Thanks to the “Perfect Storm” created by Covid-19, national elections and civil unrest, the firearm industry is now well into its second year of shortages. Firearms, ammunition and parts and accessories are almost nowhere to be found, and the standard phrase being used in gun shops across the country is, “we’re sorry.” Even internet shopping is just as bad and will more than likely generate the typical “back ordered” response.
Yes, we have seen shortages before, but never have we seen scarcities to such a degree or duration. The only explanation is we are facing a true and classic case of supply & demand. That “Perfect Storm” generated the demand, and now as consumers, all we can do is sit back and see how the industry can alleviate the supply issue.
One of the bright spots on the horizon is being generated by Wilson Combat of Berryville, AR, and one can only hope other companies will follow their lead. In the Spring of 2020, Wilson Combat decided the best way to handle the increase in demand was to face it head-on with a major expansion to their facility, machinery and personnel. A little over a year later, they held an open house to allow firearm media a chance to view their efforts.
Wilson Combat has made a $10 million investment in its future with the most obvious addition being a 16,000-square foot building that is casually being referred to as “the new machine shop.” But like a gift-wrapped present, you must get inside to fully understand the impact this building will have upon production. Properly situated throughout the structure are 14 vertical mills, 12 horizontal mills, six lathes, eight wire EDM’s, four lasers, one four-spindle gun drill, one six-spindle reamer, one dual-direction rifling machine, four CMM inspection machines and one heat-treating oven.
As a former Black & Decker manufacturing engineer, I was totally stunned. I have not seen that many brand-new machines since attending the annual manufacturing show held in Chicago. What is also amazing is that these machines were not replacing Wilson’s existing machines, but were an addition to their capabilities.
During the tour, I couldn’t help but notice that Mr. Wilson was almost apologetic about the fact that a few of the machines were still being setup and were not in service yet. Also, a stress-relief oven, an automated sandblaster and a new broaching machine had not been delivered in time for our tour. However, while we were walking through the ammunition plant housed in an adjacent building, he did point out the new MK7 Revolution ammunition-loading machine and told us that two more were on order.
The new building and new machines may be impressive, but pale in comparison to the impact made by the increase in personnel. The Wilson Combat team has grown from 161 to a total of 242 over the past year. A 50 percent growth in new jobs cannot help but to be noticed in the surrounding area of Berryville. But mere numbers do not tell the true story when you consider that each new job can result in being a positive influence on an entire family.
During our tour, I was fortunate enough to get a little one-on-one time with Mr. Wilson and was able to ask the obvious question, “Why?” Ten million dollars is a sizable investment and most companies would choose just to add a little overtime, or hope the customers were willing to tolerate an extended delivery time. Mr. Wilson’s response was that the company didn’t have a choice, they were struggling to keep up with demand prior to the current buying frenzy. The situation just increased the need for additional manufacturing capacity. He also pointed out that if demand eased up, he would have the manufacturing capability to tackle three new firearm projects that have been on hold since the craziness started.
There is no doubt that Wilson Combat is on the side of the consumer. The latest expansion is basically complete, but in truth, they have been in a constant state of growth since 1977. Even now they are starting work on another 3,500 square foot building to house automated media blasting, tumbling and component finishing. I guess with a 300-plus acre campus they still have the space to grow.