Category Archive 'Winchester'

15 Jun 2006

Trying to Save Winchester

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William F. Cody with Winchester
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.

21 Jan 2006

US Repeating Arms to Close New Haven Plant

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The Elm City will soon be losing another of its links to history. US Repeating Arms Company announced last Tuesday, 1/17, that it will be closing the Winchester firearms factory in New Haven on March 31st. More than 19,000 men once worked in the Winchester plant. Their numbers had dwindled recently to under 200, and only 80,000 guns were produced last year in a facility that still had a capacity of 300,000. Sales of hunting rifles have declined precipitously, along with America’s hunting traditions. What was once a Nation of Riflemen is today a nation of metrosexuals and Dilberts.

Mournful eulogies for the great Winchester firearms brand were published in the Washington Post and the (UK) Independent, but some hard-core gun enthusiasts think the end really came in 1964, when a new group of top-tier executives, imported from Robert McNamara’s Ford Motor Company, introduced dramatic changes designed to reduce production costs. The illustrious Model 12 shotgun was eliminated (just too much hand work went into those), and the detail and quality of finish, and even the mechanics, of the original Model 70 bolt action rifle were dramatically downgraded.

Certainly, a major rupture in Winchester tradition occurred, when (in the aftermath of the strike of 1979-1980) the Board of Directors of Olin Corporation chose to sell the Winchester Sporting Arms division to a group of company executives, having long since relocated Winchester ammunition production far away from over-taxed and highly unionized New Haven. In 1990, control was acquired by the Belgian Fabrique Nationale, owners of Browning, today called Herstal Group.

The emotional WaPo article by Stephen Hunter says that, when whatever reduced production continues is moved overseas, they are going to stop building the Model 1894 lever action and the renowned Model 70 altogether. If so, March 31st will be a sad day indeed.

Theodore Roosevelt, Dakota rancher, poses with Winchester and bowie knife.

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