Pay close attention, a gunwriter is about to make a confession. I'll bet I have your attention now. Several years ago, maybe ten, I was discussing project with a fellow firearms scribe. I was seeking his advice regarding an accessory for the gun I was working with. "Have you checked the Brownell's catalog?" he asked. I had to admit that I didn't have one. My friend kindly took me to the virtual woodshed and advised me to get off my butt and get one.
Here comes the confession. I was aware of the name Brownell's and I knew about their inch-thick catalog, however, I was under the mistaken assumption that the catalog was for gunsmiths and as I was not a gunsmith I didn't need one. Yes, I was wrong.
Sure, the Montezuma, Iowa catalog company has thousands of pieces, parts, and tools for the gunsmith. Bob Brownell, the founder, started out as a gunsmith. Bob had a gun shop and had gained a respectable reputation as a gunsmith back in "the war years".
What the senior Brownell discovered was that he frequently had difficulty finding the various parts and accessories he needed to do his job. Suspecting that other gun-tinkers were having the same problems he decided to start the business of providing various small, but necessary pieces, parts, and accessories for gun maintenance and repair.
Of the original catalog items were bluing salts and stock finishes. Like many great American success stories, the original business began in the Brownell's family basement and the only two "employees" were husband and wife.
As the time passed, Brownell's moved above ground and rented various locations in rural Montezuma. Over the years, Brownell's gained the respect of the shooting sports community and their catalogs became a staple for gunsmiths nationwide.
In 1964 Frank Brownell, after serving his country as a officer in the United States Navy, returned to Montezuma and went to work with his dad. As with most family-owned businesses, when the father moved into his golden years the son took on a larger role in the company.
With the passing of its founder, Frank took over the family business, expanded the selection and oversaw the expansion of the facility. The Brownell's catalog, while containing myriad useful items for the gunsmith, also contained literally thousands of items of interest for any firearms owner. Frank proudly stood by their company motto of "Service, Selection, Satisfaction."
In late 1990's the third generation Brownell entered the family business. Frank's son Pete went to work with his father in the company founded by his grandfather. The "big catalog" company has been had their shingle out for more than sixty years now and has grown tremendously. The current catalog has over 32,000 items listed.
Recently I had the opportunity to visit with Frank and Pete Brownell and their right hand man Larry Weeks at the Brownell's facility in Montezuma. They graciously took time out of their busy schedules to show me the company their family had built and to just "talk guns".
As it was a generation before, the son, Pete, has now taken on a larger role in the family business. With Pete directing the day to day operations Frank has more time to enjoy the fruits of his labors. "It's nice to have the time to shoot and hunt". Frank related to me. For many years he was so busy running the company that recreation time took a back seat. Mr. Brownell enthusiastically shared the stories of a recent caribou expedition in Canada and his dove hunt in Argentina.
While listening to Pete Brownell explain the operation and philosophy of the company several descriptors stood out in my mind; speed, efficiency and customer service. "There is no such thing as a 'small' customer." said Pete. Someone who needs a $2.00 part receives the same attention and service as an agency placing a thousand dollar order.
Brownell's goal is to ship every order the day it is received. From a practical standpoint it's virtually impossible to ship 100 percent of all orders by close of business. However, the realistic benchmark is 90 percent or higher. The Friday that I visited they had shipped 93 percent of the orders received that day. "That's out the door." Pete explained, "Not sitting in a box on the dock waiting for tomorrow's UPS pickup."
Custom service is of course top of the list. "It doesn't matter how fast we ship the order if it's wrong". Pete related and explained how modern computerized tracking and employee training helps to ensure that the orders are right. Mistakes do happen though. If for some reason the order is not correct or the customer is not satisfied, the return policy is simple. Send it back with a note explaining what was wrong and Brownells will make it right.
If for some reason a product is out of stock or backordered the customer isn't hit with two shipping charges. "They pay shipping once." Mr. Brownell stated. "We aren't going to punish the customer with two shipping charges because we are out of something." When that back ordered product does arrive it is flagged and "fast tracked" out the door.
More than just a parts supplier; Brownell's can help answer your questions. The company has several experienced gunsmiths and technicians on staff. These people are there to answer your technical questions regarding all manner of gun repair, maintenance, and accessorizing.
There is a genuine personal connection at Brownells. "When you call here you will talk to a real person." Frank Brownell assured me. "There is none of that 'Press 1' business here." The call staff is constantly trained to assist the customer and their goal is to answer every call in 30 seconds. That is a tall order for a company that receives on average more than 1000 orders a day.
You will be pleased know that the folks at Brownells are 'gun people'. "We recruit people who are actually shooters and hunters." Frank related. "Years back we would hire business professionals thinking that they would become gun people over time but that rarely worked out. In the gun business you must have people who understand firearms and what the customer needs."
A good example of this was the recent construction of the Brownell's shooting range. When Montezuma opened a new golf course and country club Frank offered memberships to his employees as an incentive. He had no takers. However, one of the suggestions that he got from employees was that they wanted a dedicated shooting range of their own.
Frank and Pete responded to that request in a big way. A couple of years back they broke ground on their modern range facility. Much more than a dirt backstop or a hand trap, the current shooting range has both trap and skeet ranges. There are two 50 yards ranges, a 100 yard range and a 500 yard long rifle range. Always community minded; the Browell family has opened the range up to law enforcement agencies from all over the state. Various 4H Shooting Sports clubs and several other sportsmen's organizations have been welcomed to the new range.
What does the current Browells catalog have to offer you or more appropriately, what will you find on www.Brownells.com? If you are a competition shooter, hunter, law enforcement officer, or gunsmith they have something for you. Even if all you need to do is clean and maintain your gun they have what you need. They also own and operate www.sinclairintl.com and www.policestore.com.
My old misconception notwithstanding, the Brownell's catalog is not just for the gunsmith. Have a new rifle and need rings and bases? Have a pistol and need spare magazines or a new front sight? Looking for butt-pad, sling hardware, or a refinishing kit for your shotgun? Go online and you should find exactly what you need. Have a question? Give the folks in Montezuma a call. Chances are great that they have just what you are looking for.
Paul Markel © 2013
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