There aren’t a lot of companies in the world that manage to survive to reach a 150th anniversary celebration, and many of those that do are little more than famous trademarks bought and slapped on a new, and often sadly inferior, company’s product. Rarely does a brand that’s been around for a century and a half not only maintain its standards, but also flourish and continue to play a big role in its industry.
Winchester is one of those rare cases. Winchester guns revolutionized the firearms market well over 100 years ago and, over the intervening years, many of the most legendary names in the industry have contributed to the company’s continued success.
Considering that firearms from 200 years ago are almost unrecognizable to most of today’s shooters and firearms from 100 years ago don’t look the slightest bit out of place at today’s shooting ranges, it should be evident that between those two points in time things changed in big ways in the shooting world. It’s no coincidence that Winchester is celebrating its 150th anniversary in 2016, placing its start right around the time everything was changing and the firearms industry was moving from one age to the next.
Grand View Outdoors sister site Shooting Sports Retailer spoke recently with Brett Flaugher, Winchester’s vice president of sales, marketing and strategy to get a sense of how much of Winchester’s past helps prepare the company for the future.
SSR: Brett, tell us a little bit about your personal background and how you came to be part of Winchester.
Flaugher: I started with Winchester in 1986 as a sales representative for Texas and Oklahoma. I’ve been very fortunate to work for one of the most prestigious brands in the world and combine a passion for hunting and shooting with my profession.
Currently, I oversee Winchester’s domestic and international sales, marketing and strategic planning activities for the military, law enforcement and commercial sporting ammunition business. In addition, I have the responsibility of Winchester’s manufacturing and distribution business in Geelong, Australia.
Industry involvement is also important to me and Winchester. I serve on the Board of Governors for National Shooting Sports Foundation and as vice chairman of the Board of Directors for the Sporting Arms and Manufacturers’ Institute.
SSR: Winchester’s 150th Anniversary is an exciting time for everyone. Tell us a little bit about what you think the anniversary means for the firearms industry.
Flaugher: Winchester is a storied brand that helped write the history of the shooting sports and hunting industry. We are very fortunate to have generations of people all over the world who have experienced Winchester, the American legend. The 150-year anniversary of our brand demonstrates sustainability, an eagerness to always put our customers first, introduce products that are truly innovative and beneficial and maintain the integrity of one of the most popular brands in the world. It’s important that our industry welcome new brands and products, but also celebrate brands like Winchester that have long supported industry initiatives.
SSR: There are many longtime players in the American firearms market, and every company has a storied history and a lot of reasons to be proud. What are some of the things that make you proud to be part of the Winchester story?
Flaugher: The history of Winchester is very diverse and exciting. Winchester [is] a prolific brand among hunters and shooters worldwide without question, as well as those in the U.S. military and law enforcement agencies across North America. I could talk for hours about the many things that make the Winchester brand unique among other brands in our industry. I encourage any of your readers to visit www.winchester.com and check out the Winchester 150th anniversary timeline. It’s filled with Winchester bits of history dating back to 1866 when the brand debuted.
SSR: What sort of special things can we be looking forward to in 2016 as Winchester celebrates its 150-year anniversary?
Flaugher: The planning for a historic event such as a 150-year anniversary takes a lot of time and effort. It has been exciting to plan promotions and special events surrounding this milestone in 2016. We will offer special promotions such as an authentic, one-of-a-kind collectible set of five bullet boards with historic Winchester firearms. These five bullet boards will be auctioned off throughout 2016 with proceeds donated to specific charitable or industry organizations. We will also offer commemorative Winchester branded ammunition and Winchester Repeating Arms is also featuring commemorative firearms in our anniversary year. We have worked very hard to pull together some of the most interesting pieces of the Winchester history to share with millions of people across the world.
SSR: Winchester was once almost synonymous with “rifle,” but the brand has grown well beyond that. Tell us how Winchester sees itself 150 years after its inception.
Flaugher: A lot happens over 150 years. The Winchester brand has changed over time without question. Our brand is mature, but also youthful in many ways. Winchester remains a trusted brand among millions of hunters and shooters all over the world. Legendary ammunition, rifles, shotguns — at the core, Winchester is a brand that simply continues to deliver the finest products to our customers.
SSR: Winchester ammunition remains a top-shelf commodity for hunters, competitors and personal protection. What are the latest developments in the ammunition line?
Flaugher: Winchester has been very successful in launching some of the most innovative new products to the ammunition category over the past decade. [With the] Long Beard XR, W Train & Defend, 17 WSM, Deer Season XP, AA TrAAcker, our track record in truly innovative products speaks for itself. We head into 2016 with another great lineup that features USA Forged, an M22 Subsonic rimfire round and a very unique collection of Winchester 150th commemorative products. Our engineers are deeply focused on designs that benefit hunters and shooters. It’s not marketing hype, it’s real innovation our customers appreciate.
SSR: Winchester television programming has a lot of great content. Tell us how it came to be and where it’s going in the future.
Flaugher: It is no secret that today’s customer puts a premium on video content. We have put a lot of resources behind developing Winchester branded content that is considered entertaining, of the highest quality and also showcases our innovative products in use. Over the past decade, our television series like Winchester Legends, Winchester World of Whitetail and Winchester Deadly Passion have served as tremendous platforms for the Winchester brand. In 2016, Winchester will debut its new TV series Winchester Life on the Sportsman Channel, and to catch up on more than 175 episodes of Winchester television series, visit www.winchestertv.com.
SSR: Do you have any bold predictions for the firearms industry in the years to come?
Flaugher: We are encouraged by the number of new shooters and hunters that have entered the industry over the past 10 years. Industry organizations like the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), Congressional Sportsmen Foundation, conservation groups like Ducks Unlimited and the National Wild Turkey Federation all offer tremendous programs for new shooters and hunters. It’s organizations such as these and many more that contribute so much to the customer base in our industry as it continues to grow. My prediction is that the shooting sports industry will continue to thrive for many years to come.
SSR: What should fans of the Winchester brand be looking for in 2016 and beyond?
Flaugher: We at Winchester are very aware that our customer base is diverse. They like innovation. They learn about our products in different ways. Some read magazines, some research online, some watch television and some do it all. Year after year, the Winchester brand needs to be one of the most trusted, respected brands in the world for the quality of our products and the overall benefits that come at an affordable price.
There’s little doubt that Winchester arrived on the world stage exactly when it was needed most and that its innovation helped drive the changes that revolutionized the market. Today, a new generation of shooters is growing up with a Winchester that, despite all the modern technology, still has the same foundations that formed the heart of the company so long ago.
We will be watching the celebration and looking forward to seeing what exciting commemorative products the company has come up with while waiting to see what new innovations come along on the road to 200 years of Winchester.