In early 1988, Savage Arms was bankrupt. The formerly proud American company was days from being dissolved and its assets sold to pay creditors.
Fast forward to 2003. Savage Arms is voted the Manufacturer of the Year by the Shooting Industry Academy of Excellence. Just as significant, the Savage 12BVSS with the new AccuTrigger is honored by the academy as the Rifle of the Year.
What happened between 1988 and 2003 to transform Savage Arms from a doomed company to one celebrated by the industry? This is a story of one man's commitment, and a company that wouldn't die. It's a story of vision and innovation.
The Savage story is a long and honored one. Formed in 1894 by Arthur Savage, the company marketed the first "hammerless" lever-action rifle with the action enclosed in a steel receiver. By 1915, Savage Arms was manufacturing high-powered rifles, rimfire rifles, pistols and ammunition.
During World War I, Savage merged with the Driggs-Seabury Ordnance Co., and made Lewis machineguns. Savage purchased J. Stevens Arms in 1920, and later acquired the assets of the Page Lewis Co., Davis-Warner Arms, Crescent Firearms, and A.H. Fox. At the time, according to company history, Savage was the largest firearm company in the free world.
During World War II, Savage made heavy munitions and when the war ended, it again manufactured consumer products, including the first motorized lawnmower.
But in the 1960s Savage's fortunes took a downturn. A New York conglomerate purchased the company. Two additional sales later, Savage was on its deathbed.
Enter Ron Coburn. Coburn started his career at Smith & Wesson where he was director of engineering in the early 1980s. He was the president of Case Knives when the owners of Savage Arms hired him as the senior vice president "to straighten out the company."
"Their concern was two-fold," Coburn said. "First, they didn't have any money to change anything, and second, they had orders that they couldn't fill because of the lack of capacity. Plus, they had quality issues in the factory."
The owners thought the answer was "make more product."
"Making a product at a loss isn't the way to run a business," Coburn said. "The situation was just impossible. Just totally out of control. So within a few months, I resigned."
When Coburn resigned, the owners filed for bankruptcy. They pleaded with Coburn to return and either rebuild the company or liquidate it.
In February 1988, Coburn went to the bankruptcy judge.
"He was actually very good about it," Coburn said. "He really didn't want to lose the name or the employment in the area, because we were one of the few manufacturers left in that part of Massachusetts. So he gave me 60 days to stop the bleeding."...