Catering to high-tech hunters

Oregon bow-making company can't keep shelves stocked fast enough

Posted: Friday, April 05, 2002

CRESWELL, Ore. -- In its third year now, BowTech faces a dilemma any start-up would envy: The compound-bow maker can't keep up with the sizzling demand for its innovative archery products.

''We've been behind since we started,'' said John Strasheim, BowTech's chief executive and co-founder. ''Right now, we have (an order) backlog of 2,200 bows.''

Launched in the fall of 1999, BowTech is setting the U.S. archery industry on fire with what the company guarantees are the fastest bows on the market and a growing, coast-to-coast dealer network.

Perhaps most telling is BowTech's growing acceptance among dealers catering to the top tier of the bow market. The company's bows are now considered on par, even superior in some respects, to those made by industry leader Mathews Inc., industry observers said.

''There is a growing brand loyalty with our customers,'' said Gene Shands, BowTech's marketing director. ''You've always had Ford and Chevy people. Now you have Mathews and BowTech people.''

In 2000, the company sold about 3,700 bows and posted revenue of $1 million, Strasheim said. Last year, BowTech sold 9,100 bows and recorded $3.5 million in sales. Strasheim this year is forecasting a jump to 26,000 bows and revenue to hit $11 million. His target next year: 52,000 bows.

The number of dealers stocking BowTech equipment has increased ninefold since 2000, to nearly 750.

Aside from coping with strong demand, BowTech's main challenge has been to overcome the poor image of the Oregon bow-making industry. Several Oregon bow makers have gone under in recent years.

Strasheim said BowTech now holds patents on the world's fastest single-, double- and triple-cam bows, and has three more patents pending.

Bow speed is gauged by shooting an arrow through a chronograph, which measures distance traveled per second.

The company is looking to more than double its assembly and shipping space, build a bow-coating factory of about 25,000 square feet somewhere in the Eugene-Springfield area, and add a machine shop here. Strasheim's business plan calls for adding 15 workers by the end of the year, and another 15 in 2003.

''Our plans were to grow real slow, but it didn't work out that way,'' said Kevin Strother, BowTech's other founder and vice president of research and development.

The bow-making industry is fragmented and crowded, with more than 50 bow manufacturers in the United States. Growth of bow sales overall is flat, with the exception of a few companies such as BowTech and Wisconsin-based Mathews, according to both companies.

Shands estimates 450,000 to 600,000 bows are sold each year -- the bulk of them in the Great Lakes region, New York and the Midwest.

Strasheim was a passive investor in Oregon Bow of Junction City, which collapsed in 1996 under a pile of debt.

Oregon Bow had been using, under license, cutting-edge cams for its bows. Cams are small wheels at each end of the bow that make it easier to draw and hold the bow string. The Oregon Bow cams were designed by Strother, who owns several innovative archery patents. Strother holds the world's record for the longest compound bow flight, more than 1,320 yards, using a bow equipped with cams he designed.

Strasheim and Strother, who both lost money in Oregon Bow's demise, decided to team up and try to persuade other bow makers to license Strother's technology. The two weren't able to hammer out agreements with the bow manufacturers, so they started their own company.

With an initial investment of $500,000, they set up a tiny assembly operation in Louisiana, took their bow and ancillary part designs to subcontractors for manufacture, and started an aggressive marketing campaign in late 1999.

Strasheim hired Shands, who operated a graphic design company, to run advertising.

BowTech set up a booth at the Archery Manufacturers and Merchants Organization trade show in early 2000 and brought along a chronograph to measure arrow speed.

''We said our bow would shoot 350 feet per second and then we proved it,'' Strasheim said.

The stunt created a buzz, which led to the company signing up 80 dealers that first year.

BowTech moved its assembly operation to Oregon from Louisiana about 10 months ago in order to allow Louisiana-based Strother more time to focus on new product development.

The company is now using machine shops in Louisiana and Texas to make bow parts from aircraft-grade machined aluminum and composite glass. Strasheim plans to either buy a machine shop in the Eugene area or create his own.

Mike Ziebell, marketing director for Mathews, said his company is still growing, and BowTech doesn't appear to be taking any of its market share. ''If anything, I think they are probably hurting our mutual competitors,'' Ziebell said.

Jeff Phillips, a columnist and field tester at the Web site, said he has never heard a BowTech bow owner say a negative word about the company or its products. accepts no advertising and tends to describe the good, bad and ugly of products it tests.

''BowTech may still be a new company, but they are a significant player in the market with respect to both sales and innovation,'' Phillips said.

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