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Summer ponderings on a reporter's lead time.

One of the most frustrating aspects of this business from a writer's perspective is that of getting our hands on new products while they're still new... and newsworthy. Each year manufacturers proudly unveil their new products in January. Trouble is that those products we see there at the Show - especially guns, whether they be rifles, shotguns or handguns - are almost always pre-production tool room samples of which there are but one or two in existence.

I'm not for a moment suggesting that any company purposely misleads dealers and the press as to when their new products will actually be available, but nine out of 10 times it works out to be twice as long as they say. In that regard this year has been one of the worst I can remember.

Back in January three of our major gun makers announced new varmint rifles, yet it was mid-April before the first one arrived, and mid-May before the other two showed up. Assuming that the reps and other important cogs in the sales network, along with the press, are allotted the first production guns available, I can only imagine how long some of you dealers have to wait between the time you see a new gun at SHOT or in the manufacturer's catalog, and the time you actually get one in inventory.

Late Breaking News

Now the primary function of a trade publication like SI is, among other things, to inform dealers as to what's new. To fulfill that function within any sort of meaningful time frame, the editorial lead time for us is as short as we can make it given the restraints of a monthly publication - about 30 days. Compared to the nearly three-month lead times for consumer magazines like our sister publications, GUNS and American Hand-gunner, we can be more responsive, more topical. Of course compared to a daily newspaper, our ability to respond to a timely story is positively glacial, but then reporting on new products hardly has the urgency of, say, hurricane warnings or bank robberies.

Then too, as dealer you don't necessarily have to know any more initially than that a new product or model exists, its pertinent specs, price, and what it looks like. More detailed descriptions and subjective evaluations of new products and model variations are more appropriate to the consumer books.

That's not to say, however, that we couldn't do a better job of reporting on an item if we could just get our hands on it How a new gun fits into the existing fine; what's really new about it, if anything; how it differs from the competition, and so on, are the kind of things we try to provide and that you won't get from catalogs and press releases.

Anyway, this problem of anticipated versus actual availability of a new product has always existed, and perhaps always will, but that doesn't mean we can't bitch about it on occasion and speculate as to why manufacturers find it so difficult to coordinate the announcement of a new product with is timely availability.

Take those varmint rifles I spoke of: The earliest we could do a credible job at reporting on them would be for the June deadline, which means it would appear in the July issue of SI and the September issue of any of the consumer magazines. That's not the time of year when customers come into your store looking for a new varmint rifle!

If I were running a gun company and we were introducing a new varmint rifle, I'd say to my people: "Look, if we have to assign production priorities, it's got to go to the varmint rifle because spring is the buying season for that kind of gun. Shotguns can wait, and so can the hunting rifles, because the buying season for both comes later in the year."

Sweet Anticipation

Nothing shortens winter for a rifle nut like the prospect of a new tackdriver for the upcoming varmint season. When a young man's fancy turns to spending time at the loading and shooting benches developing a super-accurate handload; of mile-long prairie dog towns; of lazy summer evenings awaiting some distant woodchuck to sit up while one inhales the pungent smell of freshly-mown hay.

This is the kind of daydreaming that begins when the snow is still on the ground, and by the time April rolls around, anyone interested in a new varmint rifle is hot to trot. I don't have to tell any of you how many sales are lost with the words: "I don't have one in stock, but I can order it for you."

If you're going to make a sale, you'd better have the gun in inventory now, not in August when your customer's thoughts have already turned to upland and big game.

Now I realize it's easy to sit back and criticize. Having worked in industry myself I am well aware of the unforeseen but inevitable teething problems that accompany even the most minor model variation - which is what we're talking about with these varmint rifles - let alone the introduction of a truly new product. Still, it would be nice for a change to see a new item at SHOT and be able to get our hands on it shortly thereafter so that we could write about it from first-hand experience and tell you about it within a time frame most beneficial for everyone - manufacturer, dealer and consumer.

Answering Dumb

Questions Queries

I have been observing with some amusement - as I'm sure most of you have - Shooting Industry's "I Answer Dumb Questions" column. Just as interesting to me as the column, however, are the letters it prompts from some readers; namely, the ones who for one reason or another fail to find humor in ignorance and/or stupidity.

For the most part those who see nothing funny about the column interpret it as humor at the expense of others, or they consider anything related to guns as serious business and, regardless of how obtuse the association, nothing to make light of

My advice to these folks would be: "Hey, lighten up!"

Humor is always at someone's expense. It can be the self-depreciating approach of Rodney Dangerfield, or the attack-style of Andrew Dice Clay, but humor is always at the expense of someone or something. Besides, it's not like the source of "Dumb Questions" are identified by name; if they were, then the column would be harmful.

For the paranoid types who perhaps feel that in this day and age when everyone's out to take their guns away, joking about some individual who doesn't know a butt from a muzzle is somehow counterproductive, again I say I don't agree. I'll bet anything that when morticians get together, the jokes they tell, the comments they make, would curl anyone's toes! It may not be productive, but neither is it counter-productive. And it is entertaining!

When you stop to think that today's consumer is far more knowledgeable about guns than is grandad ever was, the things you see and hear... well, if you didn't laugh, you'd cry. Lord Greville had it right when he said: "Man is the only creature endowed with the power of laugher; is he not also the only one who deserves to be laughed at?"
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Author:Sundra, Jon R.
Publication:Shooting Industry
Date:Jul 1, 1993
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