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Smith & Wesson launches aggressive strategy.

Smith & Wesson is a company remade. Gone is the shadow of the "dark days" when production and profits plummeted following the signing of the ill-fated "Clinton Agreement." That is ancient history.

Today, Smith & Wesson has unleashed an ambitious growth strategy that promises to be "loud and visible." This includes a new market approach, extensive expansion in the handgun market, development of military and law enforcement firearms, expanded licensing, increased exports and the exploration of new market opportunities.



Driving the growth strategy is a new leadership team, led by Mike Golden, who became the company's new president and chief executive officer on Dec. 6, 2004.

"The company is aggressively in a growth mode. We've redefined our business from a handgun company to one that's in the global business of safety, security, protection and sport." Golden said.

The new marketing message of "safety, security, protection and sport" is one Golden presents often to potential investors, Congressmen and anyone who asks, "What's going on at Smith & Wesson?"

"This marketing approach is really an important transformation for our company. It significantly increases the size of our market. It changes the thinking to really capitalize on the 153-year legacy of this brand, which is our strongest asset," Golden said.

Golden plans to leverage the Smith & Wesson brand and legacy to increase the company's core business and drive diversification.

"We're really in a terrific position. We have this terrific brand, we have great products and we're known for innovation, yet we play in a very narrow market. We're going to get far deeper into handguns, address different markets and diversify the company," Golden said.

New Leadership Team

While newcomers to the industry dominate Smith & Wesson's senior management team, it does include company veterans. John Kelly, chief financial officer; Kathy Salvador, director of human resources; and Ann Makkiya, corporate counsel, have 50-combined years at Smith & Wesson.

Golden joined Smith & Wesson from Kohler Co., where he was president of the company's cabinetry division. He also held senior positions at Stanley Works Co. and Black & Decker. In the late '80s, Golden played a major role in launching the DeWALT line at Black & Decker.

"We hadn't sold anything under the DeWALT brand in seven or eight years. But it was a magical brand for professional tool users, much like Smith & Wesson is a magical brand. We did some real creative event marketing and went from a 9 percent share to a 53 percent share in four years. So my background is a combination of demand creation, cost management, cost containment and brand management," Golden said.

Others new to the management team are Tom Taylor, vice president of marketing, who worked at Coca-Cola and Frito-Lay; Ken Chandler, vice president of operations, who worked at Ingersoll-Rand and Autoliv; Leland Nichols, vice president of sales, who worked at Black & Decker, Stanley Works and Kohler; and Barbara Hunnicutt, vice president of licensing, who worked at Stanley Works and Harley-Davidson.

"We have a terrific management team, a combination of experience in running and growing big businesses, coupled with experience in the industry," Golden said. "Quite honestly, I'm the only one on the list who didn't have any experience with handguns. Prior to joining the company. I had never fired a handgun. I've since become a fairly good shot, I might add." Golden will participate as a member of Team Smith & Wesson in the Shooting Industry Masters in September.

New Offerings, New Strategy

Smith & Wesson's new Handgun Growth Strategy involves developing four channels: Sporting Goods, Military/Federal Government. Law Enforcement and International. Eoin Stafford, former HK USA general manager, is director of sporting goods sales.

"We need to more deeply penetrate the sporting handgun market by creating demand and excitement for our products. We are shifting to our own sales organization. We feel it's important that we have our own people who are creating demand, training, demonstrating and teaching about new products, etc. at the dealer level," Golden said.

Ernest Langdon is director of Federal Law Enforcement & Military Sales. He joined Smith & Wesson from Beretta USA where he led the company's law enforcement efforts.

"Ernest lives in Washington, so we now have a guy there who is a recognized expert, plus we have a lobbying firm to help go after federal government business. I spent probably seven or eight of the last 90 days in Washington talking to Senators and Congressmen about our company and products," Golden said.


Recently, Smith & Wesson was awarded a federal contract to supply SW9VE pistols to the Afghanistan National Army.

"That's the first federal contract we've had of any size in the last 15 years. This is a huge opportunity to participate as a U.S. company with manufacturing in the U.S.," Golden said.

Bryan James is the director of law enforcement sales. At Glock, he was involved in sales and later was director of training.

The first of a new line of law enforcement pistols debuts in September. The Smith & Wesson M & P (Military & Police) pistol has a polymer frame, interchangeable grip, measures 7 1/2 inches overall and weighs 27 ounces. It will debut in .40 S & W, followed by 9mm versions later this year. Compact models will also be introduced later.

While no one at Smith & Wesson will use the name "Glock" when discussing the M & P, it is obvious the new handgun is designed to go head-to-head with the Glock line.

"We are going to play in big markets. Who ever has the business today becomes the competition. An aggressive pursuit of the law enforcement market has been lacking on our part. The new pistol has early indications, from the police forces we have talked to, of being very strong," Golden said.

(The first evaluation of the Smith & Wesson M & P will appear as an exclusive cover story in the first issue of American COP, which debuts in September.)

Amaro Goncalves, who previously directed Colt's foreign sales, is the new director of international sales.

"We're in the process of reviewing all the agencies we use around the world, to make sure we have the right buyers in the right markets, in addition to using our lobbying firm to get some U.S. government policies changed," Golden said. "Right now, if we were to receive an order from a country that we're allowed to sell to, and the order is greater than a million dollars, we need Congressional approval to ship that order. U.S. companies are operating with one arm tied behind their backs. We're talking to people about getting that changed. It translates into jobs in the U.S."

New Markets, Advertising

Smith & Wesson also is investigating new market opportunities, including less lethal products, long guns, ammunition security systems, training/ranges, criminal investigation and homeland defense products/services.

"Our research shows there are a number of categories our brand and core competencies transfer well to. They are big categories and there certainly are formidable competitors in every one of them. But these are opportunities to diversify."

In advertising and other public venues, Golden says the new approach will be "loud and visible."

"Look at the background of the senior management team. Whether they're from Coca-Cola, Stanley Works or Black & Decker, they're from marketing companies. When these companies launch a product, it's not done in a quiet fashion. It's done with a lot of communication, with a crisp, clean message and in an event-creating fashion that creates attention. This industry doesn't do a lot of that. As an industry, I think it's quiet.

"Our advertising will be crisp and we're going to talk about our products. This isn't a Coke verses Pepsi sorta thing. Our advertising will talk about the benefits and features of our products. We're not out to slam competitors," Golden said.

The Future

With less than nine months in the industry, Golden has embraced the business and the opportunity.

"This is the best job I've ever had. I learned very quickly to love the industry. I love the company. The company has so much potential and the employee base is so willing to change, wanting to grow. I am very pleased.

"And it's important to me that people understand that we're in the gun business. Make no mistake about it. That's the ticket that got us to the dance. The handgun business will always be our core business," Golden said.
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Title Annotation:Industry news
Author:Thurman, Russ
Publication:Shooting Industry
Date:Aug 1, 2005
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