Buffalo Bill Cody with his Winchester
Today’s WSJ reports that efforts are underway to obtain investment support to revive the production of Winchester rifles in the United States, and to keep the iconic brand alive.
Now, it has fallen to an unlikely modern-day Winchester fan, Michael H. Blank, a 32-year-old who quit his job as a Merrill Lynch stockbroker, to salvage the venerable company. Despite its glorious past, modern times haven’t been kind to the gunsmith. In March the Belgian owners shut down the relatively modern factory built on a site where Winchesters have been made for 140 years, citing a bloated cost structure and slumping sales.
The move has sparked a frantic hunt for a buyer, a debate over what to do with the bronze of Mr. Wayne in the lobby, and a shot of soul-searching by gun owners themselves, who know the value of their Winchesters will soar if the factory closes forever.
Mr. Blank, who is a paid consultant in the search for a buyer, says there’s no reason Winchester’s U.S. factory has to die as long as there are people like him around. The main reason for slumping sales is that the company was making and marketing the wrong guns, not that there aren’t enough people willing to buy them.
“I have 10 Winchester lever-actions,” he says, “but if I had 5,000 more, I’d never have enough. By and large, I believe that whoever dies with the most guns, wins.” Mr. Blank says the company can thrive again if it goes back to its roots, producing high-quality guns for enthusiasts and collectors like him.
He contends the Belgian owners, Herstal Group, don’t have the right vision, pushing, among other things, low-end guns sold through Wal-Mart Stores Inc. Instead, he believes the company should concentrate on the burgeoning market for replicas of historic Winchester models and on upgrading its modern rifles. Today, many replicas, which aren’t allowed to bear the Winchester name, are made in Italy and sell for up to $1,200. Those rifles — with their blued barrels, wood stocks and distinctive levers for cocking the weapon with an unforgettable metallic “cha-chink” sound — are avidly sought by collectors fascinated by the history of firearms and of the American West.
“If we put out real replicas, and slap on the Winchester name, we’ll have the Italians out of the business in three years,” Mr. Blank predicts.
Earlier New Haven plant closing story.