Gary Cornum has been with Easton for 21 years, starting first as a man working on the company’s in-house dealer call-in line answering technical questions, then working his way up through the ranks to his present position as marketing director, a job he has held for the past 10 years.
A friend for more years than I care to remember, Gary and I shared an early August hunting camp in south Florida, where I was part of a very small group testing some prototype Easton products while hunting hogs and doing some bowfishing. During a break in the action — and there is so much going on when hunting with Hoppy Kempfer’s Osceola Outfitters (407-908-9759; www.osceolaoutfitters.com) there are few breaks — Gary and I sat down to talk about the Easton of today and where the company is heading.
Bob Robb (BR): Back before WWII, Doug Easton was building some of the best cedar shafts around before beginning the company by building the world’s first aluminum arrow. How do aluminum arrows fit into today’s marketplace?
Gary Cornum (GC): It still plays a big role in our business. Actually, our most advanced arrow products today are a hybrid of aluminum and carbon. Easton still extrudes all its own aluminum in our Utah factory. You have to remember that an all-aluminum product is the most technically precise arrow ever made, the best example being the fact that the X7 is still the preferred target shaft out there for indoor shooters, while the Olympic shooters prefer an aluminum/carbon hybrid. In the hunting world, our Full Metal Jacket is that type of hybrid shaft and has been optimized for bowhunters with aluminum on the outside and carbon on the inside. They complement each other so well, with carbon being lightweight and strong and aluminum being so precise. So, when you bring those materials together, you get all the lightweight strength of carbon and the precision of aluminum. But in terms of value and precision, aluminum arrows are still an excellent choice, and we still sell a lot of them.
BR: The trend seems to be slowly going back to small-diameter carbon shafts, like those Beman [Easton bought Beman several years ago] first brought into the country in the 1980s. Why?
GC: Actually, that has been the trend since 2004. The reason is that really small-diameter arrows offer less wind drift while carrying their kinetic energy downrange extremely well. They also have less drag than fatter shafts and can be fletched with smaller fletches, which also helps performance. You want to carry as much of the shaft’s initial K.E. to the target, something that translates into a more stable flight, which is more accurate. And the less friction helps penetration. So bowhunters looking for the very best have gravitated to this type of arrow.
BR: How big is the target archery market for you? Is it growing?
GC: At Easton we think of the target market as a global market. In the U.S. it can be 3-D, or it can be club archery, and so on, but that is small in the States, relatively speaking. But globally there is a lot of interest in target archery, with large archery clubs in Europe, where there are relatively few bowhunters. And every year after the Olympics there is a spurt of target archery interest, as there has been with the recent Hollywood emphasis in movies like “The Hunger Games.” But here in the States, it is bowhunting that drives the bulk of our sales.
BR: Most people do not know how big the international business is for you. Just how big is it?
GC: Our overseas market is dominated by the A/C product. And overseas, Easton is looked upon as the premier product; when most people there think arrows, they first think Easton. It is a really big segment of our business. In our company’s history, Doug Easton was focused first on making better tournament arrows, then his son Jim carried that through. But guess what? That technology works really well for bowhunting, too.
BR: Bowfishing has seen a real growth spurt recently. Can you tell us a little bit about the new Easton bowfishing shafts you’ll be introducing soon?
GC: Bowfishing is growing as more people are learning it is fun, it’s a way they can shoot more, and there are a lot of targets. Easton right now is taking some of the advanced technologies we have used in target and bowhunting and putting this into bowfishing shafts. You can look for the latest Easton bowfishing shafts at dealers somewhere around to mid-October to early November. (We were field testing these new shafts on this trip and all I can tell you right now is they are really, really good stuff.)
BR: Easton has expanded its business model in the past few years to include such non-archery-related items as clothing, backpacks, tents and more. Tell us about that.
GC: As one of the country’s largest aluminum producers, Easton has always made tent poles, ski and trekking poles and other aluminum-related products. Lately we have expanded to other product lines. A lot of that has to do with our big distribution system, which makes it cost-effective to service these other product lines. We are always looking to expand the business, and one of the more exciting recent expansions has been Core 4 Element clothing. It’s a technical clothing line for hunters, a market segment that is really growing as more and more hunters discover the features and benefits of technical clothing. Our Core 4 line is built around stealth and comfort, which for us means anything and everything from cool to warm, ease of movement, versatility, etc. We have integrated knee pads in a lot of our pants, for example. The key for us here is that the vast majority of these garments have been designed by serious hunters who know what other serious hunters need, so when you look at a Core 4 garment you are looking at a hunting garment with technical features, not a climbing pant or jacket or whatever that has been tweaked for hunters and isn’t as user-friendly.
BR: The Deep Six concept has proven itself to provide superb performance for bowhunters, but sales struggled for a time. Now, though, they seem to be picking up. What’s up with that?
GC: The thing about Deep Six is, it is not a gimmick. It is the real deal, performance-wise, and we always felt that if we kept showing people the advantages they would catch up as well. And they have. One reason for that is that, unlike when it was initially introduced, there are now far more choices in broadheads built for the system. At Easton we see a bright future for Deep Six products. One thing we have been doing in this category is working with leading broadhead companies to see just how small we can go, diameter-wise, and still maintain the strength and quality needed. Right now hunting arrows have shrunk down to the small Olympic diameter, so after that the next question was, how can we offer broadheads that integrate with these shafts and still perform? It will only get better. In my opinion, the Full Metal Jacket shaft with Deep Six broadheads is about as good as it has ever been in terms of bowhunting performance.
BR:You hear from thousands and thousands of bowhunters every year. After whitetail deer, what game species do they prefer to hunt?
GC: Whitetails are far and away number one, but after that comes the wild turkey, wild hogs and black bears. And people still have those “fantasy” hunts they’d like to do some day, the big one being an elk hunt, or maybe a plains game hunt in Africa. But basically, whatever is close to home and reasonably priced is what the majority of bowhunters are most concerned with. And with deer numbers out of control in many urban and suburban settings, bowhunting is proven to be the answer to helping get that under control. As our population continues to expand into deer habitat, it will provide more opportunities for close-to-home bowhunting.
BR: Easton also provides lots of arrows for crossbow shooters and hunters. Is that market growing? What’s the future?
GC: Crossbows are definitely a growing segment of archery, and we have developed quite a few products for crossbows. We have both aluminum and carbon shafts available, and also an FMJ shaft for those who really want to get serious and have the ultimate in performance. With more states opening up or expanding their crossbow hunting opportunities, this segment is poised for consistent growth in the near term, for sure, and we plan on providing top-quality shafts for crossbow shooters and hunters to meet that demand.
BR:Final thoughts? What’s the future of archery and bowhunting?
GC:Obviously, the key to the future of bowhunting — and archery — is getting youth involved. That’s why Easton continues to be a strong supporter of such things at the National Archery in Schools Program. We have to help people make archery fun. We also have to make sure that the average Joe has a place to hunt, something that is becoming increasingly difficult for the urban resident who doesn’t live close to good hunting ground. Like all things, there will be challenges ahead, and as a company we have always believed that being part of the solution is important both for our business and our way of life.