Utah shooting business is booming at the SHOT Show
Las Vegas • If there was any doubt about the economic importance of shooting and hunting as an economic driver, that would quickly be dispelled by wandering the 12.5 miles of aisles at the 36th annual Shooing, Hunting and Outdoor Trade (SHOT) Show that ends Friday at the Sands Convention Center in Las Vegas.
This is like an Outdoor Retailer Trade Show on steroids. The closed-to-the-public show draws 60,000 exhibitors, buyers, media and other industry professionals from 50 states and 100 countries.
It is the largest convention the Sands Convention Center hosts, taking up 630,000 net square feet, which is equivalent to more than 13 acres, the area covered by the New Orleans Superdome.
It feeds the $6 billion firearms and ammunition industry, which boasts of having a total economic impact of $38 billion that supports more than 245,000 jobs.
Utah is represented at the SHOT Show by nearly 30 manufacturers, many from small towns. Smaller companies with less than 20 employees join giants such as Morgan-based Browning, Camp Chef in the Cache Valley, Liberty Safe in Payson, Christensen Arms in Gunnison and Barnes Bullets in Mona.
Take, for example, Liberty Safes. The Payson company employs 550 people who manufacture gun and home safes, some of which can protect contents from fire for as long as 2Â½ hours.
Marketing director Jamey Skousen said Liberty is the only safe company in America that uses rolled form technology to make its safes.
And business is booming.
"We have doubled our business in the last five years," he said. "There is demand across the country. Firearm sales have grown considerably. People hedge against the dollar and are buying gold and silver in record numbers. They are concerned about the [economic] climate. Any time unemployment goes up, home break-ins increase. People want to protect their valuables and assets and they are finding that buying a home safe or a gun safe can help protect those valuables."
Doug Tarter of Orem-based Fort Knox Safes, which employs 80 people, said the first day of the SHOT Show has been busy. He said he has been talking to people from all over the world, including a dealer in England.
Demand for ammunition has been so great the past few years that some retailers can't keep some popular brands in stock. Ammunition companies such as Barnes Bullets and Cedar City-based Doubletap Ammunition have had to work hard in order to keep up.
"There has been a shortage just because of the political situation," said Brett Throckmorton of Barnes Bullets, which introduced a number of new hunting bullets at the SHOT Show. "Guys have been buying up ammunition. We are working at complete capacity and making as much as we can. We have been growing and have some new ideas."
Mike McNett of Doubletap Ammunition, which employs 18 people, called the last year wild.
"We were in quite a bubble for about six or eight months," said McNett, whose company hand loads and hand inspects its rifle and pistol ammunition. "It was really tight. At the retail level, the amount of ammunition is above last year, but is not that much higher. You still can't get everything you want. We are trying to catch up by getting dealers' shelves filled â¦ This might be the busiest I've seen a Tuesday in the five years I've come to the SHOT Show."
Utah companies also offer some innovations in a show filled with them.
Salt Lake City-based Kodiak Industries, for example, manufactures pistols. According to president W.P. Gentry, the $399 Intelligun is one of the safest pistols made. It can only be shot by a person whose fingerprints are imprinted into the gun stock.
Firearms companies also seem to be going after the women's market. It was easy to see items such as pink pistols, stun guns and pepper spray on the floor. One company even sold a line of camouflage lingerie.
Concealed Carry Woolstenhulme Designer Bags, which operates its warehouse in Provo, produces designer handbags for women that include a holster pocket designed to fit any handgun, loops for pepper spray, baton or flashlights, slots for badges, pouch pockets for handcuffs and extra exterior pockets for spare magazines.
Weston Harris of Sandy-based Harris Hearing Centers, has developed the SportEAR, which makes it easier for hunters, outdoor enthusiasts, law enforcement officials and soldiers to hear in the outdoors while at the same time protecting them from the loud noises associated with shooting.
"Our product helps them hear a lot better when they are in the field," said Harris, whose company also produces hearing aids and hearing protection. "It shuts out noises and protects hearing from gunfire."
Lehi-based Alpine Innovations sells a number of different types of cleaning kits for all types of uses and just finished the huge Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. At SHOT, director of business development Bryce Craig said his company was not only selling its Spudz Pro portable cleaning kit for binoculars and scopes but also was adding easy-to-carry camouflage bags designed to protect rifle scopes and sight pins.
Gilbert Berry, owner of St. George-based Berry's, said his company's 90 employees make mostly plastic containers for ammunition and projectiles. This was his 35th SHOT Show, the last 25 as an exhibitor.
"I meet a lot of old friends," he said. "Some are starting to fade out. They are all getting old like us."
Christensen Arms, a Gunnison company with revenue of $15 million in 2013, employs 115 people. According to Kaitlyn Anderson, the company's latest innovation this year is its ability to sell its carbon-fiber barrels, triggers, stocks and bolt actions as separate parts. In addition, it is introduced a Lock Tech Match Trigger System and a new sporting rifle.
Some of the companies which participate in the SHOT Show will be making their way up to Salt Lake City next week for the annual Outdoor Retailer Winter Market, where the industry differs a bit from the gun-oriented SHOT Show but still offers outdoor products for camping and other similar outdoor pursuits.