The Power of Continuous Improvement
The company name seems simple enough. New Archery Products. It's concise, obvious.
Yet beneath those three simple words is an underlying power. Mention New Archery Products in the archery industry today and eyes light up and heads nod in respect. Distributors, retailers, consumers, even competitors, will hold this company and its products in highest esteem. Behind the words, the products, and the company, is founder and President Andy Simo. He is the leader and philosophical fountainhead behind NAP. He does very little that is haphazard or unplanned. His every move seems aimed at improvement.
"When I started the company in 1971, my wife, Cherie, and I wrestled for some time with selecting a name for our new business. But when I finally asked myself what it was I really wanted to do, the words just fell in place. I wanted to design and manufacture new archery products. Not just rehash old product ideas, but actually create products that were different and better. First and foremost, they had to be products that would make my own shooting better and more fun. Then I wanted to transfer those feelings, through my products, to my customers." Andy Simo talks openly about the feelings of his customers. He also talks about the feelings of his employees, his vendors, and anyone else he meets and deals with on a regular basis. One way to gain insight into Andy Simo, his feelings on a variety of subjects, and his remarkable success with New Archery Products, is to view the long road he's taken to get where he is today.
Andy Simo was born in a small mountain village in what used to be known as Czechoslovakia. The year was 1938 and Hitler was only months away from invading nearby Poland. World War II loomed on the horizon.
"Our little village was in a broad valley surrounded by tall mountains," recalls Andy. "There was a river running through the center of the village, which had a population of about 400. My family had a small house, just two rooms. But we were comfortable and I remember life as being pretty good. People in our village knew how to enjoy life. There was a lot of camaraderie, lots of singing. Families worked side-by-side in the fields and sang from hill to hill. Everyone was pretty self-sufficient. We farmed, we made our own cloth out of flax grass. We sewed our own clothing. No one had to go to a store except to buy salt and a few other essentials. I remember, as a kid, roaming the fields and small farms with my trusty slingshot, and sometimes with small bows that I made from willow branches cut from along the river.
"But with the German invasion of Poland in 1939, things began to change, even in our remote valley. When I was four, I watched German tanks and troops march down the length of the valley and right through the village. My little cousins and I thought it was pretty neat, because nothing exciting ever happened in our village. But I also remember sensing that all of the adults were pretty upset. The war had come to us.
"Complicating everything was the fact that just before I was born, my father had immigrated to America. The plan was that my mother and I would follow shortly. But when Hitler's Panzer Divisions marched into Poland, everything changed. My mother tried to get us out of the country after I was only a few months old, but she was turned back. She went to Prague a couple more times, but each time she was refused. She even tried going through Italy, but she was turned back there as well. In the meantime, because of the war, my father couldn't get back into the country."
Reluctantly, Andy's father eventually settled near Chicago and began a small business.
"He had a jewelry store and a sporting goods store combined on the outskirts of downtown Chicago. Then, in early 1947, he decided to go back into Czechoslovakia. He sold his business in America with the idea that he return to the old country and his family, and open up his business there. The war had ended, but when he arrived he discovered that the communists were taking over and that private businesses were being nationalized. So in October of 1948 he packed us up and we all immigrated to America. The only reason we were able to get out then was that my father had become an American citizen during his nine years in the United States."
Andy was ten at the time and spoke no English at all. The family settled in Cicero, Illinois, and Andy's father again opened a jewelry store. But this time, the jewelry store didn't do well and eventually, in 1948, Andy's father opened a community tavern in the next town of Berwyn. Based primarily on the people oriented strength of his father's personality, the tavern became an almost immediate success.
"For me, though, the most significant thing was that the tavern was located next door to a hobby shop, and in that hobby shop were model airplanes. At age 12 I became absolutely enamored with model airplanes."
Andy Simo took to model airplanes like a duck takes to water. In those days, model airplanes came in kits and nothing was prefabricated.
"The part shapes were all stamped on balsa wood, and you had to use a razor blade to very carefully cut out the wing ribs, the fuselage bulkheads, and all the other small parts. Then you assembled everything and put the covering on the wings and the rest of the airplane. Most of the early models I made were rubber band powered. We would stretch the rubber band out twice the length of the plane's fuselage, then wind it up tight with a hand drill as you walked toward the plane. The more elaborate models were pretty sophisticated. When you let the plane go it would fly to a certain altitude, the propeller would quit in a specified position, fold back against the fuselage to minimize drag, and the plane would glide back to earth. Eventually I began building models with motors and designing my own planes from scratch. I joined model airplane clubs and flew my planes in competitions. It was a wonderful hobby and I couldn't seem to get enough of it."
By the time Andy was in eighth grade, his mind was made up. He had decided he was going to study aeronautical engineering. He had also decided that he was going to do that at Purdue University in Indiana.
After graduation from high school, Andy Simo went straight to Purdue and four and a half years later graduated from that university with the aeronautical engineering degree he wanted so badly.
"Those were heady times for anyone with an aeronautical engineering degree. Just a few years before the Russians had launched Sputnik, and America was running scared that it was behind in the space race. The day I graduated I had job offers from a surprising number of firms.
The offer I accepted was from Boeing in Renton, Washington. But you'll never guess why," remarks Simo with a wink. "When I was growing up in Berwyn, my father had a regular customer in his tavern named Butch McClorey. McClorey was a bowhunter, which was a pretty surprising thing for the time. He used to go up to Wisconsin bowhunting and every now and then he'd return with a deer, and I was so damned impressed with that. He would bring his bow into the tavern and let me look at it. I'd hold that bow, try to draw it, and just knew I had to have one.
On my 18th birthday my father asked me what I wanted for a birthday present, and I told him I wanted a bow. We went to the local archery shop, Don Schram's Custom Archery in Forest Park, and I was just amazed at all the bows that were available. They were beautiful graceful things, recurves and longbows. We picked one out and dad bought it for me." Andy shot that bow all the way through college. "There was a target range just outside of my dormitory, and I shot there a lot. I'd never had any instruction on how to shoot properly, so I had to try to figure everything out myself But I knew I loved it.
"Then, after graduation, when it came time to pick a company to work for, I selected Boeing because I thought Washington state would be a great place to learn to bowhunt. I may have been the only aeronautical engineer in history to select Boeing for that reason."
Right out of college, Andy moved to Washington. The job at Boeing was going well and in no time he'd located a local archery shop. That shop was Northwest Archery in Seattle and the proprietor was none other than noted bowhunter Glen St. Charles, one of the original founders of the Pope and Young Club, and a good friend of Fred Bear's.
"I found myself in the midst of this seasoned group of bow hunters. We went elk and deer hunting and I learned how to make my own arrows. It was tremendous fun. That was in 1962, but after less than a year at the commercial aircraft plant in Renton, I was asked by the company to transfer to Huntsville, Alabama.
"Boeing had just landed a contract to work on the booster stage of the Saturn V moon rocket. It sounded like fascinating stuff, so I accepted the transfer and soon found myself working as a sort of engineering understudy for NASA, learning the NASA way of doing things.
"On my second day of work I was being shown around by my supervisor and was introduced to a pretty young secretary who, at the time, was working for one of the German rocket scientists that NASA employed. The young girl's name was Cherie. That was in May. In November, Cherie and I were married. As an extra engagement present, I bought Cherie a bow.
Shortly after we were married, Boeing decided that they needed a much larger plant to actually construct the Saturn booster stage and we were all transferred to New Orleans where such a larger plant existed." For two years, Andy and Cherie worked In New Orleans, Andy for Boeing and Cherie for Chrysler, which was also a subcontractor for NASA on the Saturn V Project. At the end of that time, Andy decided to return to Purdue University to pursue a masters degree in structural engineering. But that lasted only a year before he was off to Marietta, Georgia and a job with Lockheed Aircraft. The job included working on the C-5A Transport, the world's largest transport airplane. That was something that strongly appealed to Andy.
From 1965 until 1971 Andy Simo worked in Georgia for Lockheed. He also spent an inordinate amount of time at the Lockheed Archery Club.
"It was a wonderful archery club, and that's where I really, really got into bows and arrows. There were 26 different field archery ranges around Atlanta at the time, and Cherie and I shot almost every weekend. We even rented a house that had a yard big enough so that we could shoot up to 60 yards. I also bowhunted every weekend during the hunting season."
By 1971, though, Lockheed was laying off huge numbers of engineers and Andy guessed his department was next. "Ever since college I'd thought about owning my own business. At one time I thought I might like to start a small manufacturing business making components and accessories for model airplanes. But while at Lockheed I'd gotten so immersed in archery that I began thinking seriously about starting a company to design, manufacture, and sell new archery products. It seemed that I was always tinkering with my archery equipment, and I had developed quite a few ideas on how to make things better. Given my engineering background, improved arrow rests seemed like the place to start. At that point, though, everything was still in the thinking stage."
When the layoff finally came, Andy found himself at a turning point.
"I could listen to my head and pursue yet another job in the aircraft industry. Or, I could listen to my heart and try to make a go of designing and manufacturing archery equipment. My heart, and archery, won out."
In 1971 arrow rests were pretty simple affairs. Most bows came with carpet- type rests. Mter-market arrow rests consisted of a few stick-on rests of the bristle and feather type, along with a small handful of plastic and metal arrow rests, and not much more. With most such rests, fletch clearance was a problem. Arrow flight was effected and feathers wore out prematurely.
"I was obsessed with getting peak performance from my bows. I played with brace heights, I modified limbs, I experimented a good deal with lighter bowstrings. But I also worked continuously on better arrow rests. I wanted a new rest that would be more forgiving, more precise. Gradually, I developed what would become my first new archery product - the Flipper Rest. It was pretty advanced for the time. Originally the body was made out of stainless steel. Later it was injection molded out of nylon and reinforced internally with a brass bushing. The arrow sat on a Teflon-sleeved stainless steel arrow support arm. That arm folded out of the way at the slightest touch.
"Local Atlanta-area archers loved them. I started making them in my basement, bending and soldering the arms myself. Each Flipper Rest sold for $3.50, making them one of the most expensive arrow rests on the market at the time. Then we put a small ad in a national archery magazine, and more orders trickled in. Gradually demand grew. A few dealers even started ordering them in larger lots, and I hired a few high school kids to help me solder Flipper Rests in the evenings."
That was in 1971. Now leap ahead 30 years and look at New Archery Products today. Today NAP is one of the largest, most respected, and most successful accessory manufacturers in the archery industry. Today there are 60 employees. Today there is a custom designed 29,000 square foot building. Today NAP is on top.
The trouble with today's view, though, is that you don't see what it took to get there. You don't see the extensive background in engineering and design. You don't see the work ethic derived from hard-working, honest parents. You don't see the thirty years of slowly building an archery company.