Since the first SHOT Show in 1979, Browning has been a proud exhibitor. Although the Browning family is no longer steering the ship, the spirit of John M. Browning lives on throughout the company today at its small but global headquarters in rural Morgan, Utah.
Long and faithful service are trademark elements of the iconic Browning name, traits well-demonstrated by its dedicated team members. Scott Grange, PR and Shooting Promotions Manager, along with Paul Thompson, Trade Show and Media Relations Manager, have a combined 78 years of service and a whopping 62 SHOT Shows under their belts, proof their company is as much family as employer.
Grange first went to work, on a part-time basis, pulling triggers for Browning in R&D in 1972 as a senior in high school and was awarded a full-time position in 1973, the year he got married and entered college. Aside from a brief stint with the Union Pacific Railroad, he has spent his entire career with the company.
Thompson joined Browning in customer service in 1980 and has held many positions, including PR Manager. He and Grange share a number of characteristics. They are the same age, 64, the same faith and share a love for family and the outdoors.
“Heck, I’m not sure who I know best, Paul or my wife,” Grange laughs.
Kevin Tate (KT): Even with so many SHOT Show experiences to consider, I bet the first show you attended still stands out.
Paul Thompson (PT): My first SHOT Show was 1986. I had just been promoted to a PR manager position and I was overwhelmed. It was at the Astro Hall in Houston. I'd been with the company since 1980 and had always heard all the excitement about the SHOT Show throughout the company as people were getting ready for it. So, when I was able to go, I was really excited, and I just remember walking into the Astro Hall. The middle of that hall was really tall, but it had all these wings that were low, and I remember just walking around overwhelmed. We had what I thought at the time was an immense booth. It was a whopping 30 by 60 feet. I didn't really know anybody in the industry yet, so my boss suggested I go around and look and check out the show, and I remember actually getting lost because I went into one of the wings way off to a side and, all of a sudden, I realized I didn't know which direction was “back.” It took me a while to finally figure out where the center of the hall was and return to our booth. I'd never been to a show that size and, my word, as big as it is now, it's just that much more impressive.
KT: What would you say Browning's most effective SHOT Show product launch has been?
Scott Grange (SG): Well, as you can appreciate, there have been many but, one that we like to talk about and look at, through both nostalgia and history, is the A5 shotgun. The Auto-5 that was in the line for almost 100 years was discontinued in 1998 and, immediately, the phones lit up with people wanting to bring the Auto-5 back, even though we weren't selling enough of them for a number of reasons. The technology was old. It was a long-recoil-operated system, and people wanted either the new inertia or gas auto systems. So, in 2012, we reintroduced the A5, not in the old configuration, but in an inertia-style system.
Still, I think the most iconic and fun product launch we did, and one we still get tremendous numbers of orders for, was four years later in 2016. We thought it would be really cool to reintroduce the Sweet 16, which was one of, if not the most, popular configurations of Auto-5 ever. Everyone knew what the Sweet 16 was. It created quite a stir at Industry Day at the Range. Everybody wanted to shoot it, and it continues to be high in demand, especially for a 16-gauge. We all know we don't sell tremendous numbers of 16-gauges, but the orders remain strong.
KT: The older model Auto-5 was what I used when I was learning to shoot, and seeing the spirit of that gun brought back was very heartwarming to me as a consumer, so I'm glad it's been a hit all the way through. But beyond a product launch, what would your favorite memory of something that happened at SHOT Show be?
SG: The all-time favorite, and it is still talked about, was at our 2008 show, where we introduced our outdoor apparel line for that year. We, along with Kevin Howard of Howard Communications, put together a fashion show that has never been equaled and I doubt ever will be. We set it up like a boxing ring, and the theme was America's great outdoors, basically Mother Nature versus Browning's outdoor apparel line. It was a Herculean effort on everyone's part from both our communications and our clothing division. It was months in the planning. We had professional models that would come out into the ring and model each apparel product, and the thing that really set it off was we arranged for Michael Buffer to be the ring announcer.
Michael Buffer, for those who know anything about Las Vegas boxing, is the guy who trademarked the phrase, “Let's get ready to rumble!” People thought it was a lookalike, but we had the real guy there, and it was incredible. He delivered an opening that was just as though you were attending a professional boxing match. It was so cool. He said, “Hailing from the Rocky Mountains of Utah, delivering the latest development, the most technically advanced design and revolutionary concepts. The Best There Is in hunting gear, the undisputed champion, the 2008 Browning clothing lines. And now, without further ado, ladies and gentlemen, let's get ready to rumble!” The place went crazy.
KT: Is there any particular mistake or cautionary tale from experience you could offer from your times at the SHOT Show?
PT: I have one that I can laugh about now, but at the time there was nothing to laugh about. And this is from an exhibit standpoint being the trade show manager, and the evolution of art exhibits.
My first show I went to, we were in a little 30 by 60 booth. We had a teeny little order writing area, and now we're in a 40-by-100 space with a 30-by-30 section of our booth that’s a two-story structure.
In the early ’90s, we wanted more order writing area, so we had a two-story exhibit portion of our booth built. Prior to that, most of the overhead signage had just been hanging banners. We wanted to have something cooler. So our exhibit company said, “Hey, we can build you this great overhead, backlit sign on top of the two-story structure.”
We went with that, and it was a bad decision because I remember, at about 3:30 or 4:00 in the morning on opening day of the SHOT Show, the sign wasn't completed, and I mean not even close to complete. Not even half-way. There I am thinking I'm going to be looking for another job big time.
I had to be in a suit at 7:00 a.m. for meetings and ready to talk to the media. The show was in the Las Vegas Convention Center. We were staying at the Hilton, and I remember walking back and my feet hurt so bad. That's just the logistics of trying to get a big exhibit up. You just pray and do your best to make sure everything is going to happen, and we've always pulled it off, but that was the year when I didn't think we were going to. It eventually all worked out.
SG: There's not a major firearms company out there whose employees are engaged in SHOT Show set-up to the extent and hours that Paul Thompson and Browning are. Back in the day, we'd go five, six days in advance to get this thing set up, and we still go in early where most of our competitors just have a company come in and do it instead. That being said, a cautionary statement might be, make sure that if you are building a new booth or if you're adding to your existing booth, you know 100 percent that it all fits together before you go to SHOT Show.
What we found out is, you have an overhead sign you built on the ground, and it's winched up into the ceiling once it's built because that's what we did after that. This sign was huge. It was 30 feet square and almost four and a half feet tall and about eight inches or so deep because there were lights.
Envision yourself in Paul's position at 3:30 a.m. on the morning of the show in that situation, and you have your owners from Europe who are going to descend upon you in about three hours, and your boss. It's why neither of us have any hair now.
KT: In that same vein, what advice would you have for other companies for them to make the most of their SHOT Show experience?
SG: They need to take advantage of Industry Day at the Range and let the people who are anxious to see the new products come try them out, even though the day is a lot of work for everyone. We feel like it has been worth the time and the effort to be out there, not just in support of the NSSF and the SHOT Show, but to allow a hands-on situation with our new products. We get a lot of interviews and a lot of social media and written exposure from Industry Day, so, if a company has a product that fits into that day’s environment, I would encourage them if they're not already taking advantage of it to do so.
KT: How do you view the SHOT Show as a key to your business?
SG: This is the only time we have to literally shake hands and put our arms around a lot of our key dealers, not just the big ones, but the smaller mom-and-pop shops as well. We establish new relationships and renew old ones and, if you handle things right, you walk away from there doing a significant amount of business. But, as importantly, you have reestablished in your dealers' minds that you care about them and you're aggressively working for new products to benefit not just us, but them as well.
About the Author
Kevin Tate is Vice President of Media Productions for Mossy Oak in West Point, Mississippi. As a lifelong outdoorsman and certified country boy, he finds himself continually in awe to be part of the SHOT Show and of the industry that drives so many dreams. He and his wife, Amy, live in Tupelo with their daughter, Avery, 15, and a son, Walker, 12.