For many of us in the business of covering the shooting industry, news that Smith & Wesson had sold its former Shooting Sports Center to a recycling company that shared the property came as quite a shock.
What was even more surprising was the fact that the entire facility, including the associated acreage, sold for considerably less than the money we all knew had been spent to create a very nice instructional facility, indoor ranges and - at one time- a full-retail facility dedicated entirely to Smith & Wesson products.
The facility on Page Boulevard in Springfield was the place where I had several “firsts” as I began covering the outdoor industry. It was the first place I ever attended a writer’s event, the first place I ever saw “real” instructors teaching as I was filming a Babes With Bullets event for the USPSA, and the only place I’ve ever competed in an indoor shooting competition.
The Indoor Nationals, a longtime highlight of the competition year, ended in 2017, but many hoped it would one day be resurrected.
The announcement that the former Shooting Sports Center would now be another property of the Northstar Pulp & Paper Company (conveniently located next door), pretty much dashes those hopes.
If you hadn't attended a Smith & Wesson new product preview at their Shooting Sports Center (above) or spent some quality time with their not-yet-announced products on their shooting lanes (below), many industry writers didn't consider you a "serious" journalist. Guess we'll need another standard going forward.
The retail sales and public range access ended in 2012 after an unfortunate incident when three felons were charged with renting firearms and then using them to train at the center. It was never implied that Smith & Wesson had done anything wrong, but the incident was enough to convince management that maybe public access wasn’t such a good idea.
Over the past few years, the facility was used less and less. I’m told that’s because American Outdoor Brands (the company that owns Smith & Wesson) has changed how they view training. As AOB’s VP of Investor Relations Liz Sharp explained to me via email: “rather than requiring our LE customers to bring entire teams to our facilities at great cost and considerable complexity, we now take the training to them.”
Today, rather than hold “training events” S&W’s regional managers travel, taking firearms and armorers’ training to the customers at their facilities. Makes financial sense, but I know officers today who still talk about their visits to the Shooting Sports Center, although most of the talk centers on activities “outside the scope” of training.
One of the benefits of working at S&W was the ability to access the facilities -even after they were closed to consumers. That, too, will become a thing of the past, although Sharp tells me there are now a number of public ranges in the area that provide plenty of opportunity. In fact, she tells me the company pays the cost of membership, and use them for their company and industry events.
It’s difficult -if not impossible- to argue with the fact that unused facilities still remain cost centers. After all, taxes, maintenance, insurance and security (especially for shooting ranges) aren’t things you can simply stop paying if/when management idles plants, warehouses, or other facilities.
Apparently, it’s another nod to AOB management’s efforts to increase efficiencies throughout their companies. Later this year, the company will close distribution operations located around the country (including Springfield), relocating them to a $75 million warehouse facility near Columbia, Missouri.
Smith & Wesson’s headquarters and sprawling manufacturing facilities remain on Roosevelt Avenue in Springfield. The closure and sale of the Shooting Sports Center is just another development in the progress of a company that’s come through plenty of changes since its beginnings in 1852.