More news regarding Winchester...


June 16, 2006, 10:27 AM
This is a Wall Street Journal article (dated 15 June) posted on another site. Looks like somebody's still trying to salvage the company:

NEW HAVEN, Conn. -- Few industrial names are as woven into U.S. history as Winchester.

It was the rifle that won the West. Jesse James swore by his. So did Buffalo Bill Cody and Annie Oakley and Sitting Bull. It was also the rifle that won the Saturday matinee. Jimmy Stewart starred in a movie about one called "Winchester '73," and the lever-action rifle was so ubiquitous in John Wayne's horse operas that a statue of the burly, slow-talking actor stands in the lobby of the gun maker's shuttered factory here.

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.

Michael Bane, a gun-industry expert and host of the Outdoor Channel's "Shooting Gallery," says Mr. Blank's business model has merit because that's where the growth is in the U.S. rifle market. He notes, for instance, that there's a fast-growing market for "cowboy-action shooting" guns. This is a sport in which people dress up like cowboys, assume cowboy names, and shoot authentic guns. That said, he's not sure it's feasible that such guns can be made cost-effectively in the U.S. "You have issues with unions, you have issues with finding the right skilled workers," he says, not to mention a tough U.S. regulatory climate that many gun makers say adds to their costs.

Many Winchester aficionados grumble that Herstal's actual intent is to shift all Winchester production overseas. The company already makes a few models in Europe and Asia. However, it's not so simple. The Winchester name is owned by St. Louis-based Olin Corp., the conglomerate that has licensed production to a series of owners of the New Haven plant since 1981. The existing license, due to expire next year, as well as a union contract which is still in force, doesn't allow Herstal to move Winchester's best-selling lines out of New Haven.

Then there's the problem of the city. The Winchester plant sits on only a small portion of what was once the original gun factory. Much of the old complex was demolished a decade ago as part of a huge redevelopment project that included millions of dollars worth of government incentives aimed at getting Winchester to stay put. So if the plant closes for good, New Haven wants a partial refund.

Mr. Blank, aided by a Connecticut bankruptcy and reorganization consultant, Workout Solutions Inc., enlisted by the city, was able to broker a settlement that includes an $850,000 payment from Herstal to the city as well as a so-called stand-still agreement that gives more time to find a U.S. buyer. Proposals have to be submitted by June 23, with a closing no later than Sept. 1. Mr. Blank, who hopes to have some part in any deal that would resuscitate the factory, says he's heard from "over a dozen potential bidders," including other U.S. gun producers and private-equity groups.

There are other wildcards. "We still would like a new license with Olin to keep the Winchester name," says Pierre Bourgeois, the Belgian chief executive of Herstal's U.S. Repeating Arms, Winchester's formal name. He notes that negotiations between Herstal and Olin are ongoing and says that after three years of trying to upgrade the plant, he's convinced there's no way to make guns profitably in New Haven. Herstal also makes weapons in South Carolina, but that factory is mainly dedicated to military machine guns.

It's clear from the main lobby that this isn't just another failing factory. There's a towering bronze statue of John Wayne, holding a Winchester, while the American flag hangs from the rafters -- but it's actually two flags hung together to assure that the stars are in the upper left-hand corner when viewed from either side.

"We learned early on that people who come here pay attention to flag protocol," says Paul DeMennato, the plant's facility director.

Even the statue of Mr. Wayne is a sore point. The Belgians would like to take it to Europe for their own corporate weapons museum, which already includes an extensive collection of Winchester memorabilia. But Mr. Blank says that "would probably cause a riot," noting that "many interested parties" have inquired about the fate of the statue. If all goes well with the auction, he says, it should stay put.

For collectors, the shutdown of New Haven is a two-edged sword. David Bichrest, executive secretary of the Winchester Arms Collectors Association, says the factory shutdown upset many collectors, who view the guns as American icons. "Everyone is really hoping it can stay in this country," he says. But they've also seen prices surge. Winchesters made before 1964, when the factory made significant changes in its production methods, were already considered premium collectibles. "The shutdown really enhances the value of the post-'64 firearms," he says.

Indeed, David Kennedy -- curator of the Cody Firearms Museum in Cody, Wyo., which houses the world's largest collection of Winchesters and has custody of some of the company archives -- says he's been swamped with requests for so-called factory letters since the shutdown, indicating increased trading activity in the rifles. These letters are official documents prepared by the museum that list all the information from the factory about a particular gun, including the date it was shipped from the factory and any customization that occurred, such as special engraving. Old Winchesters can range in value from $500 to $1 million, he notes.

"But it's bittersweet," he adds. "The tradition in many people's minds is that Winchester is the gun that won the West."

Oliver F. Winchester, a Connecticut shirt maker, began making Winchesters in New Haven in 1866, spearheading the development of rifles that allowed hunters, soldiers, outlaws and, of course, cowboys and Indians to squeeze off multiple shots without having to stop to reload. Hence the term "repeating" rifle.

The weapons were a hit not just on America's western frontier. Stephen Murray, a gun dealer in Melbourne, Australia, says Winchester has a dedicated fan base there as well. "During the same period as your western expansion in the U.S., our Outback was opening up, and Winchester was the preferred rifle," says Mr. Murray, whose own collection includes about 25 of them.

In some ways, Winchester's historic nature has worked against finding buyers, says Mr. Blank. News reports on the company's woes often include pictures that show an aging complex of sprawling factory buildings. Winchester once sprawled over a huge tract, and employed more than 19,000 workers during World War II. However, the plant being sold was actually opened in 1992 on a small slice of the former Winchester site. It employed only 186 when it closed.

Hoping to project a better image, Mr. Blank enlisted a Yale film student to make a short film showing the modern facility, which is now part of the sales package. "People need to see that this place is modern," says Mr. Blank. "It's not a wreck."

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June 16, 2006, 12:59 PM
I belong to a gun club that has a handfull of guys that are ex employees of the closed New Haven plant. They have been grumbleing about the stupid management for some time.They pretty much had no confidence in their fellow workers and the general quality control at the plant. A couple of the older guys are pretty decent guys but all of the younger (under 40) ones are blow hard know it all types that seem to think the world owes them a liveing, If these guys are a true cross section of workers at the New Haven plant I am surprised it laasted this long.One of these younger guys (some kind of repair tech,did a lot of test fireing) who is a huge gun "expert" bought himself a used AR and was fireing it at our range with some weird off brand ammo. He got a squib and didn't have the smarts to stop pulling on the trigger. He now has a goose egg in the barrel .(showed it to me and asked how to fix it!)
All these ex winchester guys spent the last couple of weeks (before the closeing) packing up equipment,parts, and machines for trucking to parts unknown. I really doubt you will ever see Winchester building guns in New Haven again. Another big problem is that the old Winchester site ,which is adjacent to the factory that just closed is a enviromental nightmare of huge proportions. Not sure who owns what and who is responsible for what but it all adds to the mess.The Foreign owners have some kind of license deal still in place with Winchester Olin who owns the rights to the name. There were all kinds of tax rebate deals with the city and state.The consultants and attourneys are circleing like sharks,who knows what will happen with all that.
I also have a warm place in my heart for old lever guns but reality has reared its nasty head. Seems like a modern well managed plant in a good location (favorable taxes,energy costs,and a talented worker base who could afford to live in the area) could make a go of it ,but the plant that just closed didn't stand a chance.
You have to Understand that I don't claim to be an expert, and most of this stuff I have heard is hearsay but this situation is a huge mess,take that to the bank

June 16, 2006, 01:41 PM
Winchester died decades ago. Ever since then, anyone willing to pay Olin enough money could feel free to stamp the name on any piece of crap they wanted.

They should just let it die.

As for this plant in Connecticut? It's not the first business in the north to be destroyed by labor unions, and it won't be the last. They should let it die too.

June 16, 2006, 01:45 PM
That's Harsh 'Card. True but Harsh.

June 16, 2006, 01:50 PM
It's a real shame to see Winchester go away. I agree with the story above, that one of the errors in business management was to try and compete in the el-cheapo rifle market. I really think Winchester could make it, BIG, if marketed correctly. Think Harley Davidson... one of the greatest comeback stories of all times. There is no reason why Winchester could not do the same thing; they have the name, history, following, etc. Not everyone will ever own a Harley, but, everyone WANTS one!

June 16, 2006, 01:53 PM
Well they need the union yoke off their backs along with the dead weight it comes with and to get out of Mass. regardless of the history the state stinks. They could put the statue up on a site in the city with a plaqard "Driven out but not gone." Ok, then it goes to a gun friendly museum in a gun friendly state or leaves if the company leaves.

I wish the man well and he is right they should have been more responsive to people wanting reproductions of the old guns. I never could figure out why winchester would not make them.

I was raised with guns. I wasn't interested in owning them till the 90s and then the cheap imports seemed to offer the functionality I thought I would need and they were affordable. I now have some more expensive guns and I collect military surplus rifles. Not being a hunter of any note I did look at Winchester but nothing they had appealed. If they make reproductions of their military arms, such as the trench shotgun and/or the best of the lever actions I would be very interested.

June 16, 2006, 02:06 PM
Given our lawsuit-happy society, I'm not sure that Winchester could or would make accurate repros of the old M97 shotgun/Trench Gun. This gun has no manual safety, only the half-cock position for the hammer.

The Chinese appear to have no such reservations, and their M97 knockoffs seem to be selling well. I've got one of the Trench Guns myself and it seems reasonably well made for an el cheapo. If Winchester would make a nice repro of this particular shotgun I'd be in line to buy one.

White Horseradish
June 18, 2006, 02:56 AM
I would buy a Winchester 1895 Lever Action Musket in 7.62x54R in a heartbeat.

June 18, 2006, 06:51 AM
Point of order, New Haven is in Connecticutt, not Massachusetts. Conecticutt is not quite as anti gun as Massachusetts. That fact alone is amazing when you consider they are trapped by geography between Massachusetts and New York.

June 18, 2006, 08:26 AM
While the best-case scenario is a re-born Winchester making guns in New Haven, it wouldn't bother me much if the company moved to a different locale, as long as it resulted in a top-quality product. The H-D analogy is a good one. But a more relevant business model is Kimber of America. Initially, Kimber of America offered one thing - well made "production custom" 1911s. The new Winchester could do just that, perhaps on a slightly larger scale, by offering one lever gun and pre-64 Model 70s.

The problem lies with Olin. H-D succeeded when they split away from AMF. Olin will never relinquish the rights to the name "Winchester" because of all the money to be made from the "Winchester" and "Super X" brands of ammo. Any group wishing to revive Winchester Firearms will have to pay Olin big bucks and Olin knows it.

It's situations like this that make me wish Bill Gates was an avid shooting enthusiast.

June 18, 2006, 08:51 AM
Opps, I suppose I should appologize to Conn. for the blunder. :banghead:

Indiana is trapped by Illnoise, Ohio, Canada, Michigan and Kentucky. The only things we can't have are switchblades, throwing stars and sawed off shotguns if it's allowed under federal law.

June 18, 2006, 09:16 AM
Why is it that corporations are so poorly managed nowadays. We are going to lose another American icon because someone forgot history and only saw dollar signs. What other icons are next?

I guess I should start looking for a lever 30-30 winchester sooner than later. I was leaning towards a new Marlin anyway.

June 18, 2006, 10:17 AM
The biggest problem is the name. Winchester is a brand name owned by the ammo maker based in Utah and they have leased the right to use the name on the guns. We keep calling them Winchester but really they're U.S. Repeating Arms, remember? They have to pay royalties evertime the name Winchester is used. This is costly and puts limits on the gun maker's ability to do business and most corps hate having to lease the name. This name ownership issue is the main reason cited by the gun company for giving up. Not financial loss or bad management.

June 18, 2006, 04:31 PM
The biggest problem is the name. Winchester is a brand name owned by the ammo maker based in Utah and they have leased the right to use the name on the guns. We keep calling them Winchester but really they're U.S. Repeating Arms, remember? They have to pay royalties evertime the name Winchester is used. This is costly and puts limits on the gun maker's ability to do business and most corps hate having to lease the name. This name ownership issue is the main reason cited by the gun company for giving up. Not financial loss or bad management.
I don't think this is quite correct, either. The Winchester ammo operation is in Utah, but Olin's corporate headquarters is in St. Louis. I believe Olin licenses the Winchester name to the ammo manufacturer just the same as they licensed the Winchester name to USRAC to put on rifles. They also license the name to some company that makes gun safes. Heck, they even license the name to some Chinese knife maker to put on crappy folding knives that are sold in blister packs out of the sporting goods aisle in Wal-Mart. Olin, unfortunately, doesn't care about history, guns, customer loyalty, or any of that. They see the Winchster name as a cash cow and they are milking it.

The sad thing is, they are too stupid to realize that by diluting the brand name, they are destroying it's long-term value. Once the Winchester name becomes known for representing cheap Chinese and third world junk rather than quality, American-made products -- the name won't be worth a nickel. And once they destroy the brand's value, it will be a very long road to rebuilding it ... if it can be rebuilt at all.

June 18, 2006, 06:33 PM
I would buy a Winchester 1895 Lever Action Musket in 7.62x54R in a heartbeat.

I would race you to the store for that one. :rolleyes:

But I'll pass on the '94, even if the quality improved. I have two and don't shoot either.


June 18, 2006, 07:39 PM
The trick is to make the product meet the demands of the brand. H-D is an iconic name. AMF messed things up by selling products that did not match the brand's image in the customer's mind. What is so amazing about H-D is the brand survived truly bad products. Now days H-D sells a much better quality product. The company controls its brand with an iron fist and meets the expectations of its customers.

Winchester is another one of those iconic brands. I think the proposed business model has considerable merit. Produce the products customers expect to be produced and success will come. High quality historic arms (not replicas) will re establish the name and product. The owners will have to purge the product folio of garbage like beef jerky and golf clubs. At some point after the name and product are relinked in the customer's mind new products can be reintroduced a la H-D. Winchester can rise again but it will take vision and an iron fist.

June 19, 2006, 11:54 AM
The unions will kill another fine product.

For every 'skilled union worker' there are elevinty billion skilled NON-UNION workers that have the ability, but simply don't have an uncle in the union to get them a job.

Look at detriot.... and the steel industry. Unions have an impressive list of industries that they have managed to kill.

USRAC should open up under the 'USRAC' name, and license the Winchester name for its uber high end custom rifles.... but still make USRAC lever actions for the rest of us.

You need a SOLID PRODUCT... not a name to sell.
June 19, 2006, 12:06 PM
If they moved the plant here to Winchester, TN, could they call it "Winchester Arms" for free?? :evil: I'd stock the whole product line in my shop if I could just go across the street and geth 'em.


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