Sunday, June 7, 2009

Ruger at a Crossroads

Strategic Opportunity for Sturm Ruger Firearms
Ruger is the apex predator in the revolver market in the United States but has little presence overseas. Moreover, its domestic market share is under fire from semi-automatic handguns. It has an opportunity to expand its sales internationally through revolver sales to Europe. In Europe, countries such as Finland, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, Serbia and the Czech Republic have gun control laws similar to the United States (see Dodds, 2007, pp 1-2 or MacInnis, 2007, pp 1-2 or Wikipedia, 2009, pp 1-5). As an example, the U.S. has 90 guns per 100 citizens and Finland has 56. In Germany, a valid firearms license is required for each firearm that is owned. Nevertheless, even Germany represents a sales opportunity.

In its 10-K Report, Sturm Ruger & Co. states (see SEC, 2008, p 4) 94% of its firearms sales are to the domestic market. Their units shipped reported in the 10-K (p. 23) are

According to Motley Fool (2007, p 1) in its analysis of Sturm Ruger and Company, the competition in the U.S. firearms industry is fierce and comes from both domestic and foreign competition. They go on to say that the handgun market has constant growth but that Ruger lags the growth. Aggressive competitors like Smith & Wesson are taking market share from Ruger. They conclude that Ruger has no “strategic initiatives that could fuel the growth prospects.”

I have used the Google Trends service ( to analyze search engine requests for the word “Ruger.” What I found was fascinating. There is a significant overseas search interest in Ruger. I contend that search interest will translate into purchase intent. This is a largely untapped market for Ruger. I then compared Ruger with Glock. Here are the results.

It is similar with the other competitors and shows a surprising interest in Ruger overseas.

In-depth Interviews
Glock, Beretta and Walther are powerful international competitors to Sturm Ruger & Co. They do not have an appealing lineup of revolvers but instead have focused their attention on the semi-automatic pistol. I need to use in-depth interviews to find out the attitudes, beliefs and feelings of European consumers about revolvers versus semi-automatic handguns. Additionally, I need to define the parameters of Ruger’s relationship with the various European gun retailers, who may be competitors with each other.

Given the prevailing preference for European semi-automatics in Europe, I believe an in-depth interview is more appropriate than a focus group to find out attitudes towards revolvers. McDaniel and Gates (p. 127) say that such interviews allow the researcher to devote more time, to more deeply delve into an area, and “ to reveal feelings and motivations that underlie statements.” We need to know if handgun consumers in Europe would consider revolvers and why. The “if” will let us know if such a campaign is feasible, and the “why” will help set marketing strategic direction.

McDaniel and Gates go on to say that in-depth interviews allow research to explore “casual and tangential remarks,” and obtain insight into the main issue. Also, new directions of inquiry can be quickly and dynamically charted. The traditional discussion guide (p.117) of the focus group limits such flexibility.

Furthermore, one segment we will be interviewing is gun retailing. Here the members are competitors to each other and McDaniel and Gates (p. 128) note that in such a circumstance interviews are a better approach. We will need to discuss inventory, advertising and distribution strategies with them that they may not want to reveal in front of competitors.

I believe qualitative research is the best first step. According to Johnson (2009, p. 1), “It [qualitative research] obtains in-depth information on motivations, feelings and behaviors.” Wilkerson (2003, p. 26) says that qualitative research such as interviews allows for “broad and open-ended questions in hopes that the author would be able to capture any significant information” not in our preconceived notion of the issue. Johnson (2009, p. 3) goes on to say that in-depth interviews can reveal detailed aspects of consumer behavior. This makes qulaitative research the best first step in a campaign to introduce modern Ruger revolvers to Europe.

Dodds, Paisley (April 17, 2007). U.S. Gun Laws Draw Heat After Massacre. AP. Retrieved on June 7, 2009 from

Johnson, E. (2009). Focus Groups & Other Qualitative Methodologies. Retrieved on June 7, 2009 from

McDaniels, C and R Gates (2008). Marketing Research Essentials. John Wiley.

MacInnis, Laurin (August 28, 2007). U.S. most armed country with 90 guns per 100 people. Reuters. Retrieved on June 7, 2009 from

SEC (2008). Sturm, Ruger Annual 10-K Report. Retrieved on June 7, from

Wikipedia (2009). Gun Politics. Retrieved on June 7, 2009 from

Wilkerson, Kristen Courtney (2003). Cyber-Campaigning for Congress: A Cultural Analysis of House Candidate Web Sites. UT Austin Dissertation.

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