Lever fever is a particularly virulent strain of firearms fascination. In a country where highly-customizable “military-style” firearms dominate the market, lever guns continue to entrance buyers with their romantic appeal. “Lever guns represented a distinct break from European-designed bolt action rifles,” Henry Repeating Arms’ CEO Anthony Imperato told TTAG. “They’re still a quintessentially American design, a true American firearm . . . People who buy our lever guns are connecting with our common history. At the same time, they own a very useful firearm.” Yes there is that . . .
You’ll see plenty of Henrys in cowboy action shooting events – where owners dress-up in Wild West regalia and compete against each other with lever guns, single action pistols and side-by-side shotguns. While the frontiersman image remains a key sales driver, Imperato says cowboy action shooting forms a relatively small portion of his total business.
Roughly a third of Henry’s customers buy and use their lever guns for hunting. The .22-caliber firearms are a firm favorite amongst varmint hunters. Big game hunters depend on Henry’s large-caliber centerfire rifles to take everything up to and including monstrous Grizzly bears. Decorated “tribute series rifles” make up about five percent of sales. Plinking accounts for the lion’s share of his business. Self-defense doesn’t really figure.
All in, it’s a lot of guns. “We sold around 300 thousand lever guns last year,” Imperato says. To put that into perspective, Henry Repeating Rifles’ sales rose 20 percent in 2014. Imperato reports that sales are up 15 to 20 percent this year, as well. “It would have been even better if it wasn’t for the .22 shortage.” Which Imperato sees easing, gradually, eventually.
Meanwhile, Henry continues to manufacture its guns in . . . wait for it . . . New Jersey. Imperato has no illusions about the Garden State’s anti-gun agenda, or their tax regime’s impact on his bottom line. Despite overtures from gun and business-friendly states, Imperato won’t – can’t – move his main operation. “We have 225 highly-skilled employees working here. Some of them are 20-year veterans with the company.” Simply put, “We take care of our people.”
That said, Henry Repeating Arms has expanded out-of-state, in Wisconsin. Since opening its facility, the company’s workforce has grown from 17 to 175 employees. And will continue to grow, as Henry looks to expand its lever gun product line. “We’re looking into bigger caliber guns, maybe steel,” Imperato says. “And other firearms that tie-in with the brand’s appeal to Wild West history.”
Although Imperato played coy, the CEO admitted that he’s possibly interested in the double-action revolver market as a companion piece for Henry lever owners. What about a side-by-side coach gun? “It takes us three years to get from pen and paper to final production. We don’t talk about new guns until they hit the shipping dock.”
Current Henry Repeating Arms lever guns? Imperato will talk about those all day, every day, with anyone, anywhere, anytime. “I love meeting customers who tell me about how much they love and value their guns. We get a lot of proud grandfathers who buy Henry .22’s as their grandchildren’s first gun . . . Our guns are a part of people’s lives.”
Imperato says this trans-generational process helps keep Henry Repeating particularly safe from the aging demographic issue. But even without it, lever fever will continue to spread. “We don’t make salt shakers,” he says. “We make a gun with a strong emotional connection. Once someone shoots one our guns, they get it.” Literally.