A Conversation With Greg Easton
March 16, 2011
Meet Easton's third generation innovator.
Few people in the archery industry are as pedigreed, or as busy, as 3G arrowsmith Greg Easton, son of archery innovator James D. Easton and grandson of Doug Easton, who brought us the first aluminum arrows in 1939. Having recently taken the reins at parent company Jas. D. Easton, Greg has Archery Hall of Fame shoes to fill, so we were thrilled that he took the time to meet with us a few months back. And considering the fact that this is Bowhunter Magazine's 40th Anniversary Year, and Easton held the inside cover of issue No. 1, an interview with Greg Easton seems like a great start to our special anniversary series.
BHM: You now oversee all of the related Easton companies?
Greg: I still hold the role of president of Easton Technical Products, and most recently I was also named the president of Jas. D. Easton, which is the company that oversees all of the companies [Easton Technical Products, Hoyt, and Delta Sports Products]. So I'm my own boss; it's really kind of nice. I get to report to myself on the flow chart.
BHM: How does peer review work?
Greg: You're doing a good job! [Greg flashes a boyish grin, looking one way and then turns back the other] Thank you!
It's going well. People a lot of times wonder, "Well, it's a family business, and it's third generation, and what's that all about?" And from my standpoint, it has been a tremendous opportunity to come into the businesses and work in our different companies, but it has also been a lot of fun because we make products that people care about and want to purchase.
You know, baseball players and softball players and hockey guys, they care about their sports a lot, but if you're a softball player and you stand up at a banquet of 500 people and say, "I play softball," everybody goes "Okay, great!" But if you stand up at a banquet and say, "I'm a bowhunter," half the people may think you're crazy or not like what you do. But bowhunters stand up and say, "That's what we do, and we're proud of it, and we'll defend it to the end," so to speak.
BHM: There's a bowhunting lifestyle, there's not really a softball lifestyle.
Greg: Bowhunters are definitely passionate about it. And because we manufacture all across the spectrum, from the beginning arrows to bowhunting to high-end bowhunting to high-end target arrows, it's also fun to be involved with all those aspects from bowhunting to competitive archery. And from a manufacturing standpoint, I like to make sure that people on the floor have a connection. We've got a lot of people here, and obviously not all of them are bowhunters, but I try to get them connected to the sport, to say, you're making an arrow that might introduce a kid to archery, it might be the arrow that shoots the deer that puts meat on a family's table, it might be the arrow that fulfills a lifelong dream and wins a gold medal for somebody, so find your connection.
And with the changes in our company focus -- it was 2006 when we merged-off the Team Sports Division -- we now have returned to our roots. We started in the archery business, and in a sense we're now back. And I have the opportunity, like my father did, to grow that business. He started in archery and grew into baseball and hockey and into a lot of other sports, but I'm looking for opportunities to grow archery and also to work in some related areas, making products that serve outdoor enthusiasts [like tents and snowshoes].
BHM: You said you merged-off the Team Sports Division. So, how does the company differ now as far as size and focus?
Greg: Well, when we sold off those divisions, we decreased our size quite a bit, because baseball and hockey are pretty big categories, so we're quite a bit smaller, but I'd say that our focus got much stronger. Our focus went from 40% archery to 90+% archery. It's where we started, and it is really what my dad wanted to do when he began to look at future planning. He wanted to get us back to that archery core. And by merging-off some of those businesses, he was able to fund the Easton Foundations, which had been around for quite a long time but hadn't been funded to a great extent. But now they are, and they allow us to do some of the things we're doing.
BHM: Merging-off the Team Sports Division was directly linked to the Foundations?
Greg: Yeah, basically the proceeds from that, most of that, went into the Foundations. So, now we're building archery centers. We built one in Yankton, South Dakota; we built one in Newberry, Florida; and we've got three or four others in the plans. We've been donating about $3.5 million a year. The Foundations are geared around supporting all sports; however, 80% of our dollars or more are spent on archery. We kind of dabble in the other sports but spend most of the money in archery. It's also how we organized and funded the Youth World Championship of Archery. We recently held the tournament here in Ogden, Utah, and we had about 450 archers from about 62 countries come in, and it was a lot of fun. While the U.S. is unquestionably dominated by bowhunting, target archery is important worldwide, and we think supporting it here at home is important. From my view, if there were only bowhunting, or only target archery, the sport wouldn't be the same.
BHM: Without offending all the bowhunters here in the states who are crazy passionate about what they do, how would you compare the energy that surrounds Olympic archery and competitive target archery, especially in other parts of the world?
Greg: It's a good question. It's definitely a different type of energy and a different type of passion. I've been to quite a few Olympics, or even some of the major world championships, or even some of the indoor championships, and the energy there is really pretty fun. In Beijing, the women's final came down to a Chinese girl and a Korean girl. Well, the Koreans have won everything for a long time, and I haven't seen a crowd like that'¦ Half the stands were filled with Chinese, and the other half with Koreans, and they were going nuts. They were so energetic, so enthusiastic. Archery crowds are interesting in that they're relatively quiet during the shooting, and then they cheer during the scoring, so it's almost rhythmic in that it's relatively quiet and then they cheer, and it goes on and on like that. We were in the same complex with tennis, and just down the way was field hockey, and one evening the lady who ran the hockey came by and asked, "What are you guys doing over here? It's j
ust crazy. We can hear you, and you're almost interrupting our matches!" So, it's exciting to see that kind of energy around archery'¦
That's why my father worked so hard to promote archery -- he was the president of FITA for 16 years and was on the International Olympic Committee, and he was determined to keep archery in the Olympics. Even though the Olympics are only once every four years and the average bowhunter isn't thinking, I'm going to grow up and be a gold medal archer, I think it's important that kids just getting into the sport have competitive archery as one of the paths they can take.
BHM: It's also some of the best promotion you'll get. At no other time does archery get so much attention.
Greg: One of our objectives with the Foundations is to support all kinds of archery, but we have a little bit more of a focus on target archery because we'd like to see the U.S. Archery Team get better and win some gold medals. For one, it's sort of a national pride thing, but if we're doing well at the Olympics, we'll see it on TV. And today, when the Koreans and Chinese and other countries are doing well and we're not getting into the finals, we don't see it on TV. So, it would be good to get more exposure.
BHM: Does Easton have international competition, or does this signal the potential for business growth worldwide?
Greg: I think our biggest growth opportunities are still probably in the USA'¦ While there is growth in international target archery, I don't think there is a lot of growth. And there is some competition; some folks are trying to get into the arrow business -- even on the hunting side -- but it's not really as easy as it looks. When folks tour the aluminum side of our facility, for instance -- we don't even tour the carbon side -- people walk out of here saying, "I had no idea it was that complicated." Everybody looks at it like, It's a tube; how hard can it be to make a tube? It's not that hard to make a tube, but it's hard to make a good arrow, and it's extremely hard to make a good competition arrow, so we protect our arrow-making technology, and we're really proud of the fact that consumers can buy the same arrows as Olympians. In a lot of other sports you can't buy the same equipment the "pros" use, but average consumers can buy our X-10s. And no matter who buys the arrows, the shafts come from the same place.
BHM: That's really the "What's in it for me?" from a bowhunter's point of view. Not only can everyone buy and use the same top-end shafts, but technology related to Easton's investment in competitive archery comes back into hunting arrows.
Greg: While the X-10 is, generally speaking, way too expensive for a bowhunter, we try to apply the same technology and precision to our hunting arrows. I believe in simply making the best arrows'¦
BHM: Everyone knows that Easton is homegrown, Made in the USA. What does that say about Easton now, considering the fact that so much is being manufactured overseas.
Greg: One, we're very proud to be Made in the USA, and we're excited that we can do it. It's fun to tell people that's what we're doing, because to many folks that is a novelty. But we do manufacture here in the US, and we have over 300 people. Our aluminum technology is heavily capital intensive; you really have to invest in a lot of equipment to get into the aluminum arrow business and to build a precise, quality arrow, so it's best to keep that business here. And then, on the carbon side, we're producing our arrows differently than our competition. Again, it's the machinery and some automation-driven processes that allow us to make better, more-consistent arrows, but it also helps us keep the labor content lower and therefore remain in the U.S. The wrap-and-roll method that most people use -- similar to the way hockey sticks and tennis rackets are made -- is very labor intensive and expensive, so it's tough to do here in the U.S. (We do make some carbon shafts overseas using wrap technology, but it's a very small percentage of our business.) We've got a good niche with our proprietary C2 Technology, which allows us to keep that arrow manufacturing here. I do think it's interesting how public opinion changes with regard to where products are manufactured, but that's not necessarily why we're here. In the Orient, even operating out of your own factory, with your own people, and with your own equipment, it's tougher to hold onto your technology. And that's a risk we don't want to take and don't have to because we can maintain cost-competitiveness with the guys in the Orient, and they still have to ship their products here. By making our products here, we're more flexible and closer to the market need.
BHM: Is anyone close to you in arrow-making technology?Greg: There is some good technology out there and some good marketing about that technology, but when you look at our C2 Technology, our A/C Technology, even our wrap-and-roll technology, it's difficult to match our precision. Some folks have tried to make A/C shafts over the last couple of years, but they just can't match our consistency. We really push innovation, but I think there's still more that can be done.
BHM: Do you have any sense of where or when the next big break or innovation will occur?
Greg: We have some ideas, some things coming that are pretty exciting, things we'll roll out when the time is right. We've got something that hasn't been done with arrows as far as I know. And we're going to keep pushing. We'll continue to look at different materials, different ways to make arrows, different aspects of arrows. Before we introduced HIT Technology, the smaller diameter shafts with the components that line up on the inside, we really didn't anticipate the degree to which all of the benefits would arise from that technology -- especially vastly improved penetration. Now we know it's a superior way to build an arrow and align components and we'd like to innovate further in that direction.
BHM: It's easy to talk about change, but there aren't very many companies that have Easton's history of technical innovation. How was that passed down from your father?
Greg: My father's philosophy has always been "Innovation is Easton's business." It's really quite interesting, because he has always talked a lot about creativity and invention but made the point that real innovation is something new that changes what people are doing when they actually adopt it. Our best example of that, I think, is our aluminum arrow. Aluminum arrows changed what people were doing. Nearly 100% of the market -- not ignoring the traditionalists -- moved to aluminum arrows. And the aluminum arrow opened the door to compound bows, because they don't shoot wooden arrows very well. So, luckily we created the arrow before Allen created the compound...
Today, I think it's easy to think that there's no room for innovation when it comes to bows or arrows or targets, but there is always room for innovation. Sometimes th
at innovation is spawned through R&D, sometimes through users or focus groups, and sometimes from the sales and marketing team. As a matter of fact, Dad pointed out to me many times that with true innovation, consumers often don't know they want it yet. It's not until you bring it to market that they discover the need and say, "Wow, of course we want'¦smaller diameter arrows, faster bows, easier-to-pull targets." That's the kind of products we strive for at Easton companies -- products that just make sense. And it's pretty fun to make bows, arrows, and targets for people as passionate as bowhunters and competitive archers. To think that people have tried to talk me into making aluminum lawn furniture'¦