In project management, there is a recurring adage that says, “Fast, cheap, or good. Pick two.”
The underlying message is that every project, product, or process is a trade off between responsiveness, cost, and quality. High quality and high speed cannot be done cheaply. High quality and low cost cannot be done quickly. Opting for speed and low cost will usually result in lowered quality.
I think the application of this principle is widely appropriate across the firearms community. Be it training, weapons, or gear, the idea that we must balance these three factors in order to achieve an outcome remains true. Let me elaborate.
I’ve mentioned before that I become wary of any product that comes in significantly lower in price and is marketed to me as being “just as good as” some other known quality product. My advice to be careful of such statements is all over my posts on purchasing AR-15s and components.
The principles of free markets dictate that there will usually be a point that the market will support for a given mix of quality, responsiveness to customers (via shipping speed, customer communication, responses to problems, etc.), and cost. My personal observation is that that price is roughly around $900 to $1100. There are some allowance for give and take based on company reputation, competitive advantages, and marketing dollars. Whenever a company asks for significantly lower than that price bracket, as in $600-$800, I start asking myself what they are sacrificing in the triangle to make it happen.
In some cases, they aren’t really sacrificing anything. Some manufacturers have managed to bring nearly all manufacturing activities under one roof, and therefore do not have to worry about overhead on sub contracts. For instance, BCM is known to make great rifles, but they don’t really manufacture many individual components in-house. They contract to various companies that make their forgings, barrels, triggers, bolts, etc., and then assemble those quality components into quality rifles using good procedures and QA methodology. However, each of those subcontractors who made the barrels, bolts, and forgings must also make a profit. The cost of helping those companies make a profit is rolled into what BCM has to pay for the parts, and then BCM rolls that additional cost into the price of their products. So long as the market will support the price point, everyone is happy. Some companies, like Colt, actually own all the equipment required to produce receivers, barrels, and small components. They don’t have to pay anyone else except the raw material suppliers for aluminum and steel. That allows them to save money, and pass that savings onto the customer, if they choose. Alternatively, they could charge a higher price and reap a larger profit if the market would support it. In Colt’s particular case, they earned a reputation for charging higher prices than average based on their name and their market share began to decline. More recently, they have been charging lower prices and producing products more inline with the rest of the market, and appear to be doing well.
On the other hand, some companies will skimp on things in order to reduce costs and lower prices. For example, BCM tests and inspects every bolt and barrel they sell. That is an expensive process, and raises costs. Another company may only inspect one bolt or barrel out of every batch of 50 that they sell. That certainly saves them time and money, but they could end up selling out of spec parts. If not that, then perhaps some companies do not have dedicated quality assurance processes to inspect every product before it leaves the door. Perhaps these companies know their target market segment will not typically consist of “serious users” who know what to look for and will therefore not complain. Or perhaps they rely on a reputation for great customer service that fixes/replaces items with no questions asked. In this latter case, they may realize that the rate of breakage and cost of occasionally replacing items is less than paying for higher levels of quality assurance.
Lastly, perhaps some companies do not want to pay full time customer service folks to answer phones, emails, and communicate on message boards. That saves them money, but at the cost of lost customer responsiveness. Again, what’s more important?
I’m not getting into weapons that cost significantly more than average, such as Noveske, KAC, and other top-dollar brands. They follow the same market principles as everyone else, and the market has decided to support their price points.
Gear companies essentially follow the same rules as weapons companies. Instead of steel, aluminum, and assembly know-how, you are paying for quality of materials and stitching prowess.
I try to buy high quality gear because I can tell the difference in how it is made. The stitching is clean, straight, and the materials feel sturdy. I believe I can rely on these products to function in less than optimal conditions. If something goes wrong, I have always had good experiences with contacting companies with questions and getting prompt responses.
I don’t mind paying just a bit more for those benefits. But you probably won’t see me paying the huge prices charged by companies that typically target government contracts.
By training, I’m referring more to your own skill level. The way I see it, the same rules apply as purchasing weapons and gear but with slightly different definitions.
You can develop your skill quickly, and obtain high levels of proficiency, but you’re going to pay for it through the cost of ammunition, professional coaching, and perhaps great personal/physical costs (missing time at work, joining the military, etc.)
Alternatively, you can develop your skill at lower personal/physical/fiscal cost, but it will take more time as you spread out your practice over months and years (as I have done). You can still become quite proficient using this route, but it certainly relegates things to more of a “hobby” status and a lower priority than other aspects of your life.
The third route is, of course, trying to do it quickly and cheaply, but that usually results in wasted resources.
Consider how you spend your time and money. The rules of Time-Cost-Quality seem nearly immutable, and you have to work within their bounds. Before you go spend your hard-earned dollars on weapons or gear that is “just as good as” something that costs a little bit more, ask yourself how that company brought their costs down. What is it, exactly, that they are doing to ask for the price they are.
When it comes to your training, realize that there is no quick and cheap route to proficient marksmanship. Professional coaching is always worth it if you an find it and afford it, but you are more likely going to go about it through considered and focused practice over long periods of time and research. That’s okay, that’s the joy of shooting.