Martin Archery aims at return to glory days

Rich Weatherford, new CEO of Martin Archery, takes breaks by shooting upstairs at the Walla Walla bowmaking manufacturing business.

Rich Weatherford, new CEO of Martin Archery, takes breaks by shooting upstairs at the Walla Walla bowmaking manufacturing business. Photo by Greg Lehman.

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Talk about catching fire.

With new owners at the helm of Martin Archery, the 62-year-old homegrown bow designer and manufacturing company that teetered on the cliff of closure just two months ago is amid a resurrection aimed at lifting the company back to its former glory and — if CEO Rich Weatherford’s predictions are correct — beyond.

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Rich Weatherford looks over the inventory of natural wood bows at the Martin Archery manufacturing plant.

Just six employees were left at the business when Diversis Capital took over Oct. 25. The more than 58,000-square-foot Heritage Road plant seemed more like a ghost town, Weatherfood said on a recent tour.

“They weren’t making bows. They were pulling what was left of the inventory off a shelf and filling orders,” he said.

In the whirlwind of rebuilding since then, here, in no particular order, is roughly what’s happened:

Employees new and old are returning; manufacturing has restarted; distributors and clients have been contacted; orders are being placed; interviews with archery press are spreading the word; a new logo and brand has been unveiled; master planning for operational changes is taking place; and the vision of the late Gail Martin, who built the business with his wife, Eva, is coming back to life.

And as of Friday, one employee had been added to the staff for every day Diversis has had possession of the business. That was 28 workers, on top of the previous six. A plant manager had accepted the position Friday, and another six positions are open, Weatherford said.

With a second shift in place, a new management staff and work on a new line of compound bows for release at January’s Archery Trade Association trade show — the Superbowl of archery — the business is back to the operating levels of a couple of years ago.

What most excited Weatherford during a recent tour were the shelves full of neatly stacked boxes of risers for the Damon Howatt line of take-down recurve bows. A riser and two limbs are packed in boxes starting at a retail cost just upward of $200.

“For people who like to assemble their own,” Weatherford said.

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Rich Weatherford sees himself as "the turnaround guy."

It’s a relatively affordable way to have a quality bow, he said. The take-downs — bows that can be disassembled for easy transport, storage and adaptability — are a volume product sandwiched in with the “heritage” of the traditional recurves and the compound bows that run up to $800 apiece.

Consequently, one of Weatherford’s first moves when he secured advance capital from Diversis was to make sure there were plenty of risers on the shelves.

“This will probably be our biggest seller. That’s why I ramped it up first,” he said.

He’s also partnered with both Blue Mountain Action Council on financial assistance cross-training employees to pick up different skills.

The Martin legacy was on the brink of being a memory earlier this year.

Facing tremendous debt and the death of its beloved founder and Archery Hall-of-Famer, the company was nearly shuttered when Diversis and the Port of Walla Walla partnered on a deal to save it.

The Port bought the 4.67-acre property for $1.3 million. It then immediately entered into a 10-year lease with Diversis.

This is the first investment from Diversis, a Los Angeles-based private equity firm. Its capital comes from Marc Luzzatto, finance and private equity expert, head of The Luzzatto Company and board member for its largest client, The Welk Group Inc., the Lawrence Welk family holding company.

Weatherford describes himself as “the turnaround guy.”

A Georgia native with more than 20 years in operations transformations, he’s been in the Northwest seven years. So inspired at Martin, he said he has no plan to leave.

His particular specialty is lean manufacturing operations, which he honed at companies such as Crane Electronics Group and Rexnord before starting his own boutique consulting firm Belltown Limited PLLC. The company’s mission is to bring world-class operations and supply chain practices to small and medium size manufacturing firms.

Martin, he said, is not like any other company with which he’s ever worked.

“I’ve never taken on a job where more people wanted it to succeed,” he said.

“It’s the perfect marriage: A great brand, a community that really wants to retain the company, and a marketplace that really wants great product.”

It just so happens it’s also a great time in popular culture for bowmakers with “The Hunger Games” series taking off.

Leading up to the release of “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire,” Martin gave away a new bow every day this month in a Facebook promotion. It has also actively engaged customers, asking for input on the product and questions for Weatherford.

He sees a number of areas where the plant can be fine-tuned and semi-automated. Those include in cutting boards, which is all done by hand, and in hand dipping the finish. “It’s fixing the bottlenecks,” he said.

In the past, he said, the company ran on demand as orders came in. That will no longer be the case. The inventory will be on hand to meet demand.

All of this will be done, Weatherford said, while respecting the legacy of the company and the innovation of its founder.

“Gail Martin is a legend,” Weatherford said. “Now we’re going to go do what he dreamed of.”

Vicki Hillhouse can be reached at vickihillhouse@wwub.com or 526-8321.

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