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Business is booming at ammunition business

Darren Newsom, owner of an ammunition manufacturing business headquartered in Stevensville, is working his way towards $100 million in gross sales.

By Michael Howell

 

One of the biggest employers in the Stevensville area these days is an ammunition company located on the highway near Bell Crossing called Armscor Cartridge Inc., or ACI for short. Owner Darren Newsom, 47, is a Stevensville High School graduate who, instead of leaving town to go to college, went to work in another local ammunition factory near Stevensville. He worked as manager there for 11 years before venturing out on his own with partner Jim Pease and starting up Bitterroot Valley Ammunition Company (BVAC).

In 2010, Newsom started up a companion business to BVAC called Armcor Cartridge Inc. and subsequently BVAC was sold to a Chicago company that, he said, ran it into the ground. ACI, on the other hand, has been doing “better than I ever thought,” says Newsom. Starting with only four employees, ACI now employs about 50 people at its Stevensville factory, and another 1,500 at its other two factories, one located in The Phillipines and the other in Nevada. Gross sales for the business reached $30 million last year.

Newsom is three years into a planned expansion of his business that he expects will bump his gross sales up to $100 million over the next several years. He said it’s easy for a business that’s on a roll to try and expand too quickly. He said he is moving cautiously and sticking to his plans.

Part of the company’s success has been its openness to innovation, according to Newsom. Most of the machines at work on the floor today were locally designed and locally built in cooperation with Bitterroot Tool, another Stevensville business. Most of the machines took about a year to build from scratch and cost about a million dollars.

Newsom said he likes to work with local businesses in whatever way he can. He said he works with A2Z Personnel in Stevensville to do his hiring. If he can’t get things locally, he tries to keep his major purchases in the state. He buys his gun powder from Western Powder in Miles City.

A lot of the ammunition made at ACI is sold to the military and to police departments across Montana and the nation. They have a large contract with the San Diego, California, Police Department. That department and others, according to Newsom, save up their spent cartridges from shooting practice and trade them back for a discount on their orders.

They also make brass and do a lot of business with some of the other larger ammunition companies like Federal by selling them brass. Newsom said, “The big guys are not my competition, they are my customers.”

The quality of the final product is important to Newsom. All ammunition coming off the line is examined by hand and visually by trained personnel.

“A lot of companies use automated inspection,” said Newsom, “but I believe the human eye is better.”

Another thing not always done by ammunition companies is to check on the quality of each batch of ammunition by test firing it. Newsom invested about a quarter of a million dollars in an indoor firing range to do just that. Now he not only produces quality ammo, but he can show the customers proof.

Newsom also owns a retail store, Ammo & More, located on Hwy 93 just north of the Stevensville Junction, in part because of his desire to be involved more in the community by actually serving local shooters and hunters.

Newsom believes strongly in supporting his local community. Of course, providing 50 jobs in a small town is a big boost for any little community. But he’s also a big supporter of the school and local organizations, like the Stevensville Main Street Association.

When it comes to making investments outside the business, he also likes to keep it local. Currently he owns 11 rental properties in the town of Stevensville.

ACI does more than make ammunition, they also make guns now. The 22 TCM is not only a different kind of gun, it shoots a different kind of cartridge.

“Not many companies develop a brand new cartridge,” said Newsom. “We build the brass and everything.” What it means is a growing niche market for a gun that only ACI can provide the ammunition for.

Newsom recalled how, when he had the opportunity to meet President Trump and his son Donald Jr. through his association and support of the Mule Deer Foundation, he took the opportunity to give Donald Jr. one of the guns.

“Now the President’s son has to buy my ammunition,” he said.

Newsom said at the time he was afraid of possibly being regulated out of business and was pleased to hear President Trump say if he was elected he guaranteed that “no one was going to take my bullets away.”

“I had to correct him and say we call it ammunition,” said Newsom.

Newsom said Trump also promised some tax relief and has come through. He said the tax savings are not only going to help finance his expansion projects, but are also going into raises for all his employees.

One Response to Business is booming at ammunition business
  1. John G Mills
    February 9, 2018 | 1:13 am

    Got no problem driving from a small town in WA on the Columbia River called Woodland all the way over there to buy ammunition ever since my first visit many years ago. Thanks for being there and please keep doing what you do!!

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