By Christy Krueger –
Secret gems lie hidden among us. They’re bright lights in their industries but barely create a blip on the radar in their hometown.
One such unsung hero of Tucson is Precision Shooting Equipment, the world’s largest privately owned manufacturer of archery equipment. It contributes to the local economy by paying taxes and employing 200 workers, yet many of us are unaware of this quiet neighbor.
Pete Shepley started the company in 1970 in Mahomet, Ill. A missile designer for Magnavox Corporation, he had access to military machinery, said son Jonathan Shepley, who took over the company when his father retired last November. “Archery was his hobby. He patented a few archery industry products and quit his job and sold archery equipment out of an RV.”
In 1982 the company moved to Tucson. “He loves horses and the environment here,” Shepley said of his father. “And a guy we needed who had experience molding fiberglass – he was here. The employees all moved; we had 28 moving vans.”
One reason PSE is a leader in its industry, asserted Shepley, is innovation. “Our engineers are active hobbyists so they’re out in the field and know how to make it better.”
Ten percent of the equipment manufactured by PSE is for tournament archery use and the other 90 percent is for hunting. However, archers buy equipment more frequently, so engineering new designs starts on the archery side. Eighty percent of the product line changes every year, according to Shepley, to give customers a reason to continue buying new equipment.
A month after the younger Shepley became PSE’s president, the company had its best month ever, and the company is seeing continued growth.
“The biggest challenge,” he said, “is creating a workforce going in the same direction – they should be comfortable giving critique and criticism.” To help with that aspect, all employees are engaged in communications workshops.
Shepley also says recruiting and retaining employees is difficult, although the number of long-time staff members seems to show otherwise. He gives his dad credit for building a great team. Most managers have been with the company for more than 20 years.
PSE’s local anonymity is partly due to its almost non-existent retail presence, with only a small scratch-and-dent store inside the plant. The Shepleys don’t want to compete with their dealers, which include retail chains such as Dick’s Sporting Goods, Bass Pro Shops and Sportsman’s Warehouse, as well as 1,500 independent retailers.
Some PSE bows are made of fiberglass, others of cast aluminum or aircraft-grade machined aluminum, and all components – with the exception of arrows – are made in-house. That means the bow frames, the wheels, bowstring, even the parts to make the parts are produced in the 160,000-square-foot facility not far from Interstate 10 and Grant Road.
PSE’s arrows are produced in China, but Shepley hopes to find a manufacturer in Mexico to bring production closer to home and shorten turn-around time.
Social media, such as Facebook, and targeted television advertising are effective in promoting the company’s products. “Our primary focus has been outdoor programs on the Hunting Channel, Versus and the Outdoor Channel,” Shepley said. PSE sponsors professional hunters who appear on these cable networks and professional competitive archers.
Alexander Kirillov, one of the world’s top archery coaches, trains Olympic hopefuls at PSE, bringing additional visibility to the line.
The company’s economic contributions have been recognized elsewhere, if not in Tucson. “A couple years ago (Texas governor and former presidential candidate) Rick Perry called my dad and said ‘we want your business to come to Texas; we’re a business-friendly environment.’ My dad thought it was too much work to move and he was too close to retiring. I would have considered it,” said the younger Shepley, who says the business climate here could be improved.
Local awareness of PSE will likely grow in the near future, as Shepley has become involved in the new archery range to be built at Naranja Park in Oro Valley. The project is drawing interest from residents on the northwest side, including many from SaddleBrooke. Shepley started a nonprofit archery club and plans to hold competitions and help organize classes at the park.
“I want people to have the opportunity to try archery,’’ Shepley said. “Once they try it, they’ll get hooked. You can do it as a family, you don’t have to be a gifted athlete and there are no age or gender restrictions.”