When you don’t know what to do
This report covers:
- New projects
- Don’t incorporate more than one new concept
- Large companies
- Management from the top
- Management by the sales team
- Management by spreadsheet
- The champion
- Killer ideas
- Idea 1— reinvent the wheel
- Idea 2 — bring back the past
Today is targeting airgun makers — not buyers like us. They need help sometimes, too.
How do new projects get started in companies? Let’s start with a smaller company first. A one-man company has an idea he thinks a lot of people would like. This is where things get risky. If he has made things before, he knows what it takes. A guy like Dennis Quackenbush knows what it will take for him to make a big bore airgun. He needs metalwork skills, woodworking skills and bluing skills.
He does not only have to know how to make something, if he wants to sell it to other people, he needs to know how to make it safe. For instance, if someone tells him that people want a muzzle-loading air rifle, he knows that a muzzle loader air rifle with a leaky valve will shoot on its own when the pressure builds up high enough.
If he makes a .50-caliber rifle, he needs to make the bore size right to accept a lead ball or bullet that is commonly available. If his .50 won’t fit anything people can get, it is of no use to anyone.
Don’t incorporate more than one new concept
One-man shops have to be careful to limit their horizons. For example, don’t invent a .14-caliber rifle that you also have to create the ammo for. Sheridan was playing chicken with their future when they made their airguns for a caliber that was not already on the market. Ironically, the first Supergrade prototype was a .22, because there were no .20 caliber pellets available.
Here is what it sounds like at Sheridan. “We make our rifle in .20 caliber and then we will own the market for its ammo.”
Outside Sheridan they are saying, “I’d like to get a Sheridan, but they’re the only ones making pellets for it. If they go out of business, I’m stuck.”
Large companies have several different development problems. The first is the boss.
Management from the top
The bane of the large company is top-down management. The boss wants something and it becomes the staffs’ job to make it happen. Maybe his big thing is long range accuracy. So he wants the most accurate 100-yard airgun. Everything else is subordinate to that one goal.
What you see from the outside is long development hours poured into the one project. If the boss is really crazy maybe he’ll even invent contests that prove his gun is the most accurate at 100 yards. To get competitors interested in his contest, he’ll pour big prize money into the contest that is structured around his design.
This was done in American flat-track motorcycle racing after World War II. If your engine was a flathead (Harley and Indian) it could displace up to 750 CC. If it had overhead valves (the British “lightweights”) it could only displace 500 CC. That supposedly leveled the playing field, as the horsepower of both flathead and overhead valve engines of those displacements was similar. What it really was, was a thinly veiled way of keeping Harley and Indian in the competition when the British twins started showing them up in the 1950s. Extreme Benchrest is the airgun equivalent of American flat-track motorcycle racing.
Management by the sales team
In this kind of company the boss doesn’t shoot. He’s a skier, so he really doesn’t connect with the product they make. Fortunately for him, his vice president of sales is on top of things.
The sales VP is also not a shooter, but he has his finger on the pulse of the market — or so he thinks. His four largest accounts are three chain stores and one online website that is both a wholesale and retail seller. Extra points for guessing who that is. He watches what the big accounts buy and makes certain his company has plenty of those kind of airguns to sell. That has worked well for the past 10 years. However, there have been several changes at the top because the investors aren’t satisfied. The sales VP made a huge sale to a discount chain 18 months ago, but the CEO was fired by the board when the product returns (airguns sent back) from that chain overwhelmed the company and gave them a 4th quarter loss last year.
Management by spreadsheet
Numbers don’t lie, is the motto in this company. Yes, but they also don’t tell the truth. They can be made to say anything you want when they are presented creatively, so in this company we decide what we want to do and then structure the numbers to show that in a good light.
If a large company has someone inside who understands airguns and if the company will allow this person to take the lead and make significant development decisions, they may have a winning formula. Crosman did this when they allowed Ed Schultz to develop the Benjamin Discovery in 2006 and then the Benjamin Marauder the very next year. Of course he didn’t do it all on his own, but he was given some latitude to put in features that he knew airgunners wanted. As far as I know the Marauder and its related family are still going very strong fourteen years after their inception. The Discovery went away, but not before it spawned several other precharged rifles that took its place.
I don’t have a killer idea for the little guy but for the large company I have several.
Idea 1— reinvent the wheel
This one came straight from this blog. Take an airgun that you now make and see what upgrades can be put into it. Just for example, take the Benjamin 397 and add superior wood, a great trigger and more accuracy. Call it the Regent Grade 397 and list it for $800. What you have done is make a modern Sheridan Supergrade. You won’t sell very many, but the prestige it brings to your company will be valuable. I submit the following air rifle for your consideration.
Idea 2 — bring back the past
I suggested this next idea in 2003 to Joe Murfin who was the Daisy VP of marketing at the time. Make a small run of Daisy wire-stock first model BB guns. I told Joe people would pay hundreds of dollars for such a gun. They had already paid someone $400 for one that didn’t actually work. Yes, a man had made a wall-hanger Daisy wire stock that he sold for $400 in the 1990s and he sold all of them!
I thought the idea was ignored, but in 2007 Daisy came out with 1,000 of these BB guns and they were made just like the originals, except the caliber was for modern steel BBs — not for lead BB shot. They sold for $300 each.
Daisy’s 2007 remake of the first model wire stock BB gun.
Did they make a lot of money, selling them at $300 apiece? No. But they cemented their place in history for doing it.
Okay, I’ve got you started. Now you readers can take over and tell these companies what you really want.
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