Report from the road/#1

May 16, 2013
With only three days of road time under the belt, I can't say what the weeks of travel ahead will teach me, but I have learned that you are not inconspicuous when you're driving matching vehicles with motivational messages on them. In the five hour drive across Alabama and Mississippi into the New Orleans, Louisiana area I learned -quickly- that people react to seeing the MyTime2Stand vehicles.

The first hint came when I was driving to downtown Birmingham to pickup my cameraman, Rob Ramsay. I passed a TV news car from a Montgomery, Alabama station. I didn't think much about it until I noticed they were driving alongside me taking pictures with a cellphone. They followed me to my exit, then honked, waved and gave me a thumbs-up. Not the gesture I would have expected or gotten from a big-city news crew.

When I stopped to load gear and cameraman, I came outsized to find federal agents from the offices upstairs walking around the rig. They, too were positive, posing for pictures that popped up on Facebook later in the day.

It has been that way wherever I've been to this point.

The most encouraging conversation i've had this week was a brief exchange with a retired Air Force officer. He was waving his Air Force veteran's hat and giving a thumbs-up while I was pumping gas a couple of islands over from him.

When I walked over to his vehicle, he asked me what he could do to spread the word to others. My message was -and is - simple: "Tell then just to show up at local government meetings and tell their leaders they need to start listening to the people, not reading national polls and thinking they reflect the wishes of their constituents. Most of the time, they don't.>
OK, it hasn't all been work. If you have a Jeep, you are obligated to get off-road to learn your vehicle. Rob Ramsay photo

It sounds pretty simple, but I've yet to talk with anyone, including people who don't agree with my feelings about guns, who hasn't agreed that things changed about the time they got too-busy to stay engaged.

And that's the gist of my first field report: people haven't been speaking out because they hadn't been reminded, motivated or encouraged to stand up and speak out. When you talk to them about it, the proverbial light bulb comes on. Now, I am waiting to see if anyone follows-up. If they do, we may be onto something.

Not speaking up doesn't seem to be a problem with retailers I've spoken to in the past few days. They aren't happy and they didn't mind telling me so. In fact, they seem more than willing to tell anyone within earshot they're not happy with the industry in general and especially with manufacturers.

"They're not telling consumers why they can't walk into stores and find whatever they want," one retailer told me earlier this week, "the new gun customers are accustomed to walking into a store and buying the newest iPhone the day after it's announced. They're not happy they can't get whatever they want in a gun, ammo, or accessory the same way. "

"But no one is explaining to them that it's an industry problem, not a conspiracy or plot to disarm people."

Good point.

There certainly isn't any industry positioning message explaining to consumers why there are supply issues.

What I've heard loud and clear in my conversations with retailers and range owners is that they're certainly talking to each other - and listening to disgruntled customers. And their talk isn't pleasant when the subject is manufacturers or industry groups. Historically, it seems there's always been a divide between manufacturers and retailers, but this divide looks wide enough to have some of them looking at joining forces and taking their message to consumers.

If that happens, I've been told, they're going to look -skeptically- at every industry group to see who's stepping up to explain the facts of product shortages to consumers. And they want companies to go to their distributors and tell them there are smaller businesses- who makeup a large portion of the industry- suffering because they insist on supplying big box retailers first, and that's not acceptable.

They want manufacturers to actually tell their distributors a portion of their product inventories must be allocated to smaller retailers. And they don't want to hear excuses why that's not practical. "It's not right," said one Oklahoma dealer, "for me to have empty shelves and loyal customers when big box stores have product and don't care about customers or fellow retailers."

Not the sound of happy businessmen. We'll keep you posted.

--Jim Shepherd