The mention of disruption these days in any industry is enough to send shivers down the spine of any executive in the C-suite. Industries who have typically rested on their laurels are always ripe for disruption sending established brands packing.
We see how digital film brought down Kodak. Netflix replaced Blockbuster. Or how Uber turned the taxicab industry upside down.
And with the emergence of a new technology called the Internet of Things or IoT, we’re seeing how Google’s NEST is turning the home into a “smart” home, where it can sense what your ideal temperature is and can alert you through your iPhone to any intrusion by communicating with your security system.
From compact discs changing to Mp3s, the iPhone, Pandora, and others—disruption is happening at a furious pace, which begs the question, is the firearms industry vulnerable to disruption?
Perhaps the biggest and most recent disruptions are taking place in 3-D printing, advanced robotic manufacturing, caseless ammo, and the push for smart guns. Other areas include how firearms are being sold online or in the retail environment or how firearms can interact within their environments. In addition, the NRA’s recent ad campaign seeks to awaken people to the fact that they are losing their rights, which is galvanizing gun owners and strengthening the conservative political movement.
As new out-of-industry technologies develop, politics change and people’s perceptions and attitudes towards technology and firearms shift, companies who are thinking forward will be poised to weather coming changes.
In this article, I took a look at four areas of potential disruption from a marketing standpoint and share some ideas to spur thought and perhaps push you out of your comfort zone in terms of how to avoid or prepare for potential disruption in the firearms industry.
Manufacturing is entering a dynamic new phase. By 2025, a new global consuming class will have emerged, and the majority of consumption will take place in developing economies. This will create rich new market opportunities. Meanwhile, in established markets, demand is fragmenting as customers ask for greater variation and more types of after-sales service. A rich pipeline of innovations in materials and processes—from nanomaterials to 3-D printing to advanced robotics—also promises to create fresh demand and drive further productivity gains across manufacturing industries and geographies. (Source: McKinsey)
Gun manufacturing and gunsmithing has historically been a difficult endeavor, requiring metal and woodworking skills to make a sturdy, dependable weapon. According to Adam Clark Estes from Gizmodo, 3-D printing has passed the point of rinky-dink plastic parts and is now capable of printing with bronze, limestone, and iron.
3-D printing remains a controversial subject—and yet to be proven in firearm application at scale, but it should not be discounted.
One company, Solid Concepts, using a 3D printer that can print metals, reproduced a clone of a military 1911 .45-caliber semiautomatic pistol, which successfully fired 50 rounds. Defense Distributed, a non-profit digital publisher and 3D R&D firm, developed an all-plastic handgun based on a WWII design called the Liberator.
If companies like Solid Concepts and Defense Distributed figures out how to make firearms just as durable as the they are now; undercut prices and make them more personalized and do it at scale—this could be a disruption of dynamic proportions. The entire process could be turned upside down: from employment, training, inventory, design, prototyping, labor unions and the list goes on and on.
Skip ahead to the year 2030. What if all I had to do to buy a gun was to apply for a license online, purchase and download a plan that I could then take to my local 3-D manufacturing station. Which happens to be the same place I went to last week to purchase and print a broomstick and some forks. Seem far fetched, maybe not?
The changing retail experience
In a recent trip down to the local gun shop, I couldn’t help but notice how different the experience was from being in an Apple store I was in the day before. From the stuffy atmosphere, the grumpy guy working behind the counter and the disorganized mess of firearms mounted on peg board—the typical gun shop buying experience has been about the same for about every store I’ve been in to since I was 8 years old.
The reason I bring up the Apple store—is because the Apple retail experience has caused major disruption in the consumer electronics space (Source: HBR) and has crossed over into other industries that has the potential to influence the expectations of buyers, including those buying a firearm.
According to the latest NSSF data, new buyers (mostly handguns) in the firearms industry are younger, include more females and are urban. (Source: NSSF) These buyers have been influenced by out-of-industry retail experiences like Apple or REI and will come to expect the same experiences from outdoor retailers—it’s a natural progression. Bass Pro, Cabela’s and other larger retailers aside, small mom and pop shops could face problems in the years to come by overlooking their retail experience.
For example, Beretta opened its seventh Beretta Gallery in Memphis earlier this year. With locations in Milan, Paris, London and Buenos Aires, New York, and Dallas, Beretta once again is disrupting how hunting, outdoor and firearm marketing and sales is being delivered.
Berretta’s vision has always led the industry, and this may be the reason this company has been around since 1526.
The same can be said for the online buying experience. I recently looked at the hunting and firearms industry’s best websites. What I discovered was a lot of the larger brands that didn’t make the list—were not mobile based, offered little to no information to their users and had yet to implement a digital marketing strategy that is expected from today’s younger, urban consumer.
With over 50% of ecommerce website traffic now coming from mobile (Source: Shopify), and 1.8 hours per day consuming media via mobile, it makes sense for brands to make digital marketing a priority in 2016.
James McQuivey of Forrester Research says, “In the digital environment, customers have the ability to switch back and forth between competitive providers more quickly and at lower cost than ever before. They can research competitive prices, they can look for promotions, they can even place an order for a competitor’s product all while standing in your store or looking at your product on the shelf. That’s why the only way to win that customer is to serve that customer, to make his or her needs the most important thing your business is focused on.”
The Internet of Things
The Internet of Things (IoT) is an environment in which objects, animals or people are provided with unique identifiers and the ability to transfer data over a network without requiring human-to-human or human-to-computer interaction.
A few examples of IoT are doors that lock themselves, cameras that monitor your home for intruders or thermostats that program themselves. It’s about using technology to make technology smarter.
Daniel Burris, from Burris Research, quotes in an article from Wired. “The Internet of Things really comes together with the connection of sensors and machines. That is to say, the real value that the Internet of Things creates is at the intersection of gathering data and leveraging it. All the information gathered by all the sensors in the world isn’t worth very much if there isn’t an infrastructure in place to analyze it in real time.”
Of all the technology trends that are taking place right now, perhaps the biggest one is the Internet of Things; it’s the one that’s going to give us the most disruption as well as the most opportunity over the next five years.
Tracking Point came out with its Shotview at CES earlier this year that allows a user to link to a HUD on your rifle for greater shooting accuracy and that can record your hunt through a Google Glass app.
Another company focusing on IoT is Yardarm Technologies in law enforcement. Its smart gun concept is equipped with an accelerometer, gyroscope, wireless GSM, and Bluetooth low energy to monitor and record data every time it is discharged.
The sensor gathers data about how, when and where officers use their guns, and transmits that data in real time to commanding officers and departments.
Everything from the time the gun is unholstered, to the number and location of shots fired—even the direction the gun is pointed in—can be measured and visualized with Yardarm’s technology, the company says. (Source: PC World)
Could IoT cause disruption in the firearms industry? It surely is one of the most exciting and promising areas of innovation. Segments who have the highest risk I believe are products that require several consecutive steps of use, bulky functionality and after market add-ons like optics and lasers that could be substituted by technologies like Google Glass.
Why put an optic on your rifle when you can wear it on your head? And by combining this with advancements in 3-D printing, this could be an area of interest as well.
Shifting political views and opinions
NRA’s latest ad campaign “Freedom’s Safest Place” communicates the views the majority of us share. “This campaign is a gathering of shared values that gives a sense of right and wrong,” says NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre. In light of the recent IRS scandals, terrorism and tragedies the “good guys” are being called to stand up.
With the recent Planned Parenthood videos being released that show the gruesome and evil acts of its employees to support for tell-it-like-it-is Donald Trump—the people who adhere and align with America’s core principles of freedom and the constitution are finally taking a stand against left-wing groups, Bloomberg and the media with a renewed sense of purpose.
People who own firearms see the dangers of this world and want to protect themselves, their family and even arm themselves against their own government who continues to impede, trample and intrude on citizen’s rights—are changing the minds and attitudes and causing disruption of what once was the status quo.
How firearm manufacturers participate in this remains to be seen. However if the NRA is successful in swaying public opinion and rallies its 5 Million members along with other conservative groups that contributes to the election of a pro-gun Republican President in 2016, the gun industry could be on its way back to what sales were like during the Bush ’43 presidency.
It’s been said, Obama has been the industry’s best sales man. Looking back at industry background check figures give a good indication of what sales where like 8 years ago under the Bush administration.
NOTE: Not all background checks are followed by a sale, and an unknown number of private sales take place without any requirement for a background check. (Source: Fact Check)
The upcoming presidential election has the potential to be the biggest disruption of them all whether a republican or a democrat gets elected.
Firearm manufacturers next generation of marketers, workers, engineers and designers will intrinsically possess the influences, skills and ideas to push brands into new areas. It’s up to the innovators and thought leaders of the industry to prepare for the coming changes. Whether change comes from the manufacturers themselves or a new startup—disruption, my friends is inevitable.