It couldn't miss, ¿right? LOL!
Some of my readers and friends have written asking "what gives" as per the criptic note by Stephen Archer of Hard Air Magazine in his IWA report.
Well, in the interest of "Full Disclosure" I am delighted to say that I have been appointed by DIANA as an external consultant.
This means that I DO work part time for DIANA as an external support/resource.
It also means that I am not an employee and, curiously, enough, I am under strict instructions from DIANA's new CEO to "remain a free thinker".
I will therefore continue my work with other brands of guns, optics, pellets/ammunition and, of course, precision shooting games like Field Target, Silhouette and, now, I will add some 3P Airgun, as I do believe it is the future of Practical Riflery in the USA what is at stake here.
As many of you that have known me for years already realize, I enjoy a long standing relation of trust and confidence with M&G (the company that owns the DIANA brand), as I have been a long time advocate of their products and design philosophies; and have acted as a "service station" of last resort when problems have arisen that are not solvable through the "normal" channels.
I visited the old plant in Rastatt a few times, had good relations with the Old Team Diana and enjoyed good, frank, and direct discussions with Michael Mayer a few years ago:
People often assume when they see a company that has been in business for 125+ years that the company "has it made".
Hmmm, not necessarily.
The abilities and corporate flexibility needed to survive two World Wars, two Global Depressions and the extremely traumatic event of German Re-Unification may not be enough to survive the changes in the market.
With the world's capacity to produce starting to outstrip the world's capacity to consume, the markets are changing drastically, and even more so the international market of guns.
Make no mistake, we Americans treat airguns as "almost toys", but in the rest of the world a gun is a gun is a gun. And in the specific area of airguns, America is not the largest market.
It is an interesting market, and it is one of the more innovative markets, but precisely because of this the challenges to a manufacturer are great indeed.
I will not go into the full history of the brand DIANA and of Mayer&Grammelspacher (real name of the company that owns the brand). That is an appropriate subject for another entry, and possibly, a whole book. BUT what must be understood by our readers is how a company goes under "Metamorphosis" when it needs to be reborn, like the mythical Phoenix, rising from its own ashes.
So, let's go back a few years and start from there. When Herr Andre Wirth decided to leave DIANA, the owners (the Mayer family) decided not to hire another external CEO and instead promoted from within the General Sales Manager (Herr Martin Zedler) to be "Acting CEO".
Yes, DIANA's problems were mostly lack of sales, but then how can you sell a product that is out of touch with the market?
On top of that, Herr Zedler was not allowed to dedicate all the resources needed to upgrade and update the manufacturing facility in Rastatt and instead of going to CNC centers, the best he could afford was to use "multiple jig machining".
A short lived passage of a manufacturing expert from the automotive industry, was not enough to convince the owners to dedicate the huge amounts of money needed to re-tool all the production.
And still, under the guidance of Herr Zedler, DIANA survived well over a decade and still managed to produce very nice (the T/H line) and powerful airguns (the 350 & 460), break some moulds (the 280 and the 430), bring reliable gas spring technology (the N-Tec family), and issue their first PCP (the Diana 1000).
But, as in any baseball game, a few hits do not mean that you will win the game, and with continued drainage of resources, DIANA became a net debtor and slid further and further into debt.
So much so that a a couple of years ago, the company was sold "lock, stock and barrel" for the astounding amount of €1-00
Now, let it be perfectly clear: I am not criticizing the former owners. To really know why they did what they did we would have to be in their shoes and that is impossible. But, what can be stated are facts, and the fact is that the company had to be sold, relocated and a new workforce hired, with modern manufacturing skills, using new machinery.
With a little guidance from the German Government, a deal was struck.
Now, who were the brave souls that took it over?
The direct company that did is called German Sport Guns (GSG), but it is only a small, VERY small, part of the L&O group. The L&O Group has over 120 companies/facilities and has basically two branches: Textiles (non-wovens), and weapons.
The Weapons part reads like a "Who's WHo" in the world of weapons: SIG, SAUER, RIGBY, MAUSER, BLASER, SWISS ARMS. Quite a collection!
And to this, add DIANA.
Now, to the uninitiated, this might look like a funny thing: Textiles and Weapons together? What is the common thread?
To ME, the common thread is high technology fabrication processes. Precision Machinery, Innovative use of technologies and methods, unortohodox thinking leadership leading to quantum leaps in processes that benefit not only the user, but also the manufacturer.
In a world where companies are obsessed with "shares of the pie", this group has changed the game and is now looking into growing the pie for everyone involved.
And that is what DIANA plans to do in the future.
DIANA has decided to divide the line of airguns it markets into two: The "Action" line, where guns that are NOT of German design or manufacture will be handled, and the "Performance" line, where the traditional DIANA products will continue to be handled.
Within the "Action line" introductions like the Storm Rider and the Diana 250 are the first steps in a complete new focus on affordable products that will allow people on a budget (whether by conviction or need) to enter into airgunning with a quality product. And yes, quality means quality.
For those that have looked into the SPA airguns and seen the delays that it took to get the Storm Rider into the US market, the whole chain of events must now be clear. SPA is one of the more serious airgun making companies in China, their products are not bad by any standard and in some markets (notably Europe), have been making inroads through a reasonable balance of quality to price, but for the US market, they needed something extra: mainly a full support organization that would not let the consumers down when the need for spare parts and/or upgrades came along, and also a higher standard of quality delivered to the customer from the "get go".
Getting SPA to comply with the specifications and needs of the DIANA brand took a lot more time than expected, but I am happy to say that the end product is a little bit better than the "run of the mill" offering elsewhere. Besides, the participation of the two largest retailers in the USA in this whole reorganization of the DIANA brand's products also helps a lot:
On one hand you see Airguns of Arizona dealing the "Skyhawk", as well as the P-1000, while Pyramyd Air deals with the Storm Rider and UMAREX still deals with the mainstays of the brand, albeit now completely rebranded to RWS.
The Storm Rider has been the subject of several entries in this Blog, and will still be for another two or so, but for the time being, let it suffice to stress that the machine has a lot of potential that we will tap into with the help of several companies around the world.
Another interesting entry through the "Action" line is the Diana 250. Yes it is a version of the B-19, but there are two important points where there are differences:
One is the trigger. The 250 has a much better trigger than the B-19
The other is the pivot point; in the DIANA version the washers are NOT supporting the barrel, there are proper half inserts that support and stabilize the barrel for improved accuracy. Other companies could not be bothered improving the product, but DIANA did, and it is the shooters the ones that will benefit in the medium and long run.
A further point of interest in the "Performance" line is the complete change of manufacturing philosophy.
Sure the 48, 52, 54, etc. will still be made, but a completely new family is in the works and it will truly embody the "Focus on the Shooter" concept.
DIANA has decided to implement this focus by changing completely how airguns are made to this day, starting with the breakbarrels.
Remember that the group owns Blaser? ;-)
Keep an eye out towards IWA 2019!
It will not be an easy road. There are plenty of technical challenges to overcome, two years of testing and improving the prototypes and we are still looking for ways to make it better; and, DIANA will still keep supporting those users that have the traditional products, as always.
All in all, the future seems bright for the brand and for the shooters.