Now that gun control has become an accepted issue for mainstream concern, as well as a required part of ‘this is what I will do’ spiel for every Democratic Presidential candidate, it figures that our friends at the (failing) New York Times would start ramping up their coverage about guns. This past weekend, the paper ran a major article in the Sunday Magazine section explaining how Remington, one of the iconic names in the gun business, went bust due to the financial machinations of its ownership group, a ‘secretive’ private-equity firm, Cerberus Capital Management.
I met the owner of Cerberus, Steve Feinberg, at the SHOT show (or maybe it was NRA) back in 2006 (I think) when he was first floating around looking to become a player in guns. He said that his plan was to purchase multiple gun companies, then consolidate manufacturing in one or two factory sites. When I told him that the problem with thinking of gun companies as investment opportunities was that industry were always very thin, he said this problem could be solved by achieving ‘economies of scale.’
As it turned out, Feinberg didn’t know much about the gun business, but according to the NYT article, he certainly knew how to make a quick buck. To acquire Remington he formed a holding company with money from the private sector, then getting Remington to borrow money which was used to pay back those investors (a.k.a. Cerberus and other hedge funds) leaving the gun company saddled with debt. The debt obligation couldn’t be sustained when gun sales went south following the end of the Obama regime.
All well and good except for one little thing. What spelled the end of Remington was not just the confluence of bad timing between taking on debt and declining sales. What was much more of a problem was how the gun company was already in deep trouble even though, according to the author of this article, Jesse Barron, “sales were strong and the future bright.” If Barron had taken the trouble to walk into any gun shop and ask the proprietor how Remington products were selling back in 2008, he would have learned that the company’s future was already going down the drain.
I got into the gun business in the 1960’s when companies like Remington, Winchester and Iver Johnson were name brands. Winchester and IJ were long gone by the time Feinberg came floating around. Remington was still holding on simply because everyone who wanted to go hunting with a bolt-action rifle or a semi-automatic or slide-action shotgun had at least one Remington in their home.
Notice the phrase ‘go hunting.’ Guess what started happening to all those hunters beginning in the 1980’s? They all began to die off. Which is why gun companies like Ruger, Smith & Wesson and Springfield Armory saw the handwriting on the wall, along with the appearance of the European handgun imports (Beretta, Glock, Sig) and remade themselves as companies whose products were primarily designed for armed, self-defense.
How did Remington meet the demand for small, concealable self-defense handguns? It came out with a whole line of large, full-metal pistols based on the Colt 1911 design which was never (read: never) considered to be a personal defense gun. When the Remington engineers realized that it was small, lightweight polymer guns that were pushing sales, the product they brought to the market, the R51, didn’t work. And in the gun business, where everything is word of mouth, if a gun doesn’t work, you might as well close down your shop.
If The New York Times wants to become an important voice in the burgeoning noise being made by Gun-control Nation, the editors might consider checking the content of their articles with someone who knows something about guns. On the other hand, since the average NYT reader is probably not a member of Gun-nut Nation, does it really matter whether an op-ed piece aligns with the facts?