May 11, 2022
By Alfredo Rico
By now, everyone knows the Remington story. A once legendary firearms company fell on hard times and, succumbed to bankruptcy — twice. In 2020, Remington’s assets were split up and sold with Vista Outdoor purchasing the Remington Ammunition plant and Remington name in 2020. The firearms industry was relieved that it was Vista Outdoor and not a private equity firm, but many questions still exist about what will happen to “Big Green” considering that Vista Outdoor also owns Federal Premium and CCI Ammunition
Remington Ammunition History
The name “Remington” is one of the most recognizable brands in the world. The ammunition company often gets lumped in with it, but it deserves its own focus, albeit a condensed one for the scope of this article.
Remington Ammunition Works was established in 1871. By 1912, it had merged with the Union Metallic Cartridge (UMC), one of the biggest ammunition manufacturers in the United States. The union became Remington-UMC, which had manufacturing plants in Connecticut, New Jersey, Canada and England. In 1933, it acquired Peters Ammunition, which produced the popular blue paper shotshells. During World War II, Remington temporarily added five ammunition manufacturing facilities to supply half of the small arms ammunitions to the Allies. In 1970, Remington moved its ammunition manufacturing facilities from Bridgeport, Connecticut, to Lonoke, Arkansas.
Through the years, Remington Ammunition has been innovative. It introduced the concept of the “Game Load” to shotgun hunters, and developed the Kleanbore primer that reduced fouling, rust, and corrosion. It was the first company to use a plastic hull for shotshells, too. On the rifle side, it developed the Core-Lokt bullet, which is the original controlled-expansion bullet and a design still in use today, 82 years later. Remington is also responsible for the .300 Remington Ultra Magnum (RUM), .300 Short Action Ultra Magnum (SAUM), and 7mm SAUM. In its 150-year history, Remington has been purchased and sold many times. Despite its struggles, Remington was always regarded for producing quality firearms and ammunition.
Vista Outdoor purchased Remington’s ammunition plant, accessories businesses, as well as Remington&rsquo's brand and trademarks. Although they do not own the Remington Arms division, they hold the licensing rights to the Remington name.
Remington has been inviting select media to tour its factory and learn its path forward. Guns & Ammo sent me on assignment to visit the plant in Lonoke, Arkansas, and talk with its long-term employees. They gave me an inside look at the challenges they faced and where they see the company headed. The previous owners left a bitter taste in their mouths, which caused them to wonder whether they would be gobbled up and converted into a “Federal South.” However, the transition has been a sigh of relief. Remington’s pride is intact, and they’re on track to become stronger than ever.
The Lonoke ammunition plant is an iconic landmark to those who live in the surrounding area. The sign that sits in front of the red-sided manufacturing building is visible from Interstate 40, in fact. It’s not just a big green sign though; hunting and waterfowl shooting are ingrained in the local culture. To them, grabbing a green box of ammunition is more than choosing a brand, it’s about supporting your home team and community. Similarly, I’ve found that Remington’s brand is threaded throughout America’s culture.
There are two ammunition production buildings on the 1,200 acres. The original red brick building has 750,000 square feet of manufacturing space. This is where everything from rimfire, centerfire, to shotshells are made. Starting with raw materials, all of the components (except gunpowder) are made here. This includes primers, brass cases, bullets, and shotgun shells.
Entering the original facility was like being transported back in time. The 1960s industrial architecture pushed my memories back to working at a steel mill. The exposed and riveted beams, sheet-metal siding and caked-on paint continue to grip tightly to the 50-year-old machinery. Although the machines used to make ammunition are small compared to the mills used to press steel, the non-stop clatter and pounding of the machines resonated through my flesh and bones just the same.
In contrast, the Eli plant is the epitome of modern manufacturing technology and efficiency. Named after Remington’s founder Eliphalet, the Eli building is located west of the main plant. It’s a modernized facility dedicated solely to 9mm ammo production. The interior features bright lights wall to wall, and immaculate floors run the expanse of the building. There are fewer machines here because one machine performs the task that three or four older machines used to do. With fewer machines and a streamlined workflow, there are also fewer people needed to run the line.
That Was Then
During pauses along the tour, I interviewed the current staff about the past and present. It was interesting tying in what I’ve read online about the demise of Remington to the stories of the people who have lived through it.
Remington’s bankruptcies were due to the ownerships’ financial maneuvers and not the fault of the facilities or staff. The staff at each Remington plant knew how to make quality firearms and ammunition, but the leadership couldn’t outrun the debt that was run up during booming times. This resulted in cost-cutting measures that ultimately affected the quality and output of the products, which only accelerated how fast the Remington brand went under.
The discussions I had with the ammunition staff made it clear how desperate things became. To cut costs with the ammunition plant, management even considered abandoning the iconic green and yellow packaging for plain white boxes like those containing light bulbs. The disconnect between the efficiency consultants and the firearms product was scaringly apparent when one of the consultants asked, “Why don’t you just put less powder in the shell?”
Amazingly, the ownership saw no value in the Remington Gun Club, which is a trap and skeet facility located on Remington property. The club is open to the public and, at the time, hosted the largest youth shooting program in the country. More than 5,000 kids were drawn to it every May and June. Executives decided to shut it down. Vista Outdoor has since reopened it and expanded it to include Sporting Clays.
The tense times had Remington’s employees and managers dreading the next phone call: The company is laying off a co-worker or shutting its doors.
This Is Now
Fortunately, Remington’s history is in the past. Vista Outdoor retained enough of the former talent, and it has a vested interest in keeping Remington Ammunition alive and well.
DeWayne Welch is one of those talents. He is a research and development technician with a long career at the plant. He is known as a “troubleshooter,” and provides production support. He’s also become the goto guy to make a product better.
Welch has been with Remington Ammunition for 32 years, and his wife has worked at the plant for 28 years. His father also worked there, and his mother retired from the plant, too. Even his grandad helped build the factory. It’s hard to get more invested in a company than Welch.
“That the previous owners were concerned about the short-term and what they can put on a truck today to make money,” Welch said. When asked what has changed since Vista Outdoor took over, he optimistically replied, “They are looking at quality and safety again. Vista is managing for the long term, and I want it to be here for the next 30 years for me and my family.”
Kris Carson is a ballistician who has worked for Remington Ammunition since 2006. Growing up, he lived in Little Rock, Arkansas, where his family would pass the big green sign on their way to rabbit hunting. His dad explained that the green hunting shells they shot were made at the plant. As he got older, he thought it would be a “cool place to work,” as he remembered. Years after earning his Mechanical Engineering degree from the University of Arkansas, he landed a job at Remington doing what he loved doing: playing with guns and ammo.
During the hard times, when the decline of the company was apparent, good people were leaving or being forced to leave. Carson chose to stay, despite other opportunities in the area. Why? His roots are here; his wife works at the ammo plant, too. He still wanted to remain with Remington.
When asked what has changed since Vista Outdoor purchased the company, he said, “From the outset, it has been nothing but positive. They have their direction and advice, but they are not here with a team of consultants to tell us how to do our job or change this and alter that.”
Nick Sachse is the director of product management. He has been with the Remington Ammunition for 29 years. He began working here straight out of college and considers this his dream job. His work highlights are many including developing the original Model 700 muzzleloader, the Core-Lokt Ultra Bonded and Golden Saber Bonded bullets, and was a co-lead HyperSonic Steel, Wingmaster HD, the leadless line, and many other line extensions.
Sachse said that since Vista Outdoor took over the brand that Remington Ammunition has completely reestablished themselves with all their vendors and have raw materials coming in again. The pipeline of materials is slow, but that is due to COVID-19. They’ve brought back hundreds of people and are ramping up again.
He’s adamant that Federal and Remington will continue to be separate brands, and will create their multiyear road maps independently. Where it makes sense to collaborate and strengthen each other, they’ll do it for the benefit of the consumer.
The Days Ahead
The major challenges Remington faces today are not internal. As with the rest of the industry, resources for raw materials are low, and it’s difficult to get labor. Still, those green and yellow boxes are starting to fill store shelves everywhere.
Vista Outdoor has invested heavily in the people and the factory. Ammo facilities are running and producing tens of millions of rounds. The focus is currently on the production of indemand cartridges. It will take some time to get Remington Ammunition back to its glory, but it’s coming—soon.
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