From its humble beginnings in St. Louis, in 1979, to taking every nook and cranny of the Sands Expo Center in 2017, the SHOT Show is the industry’s signature event, bringing together more than 1,700 exhibitors and 65,000 attendees. Next January, SHOT Show will be celebrating its 40th Anniversary, so we asked a handful of today’s top outdoor writers to pick two exhibitors they know well to tell their SHOT Show stories. Second in our new “Blast from the Past” series is Sturm, Ruger & Co., with the company’s long-time engineer and SHOT Show exhibitor Mark Gurney, interviewed by none other than industry veteran Craig Boddington. Enjoy! — Chris Dolnack, NSSF Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer
Sturm, Ruger, and Company
Sturm, Ruger, and Company has been a prominent exhibitor at the SHOT Show since the very beginning. But the company’s leadership has changed over time, and Bill Ruger’s family is no longer directly involved. I thought it would be interesting to interview one of Ruger’s mid-level managers. Mark Gurney is no rookie; he’s been with Ruger for 23 years, advancing from the engineering side in Ruger’s Pine Tree Castings to his current job as Director of Product Management. This means that he started out behind the scenes, producing components for firearms that were first seen at SHOT — and for more than a decade, now, facing the industry and the public at SHOT.
Craig Boddington (CB): Mark, your first SHOT Show was in 2006. What was your impression?
Mark Gurney (MG): I was amazed at how big it was, business to business. The enormity of SHOT was almost incomprehensible.
CB: With 11 shows under your belt, is there any show in particular that stands out as the best and if so, why?
MG: The 2009 SHOT Show in Orlando! That was the show when we launched the LCR. Frankly we weren’t certain how the public would accept such a departure from traditional revolver designs. But the reception was fantastic! I remember retailers walking into our booth, picking up the little LCR, and seeing their eyebrows raise when they felt how light it is, and then a big smile when they worked the trigger for the first time. I will never forget that show!
CB: What products were introduced at SHOT that became a “thing,” that became an iconic product for Ruger?
MG: Well, we talked about the LCR. When we did our VOC (Voice of Customer) early on, some retailers were skeptical, and we were a little apprehensive. But at three-quarters of a million revolvers sold, I guess you could say it became a “thing.”
The LCR was a spectacular introduction for Ruger, but so was the Ruger Gunsite Scout Rifle in 2011. We expected that rifle to do well as a nice variant of the M77 Hawkeye, but we were pleasantly surprised when it brought what was supposed to be a niche product well into the mainstream. It remains a solid citizen in the Hawkeye lineup.
At SHOT in 2012, we introduced the Ruger American Rifle — you helped us, Craig, with VOC on that one — and the same year we launched the SR22 Pistol. Both those new products are made and sold right alongside the legacy Hawkeye and Mark III (now Mark IV) lines and they all do quite well for us.
CB: What’s the funniest thing that ever happened to you at a SHOT Show?
MG: Well, I’m not sure it’s funny, but facing the public is sometimes a daunting task. I was involved in developing on the Ruger Gunsite Scout Rifle. As much as we wanted to, we just couldn’t get the standard M14 magazines to work consistently with our controlled round feed action; there was too much variance in the magazine feed lip geometry. But we found AI-style magazines to be very consistent and reliable. So, at the Scout’s first SHOT Show, a gentleman came to me and said, “What moron decided not to use the M14 magazine? He needs to be fired!”
Steeling up my courage, I replied, “Sir, that would be me.” I thought my explanation was reasonable, but he wasn’t convinced.
The rest of the conversation didn’t go very well, but the next day the same gent came back and said, “I was a jerk yesterday. I’m sorry.”
I’m pretty sure his wife prompted him to the apology, which really wasn’t necessary, but was nice to hear.
CB: Can you think of a rookie mistake you made as an exhibitor?
MG: I’m from New Hampshire, cold country, and I’m an outdoor athlete — I ride my bike all through the winter. SHOT Show in Las Vegas is usually pleasant, but I remember one Industry Day at the Range event when the temperature plummeted and the wind was blowing — I spilled coffee and it instantly froze. I wasn’t prepared, and I’ve never been so cold. I got back to my hotel and stood under a hot shower for a long time, and was still chilled to the bone. Advice? Bring a warm winter coat to Range Day. The worst that will happen is you won’t need it.”
CB: How do you view the SHOT Show as key to your business?
MG: I’ll use the words of our new CEO, Chris Killoy. He insists that we are there to visit with our customers, with priority on smaller retailers, America’s gun shop owners. For them, going to SHOT is a big deal, and we try to make them our priority at SHOT. Obviously, the big retailers and distributors are there, and we’ll make time for them, but there are other times to work with them, as well. Obviously, it’s about other things, too. Today, social media is huge, and we have folks showing up at the booth with everything from an iPhone to a mobile studio. We try really hard to accommodate everyone, but our doctrine is that SHOT is for our core retail customers, and SHOT is our best chance to work directly with them.