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