Published by Martin Archery on 17 Apr 2008
One of the oldest bow manufacturers has been quietly embracing one of the newest riser construction techniques to provide a better value while it boosts its share of the bow market. With the aid of many long-time employees, three generations of Martins are leading the design, manufacture and marketing of bows that employ modular risers as a way to sharply reduce manufacturing costs. From the $399 Bengal that Vice President Terry Martin first told me about in mid 2006 to the $599 Firecat.
I remember quizzing Terry about how the joints would be formed and finished when the vice-president and lead designer first called me about the Bengal. Rather than wait for the rest of the 2007 line to be introduced, Martin was releasing the Bengal early to gain some fall 2006 sales with a mid-priced 32-inch model that boasted a ball-bearing mounted M-Pro single cam, a Vibration Escape Kit, and fully laminated Coreflex limbs. Terry, who also heads marketing, wanted to talk about how Martin Pro Shooter Laura Francese preferred the Bengal to longer competition models and how Martin ads would use her fresh-faced beauty to attract attention to the value-packed new bow.
Martin is reporting a 25 percent increase in sales for 2007, in large part because of the Bengal and the Cheetah and is now making three more models: the Firecat, Moab, and Leopard.
Terry Martin heads the diverse bow design team at Martin Archery but he credits son Ryan and its other members for a lot of the inspiration and effort that’s reflected in the 2007 and 2008 models. In addition to Scott Landwehr and Ryan Martin, the team includes head machinist Aaron Hamilton, 3-D computer modeling pro Jake Richmond and graphic artist Ken Melhus. Terry attends some of the bi-weekly meetings early in the year but then prefers to track the progress through the meeting notes and a master spreadsheet that charts where each new or redesigned product is at in the process that takes it from good idea to good seller for Martin dealers.
I knew one of the reasons Terry preferred to work from a home office: Pain from a decades old auto crash in front of the plant meant he often had to work from a prone position. Terry’s Pinto was rear-ended by a semi on busy Hwy. 12 in front of the Martin plant and the neck injury never got the surgical attention it should have. When I visited Terry at his home, he showed me how he would use reclining office chairs to look up at computer screens above him so his neck would be fully supported. Now that a spacer had been inserted between the neck vertebrae in a recent operation, he looked and sounded stronger than he has for years.
Terry Martin may continue to spend most of his time at his home office, for a few other reasons. He prefers giving the design team its head and then occasionally redirecting the efforts. Once in a while he simply says “No, don’t pursue that it’s been tried before” from the perspective of someone with a lot of years in the archery industry who is working to complete a book on the history of the compound. Second, Terry’s large home is also the nerve center for ArcheryTalk.com and its related sites, the archeryhistory.com and archerychat.com that together generate more than 20 million hits per month for about 140 banner advertisers. Terry showed me the logo Ken Melhus had just developed for a new ArcheryTalkTV site where hunting shows can be downloaded for viewing whenever the consumer wants, which could be important to the industry now one of the outdoor networks has folded. Terry and Ken devote part of their time to the internet company, while its three other employees work out of offices in Terry’s home. About 20 volunteer moderators work out of their own homes, Terry noted, to police the busy sites for objectionable language and images and to try to keep people from posting false information to gain an advantage over another brand.
Here’s a third reason why Terry may often be found in his home office. It’s important for the future of this family owned business to allow its third generation, represented by Ryan Martin, to hone his management skills. Early that day I’d been talking with Gail Martin, who with wife Eva founded Martin Archery 57 years ago to make bowstrings and arrows. We were talking about the just-announced sale of BowTech to Savage Sports Corporation, maker of the Savage Arms line of firearms. Gail didn’t seem too worried about additional resources being available to BowTech, noting past involvement by firearms firms in the archery industry hadn’t worked out so well.
When I teased him that he was jealous Savage had come courting that Oregon bow builder instead of Martin Archery, the founder told me in all seriousness. “We probably get at least one or two inquiries per week from people wanting to buy Martin Archery. Often it’s an investment group and they tell you exactly how much money they have behind them. I probably would have sold it a few years ago, but we have grandchildren involved in the business, like Ryan and he’s doing a really good job. He’s learned a lot in the past few years and he’s really enthusiastic, he’s working on something new all the time.”
Martin also has a lot of loyal employees to think of, Gail said, including many with 20 years of service and two he could name at the Yakima plant that have more than 40 years with the firm. Between the Yakima operation where the compound limbs are laminated and the traditional bows are built, and the Walla Walla headquarters, Martin has about 125 employees. This includes Terry’s brother Dan, who is his frequent hunting partner, Gail noted, showing me the deer he and Dan had arrowed on one of three recent Oregon hunts. “I got that deer just a few days after my 84th birthday. I had cataract surgery three years ago and it’s really made a difference. We’ve got a whole group in Yakima that go to the traditional shoots and I’m fortunate that I can still shoot and keep up to them.”
Gail and wife Eva still work most days at the plant, unless they’re on a trip. Eva oversees the accounting department and Gail is involved with designing traditional bows like the carbon-reinforced Bamboo Viper and with designing some of the accessories. Gail also insists Martin continue to put long-term goals over short-term profits, evident in areas like its approach to building compound bow limbs.
When Martin switched from building limbs laminated of fiberglass and wood to limbs ground from blanks of Gordon Glass, Gail said there were appearance and breakage concerns as cut fibers lift ed. Rather than laminate one side or the other, or just use that thin layer of unidirectional glass on models where the stresses seemed to require it, Martin began laminating all compound limbs, both sides. In the Yakima plant plates of contoured fiberglass are bonded to thin laminations using special adhesive and large presses, then the laminated plates are cut to width for the limbs. “We’re probably one of the few that do that all on all limbs, laminate both sides,” Gail said. “I believe you should build the best product you can, and price it accordingly. It costs a company a lot of money if you get returns and have to replace limbs, and dealers don’t want that headache, they want something reliable.”
Ryan Martin knows what dealers want in a bow, because his role has expanded to have him work with the sales reps and to personally call on large accounts and service a territory of his own. Two weeks before I visited, Ryan and Scott Landwehr had been in Minneapolis to preview the 2008 line for the William B. Gartland sales rep group. A week before my visit Ryan presented the 2008 line to the buyers for Sportsman’s Warehouse, and visited Jake’s Archery and retailers in the Salt Lake City area. After I left Martin to head for home, Ryan would take a late flight to Reno, so he could go over products and programs with the Wild West Marketing Group. “Then next week I’m on the road. I have a really small territory, nothing like our reps do, and I don’t collect a commission. I do it to try to get the experience of what our reps are up against. I go into the dealers, shake their hands, see what they’ve got to work with and who they’re competing with.”
Martin is asking all its Pro Series retailers to renew their contracts this year, which prohibits them from selling online or in most cases from shipping a bow to a customer. In turn Martin provides support for store shooters, a dealer kit that includes decals and certificates, a protected territory and some very attractive pricing.
“The Pro Series has a Minimum Advertised Price and a Suggested Retail Price,” Ryan noted. The best prices to dealers are what are referred to as the COD prices: It’s what you buy at when you pay by COD or credit card. The net 60 price, meaning payment is due 60 days from invoicing, is a step up from the COD price. Ryan pointed out Martin calculates its MAP 30 to 35 percent above the net 60 price, instead of basing it off the lowest possible price. Yet Pro Series dealers automatically pay the COD price, giving them a larger profit margin. Or they can choose the option of being billed at the net 60 price, and being given until fall to pay the invoice. “If they take us up on our best pricing, they’ll be getting 40 percent margin even when they sell bows at the lowest advertised price,” he said.
Those Pro Series dealers will also be getting Martin’s most advanced products. Ryan’s familiarity with the design and manufacturing process was apparent as we talked about the unusual limb mounting system you’ll see on the Firecat and Moab, two bows that are limited to Pro Series dealers. “We’ve been asked by our customers for a few years for a limb cup that rotated, as opposed to a fixed one. It never made sense for us to rotate the entire end of the cup and have a large side load on the limb bolt and have there be play between the limb cup and the riser. For us it was always more important to have the limbs exactly aligned, whether they were buying a basic Martin bow to go hunting with or they were getting ready to compete in Vegas.”
Martin’s design team realized people were getting used to seeing limb cups where the sides had been machined away, and it went a step farther to develop a Roto Limb Cup which has no end cup at all. The bow weight is adjusted by a limb bolt that still goes through a rotating barrel bolt to allow a full 15 pounds of adjustment. It’s aligned on that bolt and about three inches further back, where stainless steel pins aligning the limb rotate on hidden components. It’s as precise as the system Martin has been using on models like the Bengal, Ryan said, looks cleaner and contributes to the light 3.6 pound mass weight of the new Firecat.
The Firecat and Moab are built on identical risers, which sport trim new grips and a new sound-dampening riser plate, both molded from the same vibration dampening material the company has been using in its riser mounted Vibration Escape Modules. “One of the problems with our older Thermal II grip was it was kind of thick out the back,” Ryan admitted. “On our new bows we were going for a thinner, sleeker feel.
This material can be molded very thin, as we do for our new arrow shelf. But we didn’t want that polymer to be what the shooter was pressing their hand against: We wanted something really solid with good thermal properties.” The design team settled on black leather for the back of the grip, combining it with a molded portion that wraps the front and sides. Ryan got the inspiration for the attractive bars on the molded portion of the new grip from the grill on his BMW dual sport motorcycle.
While risers are identical on the Firecat and MOAB, feel and performance of the bows are radically different. The CAT Cam used on the Firecat incorporates Cam Assisted Timing, and is a hybrid system developed with technology licensed from Rex Darlington of Darton Archery. It produces an aggressive force draw curve and helps the bow generate advertised speeds of 335 fps despite its generous 7 inch brace height. The Firecat was a breakthrough model for Martin in the mid-90s, Ken Melhus reminded me when I sat down with him and Jake Richmond, and so that was the perfect name for a new speed bow that has been in the works since the 2007 ATA Show.
PSE’s success in attracting interest with the very fast X Force on the Atlanta show floor is part of what convinced Martin the market was keen for a new speed bow, Jake said. “We wanted it to be in the 340 fps range. The 2008 Bengal shoots 315 fps, so you’re talking 25 fps faster with a Firecat. There are a lot of fast bows out there but where I think we’re going to gain sales is with a price point of $599.”
While the Firecat is exactly what a lot of bowhunters will want
in 2008, Jake said he personally prefers shooting the MOAB. That bow uses the company’s M-Pro single cam and is set up for a much softer draw cycle. “I’d say drawing a 70 pound MOAB feels comparable to drawing a 60 pound Firecat. But then Scott Landwehr loves the Firecat, he’s been shooting one for months.”
“If you can get a bow that is fast enough it will get a lot of ‘street cred’” Ken added. “A lot of people will come into a Martin dealer and ask ‘what’s the fastest bow, but they don’t necessarily want the fastest bow after they draw it back. With a MOAB, the dealer can say ‘We’ll, here’s a bow with the same specifications that’s easier to work with.’” It’s also easier to afford. Because Martin is fully paid up on the single cam patent, it can price the MOAB at $479.
That’s also why you’ll see a miniature M-Pro single cam on the new and unique Tiger kid’s bow, one designed with minimal letoff so you can shoot it anywhere from 14 to 22 inches in draw length. That bow started with Ryan and Jake sketching on a blank sheet of paper, then progressed to two dimensional drawings in the Illustrator program Ryan prefers for it’s free flowing capabilities. He loaded the two-dimensional design for a molded shoot-through riser with graphic elements like miniature VEMs provided by Ken Melhus, then turned the file over to Jake.
Jake works in Solid Works, a 3-D modeling program, and generated files that could be rotated and viewed from every direction. When everybody on the design team was happy with the Tiger’s design, Jake e-mailed it to a vendor who formed parts using the Stereo Lithography process that hardens resin with laser beams. (If this had been an adult bow with metal riser and components, head machinist Aaron Hamilton would have taken Jake’s Solid Works file and reworked it into the computer files that drive the CNC machines for Martin and its vendors.)
The SLA parts are what Martin’s staff used to assemble the first prototypes to assure that everything fit the way it was supposed to after the film dip was applied. Ken then used the SLA bow to get photos for the 2008 catalog, many weeks before the tool would be ready so a vendor could start injection molding the shoot-through risers of glass filled nylon.
We could draw the bow assembled from its SLA components in Ryan’s office, because the little Tiger only will be offered in 10 and 20 pound draw weights. But for a little bow, it can make a big impact on Martin’s bottom line. “We sell tons of kids bows, but since someone makes them for us, it doesn’t help Martin that much,” Ryan confided. “Our reps said there was a huge need for a bow of this type, and I worked with our R&D team to make sure it looks as much like dad’s bow as possible. We modeled it after our Slayer.”
“Normally bows of this size are all limb and very little riser,” Ryan continued. They’re made that way to reduce cost and help stiffen the molded riser, which even so may curve toward the sight window after it comes out of the mold and is strung. The shoot-through riser stays straight, works for right and left handers and like a full-capture rest it solves the problem of kids pinching the arrow so it falls off the rest. That problem was fresh in Ryan’s mind because he’d just taught three youngsters to shoot before the Tiger project was launched and in every case they had a tendency to grab the string and force the arrow off the rest. It’s a little slower to load the arrow from the rear, he acknowledged, but the packaging should be able to communicate other advantages of the shoot-through design, including full fletching clearance. “The bows we’re competing with have you shooting off the shelf,” he noted.
Ryan said the Tiger youth bow is already opening doors for Martin with independent retailers and chains that aren’t carrying the adult bows now. He was at two retailers the week before who liked the light weight, the smooth shot and the price points of the adult line, but we’re not ready to commit to another bow line. Both retailers signed up with Martin specifically to order the Tiger, he said. “So if a customer asks about one of our hunting bows they’ll be able to say, ‘sure, we can order them in’ and then they may start stocking some. It gets our foot in the door.”
Martin’s got some more “door openers” in the 2008 line. Ryan talked about seeing how target faces are often displayed stacked flat on shelves, if they’re not hidden behind the counter. Often they’re not even priced because the retailer doesn’t want to put a tag on each one and just counts on the customer asking for them.
When Martin took the step of transferring its full color animal targets from film to digital files recently, it looked again at this product people were taking for granted. “We looked at how posters are displayed in stores, and decide to roll the targets into packs. You’ll order either a small game set or a large game set, and we’ll include a sight-in target face. Since it’s not a flat package now, they’ll get four target pins as well. We sell a lot of target pins to retailers, but we sell them in the hundreds and the individual consumer just wants four.” By repackaging its targets and bundling them with the pins, Ryan said Martin has caught the attention of retailers large and small with the new target sets.
Feedback from retailers is behind another change for 2008, which should boost sales of accessories for what’s often thought of as a “bow” company. “They don’t want to put a sight or quiver in from Martin because they feel the Martin name on it keyholes into one bow brand,” Ryan said. “They say they like our accessories but the Martin name kills it for any other bow owner. So our Wild Man brand was born.” The name suggested by Terry Martin is being used to re-brand some popular accessories and it’s going on a new bow carrier and new Round-A-Bout Stabilizer. The stabilizer has the same material Martin uses in the VEMs, those riser-mounted vibration killers that Martin holds the patent on.
Before I left his office, Ryan showed me another better idea from Martin. The company enjoyed strong sales for its complete bow packages that come with the bow set up with accessories and with the arrows, release and quiver in the top of the hard shell case. The sets come in a large cardboard box with a full-color photo showing the bow and accessories.
Martin found there’s just room at the curved corner of the case to include a Rinehart Field Target and since the box goes as “oversize” anyway, there’s no additional charge for the added weight. There are field points in the package and by eliminating the broadheads Martin could cover the cost of including the target. “The whole idea of these kits is that someone could buy one, or get it as a gift, and have everything they’d need to go shooting right now,” Ryan said. “The dealer can pop open the case, put a price tag in the middle of it, and it’s all displayed just like it is on the package. The customer will get a really good bow and in a few months if they want a different rest, need more than four arrows or are ready to buy broadheads for hunting season, they’ll be back in the store.”
A dealer can’t ask for more than that.