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Bear Archery: aiming to be the best.

A huge statue of a bear greets visitors to the Bear Archery plant in Gainesville, Fla. The message is clear: despite his death six years ago, Fred Bear's influence still drives the company.

Bear Archery was born of necessity; when Fred Bear became interested in bowhunting, the only people making archery equipment were hobbyists. Bear Archery first opened its doors in Detroit, Mich., with a staff of seven people: a bowmaker, a superintendent over the leather department, a couple of women sewing arm guards, one woman making arrows, Frank Scott (who now runs the Museum), and Fred Bear himself.

Everyone did a little bit of everything. Scott's job in the morning was to build a fire in the furnace so the building was warm before everyone else came to work, and sweep the floor. Then he went to work in the leather department cutting leather and punching out tips for gloves.

In 1947, the company moved to Grayling, Mich., where it stayed until its move to Gainesville. Bear sent Scott on the road as the first outside salesman.

For the next 35 years, the company grew like Topsy. Every time it reached the limits of its space, Bear added onto the building somewhere. The result was a highly inefficient 100,000 square foot work area where manufacturing processes snaked from place to place rather than flowing smoothly.

Bear decided to move south because he felt a warmer climate would be conducive to an all-year-round manufacturing setup, according to President and CEO Charles T. Smith, Jr.

"We don't have the days 'out' because of snowstorms and ice storms," he said recently. "Now our facility -- which is 160,000 square feet -- is laid out so that it's consistent with what a bow manufacturing company needs today. It's always easier to set up something new than to add on."

Planning For The Future

In the design process, Bear and other company officials planned ahead for the next decade. They tried to anticipate what their needs would be, and fashion the space with that in mind.

"By building a plant that way, we set ourselves up so that for at least the next 10 years, no matter what the volume was, we were able to efficiently expand each department," Smith said.

The plant designers succeeded beyond their expectations. For the past 14 years, Bear Archery has grown within the same building.

The move to Florida had an unexpected benefit for Bear Archery's employees: many of them moved with the company. Some have since returned to Michigan, but quite a few still are with Bear.

"I guess they've acclimated themselves to the weather conditions," said Smith, who joined the company in 1983. "Here in Gainesville June and July are really hot and humid, but you trade that off against icy days."

Loss Of A Legend

The past 14 years have seen many other changes in the company. One, obviously, was Fred Bear's death. His passing was a loss not only to Bear Archery but to the industry as a whole. Smith runs the company the way he thinks Bear would have wanted him to.

"Bear Archery always had a good image, especially as a result of Fred," Smith said. "We would never do anything to tarnish that image. We're very protective of it."

In 1982, shortly after Bear Archery moved to Gainesville, the company acquired the assets of Jennings bows.

"Bear always has made a high-tech type product," Smith said. "And while Jennings was not the man who patented the compound bow, everyone thinks of him as 'Mr. Compound.' Bringing him into our company to work with our existing engineering group has helped us elevate our compound bow product line."

For a time, the company had two separate sales staffs, which led to dissent between the two groups, and confusion for customers. As soon as Smith joined the company he combined the two groups. Now the company has one sales staff that represents both product lines.

"We're way past that now, of course, but at first it was a problem," Smith said. "I try to keep my people thinking that problems are really opportunities, because that's what they really are. A problem is only a problem if you let it be one. We took that problem and made it one heck of an opportunity."

Upstairs in the Bear Archery plant is the 8,000 square foot Fred Bear Museum. Here, visitors to the company can walk through exhibits that cover not only the history of Bear Archery, but the development of commercial archery in this country as well.

Frank Scott, Bear's old friend and employee for 47 years, is the force behind the Museum. He keeps the exhibits dynamic; last year, he put in a new audio message system with 24 pre-recorded stations.

"You push a button and I talk to you," he said. "The messages are on little computer chips. They'll play millions of times before they wear out. The subjects are about one-third Fred Bear, one-third Bear Archery, and one-third animal information."

High-Tech Archery Techniques

Scott is not the only member of the Bear team keeping up with the latest innovations. Today, the emphasis at Bear is on technology and engineering.

"Our biggest challenge is continuing to come up with new technology for our equipment," Smith said. "We go into a 'think-tank' mode -- with people from manufacturing, engineering, administration, and marketing -- each December. We sit down and make up a 'wish-list,' -- what we think we should be doing for the next two years."

Then each January, after the SHOT Show, the team makes a serious commitment to plans for the next two years. Right now, the company is looking at 1994 and 1995.

Smith keeps those plans under close wraps, but he comments that the "one-cam" system -- unveiled by Bear Archery this past year -- may have industry-wide implications.

"To us, that's a new foundation for archery equipment," he said. "You can expect us to put more bows of that type in our line."

Smith said the entire archery industry faces a challenge with involving youth in the sport. If archery is going to continue to grow, manufacturers must begin to tap that market. He sees 3-D tournaments as having a positive impact on reaching young people.

Smith also is watching the trend toward crossbows.

"I think they're here to stay," he said. "In the next three to five years, I think more states will recognize them as something you can hunt with." Toward that end, Bear Archery has in its line a crossbow that Tom Jennings designed, one Smith feels is the best in the industry.

Being the best in the industry is Smith's goal.

"This is where engineering comes in," he said. "Engineering can keep the entire industry out of trouble by making a product that is designed in such a way that you have very little possibility of injury to anyone using the equipment. If there's any challenge to engineering, it's to keep that in mind. I'd rather build something that costs me a little more and never have anyone get hurt with it, than to cut costs. That's the biggest challenge for our industry."
COPYRIGHT 1993 Publishers' Development Corporation
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Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Bear Archery Inc.
Author:Boyles-Sprenkel, Carolee
Publication:Shooting Industry
Date:Apr 1, 1993
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