Vista Outdoor CEO Chris Metz (right) talks with Federal Ammunition President Jason Vanderbrink about some of the new ammunition products being shown at the 2019 SHOT Show.
The last time we spoke, Vista had just announced a restructuring centered around selling off some of its component companies, including Savage. What’s the status now?
It’s going well, we’re in the executing phase. We’ve communicated publicly and we said our number one priority was to generate cash and pay down our debts. A part of that was getting better internally at managing our working capital, and the second component was selling some assets. So we concluded the first sale of eyewear brands back in the summer timeframe, and then stated we were going forward with the second divestiture, which is Savage, so we are well underway on that. When that’s complete, we will push the pause button and focus on the rest of our business.
Speaking of Savage—naturally of great interest to our readers—where do things stand? Looking from the outside, Savage looks like a company on the rise … active in new-product development, and Vista continues to promote the company and its products.
Great question. It’s a great example of how we want to run the rest of our businesses, the rest of our brands. Al Casper’s been with Savage for 15+ years and has been leading the company for most of those years. He has a great team, so what we’ve done is provide the support and enabled it to help them prosper. You can see it in the products they’re developing when you walk through their facility. And if you walk through now you wouldn’t recognize it. We’ve spent lots of money, millions of dollars, in modernizing that plant. Al and his team have done a great job of implementing the manufacturing, so they are continuing to prosper and we’re really excited about finding the right partner to help them continue the great things they’re doing.
Stylish new packaging is intended to help give Federal brands a more distinct identity, while making customers’ buying experience more informative and pleasurable.
There was an announcement in November that Federal and Federal Premium were going to redefine themselves. What drove that, and what do you hope to accomplish?
We’ve been the largest ammunition manufacturer in the world with our Federal stable of brands. What we want to do is make sure that the brands under the Federal umbrella really stand for the position that they occupy in the marketplace. We have everything from the highest-caliber ammunition for our core users, a lot of those under the Federal Premium brand, all the way down to the opening-price-point in calibers that people like to target-shoot to a great extent. And everything in between for law enforcement, self-defense, what have you. So it really was about recognizing that we have a number of brands within Federal and elevating them in their own right.
Getting back to the heritage of what Federal Cartridge really was and is, the best loader of ammunition in the world. Part of that is making sure we’re building or securing the best bullets. We talk prominently about Berger and Barnes and Sierra and Hornady and making sure whether you’re a hunter, target shooter, self-defense or law enforcement, we have the best bullets available for you. In many cases the [corporate] competitor is our friend, and we view that very much the same way. We make some of the best bullets in the industry with our Trophy and Speer and other bullet brands, but we recognize there are other brands out there people want. A lot of people look at it and say, I don’t need to reload if I can buy them from the best loader in the world.
Will the customers see any tangible effect from having Federal and Federal Premium and the other brands become more prominent?
I think so. The hope is that in all of our point-of-purchase materials, the new packaging changes we’ve made, all of our communications, whether they be social or digital media or point-of-sale, it adds up to make the shopping experience more informative and pleasurable. By highlighting the brands and sub-brands the proper way, we’re making the shopping experience better. Our new packaging is the best in the industry. We took a step back and said, how do we make this jump off our retail partners’ shelves and make it a great communicator as a silent salesman if there’s no retail rep there to explain the story?
But then, a customer’s favorite load…that’s not going to change … Federal or Federal Premium, Fusion, CCI, and the rest?
No that’s not going to change at all. If anything, we’re trying to enhance that. Your favorite load—we haven’t changed anything. If you’re used to shopping Premium, American Eagle, CCI or any of our products, you’ll be able to find your load under that brand.
Speaking of one of those brands, Speer celebrates its 75th anniversary this year. Known for different things over the years, reloading of course, hunting, law enforcement … can you put in perspective for us what it means to have a company that’s celebrating such a milestone?
It’s incredible…think of 75 years for a company … that’s a long time! You think about what Speer represents to a lot of our core consumers, employees and alumni. We own over 80 percent of law enforcement [market share] and a lot of that would be Speer Gold Dot bullets and rounds that we load and we’re very proud of that. For self-defense a lot of people have relied upon our Speer products for generations. It puts a smile on workers’ faces in our Lewiston facility when they realize what they are providing to shooters.
In an earlier visit you spoke about how important it is for you to get your family involved in hunting … your two sons, something we thought was very cool. With that in mind, we’re all seeing the numbers of licensed hunters falling, but also a growing awareness that we need to get better at recruitment and retention, that sort of thing. What kind of role should Vista play in recruiting and retaining and in promoting hunting?
I think that’s a question on the minds of a lot of leaders minds here at the SHOT Show this week: How do we bring up that next generation of hunters and shooters … with hopes there are people who are really interested but don’t know how to get into it or have lapsed because of raising children or demands and now want to get back into it. We try to take a multi-prong approach. We’ve been big supporters of Boy Scouts of America and we’ve had a program for years. We’ve partnered with NRA, with National Shooting Sports Foundation and Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation, and tried to work with these organizations in a proactive manner to try to get more folks into the shooting sports. We put resources into lobbying for regulations and conservation. Including a full-time [liaison] in Washington, D.C., who helps to educate America’s legislators on our activities and the investments we’ve made and have on the way.
Also, within Vista we have an internal foundation to which many of us contribute, to help support education and working with legislators or Congress people to introduce them to the sport. There’s a lot of misinformation out there in terms of ammunition and other products we make and how they are used. It’s unfortunate that a very small percentage of people who don’t know how to handle our product properly [have an effect on public perception]. So we have to educate folks and get the word out to a variety of people.
This is definitely news we will be glad to share with American Rifleman readers. Thank you for devoting this time to meeting with us Chris, and good luck.