Walther Arms has come on strong in the U.S. marketplace and now they have a new Director at their headquarters in Fort Smith, Arkansas.
Everett Deger is well known in the shooting sports industry for his service at top ammo manufacturer Hornady. Now, he steps up to an even greater challenge — making the German firearms manufacturer a household name in the U.S.
Walther has been producing firearms in Germany since 1886. Americans will likely recognize the Walther brand because of its association with the fictional British secret agent James Bond.
But Walther is far more than Bond’s PPK or P99. Indeed, the Greatest Generation faced the 9mm Walther P38 on the battlefields of Europe during World War II. In 1993 Walther was acquired by Umarex — a major producer of airguns, and production is split between Arnsberg and Ulm.
Today, Walther handguns are standard issue with many German police units, but marketing is concentrating on establishing a foothold in the North American self-defense market. Two years ago Walther began operations in earnest at a corporate campus in Ft. Smith, Arkansas.
SSR: First, Everett, congratulations on your new position at Walther Arms — even if there is an immense amount of work involved in selling a house, moving and reestablishing a family 500 miles away.
Deger: Thank you. I’m very excited about this opportunity, excited to hit the ground running.
SSR: Please tell us a little about your background.
Deger: I grew up in a blue-collar home in Nebraska, although we moved around. My father was a school administrator and my mother stayed home to take care of the family. I grew up relating to farms and the strong work ethic that’s so much a part of Nebraska.
After high school, I earned an associates degree in graphic design, but struggled to find a job that I excited me. I joined the Nebraska National Guard because service would help pay for my remaining years of college at Wayne State in Wayne, Nebraska.
Before I graduated with a BA in 2004 I was commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant and right after school took the job of weapons and marksmanship officer for the Nebraska Guard. Eighteen months later, I was deployed to Iraq … and I learned a lot about small arms over there.
When I came home, I took jobs here and there — some in agriculture — and then landed the position in marketing communications with Hornady. I’ve worked there in Grand Isle for five years.
SSR: How do you envision transferring your skills to Walther?
Deger: With my small arms experience and years in the shooting sports industry, I can help Walther build the foundation of their brand in the U.S. I’d like to make Walther a household name among retailers and shooting enthusiasts.
I guess that what I bring Walther is a fresh perspective on business, an organized approach and some ideas about strategic management. I have a firm grasp of where, in cooperation with Walther’s U.S. staff and the German manufacturing and R&D folks, I want to take the Walther brand.
We’re already positioned to tailor consumer perception so that we can capture a solid chunk of market share that isn’t already firmly committed to some other brand. In this, it helps that I have experience both as a manager and as a communicator.
SSR: So what is the Walther opportunity here in the U.S.?
Deger: Five years ago, if you said “Walther,” people would think James Bond and the PPK. We still include the PPK in the line and it’s still an excellent pistol, but we have engineered our product lines beyond the scope of the PPK.
Germany is a production-oriented country and there’s opportunity to take market share here. We know this because the U.S. market has already been welcoming to Walther and records show continued — even increased — market acceptance over the past 18 months. Consumers are open to high quality German engineering — to new, high performance firearms. People on both sides of the retail sales counter are anxious to hear what Walther can offer.
So as director, I’m looking for a steady, secure level of growth. Look, Walther firearms have always been reliable performers. Our history of more than a century of manufacturing and innovation wouldn’t have held up in the intense European competitive environment if Walther didn’t produce competitive guns.
I can’t tell you much more about our marketing plan — can’t give you percentages and numbers because every company keeps those close to their chest. I can say that I want to help make the Walther brand relevant and exciting. When people attend the SHOT Show or the NRA Show, for example, I want them to head to our booth expecting to see something new and interesting.
This year the new CCP wasn’t quite ready for SHOT, but it got a tremendous amount of attention at the NRA Show. In 9mm, the 8-round CCP is designed for softened recoil and increased control — people with small hands or people who are just tentative around guns can handle the CCP successfully. It’s lightweight, too, with a polymer frame and a stainless steel slide.
SSR: So does the CCP define Walther’s vision of its niche in America? When we think of concealed carry — as opposed, for instance, to handgun hunting — do you want us to think of Walther?
Deger: Walther’s niche? No, we’re certainly not producing hunting handguns. But we see the market as pretty open in several areas: concealed carry, law enforcement and training, and of course, competition. Right now and for the time being, we’re focused on the personal protection market.
SSR: Walther is part of the corporate package with Umarex, the German producer of high quality air guns. Is there any other corporate merger or acquisition or partnership our business readers might want to know about?
Deger: Not at this time. Walther is really coming into its own now and we’re going to focus on stamping the Walther brand indelibly on America’s retail counters.
And as far as Umarex is concerned, people should understand that Walther and Umarex are two separate companies, completely different entities although they share assets at the corporate level. Umarex carries branded products from Walther, certainly, but from many other internationally recognized companies as well.
Walther means centerfire and rimfire firearms. It means extremely fine precision manufacturing. It means a gun you can count on all the time.
SSR: If there is one thing you want retailers to know and remember, what would that be?
Deger: I want customers, at the retail and consumer levels, to expect the highest quality service from us. I want them to realize that customer service and dealer support are absolutely paramount. We’re going to give ourselves a 48-hour response window for service and turn-around.
I’m certain that the repair end our business is going to be minimal, although I realize that in the U.S. shooters are harder on their guns, perhaps use them more and expect more from them than the typical European for whom a gun is a real — and rare — luxury item. And I’m also very comfortable knowing that superior product backed up by excellent service, support and communication will build our brand.