPs (if you want sales) but they gave us so much more.
They gave us Lothar Walther barrels when other companies dragged their feet or made them an expensive upgrade. They gave us interchangable barrels that swap easily in minutes, turning your one rifle into a multi-caliber shooting system! Both calibers and barrel lengths that translate to power are at the owner’s discretion. They also gave us easily variable power.
They gave us the Condor that shot a 14.3-grain Crosman Premier .22 caliber pellet at over 1,200 f.p.s., and then they gave us the Escape smallbore that went up to 100 foot-pounds. They gave us the Texan — a true production 500+ foot-pound big bore when most others were either lying about the energy they could generate, showing prototypes they couldn’t produce or developing far less power. And again AirForce gave us a new kind of adjustable power that allows for tuning for a specific bullet.
The good news is — they aren’t done giving! I know some things they are bringing to market that will have you guys jumping for joy. Once a small company, they are now a light heavyweight with a punch that dominates their sector of the market. Does niche marketing work? You bet it does!
Air Venturi also plays in the niche market. Who would think in the days of the 1,000 f.p.s. there would be any demand for a lightweight, accurate, breakbarrel that’s also easy to cock? Air Venturi did! They gave us the Bronco that sold well for many years and is now a classic in its own right. I guess people really do want to shoot lightweight pellet rifles that are fun. But they didn’t stop there.
They took the air shotgun concept that has never fully succeeded and they made one that really works. The Wing Shot air shotgun not only throws the largest shot charge ever at over 1,000 f.p.s., it also shoots balls and arrows! Arrows?
Yes, the Air Venturi Air Bolt gives you an arrow-launcher with unsurpassed power and great accuracy for just the price of the bolts! They fit in most big bore barrels of the appropriate caliber (they come in .357 and .50 caliber at present). They make your Wing Shot a triple threat airgun! That’s better than spending a bunch of money for a dedicated arrow launcher, isn’t it?
Lloyd Sikes is the man. He invented the electronic solenoid valve that made the Rogue big bore possible. That technology has so much more to offer than what’s been done so far! I will never forget seeing his spreadsheets of the performance of that valve at the Roanoke airgun show and challenging him to show me videos of the performance. I simply didn’t believe it! When I saw the videos I contacted Crosman immediately, because this was something they needed to see. Unfortunately as the development was happening I was in the hospital, and when I came out, the Rogue project was pretty far down the road. My ability to influence it was curtailed.
The thing is — the Rogue valve is not everything it can be or do. It can turn a powerful sporting smallbore air rifle into a quiet indoor plinker at the push of a button. It puts the shooter in complete control of the air rifle’s power!
Lloyd also makes the spacer that allows a Benjamin Discovery to work with a Benjamin Marauder trigger. And he makes parts for the Disco Double — a lightweight rifle based on a Discovery that gets twice the number of shots at great power. Lloyd now sells through a different company called Stalwart Arms, but his products are still available.
William, I know this blog was not something you asked about, but it does work in similar ways to a niche dealer. The manufacturers read it all the time and they pick up on an idea when it gets enough attention here. The hundred dollar PCP is one example. Crosman picked up of that and gave us the Maximus.
Just look at all the effort Gamo has put into their triggers. I think they saw all the discussions of bad triggers and decided they were going to do something about it. So, where does that leave us?
We are waiting for:
An M1 Carbine BB gun or pellet rifle
A Garand BB gun or pellet rifle
A Marauder-type PCP that’s a multi-pump
A foot-powered manual high-pressure pump
And I am waiting for a pistol version of the Avanti 499 Champion so kids can learn to shoot an accurate handgun.
I bet you readers have a long list of your own. Today would be the day to post it.