I have been sitting on this post for some time, debating on whether I wanted to write it or not, but then some things happened and I couldn’t keep it bottled up anymore.
As much as a gun guy as I am, I do not watch gun influencer YouTube videos. I don’t go on gun influencer websites. I don’t read other people’s reviews. I hate them all and hate the influence they have over an industry they do not understand.
This is a true story. The names have been changed to protect the innocent.
Put yourself as an engineer in a major firearms manufacturer in the mid-2010s. Guns are flying off the shelves.
Your executive management team tells marketing: “We see gun sales are booming. We want to get in on that boom. Tell us what the market wants so we can make it.”
Marking does its research and comes to these conclusions.
Most of the guns being sold are being sold to first-time gun buyers or first-time product line buyers. What is a first-time product line buyer? A first-time product line buyer is someone who owns a gun, maybe a 22 for plinking or a bolt action deer rifle, but doesn’t own a handgun or an MSR/AR-15 style rifle. They may be gun owners but this is the first time they are buying outside of their product comfort zone.
What is selling are AR-pattern rifles, handguns, and shotguns for self-defense, personal protection, and for some people, a hedge in case they are banned for political reasons.
Your company makes AR-pattern rifles and shotguns, but what you really need is to make handguns.
Market research comes back and says: “The vast majority of new handgun buyers want a gun for home defense and personal protection. They will take it to the range a few times a year, and shoot maybe 200-250 rounds per range day, maximum. They are going to buy from a major big-box sporting good retailer (Academy Sports, Bass Pro Shops, etc.) where they feel comfortable. They want a gun that is from a brand with a known quality reputation, a warranty, and is reasonably priced with an MSRP ideally $399.99.”
The big takeaway here is that these gun buyers are not gun guys.
Gun guys are not buying 400 million guns. Gun guys are the extreme minority of the gun buying community. Readers of this blog are probably gun guys.
There is an old Yiddish expression: “to the worm in horseradish, the world is horseradish.” For us, guns are our horseradish. Most gun buyers do not live in our horseradish.
So you are an engineer and you set out to make this gun.
You have some design parameters that you need to meet: Polymer frames are both popular and low-cost. Abadextriousness and interchangeable grip sizes have become industry standards. Popular barrel lengths are 4-4.5 inches.* Magazines should hold 15-19 rounds of 9mm. The gun needs to come in 9mm and 45 ACP. It needs to come with two magazines and be manufactured at a cost that makes the MSRP $399.99 and can still be profitable when the retailer runs a flyer ad for the gun at $349.99.
*Remember, these are first-time handgun buyers. They are not into concealed carry yet. They want a gun for the nightstand or glovebox and to take to the range. It doesn’t need to be a sub-compact.
The target consumer for this gun is going to go to Bass Pro or Academy or any one of those types of stores and ask for a pistol for home defense. They are going to look at the price first. The guy behind the counter will pull out a few guns in the same $400 range. The buyer will pick them up and decide based on what feels best in their hand is the one they want. If one model happens to be on special that day, that one will probably be the one sold. Maybe the consumer will say something like “my grandfather had a gun made by [Brand], I’ve heard of them, I want that one.” This is who buys the majority of guns in America, especially during a boom.
There is some good news here. Because of the intended market of these guns, assume the service life is 15,000 rounds.
Again, if you are a gun guy and you read this and choke on that, remember you are a gun guy. Most of these shooters will own the gun for 5 years. Assume one range trip every quarter, 200-250 rounds per trip, that gun will see 4,000 rounds at best. Most will probably see half of that. This is a nightstand gun, not a military or law enforcement service pistol. Remember that last sentence, it will come back later.
You make this gun.
To take into account economy of scale, you make the 9mm and 45 ACP versions nearly identical in all the major dimensions. That gives most of the parts interchangeability between the two guns. Where parts are not interchangeable, you only change the internal dimensions that need to be changed. For instance, the outside of the slide and the position of the locking face are the same, but the breech face cuts are different to accommodate two different rim sizes.
R&D starts the gun design. Industrial designers poke at it to make it aesthetically pleasing as well as functional. It goes to engineering services that runs the CAD design through FEA and recommend changes.
At the same time, materials and sourcing get together and figure out what the gun is going to be made out of and who the parts and raw materials should be purchased from.
Sourcing also has to work with manufacturing to buy the tooling to make the guns.
Once FEA approves the design you order prototypes and you test them.
One engineer develops a test rig that uses a hydraulic ram to cycle the gun to simulate live fire on the critical components to save money on live-fire testing. Some parts break. That engineer does a root cause failure analysis and comes up with design changes. Sourcing goes back to the vendors and works on changes there. They are implemented and work.
Other engineers do different tests and the iterative design process does its’ job and at the end of the project, you have a last-generation prototype.
You take that to the range with your co-worker friends and shoot that gun until you can’t use your fingers anymore. Five thousand rounds per shift, all fired by hand.
The gun passes all the final tests.
The manufacturing facility is tooled up. The entire manufacturing order of operations is laid out to optimize production. Workers are trained on the new equipment. Quality testing of parts is implemented.
The first dry-run guns are built.
They go back to live-fire testing, the final quality check. Do the guns do what they are supposed to do.
This is just a brief summary of the product concept to the final execution process of manufacturing. If you work in this world, you know how difficult and complicated this process really is.
Now you launch the product.
The last three years of your life are validated.
Some gun influencer on YouTube gets your gun. He’s a real VetBro and a CZ aficionado.
He shits all over your gun.
It works. No malfunctions. The gun runs exactly as it is supposed to.
But he doesn’t like it. It’s too big and too heavy for a 9mm. It’s not high-speed, low-drag. It’s bulky, with an okay trigger compared to his beloved CZ. It’s not something he’d trust his life to in whatever arid shithole he was deployed to that endowed him with his VetBro status.
Your gun is not “a Glock killer.”
YouTube McVetBro-Douche’s word is law. Your gun becomes a laughing stock on gun boards.
Gun guys were not your target consumer, right?
Yes, but no. See, a lot of guys who sign up to work behind the counter at these retailers are gun guys.
First-time buyers rely on the knowledge of the guy behind the counter or their gun guy friends for advice.
So now the gun guy friend or the gun guy behind the counter is asked for their sage advice, they repeat what YouTube McVetBro-Douche said.
Your gun gets no sales.
Your management team comes to you in a panic and wants changes to fix what the internet is saying.
You do. You do a year’s worth of engineering in four months and relaunch the second-generation product.
By this time, the reputation has set in.
The following year, your company kills that product line.
What YouTube McVetBro-Douche never said or remotely acknowledged is that this gun was never ever, ever designed to be a high-speed, low drag, tactical pistol built for the law enforcement or military user as a service weapon.
This gun was never intended, at $399.99 MSRP from a big-box retailer to stack up against a $700+ MSRP Glock, CZ, HK, SIG, etc.
This gun was designed and built to be a reliable, functional, reasonably accurate*, budget-priced pistol for the causal gun owner to buy occasionally take to the range, and keep in a nightstand because the news says that crime is going up in his neighborhood. This consumer does not need a high-speed, low drag, tactical pistol built for the law enforcement or military user, and most certainly doesn’t want to pay the price for a gun like that.
*Reasonable accuracy. Everyone loves an accurate gun. What is accurate? For 99.9% of shooters, they are the limit of the gun’s accuracy. A B27 target has a 10-ring that is 4×6 inches. Put the B27 at 10 yards. Take your favorite pistol. Can you put every single round you fire into the 10-ring? Can you put every single round you fire into the x-ring? Every one. Can you do that at 25 yards? If you can, congratulations. You probably need a more accurate gun. Now, look at the person next to you at the range who is doing his best to keep them all in the black at 7 yards. Does it really matter if the gun he shoots groups 3 inches vs 1.5 inches? Do you put money and effort into making a tack driver for a shooter who considers it a good day on the range if he keeps them all in the 7-ring? Or do you say a 3-inch group is easily deliverable and totally acceptable? Understand that firearm accuracy is like top speed in cars. You can make a cheap sedan that goes 100 MPH. It takes a good sports car to do 140. It takes a premium sports car to do 160. It takes a supercar to do 180+. It takes half a million dollars to go over 200 MPH. It becomes exponentially harder the faster you go. Accuracy is the same way. It’s easy to build a gun that shoots 3-4 inch groups. To cut that group size in half, double the price. To cut the group size in half again doubles the price again. Every increase in precision needed to improve performance comes with a cost. Now watch as a gun influence with tens or hundreds of thousands of rounds of experience says that your gun isn’t as accurate as his favorite CZ that is three times the price, and he’s disappointed.
The gun you helped design was perfect for what it was supposed to be and for the consumer it was targeted to.
But none of that matters now, and the gun guys online, ignorant of the entire marketing and design philosophy of your gun, enjoy jumping on the bandwagon of shitting all over it.
The last time you see this gun you threw your life into is in an email flyer for an online wholesaler giving them away at $239.99, barely above cost.
Imagine for a moment that you are a product engineer at Ford.
You design the new Ford Ranger. A compact, four-door pickup truck, designed for maximum fuel efficiency for the suburban guy, who doesn’t tow, and maybe will fully load the bed with a cooler full of ice and a 40-lbs propane tank for some tailgating, or a new push mower from Lowes.
Now, imagine some truck influencer gets a Ranger, puts a 5th-wheel in the bed, and tries to tow his 45-foot gooseneck. Then he shits all over it saying it’s not as good as his diesel F-350 and it’s not “a Powerstroke killer.”
Most logical people would think that video was dumb as shit because everyone knows you don’t buy a compact pickup like a Ranger to do a Super Duty’s job. That’s self-evident, or at least should be.
In the gun world, that logical step is absent and the influencer acts like a budget polymer-frame 9mm from a company that doesn’t sell military service weapons should be tantamount to a polymer frame 9mm that is twice the price and is used by half the military in the world because they look alike.
Years of work were destroyed by influencers talking out their ass about something they didn’t understand and wasn’t made for them.
And I hate them all for it.