Thirty years ago, Sue Hawkins was working as a secretary for an Italian gun manufacturer in the United States. When her employer decided his interests were changing, Sue was afforded a unique opportunity that would have far reaching effects.
Sue launched her own company and became a direct importer for other gun manufacturers in Italy who produced Civil War revolvers and muskets. Taylors and Co. Inc was born and the hard working entrepreneur soon enlisted the help of her daughter, Tammy Loy. Together, they began to make serious progress and it wasn’t long before grand-daughter Keri McDonald came on board. For twenty eight years now, these three women have been selling gorgeous firearms to customers around the globe.
“My Mom and Grandmother started in a living room!” McDonald laughs. Hawkins and Loy took their first case of muskets to a Civil War re-enactment to distribute and test their new business out. They made friends, spent time learning what their customers needed and gained enough encouragement to keep going.
In a time when women’s’ rights were still finding its footing, the Mother/Daughter team visited industry conventions and often heard customers asking to “speak to a man” or laughing behind a hand that “those ladies won’t be back next year”.
But they did come back, many years over. And their dedication to the fine craft of historic firearms as well as their commitment to customers has firmly fixed their presence in the gun industry.
McDonald, is Taylors and Co.’s National Sales Manager and she has seen, first hand, the seeds of her Grandmother’s work.
“While my Grandmother sort of stumbled into this niche, she grew passionate about these guns and her business. We aren’t your typical AR platform. We joke and say we sell the pretty guns in the industry, because our guns really are beautiful. But we all love what we’re doing and we’re thrilled about where this company is headed.”
Taylors and Co. is located in Winchester, Virginia. Of course their location seems appropriate, given the fact that Virginia is a hotbed of Civil War History and impassioned re-enactors. But war historians aren’t their only buyers. In fact, they’re just one part of the massive pie that makes up the loyal Taylor following.
“We have two kinds of customers.” McDonald explains. “We have patrons who look at every stamp and last detail. They’re the customers who’ve spent hours doing research, so they understand the history of a firearm. But we also have people who are focused on comfort or beautiful engraving and like I’ve said, we’ve got some pretty guns!”
However, you can’t break down Taylors and Co.’s increasing business to two kinds of shoppers. It really comes down to their superior products and their unique ability to listen to their user’s wishes and desires.
“Some of the guns we replicate are a natural progression because of the history of firearms.” Said McDonald. “Like a Colt reproduction. That’s something everyone is interested in but, some of our new upcoming projects have been based on consumer and shooter needs. For example, two years ago we developed a larger grip for a revolver we’ve carried for years. That grip option satisfied a lot of shooters and it’s opened up the market to people who weren’t comfortable holding the original size single action.”
McDonald and by extension, all of Taylors and Co. have learned to let their clientele guide the decision making process. Elements as simple as comfort and style have steered their product lines.
“Gun manufacturers all face the same challenges. It’s difficult to sit down and figure out what to do next year or how to rebrand or market differently or build your audience. Truthfully, I think every company faces those challenges. And for us, we have the added element of needing to be innovative.”
Innovation can often come in the form of modernization. Taylors’ folks have learned that sometimes changing a finish to add modern flair or create a revised look produces an updated firearm more appealing to shooters who may have been looking at other options.
Small changes broaden the audience, says McDonald. “In that regard, it’s a unique factor some modern gun manufacturers don’t have the ability to change. It’s easy to find people who have never handled a single action or lever action. But, they’ve taken an interest in one of our products because of something different, a little element we’ve changed or added. We also like to have a large variety of stock, so people can personalize their choices. It could be as simple as a style of engraving or a caliber that’s difficult to find. We’re even preparing to offer a “Build Your Own” option. Where even more choices like colored grips will be made available to customers.”
At one point in history, the purchase of a firearm was simple and straightforward. Special order modifications were costly and rare and fewer options were available for general consumers. However, with the popularity of shooting sports, organizations like SASS and mounted shooting, the desire for specialty firearms has reached new levels. Many shooters now view their gun as an accessory to complement their competition and display their unique personalities.
“Our Alaskan Takedown Rifle sort of started it all.” McDonald recalls. “We took a cowboy rifle with the original historic design and modernized the finish and the coating of the stock and we really saw our audience expand. The Alaskan allowed us to reach people who’d only touched military style weapons. And now, here they are with a cowboy lever action rifle because it looks amazing. We didn’t set out to reinvent the wheel, but the Takedowns and survival style guns have extended our reach.”
It would be too broad of a statement to say that Taylors and Co. offered two categories of products. While they do offer custom merchandise to fit the needs of mounted shooters across the country, they also offer firearms that are always going to maintain historical accuracy.
You’d be correct in thinking that a company offering historical firearms gets a lot of calls from one specialty group after another. Maybe even those Hollywood types working on the next generation of Western films. But that’s not something they use to measure their success.
“It’s exciting to be a part of a movie.” McDonald agreed. “But really, as a company, I think we’re most proud of our personal growth. This year, we have more employees than we’ve ever had before and we’re having serious discussions about our next steps. Our business is growing and we’re meeting larger demands. It’s been exciting and stressful at the same time. So for us, milestones like having more employees may not get a lot of fanfare, but the growth really means a lot.”
One thing their growth says is that Taylors and Co. is getting Customer Service right. In 2015 an Aspect Consumer Experience Survey said that, 76% of consumers viewed customer service as the truest test of how much a company values them, while 45% of customers couldn’t remember having a pleasant customer service experience.
So when you call Taylors and Co., with a question or concern, know this right now: they have real people answering the phones.
“Anytime a customer calls, they’re going to talk to someone. We don’t have a recording when you call. It’s important to maintain a connection with our clientele. That means answering questions and getting the information people want. These things matter to us.”
However, their success could also be attributed to their unique foundation, laid by motivated women. Walk into any firearm convention today and women are targeted as the quickest growing purchasing group. Every day, more and more women are purchasing firearms and getting involved in shooting sports. While women have not been strangers to the gun lifestyle, their presence is certainly growing.
“I’ve heard stories from Mom and my Grandmother, from the early days when they’d go to conventions and heard people wondering aloud What are they doing here? It was definitely a male dominated industry then, but it’s nice to see how times have changed. Of course you’ll always have some people who don’t take to the idea or those folks who are surprised by how much knowledge we (women) do have. But, these days, women are the biggest new demographic. It’s exciting to go out to the trade shows and industry events and see more females participating.
Taylors and Co. may not prescribe to popular feminism culture, but they do carry a certain amount of pride in being a female founded and headed organization.
“Women in the industry are doing big things and running the companies and that’s something you didn’t see for a long time.” McDonald continues. “In the past few years, we’ve started marketing ourselves as a female owned and run business. There was a time when we were uncomfortable doing that. We didn’t want feminism to be the thing we sat on. Now, we actively share our story and how we started. It’s much more accepted in our industry and that is so refreshing!”
While they are grateful for their growth and the ability to be females at the forefront on their industry, they always return to one thing. Their primary focus: the customer, says McDonald. “We’re constantly thinking about how we can do better. Or how we can supply a superior line of products to our customers. Because it’s about being the best company we can possibly be. My Grandmother and Mom knew that when they started. And we’ll never forget how it all began!”