Are You Doing Things Right, Or Doing the Right Things?

October 22, 2020
Ray Oeltjen

The shooting sports industry is comprised of manufacturers, distributors, catalog outlets, and small to very large retail dealers. Many of these businesses began with an individual’s passion for hunting and shooting, which evolved into something much greater. While the challenges in this industry are often unique, it is still business. And every business must adhere to specific principles in order to be successful.

Making the right moves in the firearms industry is a chess match.

No matter their size, all companies are a collection of individuals with unique interests and talents. Typically, the people managing a company exhibit at least a degree of synergistic values and abilities. Yet, each person brings his or her personal style to the management team. The success or failure of a company depends largely on the “style” mix of these managers.

A Crisis Awaits

We are all best at doing what we enjoy, and we have a predictable tendency to gravitate to those skills in our work life. People in the shooting industry are generally there because of their love for hunting and shooting. But beyond that, each individual has his distinct way of working. For example, some people enjoy a very hectic pace and exhibit extraordinary talents in dealing with crises. Not surprisingly, these people seem to find a crisis to deal with every day. However, the excitement and adrenalin rush created by a crisis often causes a subtle shift in the way a company conducts its daily activities. A management group can do things right to solve the crisis, but are they doing the right thing? By incorporating a more stable planning process, along with a strong strategic focus, many of these crises can be avoided.

When companies define a strategic direction and set objectives to achieve a goal, it is extremely important that they continually refer back to the overall objective throughout the process. A target must be defined along with tactics to consistently hit it. For example, say a firearm’s manufacturer sets a goal to expand its market by creating a new rifle. This rifle will have the features and price point to fit into a new segment of the market. The product development people define the rifle’s parameters and the engineering group begins the process of making these concepts a reality. So far, so good!

Gun manufacturer's don't always hit the mark with the launch of a new gun.

The project begins to gain momentum, and the entire company picks up on the enthusiasm and excitement of the new firearm. At this point however, many development projects begin to go awry. The product begins to take on a life of its own. Meetings related to this new and exciting gun become more frequent and are attended by a broader group of management. Everyone has an idea that will improve the product.

Almost insidiously, the focus shifts from a product appropriately featured and priced for a particular market, to building the best-darned rifle ever made. The engineers are doing a great job of designing something truly innovative. Suddenly, the cost, features and time-to-market parameters are disregarded. They are lost in the overall zeal to create this astounding and revolutionary new rifle.

Finally, the rifle is introduced with a grand flourish. However, the company discovers that it is far too expensive, and arrives too later to fit the intended market niche. While the company was doing so many things right in creating this great new rifle, they were not doing the right thing. They missed the target!

Forgotten Goals & Lower Profits

The phenomenon of doing things right versus doing the right thing can also manifest itself at the distributor and retail level. Say the strategic goal is to improve profitability. One method of achieving this goal is to reduce inventory. That is the target, and a smart one. The strategic regulation of inventory is universally considered an integral part of any business.

However, the manner in which it is done can sometimes lead to disaster. A gun dealer or distributor can get so excited about measuring the rate of reduction that they forget the stated goal, which is to improve profitability.

Inventories can quickly drop to a dangerously low level, and the distributor or dealer is left with empty shelves. This invariably leads to a crisis within the organization. A new directive is hastily issued to reestablish inventory as quickly as possible. This creates the cycle all over again. The target is missed!

Another problem occurs when a firearm dealer determines the margins, he must make to show a profit and keep his business healthy. Many dealers set a margin for each product line. This certainly makes sense and is an example of doing things right. However, dealers often stubbornly stick to an arbitrary margin, with little or no thought given to product selection or customer satisfaction.

Say a dealer selects an accessory line that sells at a 40 percent margin over a line selling at 30 percent. While this looks good on the surface, it doesn’t reveal the whole picture. The dealer chooses to sell the 40 percent line without considering that the 30 percent line is of higher quality, has less returns, is easier to sell, and posts a much higher dollar volume overall. Thus, because of the arbitrary margin target, the dealer is missing the opportunity for greater profits and higher customer satisfaction. Dealers who set these targets without considering the bigger picture are no longer doing the right thing. Target missed.

Holding To Goals

The process of strategic planning and the setting of strategic goals are critical to the success of any organization. Without a strong focus, companies become reactive to each day’s events. They find themselves going in several different directions at once. There must be a clearly defined and articulated objective statement, including the necessary tactics to achieve the goal. This allows management and employees to envision the target and conduct their daily work in pursuit of that goal. While this is often done, many companies fail to include another important element in their strategic plan. Every successful strategic plan must include an explanation of what the company WILL NOT DO. Although this may sound counter-productive, it is essential for success.

In today’s highly competitive market, a company can quickly get off target. It even happens to companies that have skillfully articulated their strategic goals. The goals are in place and the entire organization is moving along the chosen path. It is a beautiful thing to behold. Yet temptation always lurks just around the corner. One day the manager’s phone rings and the opportunity of a lifetime presents itself. This is when many strategic plans begin to fail. The manager instinctually wants to take advantage of this unexpected opportunity. However, in doing so he sets in motion a chain reaction that creates tremendous turmoil and uncertainty within the organization.

Suddenly, no one knows if the company is still on target. Priorities change overnight. Confusion and misunderstanding become the rule of the day. The sacred strategic plan is relegated to the bottom drawer of a file cabinet---never to be seen again. Any good strategic plan MUST include a clearly stated definition of what the company WILL NOT pursue. It is the right thing to do.

Staying On Target

In any business, large or small, it is important to continually ask the question: Are we doing things right, or are we doing the right things? It is common for well-intended managers and employees to do everything possible to guarantee the success of their companies. The trick is to ensure everyone defines the targets and objectives in the same way. While this sounds simple in theory, it can become quite a challenge. It can only be accomplished by continuous communication of objectives, and a continual reference to the original stated goals.

This really is the only way to keep a company on target and profitable. It is also the only way to ensure a larger and more profitable shooting sports market for the future. ~ Ray

Ray Oeltjen
Ray is the President of High Sierra Consulting, and was the former Vice President of Sales & Marketing for Leupold Rifle Scopes, where he was also the Chairman of the American Shooting Sports Council. Prior to his time at Leupold Ray was the Director of Sales for the Southern United States for Federal Cartridge Corporation. Ray shot professionally for Federal Cartridge, and was honored as a First Team All American Trapshooter.

Ray is a Patron Member of the National Rifle Association, and has worked for individual gun rights his entire business career. In 2002, Shooting Industry’s Academy of Excellence named Ray as one of the three most influential people in the shooting sports Industry. Ray has hunted and shot competitively all over the world, and continues to enjoy all aspects of the shooting sports.