The oldest bow company you never knew ... for 60 years, Martin Archery has been delivering more than expected!
Martin Archery began in 1951 but has roots back to the 1920s. That's when Founder Gail Martin, 87, began shooting his older brother's Howatt longbow, and the cottontail population around Hermiston, Oregon, went into decline.
After graduation in 1941, Gail welded hull plates on liberty ships being built at breakneck speed in Portland shipyards. Two months after Pearl Harbor, he was drafted into the Army.
"We had a 25-mile night hike in boot camp, and only the platoon sergeant and I finished," Gail said, parting the mists of time. "From that point on, I never had KP or stood guard duty."
Because of his mechanical aptitude, Gail was assigned to the 962nd Combat Engineers. "We crossed the Atlantic on the Queen Mary, which had been converted to a troop ship, and staged in England. My unit went ashore across Utah Beach on D-Day + 3, and it was pretty chaotic."
"When we landed in France, our lieutenant made a wrong turn and we found ourselves behind German lines," Gail said with a smile of remembrance."The Germans started firing M88 anti tank guns and artillery. I jumped into a ditch beside a pasture filled with cattle. The concussion killed every cow--and would've killed us, too, except we were in the ditch."
Thus began Gail's slow, grim slog through France, Belgium and into Germany proper. His unit helped liberate emaciated inmates of the concentration camps, and when the war was over, he redeployed to New York, traveled cross-country by train, and was discharged from Ft. Lewis, Washington. "I didn't know what I was going to do, so I went home to Walla Walla," Gail remembers. "I had a special gal waiting for me."
Gail and Eva met in eighth grade. They never dated, but they knew. They wrote regularly throughout the war while Eva worked as a registered nurse. To this day, some seven decades later, Eva keeps her nurse's license up-to-date--indicative of the compunction for order she has instilled at Martin Archery for 60 years.
They married a few months after Gail returned and bought a small house on land that is today the site of the Martin Archery plant.
"I worked as a food store clerk and checker six days per week for $38," Gail recalled. "I was keeping my eyes open for a better opportunity, and kept shooting arrows. To keep costs down, I began making my own. Friends said mine were superior and they'd pay for them, so in the evenings I began making arrows in my basement. But it was bowstrings that really led to Martin Archery."
Gail was frustrated with the bowstrings on the market. "They were made of inferior materials and unraveled quickly," he explained. "I developed a superior method that used tension in the process, and I guarded my secret carefully. No visitors ever saw my basement, where Eva and I worked into the night--she crested and fletched the arrows and I made the bowstrings."
Gail showed his finished strings to the giant longbow and recurve companies of the day: Bear, Wing, Ben Pearson, Howatt, Hoyt, and others. "I sold them first to Wing Archery, and then I produced 100% of the strings for Bear Archery," Gail said. "When I got an order for 3,000 strings, Eva and I both quit our jobs. That was when Martin Archery started--in 1951."
Gail and Eva eventually employed 20 string builders in their home and added a garage for the arrow operation. "I built a machine that fletched 12 arrows at a time," he said. "We had a bunch of those machines manned by 10 workers, and I was selling arrows to sporting goods stores wherever I could."
Gail and Eva worked side-by-side from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., five days per week. "She was the driving force behind Martin Archery, the person who opened the mail, deposited the checks, talked to customers and retail accounts, and even helped out with production or shipping orders," Gail said, nodding to the lovely gray-haired woman seated at her desk 10 feet away "She doesn't get the credit she deserves."
Eva also enjoyed shooting, but she had trouble keeping a bow around. "In the early years, when the company was small, Eva would have a bow set up for herself," Gail explained. "But I'd sell her bow if stock was limited. She didn't like that at all. In the late 1960s, she solved that problem. She had a custom-built white bow made with her name on it. That bow hangs on the wall to this day."
Gail began selling archery products made by other firms, including recurves and longbows by Damon Howatt. "He was just up the road in Yakima, about 100 miles away, and we became good friends," Gail recalls. "I designed some bows he made under the Martin Archery brand, including the first 66-inch bow--before mine, they all were 70 inches."
Howatt tried many times to sell his business to Gail and Eva, but Martin Archery didn't acquire the company until early 1976. The 20,000-square-foot Howatt manufacturing plant remained in Yakima until 2010, when it was merged into the Walla Walla plant. Most of the bowyers, some with 40+ years with the firm, made the move.
Gail and Eva's sons, Terry and Dan, grew up with Martin Archery. Both crested the cedar shafts, installed nocks and points, and helped build strings as preteens. Terry, now 64, was introduced early to bows and shooting, winning the Pee Wee Division of a tournament at age seven.
When Gail bought Howatt, he needed help. Terry, now grown and the owner of a pet store, sold his business and returned. "I really got into the science of designing compound bows: Terry said. Terry now holds some 25 patents for archery products. "I saw compounds as the future, and we had some big arguments in the early years over which direction we should take. Good thing we kept the traditional bows--and focused on compounds."
Terry took over most operational functions at the Walla Walla plant, plus sales and marketing, along with research and design. The compound bows were built in Walla Walla, while the stickbows remained in Yakima. Over the years, Martin bought about a dozen accessories companies and brought them in-house, now under the Wildman Archery brand. His brother, Dan, handled purchasing until retiring several years ago.
In 1978, Terry scored a marketing coup--although he didn't realize it at the time. "A TV production company asked us to furnish the bows for a new TV show called, 'The Dukes of Hazzard'," Terry recalls. "No one knew what a hit the show would be, or that it would sell so many Warthog and Cougar models for us. People would walk into an archery shop and say, 'I want the bow that Bo Duke shoots!"
Martin has been known as a company that delivers more bow for the money. Terry explains, "We dominate the mid-priced compound bow segment. Our traditional bows have sold out each year, and moving production from Yakima will give us more capacity. We are making inroads to the high-end bow market as well with our Rytera line. After 60 years, Martin is as solid as ever."
Terry's son, Ryan, wanted to work at the plant from age seven, but liability issues kept him away until he was 13. Now 35, Ryan started in the packaging department and gradually came to understand all steps in the manufacturing operation. "As a teenager, I also worked at our sporting goods store in town," Ryan said, "That's where I learned how to treat customers. But my whole life--at that time--wasn't Martin Archery."
After graduating from high school in 2005, Ryan attended Washington. State University at Pulman, studying Management Information Systems. He soon realized that he didn't want to work in a cubicle at some big company. With his dad slowed by injuries from a horrific car crash and his Uncle Dan retiring, it just made sense for Ryan to return home and take on operational reins at Martin Archery.
Ryan began his ascent to vice president by managing the compound bow shop, which was in need of production streamlining and new inventory control. "As I demonstrated ability and competence, more tasks came my way--although everything I do is discussed with my dad, who's senior VP, and Grandpa, who is president," Ryan said.
Operationally, the company plans most new product introductions only a year in advance. "We do have long-range products that may not be ready for two, three, or four years," Ryan said. "Usually my dad furnishes an idea, which we discuss and refine, and maybe we bring in key sales reps to provide feedback. We usually do a prototype in early spring and tweak it until everyone is satisfied. Then we go into production at the worst possible time--when the plant is working at peak output for products delivering to retailers June through September. The new products are unveiled in October, so the window is tight."
Where do the ideas for new products come from? "Mostly from here," Terry said, tapping a temple obscured by graying, shoulder-length hair. "I don't know how, but I just see the finished product in my mind. We also listen to the marketplace, to see what's hot and popular, and what can be improved upon. We take suggestions from everywhere and sift through."
More than a few times they've been ahead of their time. "We brought out drop-away arrow rests. 10 years before they became popular," Terry said with a wry smile. "People were unfamiliar with them, and it took several years of exposure before they became popular."
Today, Ryan oversees the daily operations of .100 long-time employees, although Gail and Eva come by nearly every day. "I am totally immersed in Martin Archery--which is not to say I don't enjoy my BMW motorcycle, or cooking a batch of venison ribs for my friends, or hunting mushrooms in the nearby hills," Ryan said with a smile. "I have a heavy responsibility to continue the Martin legacy--and I will."
"This stick-and-string business has been good for us," concluded 87-year old Gail Martin with a sparkle in his eye. "But after 60 years, we've still got some surprises up our sleeves".
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|Title Annotation:||BOWHUNTER'S JOURNAL|
|Date:||Aug 16, 2011|
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