Non-Records Books for Records Managers: “Glock: the Rise of America’s Gun”

By Mimi Dionne posted 05-09-2012 03:16


Mr. Bryant Duhon and I have begun an informal list of non-records books for records managers. The scope is indeterminate at this time (translation: we have a lot of freedom). To inaugurate the book club, I chose Paul M. Barrett’s “Glock: The Rise of America's Gun”. Superficially, it’s the history of a famous product that drove its obsessed creator and his corporate team to personal and professional ruin. In reality it beautifully illustrates marketing drivers for us Records and Information Managers.

The book opens with a description of the famous Miami shootout on April 11, 1986. The lesson learned from the first chapter is simple: American police forces at all levels of government needed a better gun. Enter Gaston Glock: a slender Everyman of average height, receding hairline, and sloping shoulders.  A self-made engineer of few words, he dressed as conservatively as his profession. Early in his bid to procure a contract with the Austrian Army (it was determined to replace its antiquated WWII sidearm, the Walther P-38), he and his wife Helga invited several experts to their vacation home. He posed the question, “What would you want in a pistol of the future?” The think-tank was on. He summarized his drive to create the perfect gun for the government in a phrase, “That I knew nothing was my advantage.”

The Glock 17 (so-called because it was Gaston Glock’s 17th invention) was distinctive for two reasons: first, it was made out of light, resilient, injection-molded plastic, and second—unlike the remaining bidders for the government contract--it was designed without a pre-existing factory. But Glock imagined a modern pistol factory, complete with computerized workstations. Despite competition with H&K, Sig Sauer, and Beretta, he won the contract because in his own words “he got it right because he hadn’t done it before.” Thanks to impeccable timing and the simple act of listening to military customers, from a blank sheet of paper he arrived at something original.

An Austrian transplant to the United States, Karl Walter first read of the Glock 17 from a report in a German weapons magazine Deutsche Waffen Journal. Karl wanted in. He traveled to Austria to meet Glock in person and was distinctly unimpressed until Glock began speaking of the 17. Karl knew after 20 minutes he could successfully sell it hard in the US. “Kinderspiel,” he said—child’s play. “This pistol will sell,” Walter told Glock, “but it must be sold.” Karl opened the American office outside Atlanta, Georgia. Word of mouth spread rapidly. In November 1985 Glock, Inc. became a Georgia corporation. The wholesale price: $360; the retail price: $560. It was so simple and inexpensive to produce that Glock received $240 back on each gun sold. Shortly after the fledgling corporate team drew up a marketing plan, they traveled to Denver to attend the annual National Association of Sporting Goods Wholesalers show. At the conclusion of the show, they had 20,400 gun orders.

Meanwhile, the American government reacted in a rainbow of fruit flavors: from concerned to alarmed, depending on the functional team reviewing the gun. Glock 17s moved quickly and domestic and foreign terrorists alike bought. “Hijacker Special!” screamed the headlines. In response, the NRA quickly threw its support behind Glock, who was just as quickly depicted by the Pentagon as a self-righteous SOB when he refused to take responsibility for violent consequences that sometimes accompanied the purchase of his product. Meanwhile, staff at the Pentagon bought Glock 17s for their private collections. “The people who are most against firearms usually end up being the best salesmen for firearms.”

Glock implemented several techniques to reach a wider audience. After numerous false reports that the Glock didn’t perform as well as the manufacturer boasted, Karl went on the road, setting up training bootcamps across the country. All trainers in every level of government were invited, then Glock hired from agencies that bought his gun. For police departments constricted by tight budgets, Glock sponsored a trade-in program: for every Glock bought, the customer could turn in their old model.

The comparison between the evolution of Sam Colt’s business and Glock’s is worth the price of the book alone. The most important tidbit from the entire history: “While rivals invoked tradition, Colt made his easy-to-remember single-syllable name (not unlike ‘Glock’) a synonym for ‘new’.

Further advice:

Specialize. “American handgun makers offered many diverse models, in the fashion of Detroit car companies. Gaston Glock saw that as competing with himself and resisted the temptation.”

Create a unique, memorable environment for your customers. In 1988 Glock, Inc. moved to larger quarters in Highlands Parkway in Smyrna [Georgia] that included firing ranges and classrooms to accommodate training programs. The expanded facility became a gathering place, almost a clubhouse, for visiting police and federal agents.

Discuss the product as if it’s a living thing. Guns are something to “feed” with ammunition to see which one “digests” best.

Invoke the industry’s history. “The gun is to America what the sword is to Japan-a tool that shaped our geography, politics, and psyche.”

Be the owner, but nondescript. Gaston Glock could walk any expo floor show without calling attention to himself.

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Glock's competitors copied his products almost exactly.

Create brand loyalty. Glock customers are rabid supporters.

Be calm and assertive. Like his attorney advised Glock: leave emotions at the door. Be logical. Think a defense strategy through. Research equals credibility.

Curry favor, but leave the fanaticism to someone else. According to the book, the NRA wrote a number of letters to Glock on gun control issues which sound at best like a dorm resident assistant’s gentle chiding on how to clean the community kitchen. The NRA wanted Glock to tow its line; instead, Glock stood by its opinions—because it had quietly gathered enough industry talent to do so.

Pioneer. “3 specific design features enhance killing power: the ‘3 deadly C’s’ of concealability, capacity, and caliber.” Glock achieved firsts in all 3 categories.

This book is excellent. For the uninitiated, we immediately gain a basic, working knowledge of a pistol. But “Glock” is as much a cautionary tale as it is a success story. We see a middle-aged man surpass all his own expectations with alarming consequences. “Glock Perfection” became the only credo he believed in. The reserved engineer transformed into an autocrat, mistrusting everyone—even his own children—with the business. He wasted money; Helga left. He spied on his own employees. His talent pool left. He called his customers and corporate colleagues alike, “Stupid Americans.” Thanks to poor leadership, a thriving company became anemic…so anemic, in fact, that *allegedly* one of his corporate colleagues attempted his assassination.

“Glock” is high drama weekend non-fiction, with a bit of business guidance on the side. You’re welcome to borrow my copy.

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