Shotguns: Do We Get What We Pay For?

By Randy Wakeman

If you think shotguns are bewildering, you might spend a little time observing the great optic debates of riflescopes: few, if any of the great debaters have ever ground a lense, glued lenses together to make a lense element, or ever repaired a scope in their lives . . . and won't. That will never stop the noise about what a good scope is or isn't. It is an endless debate.

No matter what the product, the consumer foots the bill. It has always been that way. The "you get what you pay for" theory is one of the greatest lies ever told. Anyone at all familiar with OEM production knows that, in some cases, the only difference that exists in a consumer product is the brand of the box it ends up it. Those boxes vary widely in price.

So, we pay for a lot of things. We pay for ad-copy, we pay for catalogues, we pay for sponsorships: we pay for all facets of the marketing / distribution chain. No dollar spent on an expensive ad ever touches the actual manufacture of the product. Tomorrow, as it happens, is Superbowl Sunday, which illuminates a lot of that. The fortunes spent on ads do not give you a better tasting can of pop, a better can of beer, a better cheeseburger, or a better-built automobile. Yet, you are paying for every ad you see. Network television is not a "not for profit" entity. We also have enjoyed the best politicians money can buy for a long time in this country. We got what was paid for.

We pay for marketing, but we pay for labor including health care, pensions, and the upcharge our government inflicts on American businesses. At one time, import duties alone financed our entire government. Those days are long, long gone-- and gone for good.

We pay for quality materials, but we also pay for tremendously expensive tooling, engineering, management / admin fees, R & D, we pay for customer service, we pay for warranties, we pay for all of it. It has just got to be.

Purchase price alone does not dictate the quality of a gun, or anything that is manufactured. We receive the benefits of the economy of scale and efficient manufacturing methods. We also pay for excessive scrap rates, inefficient manufacturing methods, and obsolete machines and production techniques. It is a complex blend contingent on what specific shotgun may be discussed at the time-- but, it is very clear that $1 more for a gun cannot equal $1 put into the quality of raw materials.

John Olin, CEO of Olin Chemical, apparently didn't mind losing money on firearm production. He lost a bundle, but had plenty of profit from the chemical business not to worry. He also felt building a quality gun would increase his ammunition sales, the give away the hammer to sell the nails approach. Regardless, after Mr. Olin retired and no longer did as he wished, it became obvious that Winchester Repeating Arms could not sustain itself. Shareholders and management decided that Olin could not eternally use its primary industry sales and profits to subsidize a small subsidiary that lost money with great enthusiasm. That was 1964, the year that "Winchester died." It has since become apparent that many firearm companies have no clue what a successful business model is: Colt, S & W, Remington, Ithaca, Franchi, Benelli, Rossi, High Standard, Wesson Arms, Dakota Arms, Bushmaster, and even FN have gone though many changes of ownership, or failed outright. There are stories behind all of them.

This is no simple answer to the question, however as the firearm price goes up, there are things that you might expect to be present to justify the price-- or make it "worth it" whatever 'it' is and how an individual attempts to define "worth."

Highly polished blue and overall metal finish is a component of worth. Anyone who has ever refinished a kitchen or looked at quality hardwoods knows that pretty furniture costs a lot of money. A highly figured stock blank alone can run you over $1000 without much looking.

Metal quality and finish, wood quality and finish, wood to metal fit all means something-- at least to me. Machine or milled parts are far more expensive than stampings-- punch press guns are less costly to make as a result. Handwork is very costly, as your local union electrician will be happy to prove to you. The standard labor rate at many car dealerships is $140 an hour in this area-- higher in others. Anything in the way of engraving, hand-fitting, individual trigger attention, and so forth may cost a lot of cash . . . anything remotely touching on custom work a whole lot more.

Residual value counts as well. After all the hulls fly, the clays break, and the birds are eaten-- not much is left that has resale value other than the gun. The guns that went for $50 years ago, such as "Toppers" and the like are worth scant little more than that today. The higher grade pieces bring prices all out of proportion to what they cost originally. Even though some 2,000,000 A-5's were made in Belgium alone, making it both a fairly common and long-available product-- whether an A-5 or a vintage Model 12 "new in the grease": it can dent the most robust of wallets.

Pretty has a price, prestige has a price, and exclusivity carries a price as well. Certainly, there can be a bit of snobbishness connected to those who continually brag about how much "their thing cost." There is also a vulgar display of poverty associated with those that can't get past the idea how little "their thing cost." Neither extreme makes logic, but logic and what we personally own, eat, use, and wear are never fully compatible.

More expensive guns certainly may look better, swing better, balance better, have better triggers, more precise tolerances, and better finishes. They may last longer, and they may hold a higher percentage of initial purchase price, or increase in value. They also may not.

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Copyright 2007 by Randy Wakeman. All rights reserved.