Beeman Predecessors?

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Updated excerpts from a 1998 letter from Robert Beeman to Robert Eck, then President of S/R Industries (the firm which purchased Beeman Precision Arms), with updates:

You had asked if, as I write the history of the American adult airgun market and Beeman's, I was going to give credit to our predecessor. I answered that Beeman's didn't really have a predecessor, but you indicated that you thought that Air Rifle Headquarters was our predecessor. We do not have the slightest desire to belittle ARH or Bob Law, but somewhere, sometime, someone should straighten out this little bit of history and put things into perspective. We always had good relations with Bob Law, who was Air Rifle HQ, but that hobbyist company certainly should not be considered the predecessor of Beeman's in the development of the adult airgun market in America. That idea seems to have stemmed from a few hard core airgun nuts, but is not borne out by the facts. Adult airguns, even imported ones, had been introduced to the U.S. market several times before ARH or Beeman came along. Probably the first significant introduction of imported adult airguns was made by the Stoeger Arms Co. catalog operation prior to W.W.II. They brought in a few of the old Diana models under the Peerless name and also cataloged a few other adult airguns.. Later, Winchester imported a few thousand Diana guns, mainly the lower cost models, under the Winchester label. HyScore imported far less, perhaps a few thousand. Daisy brought in several hundred of the FWB match guns and many Scottish Diana break-barrel air rifles and Harrington & Richardson sold a few  hundred of the Webley air pistols. Air Rifle HQ came after all of these and, in fact, obtained many of his guns from those importers. According to Wischo, the big German distributor who has served as the sole export agent for HW, Feinwerkbau, H&N, etc., ARH had their peak about 1975; even then they only bought about $35,000 worth of airguns and pellets per year. There now are several dealers in the U.S. who do that much just in local sales of airguns. None of those purchases involved any exclusive distribution agreements for ARH.

The above importers all helped introduce adult airguns to the U.S., but frankly, what they had in common was that none of them really had significant commercial success in that area. This was especially true of ARH; not only was his volume always quite low, but Bob Law, as he stated in several letters in our files, tried to avoid attracting too much attention to this market. He was convinced that if he went beyond little classified ads, that "someone big would find out about these guns and take over the market". He actually tried to remain inconspicuous and thus successfully avoided commercial success in introducing European adult airguns to the American market! And none of these companies (except for HyScore and the air pistol that they designed and produced in the U.S.), ever designed any significant new models, changed designs to suit this market, or made or introduced new pellet designs.  And, ARH did not have any airgun makers produce guns to his specifications or under his trademark. Bob Law, as ARH, ran a fine business with utmost integrity and tremendous personal commitment. Some of our inspiration came from Bob Law and Bob certainly is a unique and interesting part of the history of adult airguns in the United States. While others clearly predated Beeman in the introduction of adult airguns into the USA, I frankly believe, and more importantly, others (Tom Gaylord, Steve FjestadBill Bridgewater, Robert Hunnicutt, etc.) believe, that none of these companies really were predecessors of the Beeman company's development of the American adult airgun market. Evidently Beeman's commercial scale, its mix of rather different and special approaches, and its special designs suited to the American market added up to be a unique market catalyst at just the right time..

Finally, contrary to some tales of the "nattering nabobs of negativism" (click on blue type for more info) and the uninformed, ARH did not close primarily because of us. Bob Law and the Beemans had an extensive, very cordial correspondence exchange and we met several times. While we were vigorous competitors for awhile, I think that we both considered the other as a friend. Certainly Bob's letters to us were voluminous and highly personal, the kind that one only writes to a special friend. They covered everything from every detail of the business to his love life. Bob Law's many letters about closing up made it very clear that he was closing because his business (in which he was the main player) had sunk almost out of sight during the many months that he had spent on a sick bed and because he wanted to be sure that his ex-wife could not find any more assets to strip from him. After we developed exclusive distribution contracts with most of the overseas airgun makers, we made a special deal with Bob Law to sell him whatever he wanted, at our landed volume costs (lower than what his prices for small direct orders would have been), for as long as he wished to continue to deal with customers. Thus, we managed to keep his failing business afloat for the limited time and to the level that he wanted to maintain.

In the early 1980's, Baron von Pritwitz (sp?) of the Dynamit Nobel Company took Mrs. Beeman and myself into the DN/RWS display office at the IWA show in Nuremberg and congratulated us on the first successful commercial introduction of adult airguns into America. He followed his thanks by announcing that because we had done this, Dyamit Nobel would now enter the American adult airgun market and "shoot us out of the water". It is rumored that they let him go shortly after that, perhaps at least partially because of that unrestrained remark. This threat worried us quite a bit. They promised to go below our prices no matter how low we might go to compete with them. I realized that the only way out was to raise our prices about 10% and increase the perceived value of our products - that is to get the public to realize that our products actually were much better. (We started the "Tap the Cap" advertising program shortly after that.). This approach not only gave us more profit, thus allowing us more promotion and enabling us to give better service, it kept us up in the market for so long, and to such a degree, that DN had only pulled to about even with us, in a market which had multiplied many fold, about the time that we sold the business to S/R Industries in 1993.


by Robert Beeman

After the articles on the history of the Beeman business, and the development of the adult airgun market in the U.S., in the latest catalog from the new Beeman business, the American Rifleman article on our business, and the extensive article in the Alliance Voice 9(1) by Bill Bridgewater, as well as the notes in Airgun Letter, we have received requests for more information. Here are a few miscellaneous notes for the record.

Beeman's first importation of airguns was an order of 27 airguns at a total cost of about $1800. We borrowed the money for our start from the bank. The German exporter required payment up front and was quite apprehensive about backing us because, up to that time, no-one in the United States had really made a commercial success of adult airguns. In a few years that apprehension turned to enthusiasm and large credit lines when we started to sell over a hundred airguns per day. Each of the major European airgun manufacturers granted us exclusive distribution rights on their products so that a stable distribution to dealers could begin. The business also slowly expanded to international sales, especially to Indonesia, Australia, and South America. Finally, in 1991, Colt Industries approached us with an interest in buying the entire Beeman operation, even including the local retail store. Details of how Colt agreed to buy and came within a "gnat's hair" of doing so and how instead S/R Industries of Kazmaier Associates came to buy Beeman's are given in Airgun Letter. (The Sale of Beeman).

In the seventies, we saw a major development in the shooting industry all over the United States: a tremendous growth in interest in adult airguns among shooters, and especially important, among regular stocking gun dealers, distributors, and even the NRA. It has been immensely gratifying that leaders, and others, in the shooting industry have stated that our considerable efforts to make adult airguns understood and respectable in the U.S., and to design models which were more appealing to Americans, were responsible for a large part of that development. Import figures showed that Beeman's was supplying about 92% of the imported airguns and pellets for that developing market. The only other significant parts of the precision adult airgun market then were handled by an old-time businessman, the late Steve Laszlo of the HyScore Corporation, and to a much lesser extent, a very enthusiastic hobbyist, Robert Law of Air Rifle Headquarters. Steve specialized in Diana airguns and Bob mainly specialized in BSF airguns.

Every year at the big national shooting sports trade show, Steve would try to sell us his business and especially his HyScore pistol manufacturing equipment! After one such show, Steve, his wonderfully intelligent and pleasant wife, Tosh and myself had dinner together in San Francisco. The next day they left for a vacation in Hawaii where Steve suddenly died of a heart attack. The business simply collapsed; Steve's children were so little interested in the business affairs that they would not even accept payment for over a thousand dollars that we owed to HyScore! (One piece of luck: Steve had just sent us all the prototypes of his American HyScore air pistols and some compact CO2 pistols that did not get into production!). On the other side, Bob Law was experiencing great problems. His second wife, Brenda, had left him and was demanding half of the business. Severe medical problems caused weeks and weeks in the hospital for Bob. Because he was most of the business, it was heading out of the picture. A few, uninformed, jealous gossips have it that the Beemans and Bob Law had an antagonistic relationship. However, our correspondence files reveal that, especially during this difficult period, Bob and we had a very amicable and warm association. We considered him a friend and I'm sure that the feeling was mutual. Some of his long letters to us explained that he planned to give what was left of his assets to his church to keep them from Brenda. He sold most of his remaining inventory to customers and various friends. Apparently he could not seem to dispose of much of his office equipment, obsolete parts, and publications. He offered these to us at extremely favorable prices and much appreciated our purchase of them, saying that we saved him from just hauling them to the dump with most of the remaining publication inventory. We helped him stay in business in a part time manner by supplying him with airguns at our imported cost, plus a tiny handling fee. Those costs surely were lower than his former direct import costs as we were then importing in quantities that were far beyond his biggest direct orders. Later, as he phased completely out of the airgun business, and into the printing of religious tracts, we helped him for several years by paying for each customer inquiry that he forwarded to us. We maintained a very pleasant, extended, and sometimes humorous, or even philosophical correspondence. In one letter, he commented that the Diana 10 air pistol was one of the ugliest things that he had ever seen, but then, Bob added: "However, that is what they said about me when I was born, until they cleaned me up and realized that they were looking at the wrong end!".

Never would we have dreamed that we would sell over a hundred million dollars worth of airguns and related products. Finally after almost a quarter of century of that wonderful growth that surprised us, perhaps even more than anyone else, we decided to retire again while still on a high note. (I previously had retired as a university professor.) We now really are enjoying life as cattle ranchers in the wild west. Although we are delighted to be almost completely out of the commercial aspects of the airgun business (except for consulting and my continuing work as an expert witness in airgun legal cases ), our love affair with the world's airguns continues in the further development of the Beeman Airgun Collection and in writing about airguns. As you know, we have been especially enthusiastic about developing what has become a really wonderful international collection of antique airguns, especially those made before 1900. Way back in the seventies, we were fortunate to be able to buy, and trade for, many unique airguns. This included some fine airgun collections, especially much of the Charter (Nick) Harrison collection which comprised a large part of the very specimens illustrated in Eldon Wolff's classic Air Guns book. Many of those great guns had been sold by Nick's family to pay for his huge medical bills. We had a lot of fun tracking the widely scattered specimens until we had most of them. Before our sale of the Beeman business, we made an annual tradition of displaying some of the most interesting pieces from the Beeman collection on the color cover of our catalog. We refused to let the collection go with the sale of business.

Our recent activities in the study of airguns have included penetrating the Amazon and Borneo jungles in search of blowguns and behind the scenes study and photography of old airguns in most of the leading museums of Europe from Istanbul to Copenhagen. It's tough work, but someone has to do it! We have already put a lot of hard work into producing a book about our collection and the history of airguns. And, we are trying to establish a really basic reference guide to airgun models and values in the form of continually improved editions of the Blue Book of Airguns. Our pet project is the Lewis and Clark airgun (see section of this website) and this is taking an enormous amount of our time and effort. These projects, of course, must be labors of love; we already have spent several times more just on professional photos and photo equipment and computers than we could ever realize from sales of the Blue Book. We hope that some airgunners will look forward to seeing these publications, even a fraction as much as do Mrs. Beeman and myself!