The Death of the New Ruger Red Label


What happened? In short, Ruger simply miscalculated the cost of production. They no doubt are and were well-aware that they need to be under the mid-range market leaders (Beretta and Browning) in price point and actually make money in order for the RRL to be sustainable. It didn't work out that way. Further, the strength of the dollar vs. the Euro and the Japanese yen makes it harder than it was just a year or two ago. A whole lot harder.

In 2013, Ruger manufactured and sold 2,294 shotguns according to the ATF, and the new Red Label was released late that year. It wasn't a cobbled-together redesign at all, for Dwight Potter was hired away from Browning in part, I suspect, for the Red Label project. A lot of effort went into the re-release.
I'd expect at least some initial issues with a new line and new tooling. I don't know, but let's speculate 1% of the first 5000 new RRL's had problems. Still, that's 50 shotguns and everyone who has a problem will post about it somewhere at least 87 times, or grumble to their acquaintances. Now, the “I hear” syndrome starts. It means little in the long run, if there is indeed a long run. Initially, there sure was, for the Red Label was in production for over thirty years, and developed a strong following.

But, if you are losing money on product, you aren't going to just "make it up in quantity." Ruger takes care of things, they always have, but there should be no mistake: repair and replacement costs a lot of money as well. No one expects Ruger employees to work for free and they don't.

The first sign (at least to me) that things were going tragically wrong was the radical jump in MSRP on the Ruger website. It was $1399 MSRP when I tested mine, right at $1000 street price, but whammo . . . up it went to $1795 MSRP seemingly overnight. It was is if Ruger was trying to discourage new orders for the Red Label, which they actually were.

If the numbers don't work, you have to pull the plug and just cut your losses. That's what anyone would do: that's what anyone would have to do. There is a good reason things are called “estimates” and “projections.” What a Ruger representative had to say, in part, in January, 2015, was, “... the Red Label has been removed from the web site and will not be present in the 2015 catalog.  Our plan is to ramp down the production of the O/U in the first third of the year.  Our current backlog is larger than our capacity so we removed it from the marketing material.  We are releasing about 250 20ga models this week but have no plans to make more.  While we are all pretty upset having to cease production (again), the numbers don’t lie.  The current design is just not able to be manufactured for the retail price we need to hit.”

There is no other explanation than the obvious: Ruger completely stuffed it up, embarrassingly so. To actually release 250 shotguns in 20 gauge and abruptly throw your hands up in the air is tantamount to admitting stinging defeat. I originally felt the new Red Label was a sure-fire hit, writing “For the money, $1000 or so street, the new Red Label is quite an accomplishment. No other name-brand manufacturer has a competitive product, not even close. The $1000 O/U is largely the import market creature of cheesy chemical fake case-coloring or belt-buckle adorned receivers, spotty black chrome finishes instead of bluing, choke tubes that look like they were made with a rat-tail file, and vinyl-crucifix recoil pads. The Red Label is a huge jump over that clumsy class of low-grade double. The Red Label II is not beyond improvement: the automatic reset safety is annoying, and the triggers could be lighter and crisper. However, the Red Label II's barrels are lighter, it is better handling, and it is softer-shooting as well . . . with a generous, well-fitted recoil pad. The Red Label began its journey as a 20 gauge, and that's the gun I'm really looking forward to.”

Well, “woulda-coulda-shoulda” and I couldn't have been more wrong. Ruger is a clever, extremely well-managed company, and has be lauded by Forbes as #9 on their list of America's Best Small Companies. It goes to show that currently, O/U shotguns are not viable in any popular, American-made sense. No one has tried to any significant level and been successful, except for Ruger.

Whether you are making donuts, refrigerators, or widgets, if you project that a finite amount of machine time nets you 100 pieces of finished product, but the reality is half the output of that, it won't last for long. It was a brief, loudly heralded attempt, and a laudable one, but the record shows finished product costs were fabulously if not infamously off the mark.

Pure opinion by Randy Wakeman.


Copyright 2015 by Randy Wakeman. All Rights Reserved.

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