Saturday, January 21, 2012

Paul M. Barrett's "Glock"

Paul M. Barrett is an assistant managing editor of Bloomberg Businessweek. He is the author of American Islam: The Struggle for the Soul of a Religion and The Good Black: A True Story of Race in America.

Barrett applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Glock: The Rise of America's Gun, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Glock: The Rise of America's Gun describes the early commercial battle between Glock, an Austrian upstart handgun maker, and Smith & Wesson, the storied American manufacturer of revolvers and pistols. Overall, the book describes how Glock, a plastic semiautomatic invented in 1982, became an almost-instant success in the richest gun market in the world, the United States, by winning the affection of cops, civilians, Hollywood directors, gangsta rappers, and, more ominously, more than a few mass killers. On its way to becoming the best-known handgun in America, Glock had to overcome Smith & Wesson, which in the 1980s was issued by 95% of all the police departments across the country and was by a wide margin the favorite brand of homeowners and weekend firearm enthusiasts.

As the reader learns on page 99, Smith & Wesson had let its quality control slip by the 1980s. It had also stopped innovating. Gaston Glock, an Austrian engineer who before getting into guns had manufactured curtain rods in a garage workshop, arrived on these shores with a futuristic-looking pistol that worked every time you pulled the trigger. He discovered a receptive audience. As I note in Glock, this story is strikingly similar to that of the American car industry, which during the same period, for the same reasons, was allowing foreign competitors to grab market share.

Gaston Glock also had the good luck of perfect timing. He introduced his weapon at precisely the moment--the mid-1980s--when many American police departments came to the conclusion they were "outgunned" by increasingly violent crack-cocaine gangs. The traditional Smith & Wesson six-round revolver, in use for 75 years, now seemed inadequate. Glock offered "the pistol of the future," with a 17-round ammunition capacity and the ability to reload swiftly. The police rushed to adopt the Glock; civilian gun owners like to buy what the local cops have. In short order, Glock ate Smith & Wesson's lunch.

Finally, page 99 alludes to Glock's ability to adjust and improve and "resell" its customer base. In the late 1980s, Smith & Wesson developed a larger round (.40 caliber) in response to law enforcement anxiety about being outmatched by the bad guys. But before Smith & Wesson could introduce a pistol to go along with the more potent bullet, Glock got its new larger model onto the gun store shelves. Sherry Collins was Smith & Wesson's public relations manager at the time. A salty-mouthed woman who took no guff in a macho industry, Collins narrated yet another illustration of Glock outfoxing its slow-moving American rival. From page 99:
"Oh, my God, what an embarrassment," recalled Smith & Wesson's Sherry Collins. "We're beaten to market on the gun for our own ammo, the round we've made especially for the FBI. And some Austrian gets there first!" Swirling a midday cocktail, Collins added: "The technical industry term for that kind of experience is 'getting your butt kicked.'"
Learn more about the book and author at the official Glock: The Rise of America's Gun website.

Writers Read: Paul M. Barrett.

--Marshal Zeringue