50 years of mak­ing Winch­ester

Winch­ester is viewed in some quar­ters as a part of the ‘pow­er­ful gun lobby’, but in re­al­ity, the com­pany has for 50 years been a stable Aus­tralian man­u­fac­turer, a good cor­po­rate citizen and em­ployer and a gen­er­ous con­trib­u­tor to the gen­eral com­mu­nity and

Field and Game - - 50 YEARS OF MAKING WINCHESTER -

Winch­ester Aus­tralia bears the name of a 150-year-old global brand but the Gee­long am­mu­ni­tion fac­tory is no multi­na­tional be­he­moth, it is nim­ble and re­spon­sive, which is a big part of its suc­cess in an in­creas­ingly glob­alised mar­ket­place.

Gen­eral man­ager Clive Pugh said the fac­tory was built as part of a global strat­egy be­fore the ad­vent of con­tainer­ised ship­ping.

In the 1960s, Winch­ester USA built satel­lite fac­to­ries in Canada, Italy and Aus­tralia, mainly to pro­duce shot­shell am­mu­ni­tion. “That was their way of ser­vic­ing the world and we were set up to service South-east Asia; Ja­pan for a long time was a huge mar­ket for us, 12 mil­lion rounds a year shipped there from this fa­cil­ity,” Clive said.

Aus­tralia had a large enough mar­ket to sus­tain a pro­duc­tion fa­cil­ity, and Vic­to­ria, with both the avail­abil­ity and pop­u­lar­ity of duck hunt­ing, was the log­i­cal lo­ca­tion.

Pre­mier Sir Henry Bolte, a keen duck hunter and pa­tron of Field & Game Aus­tralia, was pre­sented with a Winch­ester 1866–1966 Cen­te­nial ri­fle by Winch­ester USA vice pres­i­dent Her­bert E. Boge dur­ing a visit in 1965. By 1967 the Gee­long plant was in full pro­duc­tion. “For all of those years we have been there to service the lo­cal mar­ket; we are much more now a load and pack op­er­a­tion,” Clive said.

The Winch­ester Aus­tralia fac­tory pro­duces shot­shell and .22 rim­fire, some cen­tre-fire ri­fle and cen­tre-fire pis­tol am­mu­ni­tion.

Brass cas­ings for the pro­jec­tiles were once man­u­fac­tured on site but that ceased when the brass strip fac­tory that sup­plied the raw ma­te­rial closed. Hulls for shot­shell pro­duc­tion were lo­cally pro­duced un­til 2008 but are now im­ported from Europe.

Clive said lo­cal man­u­fac­tur­ing had to adapt as the in­dus­try has changed.

“We still load shot­shell but all the cases come in now; we used to do it end-to-end but the economies of scale of mak­ing prod­uct have changed. When we used to make 25–35 mil­lion rounds of shot­shell a year it was vi­able, but now to be vi­able you have to be mak­ing 100, 200, 300 mil­lion rounds.”

In re­cent years, the lack of scale in Aus­tralia has proved a dis­tinct ad­van­tage be­cause the fac­tory is flex­i­ble and nim­ble enough to re­spond to in­dus­try and con­sumer de­mand. “We never used to load a round for the NRAA un­til they came to us look­ing for a con­sis­tent spec. From time to time we’ve >>

>> pro­duced branded prod­ucts for traders or com­pe­ti­tions. All of Winch­ester USA’S 16-gauge are made in this fa­cil­ity, our smaller size gives us greater flex­i­bil­ity to go and make that,” Clive said.

Winch­ester man­u­fac­tures to tighter tol­er­ances than the reg­u­lated stan­dards with a sin­gle aim, pro­duc­ing am­mu­ni­tion that per­forms re­li­ably and con­sis­tently. “When we talk about tol­er­ance it is re­ally re­peata­bil­ity, that one round is the same as the next round and the next round, so the con­sumer can be con­fi­dent that ev­ery round they load does the same thing.” Clive said. “We would ar­gue that is one of our points of dif­fer­ence with our com­peti­tors.”

In the field or in high-level com­pet­i­tive shooting, where ac­cu­racy is im­por­tant, con­sumers may opt for a pre­mium prod­uct but Winch­ester’s man­u­fac­tur­ing process and con­tin­ual test­ing dur­ing pro­duc­tion runs de­liv­ers a uni­for­mity of per­for­mance to ev­ery prod­uct. “We pride our­selves on do­ing that; there is a cost to do it and some­times we ques­tion our­selves as to whether it is worth do­ing that, but we think that it is be­cause Winch­ester is a brand we want peo­ple to as­so­ci­ate with be­ing con­sis­tent and re­li­able ev­ery time you use it,” Clive said.

That con­sis­tency is due to the ded­i­ca­tion of Winch­ester Aus­tralia’s em­ploy­ees; many have been on the fac­tory floor for decades. A wall in the tea­room is adorned with 50th birth­day mes­sages from staff. “I’ve been here for over 40 years of Winch­ester’s 50, I’m very lucky,” Graeme Main wrote, sum­ming up the feel­ings of many.

This was Clive Pugh’s own mes­sage: “For 50 years we made and sold prod­ucts for Aus­tralian and in­ter­na­tional shoot­ers. Our abil­ity to adapt and change means we can prove how re­silient our peo­ple are. Go the 100th.”

Adapt­abil­ity and in­ge­nu­ity will get the fac­tory to that mile­stone.

Jeff Gordon, Winch­ester Aus­tralia’s sales and mar­ket­ing man­ager, tells the story of a US ex­ec­u­tive and the prob­lem­atic squir­rel. Es­sen­tially, he wanted a way to get his neme­sis with­out fright­en­ing the neigh­bours. “Any chance you can load me a sub­sonic mag­num?” was the ques­tion. “Sub­sonic mag­num is a bit of an oxy­moron,” Jeff said, “but he was se­ri­ous, so when I got back we started play­ing around with it and ended up load­ing a 45-grain sub­sonic mag­num.”

Some­how, word got out and it was be­ing talked about on fo­rums as some myth­i­cal magic bul­let but that wasn’t in any cat­a­logue. “We re­leased it to mar­ket in Aus­tralia first and it sold out in days and we’re now load­ing it here to sup­ply the United States with their sub­sonic mag­num,” Jeff said.

“It all started with a con­ver­sa­tion about a squir­rel.”

A lit­tle known part of the Winch­ester’s Aus­tralian busi­ness is pro­duc­ing charges for the con­struc­tion in­dus­try, in­clud­ing de­vel­op­ment and man­u­fac­ture of a spe­cialised un­der­wa­ter charge for Ram­set.

Add to that a cus­tom round and a mod­i­fied firearm de­vel­oped for shooting from a he­li­copter and a charge used to fire lines be­tween Royal Aus­tralian Navy ships and you get an idea of the Winch­ester Aus­tralia’s ap­petite for in­no­va­tion and prob­lem solv­ing.

Winch­ester Aus­tralia is also a ma­jor im­porter and dis­trib­u­tor of firearms and am­mu­ni­tion for pri­vate, law en­force­ment and mil­i­tary use but it is a source of pride that they still “make stuff” here.

While part of the broader firearms in­dus­try, Clive Pugh bris­tles at the no­tion of a ‘pow­er­ful gun lobby’ when at both in­dus­try and par­tic­i­pant level, rep­re­sen­ta­tion has his­tor­i­cally been frag­mented.

A me­dia per­cep­tion that any ad­vo­cate for firearms is speak­ing on be­half of the ‘pow­er­ful firearms lobby’ pre­cludes the me­dia seek­ing other views and opin­ions.

Winch­ester Aus­tralia is a ma­jor player yet the com­pany isn’t sought out to con­trib­ute to pub­lic de­bate on is­sues af­fect­ing firearms own­er­ship and use. “I’ve been here just on 11 years now; I’ve never taken one phone call from a mem­ber of the press ask­ing my view as a mem­ber of the firearms in­dus­try, not once,” Clive said. “It does frus­trate me when you hear the press talk about the gun lobby; we think we’re an im­por­tant part of that, we rep­re­sent 25 per cent of the mar­ket in what we do.”

The Shooting In­dus­try Foun­da­tion of Aus­tralia (SIFA), an al­liance of the key play­ers in the firearms in­dus­try, formed to change that dy­namic and pro­vide a stronger, uni­fied voice for the in­dus­try.

Winch­ester Aus­tralia’s Gee­long fac­tory has stood the test of time but the last ques­tion to Clive is how to en­sure it will still be go­ing strong in an­other 50 years. “We have to be think­ing about how the mar­ket will in­no­vate; one of the things that has kept us here is we have shown an abil­ity to evolve and change. Winch­ester Aus­tralia now isn’t the same as it was 50 years ago.”

Daniel Hom­mell­hoff is part of the team that ran­domly tests am­mu­ni­tion to en­sure re­li­a­bil­ity and con­sis­tency.

Sir Henry Bolte with a pre­sen­ta­tion ri­fle re­ceived af­ter open­ing the Winch­ester plant in Gee­long

Mar­garet Hin­net is one of many long term em­ploy­ees at the Winch­ester plant.

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