Does market share drive competition use, or does competition use drive market share?
The answer is actually 'yes' in both instances but in neither case is it guaranteed, or a sure thing.
What tips the balance among consumers in favor of a particular brand is a complex set of variables, but as with other sports, what top competitors use plays a role in this equation.
And finding the right mix of product, price, marketing, customer service and, well, luck, and getting the timing right, is what ends up moving a brand to the forefront.
Results from an equipment survey
at one of IDPA's three big matches - the Carolina Cup - provide for some interesting insights into who does and does not have their mix right.
IDPA is particularly enlightening because it is a sport based on personal defense scenarios of concealed carry, which as everybody knows is the fastest growing part of the firearms market.
At the Carolina Cup, 92.9% of the competitors surveyed said they had a CCW. That means (to steal a phase) they run-and-gun on Sunday and conceal carry on Monday...and Tuesday, Wednesday, and you get the point.
Regardless of skill level, these shooters represent the "super-user" among firearms buyers. They didn't buy just one gun and hide it in the back of the closet never to touch it again.
These people buy guns, multiple guns, and all the accompanying gear that goes with active firearms ownership. And they tend to influence a whole lot of other people through their own personal networks.
And that's why companies focus on the shooting sports. Glock is a case in point.
Some look at Glock's shooting team, lamenting this or that change in personnel, and think this defines the company's outreach effort in the shooting sports. Some even seem to think it's the cornerstone of their marketing.
And, this could not be further from the truth.
(By-the-way, if you want to know where their marketing emphasis lies then stand at the end of that really, really long line at Glock's booth at the NRA show and see who's there when you get to the front.
Among the guns used at the Carolina Cup, Glock led with 35.7% followed closely by Smith & Wesson with 34.9%. Pretty impressive, especially when you take into account that S&W's market share is made up of M&Ps, revolvers and a couple 1911s.
However, the key stat is that 62.7% of the handguns used in the competition were striker-fired guns. The venerable 1911, the holy of holies, the perfection that is John Moses Browning's creation, accounted for just 22.2%.
A bit surprising to some perhaps considering the sport of IDPA was founded by Bill Wilson of Wilson Combat who makes 1911s. And his history in the practical shooting sports dates back to when the 1911 was the only gun anybody used.
So what happened? Glock happened, and specifically GSSF happened.
The Glock Sport Shooting Foundation
has been the single biggest feeder program to the pistol shooting sports having put more than 97,000 people through their program since its inception in 1991. This year alone GSSF had 14,000+ match entries and will end 2012 hosting a total of 44 matches.
A program established to market the new polymer striker-fired pistol from Austria to the American gun-buying public has helped turn 1911 true believers into converts. And every other maker of a striker gun - Ruger, Smith & Wesson, Springfield and Taurus - has benefitted.
In addition to being the most popular type of pistol for competition, the striker-fired guns also accounted for 57.3% of the CCW guns among those shooting the Carolina Cup. The 1911 gained ground here rising to 26.4%, but striker guns look to be the new normal when it comes to personal defense.
It's important to note that the survey asked about a competitor's primary
carry gun, and did not ask for preferences in an alternate carry gun or a back up gun - an area where these numbers would certainly see some serious shifting.
So what does this mean in terms of what drives what and why people buy? The results show that competition as a marketing tool is, when done correctly, an important part of the mix. While Smith & Wesson has successfully targeted competition as a tool to gain market share, which is paying off as the M&P gains ground, it's Glock's example that has had a profound impact on the shooting sports.
Today, a company like Glock doesn't really need a shooting team to sell guns. It ships more guns in a month than there are members of IDPA, or any of the big handgun competition organizations. And with the election coming up, President Obama is poised to be the industry's top gun seller, yet again.
But they do support competition because competition, through GSSF, has played a major role in building their brand and market share. And competition helped usher in the era of the striker-fired gun to the point that it is the dominant action type for both competition and concealed carry - if IDPA's equipment survey is indicative of the larger trend among the gun-buying population.
Speculating on Glock's shooting team is fun but overlooks the fact that Team Glock is, in reality, 97,000 strong. And I'm betting they account for more total handgun sales too.
- Paul Erhardt, Editor, the Outdoor Wire Digital Network
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