The history of British airgun manufacturer BSA Guns is certainly a chequered one with the company forced to cope with a variety of fortunes – highs and lows – since its formation 152 years ago. Stan Piecha reports.
The future of BSA Guns, a world-famous Birmingham, England-based concern, burns brighter than ever and its continued growth in an era when some rivals are struggling to maintain sales, let alone improve them, can be summed up in one word… excellence.
For that is what the entire company’s workforce strives to provide, whether it is in the research and creativity that goes into all its models, the quality of the finished product or the customer service, which exceeds industry standards.
Assured of quality
The quality and unique craftsmanship that goes into every BSA model is something that is recognised globally but where it has recently set a new yardstick for the industry is the speed that it can service a gun and have it back with the owner.
Thanks to the Product Evaluation Centre that BSA set up 12 months ago, any rifle sent in for service or repair will be returned within four days.
Simon Moore, BSA’s managing director, told Gun Trade World: “We take great pride in having a very big quality-assurance department and product-evaluation centre. It is our goal to have a rifle repaired, tested and returned in four days and the reasoning behind the speed is simple – it allows the customer to have their rifle back for the weekend when it is most likely to be needed. This service is industry leading in the UK and none of our competitors can get near to it.
“Striving to provide the finest service also extends to our dealers, where our aim is to have any orders shipped out within 48 hours. The philosophy behind that is to show we are easy to do business with and that we support and can make life easier for the dealer network and international distributors.”
Success and saviours
Since being formed in 1861 BSA has notched up several ground-breaking milestones, ranging from supplying 100,000 rifles for the War Office in 1906, producing a staggering 10,000 rifles a week in 1914 to meet the demand of World War I, making its first break-barrel air rifle in 1933 and, two years later, supplying more than 50 per cent of the small arms used by British forces in World War II.
After the war, it continued being a leading maker of air rifles, gold-medal-winning .22 target rifles and shotguns but in the 1980s sales dwindled and in 1986 it went into liquidation and was taken over by Gamo – Europe’s largest maker of air rifles and pellets – a move which these days is a huge help to BSA.
Simon adds: “Gamo saved the BSA brand, the factory and its workforce. Our advantage now is that Gamo has a massive international distribution network that we can tap into. It is the reason we are able to export our guns to 65 countries.
“We also have access to its R&D facilities and, because I sit on a couple of the group’s committees, we can help influence Gamo designs. It’s a great partnership and we think of ourselves very much as a centre of excellence.
“How well things are going is reflected in our sales. For the first three months of this year our sales in the UK are up 60 per cent compared with the same period last year.
“Our exports in 2012 doubled from the previous year, and this year we have a distribution deal to supply BSA PCPs into the USA at a level the company has never seen before.
“It’s a very exciting time at BSA Guns, not only for our core market in the UK but also in the export sector. We have worked extremely hard to develop a range of PCP rifles not to mention a comprehensive customer-service package to ensure we meet the demands of the USA and other international markets.”
British and proud
BSA’s rifles retail for between £165 and £780 in the UK. Major selling points are that all BSA PCP guns are made in Britain and the fact that all BSA guns use its acclaimed cold-forged steel barrels, made in the 45,000 sq ft factory in Birmingham.
BSA barrels are produced from a solid bar of special steel, which is deep-hole drilled on specialist machines to ensure the bore is straight and has a superior surface finish ready for cold swaging – a method which BSA believes produces the ultimate air rifle barrel
The attention to detail in the production of each rifle – along with its unrivalled after-sales service – is the reason all of its models continue to be in great demand.
It currently offers three main core PCP models – the R10, Scorpion SE and Ultra SE – which come in varying stock options and calibres of .177, .22 and .25.
In the spring range there are five models so, whether someone wants a rifle for plinking, hunting or field targets, they are catered for.
But the latest model – the Buccaneer – was a huge talking point at the recent IWA show and looks destined to be a must-have piece of equipment.
It has been designed specifically for the export market where it should be well received thanks to its increased power and higher shot count – a unique combination.
The company’s flagship weapon continues to be the R10 and this has been given a masterful face-lift with two new stock versions – a black edition and a woodland one.
Simon adds: “I am immensely proud of what we are producing and the way our models are being received. We also intend to push the optics side of things more. Traditionally BSA optics have been seen as an add-on but, in the past few years, they have been developed as a third brand, which internationally has been very successful.
“When you look at the new models, the quality we continue to provide, our customer service and the backing we have from Gamo the future looks very bright… and exciting.”
T: 0121 772 8543
With a background in making commemorative military knives and a strong law enforcement and tactical following, SOG Knives has now expanded into the hunting market.
Jerry Heinlen turned to a visitor at the SOG Specialty Knives & Tools booth at the 2013 SHOT Show with a smile on his face.
“This booth,” beamed Jerry, the new CEO of Seattle-based SOG, “is busy. Really busy.”
Indeed it was. The bustling booth was, in many ways, a microcosm of the company that has gone through a series of dynamic changes in recent years.
These changes have resulted in a stronger, bolder company ready to forge new ground and were most evident within a series of new products unveiled at SHOT Show that had retailers, sales representatives and the media buzzing.
A new era
To understand where SOG is going, you need to know where the firm is from.
Spencer and Gloria Frazer started the company in California in 1986. The start-up took its name from a covert US special ops unit that fought in Vietnam. That unit was known as ‘Military Assistance Command, Vietnam – Studies and Observations Group’ (MACV-SOG). The MACV-SOG group had designed its own elegant Bowie knife – the MACV SOG Fighter.
It inspired Spencer, a young designer, to reproduce the original SOG Bowie and pay tribute to the special ops unit that created it.
Spencer and Gloria launched their product and company with a one-page, black-and-white ad in Soldier of Fortune Magazine of the S1 Bowie – their replica of the original. What began as a single commemorative model soon became a full line of innovative tools.
“We started our company,” said Spencer, “by having to sell a one-knife line at the very high price of $200 retail.”
SOG’s product line expanded and the company grew a following among the tactical and law-enforcement crowds. Frazer’s innovative designs and advancement of knife technology help attract fans.
The company moved to Lynwood, Washington, outside Seattle in the early 1990s and produced various knives – some field proven by US special forces and others honoured as the Navy SEAL knife of choice. Military and law enforcement sectors continue to account for a significant portion of SOG’s annual sales.
In 2009, SOG was sold to a private equity firm, which in turn sold the business to venture capitalists in 2011. While Spencer still serves as the lead designer, Jerry was installed as CEO and other management changes – like adding Nando Zucchi as the new vice-president of marketing – took place.
As a private company, SOG does not announce annual sales, other than to say that it’s in the double-digit millions.
New partnerships and product
What was driving traffic into the SOG booth at the 2013 SHOT Show, however, was more than new management. SOG started 2013 by introducing new products, branding, packaging and partnerships.
Essential to SOG’s new direction is its first line of knives dedicated specifically to hunters.
“SOG had enjoyed great success and customer loyalty in building our tactical, law enforcement and outdoor knives,” said Spencer. “We now take what we’ve done well and enter a new market – one that expects and demands and uses smartly designed knives.”
Also new to the 2013 line are a handful of everyday carry knives, backpack axes and a pair of knives made in collaboration with custom maker Jason Brous.
“These new products really add more depth to our already outstanding line of knives and tools,” said Nando.
SOG found its brand messaging striking a chord with the tactical crowd while working with R Lee Ermey ‘The Gunny’ as a brand ambassador.
This year SOG announced a new collaboration with Steven Rinella, author, outdoorsman and star of MeatEater on Sportsman Channel to help deliver its message to the hunting crowd.
SOG, meanwhile, will continue to work with The Gunny, staying true to the roots from where the company came.
Both Steven and The Gunny were among the throng in the SOG booth at SHOT Show, and both were drawing more fans in – a testament to the reputation the company has established in different market segments.
And if SHOT was any indication of where SOG is going, Steven and The Gunn – as well as Jerry – can expect to be busy for years to come.
SOG Speciality Knives & Tools
T: +1 425 771 6230
Cutting-edge technology, innovative design and premium materials combine to help ATI produce some of the highest-quality gunstocks and accessories, as Stan Piecha finds out.
Judging by ATI’s ever-increasing worldwide sales, and what seems like a never-ending range of ground-breaking products – from the production of leading-edge rifle stocks, shotgun stocks and accessories for a wide variety of firearms – it appears to be living up to its proud boasts and its simple philosophy of being the best.
This Milwaukee, Wisconsin-based company was founded more than 20 years ago by Mike Davis but it only started making a big impact on the industry five years ago when John Chvala and Eric Pfleger stepped in and bought the concern.
The dynamic duo were both high fliers in the automotive industry – as well as keen shooters – and could instantly see that if they applied their skills to their new venture the company could be vastly improved.
In fact, the impact they had was so great that the high quality, greater efficiency and newfound innovative style they brought with them saw ATI soar to global prominence. The sudden turnaround is one rarely seen in any industry – especially the gun trade.
These days ATI has two factories – one in Milwaukee and the other 10 miles away in Cedarburg – covering a total of 100,000 square feet for office and manufacturing.
Its highly skilled workforce mans a series of specialist units – ranging from the state-of-the-art CNC department, plastic-mould-injection facilities and the engineering and design department.
Combine that with the assembly, packaging, tooling, marketing, sales and graphic design departments and it is easy to see why it has total control over all the products it manufactures and can keep a keen eye on guaranteeing all its goods are of the highest quality.
ATI currently offers more than 600 products for 25 manufacturers and, while much of the sales come from the American market, its global exports are more than healthy, with some 33 countries ordering its goods.
Jon Shaffer, ATI’s director of business development, told Gun Trade World: “We are extremely proud at the way our products are regarded throughout the world.
“We have some competitors but they only compete with a small percentage of our product line. No-one covers as many platforms as ATI. What makes our stocks different from others in the industry is our innovation and we can honestly say that no-one has brought more game-changing products to the industry over the past five years than ATI.
“Our stocks provide many different benefits from adjustability to ergonomics and aesthetics. Many people buy our stocks to help them add extra accessories to their firearms. There are also many firearms out there that have stocks on them well past their prime.
“Another reason why people go for our range is the ‘cool factor’ because we take a lot of pride in how our products are engineered and designed so they improve and enhance the look of the existing firearm. But we don’t just stop at stocks. We have a vast range of other accessories such as heat shields, mag extensions and shot-shell holders.”
ATI will never be accused of sitting back and taking its foot off the gas. It is clear it is never fully satisfied with present-day technology so constantly pushes today’s science even further in a bid to apply the latest advancements to the products.
It feels that its ETC – easy to customise – approach has helped shooters increase the value and quality of their firearms.
The global economic uncertainty has also helped ATI’s sales because, when money is tight, the company has found that shooters are more likely to modify their existing weapons instead of buying new ones and, because they provide so many stocks and accessories, customers are easily able to make an old stock look new.
While ATI’s products are well known to collectors and hunting enthusiasts, it is also a recognised leader in synthetic and aluminium accessories and gun stocks for the armed services and law enforcement units worldwide because the products are so easy to install, upgrade and customise.
It uses military-grade glass-filled nylon in its stocks as well as T6 6061 aluminium.
ATI’s in-house design and engineering department – headed by John – has almost 20 years of product releases mapped out and the list will continue to expand as new ideas are formulated.
Three of this year’s revolutionary new products are the Halo Side Saddle System for the Mossberg 500 and 590 platforms, the ATI Raven for the Benelli M4 and its first line of accessories for the VEPR platform.
The Halo Side Saddle System is the first in the industry to mount to the top of the receiver using the existing screw holes. It also features the Add-a-shell, an individual shotgun-shell holder system that mounts to the side saddle in any arrangement the customer wants.
The innovative design of the Halo allows the user to add as many as nine shotgun shells in any desired configuration for whatever task is at hand.
Jon added: “The Raven goes far beyond just being the first adjustable six-position stock for a semi-automatic shotgun. The infinitely adjustable cheek rest and the buffer tube-tension mechanism, which provides the perfect amount of drag when adjusting the stock’s length of pull, are just the beginning of new innovations that ATI will bring to the gun-accessory market.
“The VEPR Strikeforce Elite Stock and six-sided forend package are the first aftermarket accessories available for the VEPR firearm platform. It comes with an 8in aluminium optic rail system that suspends over the gas tube for effortless optics mounting on a natural sight path.
“What is surprising is the overall balance once the accessories are installed. We focused on keeping the system’s weight down and, at a mere 17oz, we feel that has been achieved extremely well.”
Schiltz claims to be the “beer that made Milwaukee famous” but ATI seem to be doing a pretty good job of putting the city on the map when it comes to stocks and accessories.
Stan Piecha talks to a firearm manufacturer that puts its workforce at the centre of everything it does… American firm STI International.
The gun trade is historically blessed with craftsmen who take real pride in their tasks but this is one weapon manufacturer that can proudly boast of having some of the world’s most loyal and dedicated workers.
The reason the Georgetown, Texas company can feel ultra-confident its entire 100-plus workforce is all pulling in the same direction, has the organisation’s future uppermost in its minds each time it steps through the factory doors and never has to think twice about going the extra mile is because everyone benefits from its continued growth and success.
STI is the world’s only firearm manufacturer run under the Employee Stock Ownership Plan, ensuring every member of staff is involved and reaps the benefits of being part of a profit-sharing enterprise.
The scheme is working brilliantly for it and, while many manufacturers in the industry have been forced to trim their workforce, STI is planning to recruit more employees in a bid to keep up with its ever-increasing order book.
Top of the tree
It also helps that STI is now regarded as the maker of some of the world’s finest – and most reliable – pistols.
Although its range of 1911s has changed the face of competition shooting, it has also been a huge success with people wanting a gun designed for personal protection.
They are also prized by the military and police but, because of the handcrafting and time needed to ensure each model leaves the premises in perfect working order, they are at the top end of the price range and above certain budgets.
But that hasn’t stopped some military and police officials from spending their own cash to guarantee they are armed with a weapon that they believe will never let them down.
Rabbit Boyett, STI’s marketing manager, told Gun Trade World: “We do so much handwork on our pistols that we just can’t build them fast enough to fulfil the numbers needed for government contracts and we refuse to cut corners on our quality.
“A lot of those contracts are concerned with cost but, if a customer is willing to order in batches of 16, we’ll do pretty much anything they want, so we have found a niche doing smaller commemorative runs for individual units and the smaller, more elite special-forces units who have fewer constraints on their budgets.
“There are also a lot of police and military folk who are allowed to use their own personal pistols instead of departmental-supplied ones and an ever-increasing number are choosing STIs due to the reliability and accuracy we provide them.
“These are people who have to have complete trust in their equipment and we do everything to ensure they don’t have to think about whether it will go bang when they pull the trigger.”
Past and future
Virgil Tripp founded the company in 1980 after he built custom 1911 pistols which started to win competitions at local, national and world level.
Seven years later he formed Tripp Research Inc – now STI International – leading the industry into the precision world of EDM hammers, sears and other components before pioneering the modular 2011 frame, which provided a host of desirable features such as a 30lpi full checked grip assembly, a 35 per cent weight reduction and higher capacity.
It introduced complete pistols of such quality they became the standard by which other International Practical Shooting Confederation (IPSC) firearms are measured.
In 1997 the company was bought by his close shooting friends Dave and Shirley Skinner but, eight years later, it was sold to the employees.
STI now offers 40 different models covering everything from small, full-powered pistols for concealed carry to the most cutting-edge competition ‘open’ guns with prices varying from $670 to $3,450.
The range has also made them one of America’s biggest exporters of guns with representatives in around 30 countries with some of the main importers being Thailand, the Philippines, Germany, Canada, Italy, Australia and Spain.
New areas they would like to break into include Argentina, Colombia and Portugal but that will only be achieved if STI is satisfied they can join forces with a distributor capable of living up to their high customer-service standards.
Rabbit added: “I think the thing that really sets us apart is the love we have for what we do. We spend a lot of time focusing on small details and do our best to build the guns we would want for ourselves.
“We are very aware that when someone buys an STI, in many cases they are literally trusting us with their lives and we do everything possible to be worthy of that trust. We are totally dedicated to providing our customers with the ultimate shooting experience. People notice that and word of mouth has largely sold our brand.
“The greatest selling point of our guns is that they work and just keep on working. Competitors put more rounds through their pistols in a year than just about anyone else – 5,000 is not uncommon – and they need it to run just as good on their next round as it did on the very first.
“That’s why we offer one of the best warranties in the world and our customer-service personnel are passionate about everyone being satisfied.
“Producing the finest and most reliable gun IS at the very top of our list. While our prices are lower than a lot of the other top-tier manufacturers we are still very aware that our pistols are not cheap so it’s a matter of ensuring our customers get great value for money.
“Every part that goes into the gun goes through multiple inspections throughout its manufacture. And even though everything has been checked, the gunsmiths go back over everything and make sure they are only working with the best parts before using them to build the gun. Our goal is to have no returns, so our customers never need to discover how great our warranty is!”
To cope with the ever-increasing demand for its state-of-the-art pistols, STI is now streamlining its processes, hiring more personnel and investing in new equipment.
The focus is to grow the business to its full potential but without losing the quality of its goods.
The global recession is partly responsible for increasing sales during times of struggle and tension the company has discovered that more people are looking to defend themselves, their families and their property from anyone who might seek to harm them.
And even if they are never used, many customers treat the guns as heirlooms, passing them down to the next generation.
While some companies may be content to sit back and take their foot off the gas once they have reached a certain level, STI is committed to continually looking at ways of improving its models – by listening to the feedback from customers – while ensuring the quality never wavers no matter how much demand increases. And that’s because all the workers are on the same wavelength.
Rabbit says: “The advantage of being an employee owner is that we are no longer just earning a pay check and making money for someone else – we have a vested interest in the future and are aware that everything we do directly affects the bottom line.
“This means we are all looking at the big picture of the company as a whole instead of just being concerned with only our own jobs.
“Morale is better, turnover of staff lower and productivity has improved. I think if more companies did the research many more ESOP businesses would be created.”
T: +1 512 819 0656
Barnett Outdoors LLC can proudly boast to being the world’s leading manufacturer of crossbows but how does it keep the competition at bay? Stan Piecha investigates…
Being the biggest can be a tough position to defend in any trade but it is a situation that crossbow maker Barnett is confident of maintaining for many years to come following the restructuring of some aspects of its business, coupled with producing a breathtaking range of weapons.
The secret to why the Florida, USA-based concern is going from strength to strength lies in its innovative and brilliantly designed crossbows, aimed at ensuring there is a model to suit all budgets – without skimping on quality – in this ever-growing branch of the hunting and shooting industry.
It can also thank a number of hit Hollywood films and TV shows for an increase in demand. The movie Hunger Games, a futuristic film using bows and arrows, Disney’s Brave where Merida must rely on her archery skills to fight a beastly curse and American TV drama Revolution’s use of elaborate crossbows have all made more people, especially youngsters, aware that there is an alternative to guns and rifles.
Doing it for the kids
Jennifer Toepper, Barnett’s international sales manager, told GTW: “In today’s cyber world it is more important than ever to introduce our youth to a world of outdoor opportunities.
“This year has been unique because the media has placed a positive spotlight on shooting sports with the introduction of several blockbusting movies and TV shows.
“They have introduced archery and crossbows to parts of our culture that may never have been exposed to this type of sporting equipment, resulting in new customers eager to try their hand at them.
“There are not many rewards that I can think of greater than watching the glow of a child who shoots a crossbow or archery bow for the first time. These youngsters will then one day share the sport they enjoy with future generations, be it for target or hunting purposes. That’s why I have always strongly encouraged anyone who participates in any form of shooting sports to mentor a child.”
Barnett has been bringing joy and happiness to a global band of merry men – and women – for more than 60 years thanks to its remarkable history.
The company was, in fact, started in the industrial town of Wolverhampton, England, in the 1960s by Bernard Barnett – father of the firm’s current director of development and research, David Barnett – before partly relocating to Odessa, Florida, in 1981.
In 2001 a deal was reached to buy the company from the remaining members of the Barnett family still based in England and the following year it had what every company dreams of – providing the funds and manufacturing capacity is in place – a massive surge in orders after Georgia legalised the crossbow for use in the entire archery season.
It resulted in demand increasing almost FIVEFOLD from the previous year and Barnett, with limits on financial access, struggling to fulfil them – a situation which will never reoccur since it became part of the Synergy Outdoors Group in 2007.
It now operates out of purpose-built premises in Tarpon Springs, where David continues to use his immense design skills to create new, must-have products.
Meanwhile, Mike Houllis, president of sales and operations director, who has been with the organisation since 1986, ensures everything runs like clockwork after a series of studies aimed at putting its strengths and weaknesses under the microscope.
Jennifer, one of the main cogs in helping bring Barnett onto the international stage, added: “Forward thinking, decades of manufacturing experience and a committed team make remaining a leading manufacturer possible. Competition is great but our philosophy is to never believe you are number one, for that just opens the door to complacency. Because we are never satisfied with what we have achieved it keep us hungry and continually striving for the next level.
“David’s eye for innovation, design and being able to think of new ideas way in advance of competitors, coupled with Mike’s ability to keep a close watch on manufacturing efficiency and trends with great insight, helps us to stay ahead. We exceeded one million units several years ago and our sales are a testament to our commitment to bring quality and affordable innovations to the market.”
Barnett has invested heavily in top machinery, including multiple high-speed vertical machining centres and CNC lathes producing 24 hours a day.
It employs 150 people throughout the year – rising to more than 225 during peak manufacturing periods – ensuring they are trained in several tasks so that they are able to turn their hand to a variety of jobs.
As each department has grown, so has their focus on quality control at every stage and, with all its crossbows, except two entry-level models, being totally made in the USA, customers are able to buy with confidence, knowing they are receiving a real value-for-money product.
It produces a total of 14 unique crossbow models, each with a distinct purpose.
The Ghost 400 is one of the fastest crossbows on the market. Because of the carbon technology used to give it a perfect balance, together with the quality machining and good looks, it is one of the most sought-after weapons.
The Predator, the first and fastest crossbow of its kind when released four years ago, remains popular. It has an adjustable rear stock to ensure it suits all shooters, a smooth 31/2lb trigger pull, a speed of 375 fps and Avi noise-dampening technology, all contributing to the model’s huge following.
The Buck Commander’s appeal lies in the fact that it is manoeuvrable, extremely light, quiet and has an aluminium flight rail.
Making a decision
Jennifer adds: “There are several deciding factors to consider when making a purchase – cost, size, speed, compatible accessories, use, optional features and weight. We make a crossbow to suit the needs of EVERYONE.
Many of our ground-breaking innovations – break-over self-cocking crossbows, folding crossbows, rope-cocking devices, carbon technology and shoot-through foot stirrups have been followed by other makers.”
The cosmetics of each model are also striking, with Barnett’s distinctive camouflage look continuing to be the most desired finish in the US, although carbon fibre and black patterning are starting to gain popularity.
An automated film dipping process, developed by David, has allowed it to offer customised camouflaged patterns at a reduced turnaround time without adding any huge cost or the need for extra staff.
Barnett’s main market continues to be the US but exports also form a significant and important part of the business, especially considering the company has a long history of selling abroad.
Listening to the feedback from clients, providing an excellent product and service, while meeting delivery times, is paying dividends in sales overseas.
It has a strong distribution base in several countries that share its business philosophies and is happy to support it with an aggressive marketing strategy.
Crossbows are growing in appeal because they afford the hunter the opportunity to come in closer contact with the game that they are targeting, adding to the overall experience. The average archery hunting shot is 25 yards for crossbows and archery bows, so they test skills of being undetected and using environmental knowledge together with a well-practised shot.
The use of crossbows in competitions is also on the up and ones made by Barnett have won several 3D and IBO tournaments. However, the biggest breakthrough would be if the move to have them included in the next summer Olympics being staged in Brazil in 2016 is given the green light.
That would see a global surge in demand – one that Barnett is totally geared up to meet these days.
Barnett Outdoors LLC
T: +1 727 234 4999
F: +1 727 942 6100
Battenfeld Technologies has been credited with a reliable organisation to produce ground-breaking, innovative products that become instant hits in shooting and hunting. Stan Piecha reports…
Battenfeld Technologies appears to have the Midas touch whenever it comes up with a new idea – or a way of vastly improving existing items on the market – and have it manufactured under one of its core brands, which include Caldwell Shooting Supplies, Wheeler Engineering, Frankford Arsenal Reloading Tools, Tipton Gun Cleaning Supplies, Lockdown Vault Accessories and the recently launched Non-Typical Wildlife Solutions.
Through its various brands, covering everything from reloading to heavy-duty steel targets and rifle rests to must-have vault accessories, Battenfeld has been able to stay at the very top in various sectors of the gun trade.
This has all been achieved thanks to a combination of great vision from its highly advanced Product Development Process, smart yet aggressive advertising campaigns and outstanding packaging as well as customers knowing they are buying some of the finest-quality goods available.
The company operates out of a state-of-the-art 77,000 sq ft facility in Columbia, Missouri, USA, where it engineers many of the products with the latest tooling and technology while managing an extensive network of component sub-suppliers to support its diverse mix of goods.
Battenfeld was originally a division of MidwayUSA, owned by the Potterfield family, but was spun out into a stand-alone entity in 2000.
Earlier this year that entity was acquired by Clearview Capital – a private equity group based in Connecticut – and members of Battenfeld’s management team, who have a vast experience and passion for shooting sports.
Jim Gianladis, Battenfeld’s vice-president of products and marketing, told Gun Trade World: “We are really excited about the direction of the company and the growth opportunities ahead.
“Battenfeld has a longstanding history of not only expanding within its core categories but also launching entirely new brands in adjacent market segments.
“We remain passionately dedicated to building innovative high-quality shooting accessories and supporting our dealers with top-notch customer service and a very aggressive advertising campaign.
“Our belief is that it takes multiple elements to achieve great results. You have to have high-quality, high-value products that shooters want and you have to make it easy and profitable for retailers to meet demand.
“We combine innovative, attractively packaged products with a very aggressive advertising and marketing campaign that creates the demand to pull products off the shelves. In today’s digital world of customer product review and social media, demand for great products is rapidly accelerating.
“It is also important to listen to consumer views so we not only improve existing products but use their input when it comes to developing new ones.
“But I believe the best product strategy is one that brings together an intuition of how customers will react to products with a vision of truly unique solutions to the challenges they face in the pursuit of the activities they are passionate about. If you want to be on the cutting edge you must build what customers want… BEFORE they even know they want it!”
Leading the charge
One of its greatest innovations has been the Caldwell Lead Sled family of recoil-reducing shooting rests, which totally changed the market thanks to the benefit of eradicating recoil from the shooting equation, which means shooters can focus on crosshair alignment and a clean trigger pull, a concept developed by the company’s avid shooters and engineers.
It also presented Battenfeld with a great slogan: “No Recoil, No Flinch… No Excuses.”
Although most competitive shooting disciplines ban Lead Sleds’ front and rear-support device, its Fire Control Front Rest is legal and, earlier this year, Chad Jenkins set an IBS 4-target Light Gun record with a 600-yard aggregate group of 1.495 inches with that model.
The advertising footage that surrounded the Lead Sled rests showed potential customers that not just were they watching the launch of a new product, but that a piece of revolutionary technology was now available to them. The commercial depicted the amazing recoil reduction in action with a highly visual demonstration of a wine glass and an egg placed between the Lead Sled and the shooter’s shoulder – both remaining intact after the rifle had been fired.
Battenfeld can take pride in producing items that are not only appealing to hunters but also to ‘plinkers’, as witnessed by the variety of targets it manufactures.
Jim revealed: “Across our multiple brands we have products that appeal to hunters and shooters alike. We have found success in taking our expertise in accessories designed for the shooting range and developing products that deliver the same accuracy to hunters in the field.
“We design targets that are fun and interactive to shoot but we also have the best targets available for developing long-range shooting skills with high-calibre rifles. Our Caldwell Kill Zone Gong is constructed of AR-550 steel designed to withstand the heaviest centrefire magnum rifles and simulates the vital zone of a large game animal.”
Its venture into accessories for gun safes and cabinets under the Lockdown Brand has enjoyed phenomenal success and was devised after identifying several gaps in the market.
It knew no vault manufacturer had a comprehensive line of accessories and those that were available were poorly packaged and not merchandised well. Most internal accessories were not universally compatible with most brands despite a growing demand for vaults. It solved all the shortfalls with the launch of Lockdown, now regarded as the most comprehensive line of accessories.
Jim added: “We tend to look at the bigger picture when developing products and brands. We focus on not only making the products better but also solving challenges for the retailers so they are successful in bringing the goods to the consumers. That is why we are not surprised at the success Lockdown has enjoyed.
“Our fastest-growing category in 2012 is our line of Wheeler Delta Series Tools, which enhance the process of building, cleaning and servicing the modern sporting rifle.
“The long-range accuracy of today’s firearms is greater than it has ever been and we help shooters build and maintain their system in a way that achieves the maximum accuracy potential.
“Tipton has really dominated the demand for high-end gun-cleaning accessories. Our key to success is that we tend to home in on the niche categories that allow us to really use our abilities to innovate. We tend to beat the competition when it comes to conceiving better solutions and providing better features as can be seen in our gun vices.”
On the horizon
Jim is the brains behind the company’s Non-Typical Wildlife brand launched this year, saying: “I have used electric fence systems for several years to help get maximum performance from my food plots. I can’t take credit for the concept but I saw some key elements that were missing from products on the market.
“No-one had been able to offer a complete, affordable kit in one box, ready to install. So we did just that and the Non-Typical Wildlife brand and the Hot Zone Deer Exclosure System gives everything a customer needs – except the battery – for under $500.”
Battenfeld is a company totally geared to continuing to provide innovative products and it believes that the 33 new items – ranging across all its brands – will cause a few ripples in the industry when they are unveiled at the 2013 SHOT Show.
And if that’s not enough to keep the trade talking, it also plans – for the first time – to bring out additional items during a mid-year launch.
Little wonder everyone at Battenfeld is excited about the future of this go-ahead company.
Battenfeld Technologies Inc
T: +1 573 445 9200
Swarovski has a great name as a manufacturer of sparkling, eye-catching, crystal ornaments and fashion accessories. But many more know it as a top name in optics, says Stan Piecha.
Swarovski Optik – based in Absam, a Tyrol region of Austria – is very much part of the world-famous Swarovski Group but specialises in making arguably the world’s finest long-range optics – identified by their simple but elegant design that harbours sheer technical brilliance.
The organisation was launched in 1949 by Wilhelm Swarovski – son of the original founder Daniel Swarovski – who loved astronomy and decided to build his own improved binoculars.
With the specialised glass production and finishing technologies already used to make jewellery stones in his father’s factory, Wilhelm managed to develop a novel prism fabrication and grinding process that he applied in constructing his first 6x30 binoculars.
That initial vision formed the foundation of the sports optics company and it was followed by the first serial product – the Habicht 7x42 – which is still an industry standard in the field of hunting optics.
The Habicht was the launch pad for even more innovative products, for it was followed by the company’s first riflescope in 1959, its initial extendable telescope eight years later and, in 1971, the world’s first rubber-armoured binocular.
In 1976 Swarovski Optik caused a sensation in the shooting world by making a riflescope equipped with a proprietary shock absorber designed to prevent recoil injuries to the eye.
Its first telescope was made in 1994 followed five years later by the EL binoculars, unveiled with the world’s first wraparound grip and instantly voted the development of the decade.
Since 2007 the Z6 riflescope range with the first 6x zoom has reached international acclaim among top hunters.
And it can expect more accolades and awards for its recently launched ATX/STX modular telescopes that completely redefine how people look at ‘spotting scopes’ both optically and functionally.
Fans of Swarovski Optik products are already saying how the company has taken spotting scopes to a level few could ever have envisaged.
The scopes have been an instant success thanks to their outstanding detail resolution and up to 70X magnification which many feel pushes optical tests to their limits.
One review of the products claimed: “It’s a new generation of scopes where optical brilliance, user-friendly ergonomic design and modular flexibility combine to create a real revolution in the history of the telescope. The zoom is right next to the focus on the barrel of the scope so you don’t have to switch hands and reach for the eyepiece to zoom in on a distant bird. It ticks all the boxes.”
By constantly delivering five-star, high-precision-made products it’s easy to see why Swarovski Optik continues to stay at the very top of its field with sales of its binoculars, telescopes, riflescopes, ‘optronic’ instruments, rangefinders and image-intensifier tubes – all made at its Absam headquarters – last year reaching €100.4 million.
Globally it has a workforce of 700, many of them highly skilled craftsmen.
More than 90 per cent of its products are exported and Swarovski Optik has a presence on all five continents, with its own sales companies in Austria, the Benelux countries, Germany, France, Great Britain, Italy and Switzerland, plus representation in the USA. Products are available in more than 30 countries through well-established sales partners.
Hunting for the best
One reason it is recognised as one of the world’s leading suppliers of long-range optics is that it constantly searches for innovative ideas for improving its already top-class range.
Swarovski Optik‘s Lydia Kalb told Gun Trade World: “From its foundation our company philosophy has always been to constantly improve what is good. Our products are always evolving and we feel that, with new technologies constantly being introduced, there is always room for improvement and we will always be looking for ways to make them better.
“Whether it’s introducing a specialised coating to improve light transmission through our binoculars or a new technology – as with Swaro-Aim – in our EL range-finding binoculars, we want to provide customers with the best and most useful technology.
“We are fortunate to have an excellent team of dedicated employees, many of whom do shoot, hunt or are active birders and naturalists.
“We encourage all employees to use our products and host several company events throughout the year to ensure employees use the products – including shooting days at local clubs.
“Any company looking to be successful should ensure its employees have a sense of loyalty, drive and, most importantly, pride in what it is producing. We are very proud of our family atmosphere, which makes our people feel they are part of something special.
“Shooting sports remain a very large percentage of our business but the birding/wildlife segments are equally important. Sport/target shooting is becoming an increasingly popular pastime and one we are eager to cater for. Many of the shooters in this year’s Olympics – and a large percentage of the people taking part in the archery competitions – were using our spotting scopes.”
The company has won a host of top awards since first being formed, and this year Outdoor Life recognised the firm’s newly redesigned Z6i second-generation illuminated riflescope and EL Range as two of the Best Innovations of 2012. Field & Stream also honoured the EL Range with a ‘best of the best’ award.
Thanks to the innovation it has shown throughout its history, it’s a safe bet that Swarovski Optik will be adding to the trophy cabinet.
T: +43 5223 511-0
F: +43 5223 418 60
Stan Piecha talks to the team behind a major success story in the trade – German Sport Guns.
German Sport Guns (GSG) has proved that, providing you have the right people in place, all with a shared vision for producing fantastic quality products within everyone’s price range, it is still possible to set up a profitable company in the shooting industry.
Most of the major global weapon manufacturers have a long history in the trade so it is quite remarkable that GSG – which has made a huge impact thanks to its innovative range of replica guns – was only started a decade ago.
In fact, this month it will officially celebrate its 10th anniversary.
But, while the company is relatively new to the industry, the men who founded the organisation have years of experience behind them.
Dietmar Emde, Manfred Nienhaus and Michael Swoboda were all well versed in the ingredients needed to make good replica firearms because they all held leading positions at Umarex!
They all respected each other’s skills and often discussed the possibility of starting their own company.
In 2002 the three wise men decided it was time to act upon their dreams of going it alone, handed in their notice and set up their own business in Arnsberg – the town where Umarex is based.
Dietmar was placed in charge of developing and constructing the guns, Manfred became the marketing and sales manager, while Michael, a qualified gunsmith, put his masters degree in business administration and import management to good use.
Unlike the state-of-the-art premises of Umarex the trio moved to an old, tiny factory built at the turn of the last century, which had originally been used for the production of light fittings.
It had a small office measuring 30 square metres and 450 square metres of storage and manufacturing space.
Using their contacts and knowledge of the industry, they started by distributing a few brands in the airgun and airsoft business but it wasn’t long before they clinched the exclusive German distribution rights for one the largest manufacturers of airguns in Europe – Gamo.
The contract was quickly followed with the exclusive distributorship for all Cybergun airsoft products for the German market.
At the same time, GSG received a request that would really put it into the field of manufacturing – development orders from Sig Sauer and Gamo.
Its task for Sig – the international company that makes the weapon of choice for use in many of the world’s leading military and law enforcement organisations – was to start the development of the Sig Mosquito in .22 calibre.
The work for Gamo involved producing a new air pistol.
A rocky road
However, the road to success was not without its complications, as Michael explained to Gun Trade World: “The initial difficulties we experienced were obtaining our licence to deal with and to produce guns. But even when we overcame that hurdle, then financing the business became an issue.
“We started with only a small credit line without any loans, which meant that, in the beginning, our suppliers were helping us with long terms for payment. On the invoice for the first shipment of airsoft BBs was written: ‘Customer can pay when they want!’”
After completing the development of the Sig Mosquito – which obviously greatly impressed the company – it received an order to produce the pistol and quickly realised that its premises were too small to cope with the growing order books, so moved to a warehouse with 600 square metres.
Outgrowing its headquarters is a recurring theme in GSG’s short history for, in 2007, it moved to the industrial area of nearby Ense-Höingen where it had 2,000 square metres it could use for production and distribution.
It was from there it shipped its first-ever container of GSG-5s to the US, which turned into an instant success for the company.
The military look-a-like of the famous Heckler and Koch sub-machine-gun caused a big hit among connoisseurs of replica guns.
Even collectors who had every calibre of ARs and AKs and other military-style weapons admitted the .22 rimfire GSG-5 had the fun factor that none of the other models could match.
Production of the model went into overdrive, with several thousand being made each month. To cope with demand it was forced to open another plant and, when it also started making several weapons such as the GSG 1911, the AK47 and the Sturmgewehr 44 (StG44), it again became stretched and this year opened plant number three.
Michael added: “This new location houses all the CNC machines and we have three shifts in operation for our workforce. The redundant area of Plant One is reserved for the assembling of the new StG44, where we have several thousands in back orders already.
“It is quite remarkable to think that in 2002 we started with three people and at the end of the first year we had generated a turnover of €1.3 million and expanded the team to 12.
Now, 10 years later, we have 140 employees with an expected turnover of more than €20 million for 2012.”
Michael continued: “I feel one of the strengths in our distribution area is the close relationship we have with our suppliers worldwide and always knowing what the market is looking for. We were the first company to develop a tactical looking rifle – the GSG-5 – in calibre .22 and later on the GSG-522 and with the Kalashnikov – one of the most recognisable brands – we can offer a complete line of military-style firearms.
“The Rimfire GSG-1911 is one of the finest replicas in .22 and manufactured according to military specifications. It means interchangeable parts and, for all the shooters who already own a 1911, the chance to customise their pistol, and that has given us a real advantage over our competitors.
“When it comes to new ideas we listen to our customers, either in Germany or the gun shops in the US. It means we take notice of the people who sell our products.
“In May we started producing the legendary Schmeisser StG44 with the message: “German History Meets German Engineering.” It is a perfect replica gun and comes in a wooden box identical to the one issued to the German army during World War II. Its beautiful patina makes this gun unique and a must for all enthusiasts.
“We have been very fortunate that the global recession has not affected us in the least and this year will be our best ever. Even if we expect a cool down in the gun market in the US – especially after the elections – we are well positioned for next year with products under the GSG brand or OEM products.”
To mark its 10th anniversary, GSG will be offering a limited number of real gold-plated GSG-522 PKs and AK 47s… totally fitting for a trio of businessmen who have shown the gun trade they really do have the Midas touch.
German Sport Guns GmbH
T: +49 2938 978390
F: +49 2938 9789031
Leupold & Stevens has savoured more than a century of success thanks to never wavering from its founder’s motto: “The customer is entitled to a square deal.” Stan Piecha investigates…
It was Fred Leupold, the founder of Leupold & Stevens, who first uttered the maxim: “The customer is entitled to a square deal,” when he initially started a one-man shop repairing surveying equipment in 1907. This was before being joined by his brother-in-law Adam Voelpel, expanding the business, which is today regarded as America’s leading optics manufacturer.
The go-ahead company first made an impact in the optics field in 1914 when hydrologist John Stevens became a partner and invented the first water-level recorder, but it would be another 33 years before it would manufacture the products – scopes for hunting, shooting, law enforcement, military and observation – that have made it world famous and an industry leader.
Fred’s oldest son Marcus – a keen hunter – had been with the firm almost from the start, but it wasn’t until 1947 when he was stalking a blacktail buck and missed the animal because the lenses in his riflescope fogged that he declared he could make a better model than the one he was using.
As a result he promptly introduced the company’s first scope to the world of shooting – the 2.5x Plainsman!
The model pioneered the sealing and waterproofing technology that has become an industry standard in today’s riflescopes around the globe. The Plainsman was purged of oxygen and filled with nitrogen to eliminate any chance of internal fogging.
Leupold has since become renowned for not just manufacturing the finest scopes for a price within everyone’s reach but also being one of the most innovative organisations in its field, producing a stream of ground-breaking models to ensure it remains at the very top of the industry.
State of the art
To understand how Leupold, now a fifth-generation family company, continually comes up with revolutionary products, you need to have a tour of its state-of-the-art headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon.
The impressive 150,000 sq ft building is situated on 24 acres in an industrial park and employs 600 highly skilled and dedicated people – some with up to 40 years’ service – many themselves keen hunters and shooters.
The optics lab is unique and considered one of the most sophisticated privately owned facilities of its type in the US and allows engineers and designers to test virtually any performance specification or optical formula.
It also has a specialised unit where its products can be subjected to the most stringent tests – ones that have often quickly destroyed rival models – together with a 100-yard indoor shooting range equipped with chronograph screens every 10 yards.
Patrick Mundy, Leupold’s senior marketing manager, told Gun Trade World: “Our square-deal slogan is hugely important because our customers have been very loyal from the very start and it is critical that we repay that faith with the best possible customer service and experience.
“Having a high proportion of employees who hunt and shoot – along with being located in the Pacific Northwest – gives us ample opportunities at both. ‘For hunter and shooters by hunters and shooters’ is an underlying theme here.”
While some rivals are happy to have parts made in countries where labour is cheaper in a bid to keep costs down and increase profits, Leupold has gained its reputation by having everything – apart from the lenses which are sourced from top foreign specialist manufacturers – made in house.
Each year it uses more than 1,000,000lb of aluminium and also has the largest installation of index-turning centres west of the Mississippi River!
The multimillion-dollar optics lab on site can test not only its optical prescriptions but also those of its competitors to see what it is up against.
And with each of Leupold’s Golden Ring riflescope models, from the least expensive to the industry-leading VX-7, having to pass the uniquely punishing durability test – which it claims no other competitive scope brand has ever consistently passed regardless of price and origin – it is little wonder it can offer a lifetime guarantee on its products.
Patrick added: “Having everything made in house means we can control quality so much better. A typical workstation is surrounded by prints, gauging and micrometers to ensure every model is perfect.
“Attention to detail and quality along with a highly skilled workforce is the difference between us and imported products. We also dedicate millions of dollars to testing.
“We were the first to offer a lifetime guarantee nearly 50 years ago, although the best warranty is the one you never have to use and that’s why our goal is to build products that will stand up to any conditions our customers are likely to encounter or subject them to.”
Seal of approval
Although Leupold’s largest market remains hunting and recreational shooting, its products are also highly prized by law enforcement agencies and it has worked with US and allied forces for decades.
Models can be found in the hands of police SWAT teams to officers who patrol the streets of American cities to the troops stationed in Afghanistan or the searing heat of Iraq, thanks to their rugged dependability and capability to withstand the most-dramatic conditions.
All Leupold scopes are built to exacting tolerances and a ruggedstandard of durability. A Rifleman scope will take as much recoil as a VX-III.
The difference in price between the various lines is a matter of more-precise adjustments, different optical glass, optical formulas or superior lens coatings.
With so many ground-breaking products under its belt, which are its top sellers, can it continue coming up with new ideas?
Patrick revealed: “The VX-2 and 3 lines have both stood the test of time. The new VX-2 is winning a lot of awards and the newly designed optical/mechanical system provides a noticeable jump in performance at a very attractive price.
“We also have new products in the pipeline along with build-outs on the VX-6, the Mark 6 and some new rangefinders.
“Long term, I think we can continue to offer the innovation we have brought over the last several decades with features we have pioneered, such as the duplex reticle, side-focus parallax adjustment, true ballistic range in rangefinder, our indigenous DNA [digitally enhanced accuracy] signal-processing unit and unique dial and reticle configurations for longer range shooting.
Patrick admitted: “We just have to keep pushing ourselves and listening to our customers so we can bring them what they need. There are always opportunities to be innovative and merging electronic, optical and mechanical processes together continues to provide a big buzz for us because technology is always improving as are ways to incorporate it.”
While the company is universally known for its hunting and shooting products, it is also making a big impact – you could say a mighty divot – into golf where its rangefinder models have been met with massive approval.
The decision to break into the lucrative world of golf was a conscious one and was first suggested by a former vice-president of marketing who played the game and urged it to become involved.
Despite the continuing economic uncertainty, Leupold has experienced considerable growth for the past four years and, since 2002, has enjoyed bumper sales in Europe but as Patrick explained: “The recession has forced us to innovate more with some of our lower-priced offerings, but we have always found that our customers appreciate quality, and for the long term it is better value. It’s better to buy it once and have it last.”
1947: Leupold enters the riflescope market for the first time with the 2.5x Plainsman
1949: Becomes the first optics firm to fill scopes with pure nitrogen to eliminate fogging
1957: Expands the riflescope range further and makes a compass to gain an even stronger foothold in the outdoor market
1962: Invents the famous Duplex Reticle – now an industry classic
1974: The first lightweight, high-power target scope is introduced
1978: The first line of compact riflescopes becomes available to customers
1985: Introduces the Duel Dovetail mount system and the Ultra scope – the industry’s first turret-mounted focusing system
1986: Leupold invents the first compact roof prism, waterproof spotting scope
1990: A low-light scope that balances the physical laws of optics to provide optimum performance to the shooter is released
1993: Proudly unveils the first variable power, waterproof spotting scope – the 12-40x60mm
1997: The LPS series of advanced riflescopes specifically for hunters is released
1998: The Vari-X III long-range scopes – featuring side-focus parallax adjustments – are a huge breakthrough
2000: Illuminated-reticle technology is introduced, giving hunters and shooters access to superior light management and pinpoint shot placement in low-light conditions.
2002: Introduces the VX-II, a total redesign to replace the popular Vari-X II; the VX-I, a reliable scope anyone can afford; a new series of high-powered competition riflescopes and the Leupold Mark 4 CQ/T, a revolutionary close-quarter/tactical scope
2004: Replaces the Vari-X III with the VX-III, featuring the exclusive Index Matched Lens System and the Ballistic Aiming System
2005: Alumina accessories take hunting optics to a new level giving shooters the ability to customise riflescopes to changing light and shooting conditions with a series of filters
2006: The unique VX-L riflescope and the RX rangefinder product line are introduced. The new RX digital laser rangefinder series introduces the world to TBR (True Ballistic Range), which takes the guesswork out of using a rangefinder on steep angles combined with 13 aiming-point options
2007: 100-year anniversary of Leupold & Stevens Inc
2008: Acquisition of the Redfield brand
2009: Renewed emphasis on tactical optics begins in earnest
2010: Redfield products are made in the US for the first time since the late 1990s
Contact: Leupold & Stevens
T: +1 503 526 1400
F: +1 503 352 7621