Compound Bow Brand Cults and Marketing Tactics

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hyperpolyresin search resultsThis article was originally written by General Manager, M. Blanton, and posted on in 2001. Since then, the Compound Bow Selection Guide has undergone several updates and expansions and continues to be the most frequently downloaded document on our website (aside from the home page). It is also the most commonly plagiarized document on our website. Back in 2002, we seeded the Compound Bow Selection Guide with a nonsense word, "hyperpolyresin." That nonsense word has been part of the text for nearly fifteen years. We just made-up the silly word - perhaps because it sounded like something technical (an excitable plastic adhesive perhaps). Anyway, that nonsense word was deliberately used so that we could track plagiarism. If you Google the term "hyperpolyresin", you will find a number of other websites have copied and reposted our Compound Bow Selection Guide around the web. Of course, we are flattered, but most have done so without our consent.


Undoubtedly, the modern compound bow is a fantastic hunting weapon. Modern compound bows are now capable of delivering more KE to a target than a .25 ACP Bullet. Awesome! But let's try to keep things in some reasonable perspective. The compound bow is still a relatively low-tech product - despite all the industry yammer about cutting-edge technologies and predatory bliss. The compound bow is still a hand drawn weapon, made largely from aluminum, fiberglass and some plastics. There are no circuit boards, power supplies or chemicals which contribute to its performance. So there's only so much technology which can be applicable to the design and production of a compound bow. Compared to the iPhone in your pocket, the compound bow is little more than a sharpened stick.


However, most bows are specifically marketed as a "high-technology" product. Why? Because bow companies know what modern bowhunters want the most - an edge - particularly a technological edge. Bowhunting is a primitive sport with a historically low success rate, so it is no surprise that compound bow advertising campaigns focus on offering bowhunters a technological advantage - even if it's a little stretch of the truth. They also know that outdoor product consumers love big scientific words flavored with impressive abbreviations and acronyms. So beware. Your new compound bow could be packaged with a few Ultra-Lite Hyperpolyresin Fibers of CBT (cock-n-bull technology). Don't be too eager to embrace every technological-sounding feature as a must-have innovation. Sometimes a new feature is just a simple thing with a fancy marketing spin. For example, if a bow manufacturer decides to place a small piece of rubber between two adjacent surfaces, the marketing people are likely to spin the feature as something like "Now with Santoprene Pivot-Point Silencing Technology" instead of saying "We stuck a piece of rubber in there to keep it quiet." We're not suggesting a conspiracy, just don't be so easy to impress. Keep things in reasonable perspective. The truth is, a toaster-oven is more a high-technology product than a compound bow. Still, technology is the magic word in the industry. So be on the lookout for those Ultra-Lite Hyperpolyresin Fibers.


brand cult sattire highlight The archery industry is often plagued by a "my bow is better than your bow" mentality, as brand loyalty sometimes gets out of hand. Some bow manufacturers even seem to develop a cult-like following of shooters who'll openly malign any other brand of bows (just visit an online archery forum). This is unfortunate for beginning archers who'll surely hear brand-biased advice, which may or may not be helpful (or accurate). Of course, this kind of brand bias is to be expected and it isn't unique to the archery industry (i.e., Ford vs. Chevy). In fact, the expensive process of training you to prefer one brand over another is precisely the point of most marketing campaigns. A good advertising strategy is designed to burrow into your psyche like a hungry chigger. If that logo is plastered in enough places and enough smiling celebrities hold a particular brand aloft, it's easy to begin thinking that Brand-X is the way to go. But that's no different than how we learn to prefer a brand of tennis shoe or soft-drink. With enough immersion in the brand name Kool-aid, most people eventually drink. With that said, we submit this is the least intelligent way to select a new compound bow.


compound bow commentary long axle to axle trend perception highlightSome of our happiest customers are those who begin with an open mind. Unfortunately, many shoppers begin their quests with preconceived brand preferences and biases. In most cases, such biases are based on casual familiarity and hearsay rather than direct experience and actual product knowledge. Even worse, some shoppers choose a brand because they simply think one brand is "cool" and another is not. If you're shopping for a new compound bow with the infantile notion that one manufacturer is vastly superior or inferior to another, or that one brand "sucks" and another brand "rocks", you're just being obtuse. Unthink those foolish thoughts right now. There is much more parity (and cooperation) among the major bow manufacturers than you might think. What separates one maker from another is more often a combination of styling choices, technology licensing, sales channel choices, pricing structures, dealer programs and marketing strategies.


As soon as the new bow models begin to arrive each season, we get numerous requests from our friends at the various bow manufacturers to send them samples of the competitions' bows for research and evaluation. It happens every year. We gladly play along and it's almost comical to watch as the bows pass through our shipping department on their ways from one manufacturer to another. There's nothing unethical about the exchange, of course. Using a dealership just allows the manufacturer to get their samples faster (and at wholesale exchange). So, guess what happens when one manufacturer gets a sample of the other's bow? They shoot it, test it, examine it, take it apart, and try to see if there is anything they can learn from it. All the bow manufacturers do this. This might seem like dirty tactics to some, but it's very commonplace for manufacturers to obtain and examine the goods of their competition. There is sure to be an F-150 (probably several) sitting in the General Motors Tech Center and vice versa. But that's how product lines improve. Everyone wants to stay a step ahead of their competition, and a big part of that is knowing thine enemy. It's not espionage; it's normal business.
compound bow engineer and copy program

If one bow manufacturer really does come up with a new and better idea, that idea is quickly incorporated into the designs of the others. Although consumers seldom hear about it, bow companies are constantly squabbling about licensing and patent issues, and they're all probably guilty of infringing on something or someone at one time or another. Any useful innovation in the compound bow market doesn't stay exclusive to one bow company for long (usually no more than a season or two). That's just how it goes. We have personally been to the R&D labs of several major bow manufacturers and each of them have one thing in common - piles of bows and bow parts from other bow companies. The point is, there are no secrets in the compound bow industry. Everyone takes apart everyone else' toys, plays with them and then decides if they want to copy them. The inside industry term is "research and copy". Not nice, but that's the reality. So the idea that one manufacturer has a significant technological advantage over another is simply laughable. They don't.


compound bow aggressive design highlightWhat often separate the various bow manufacturers is their general philosophies, sales channel strategies and target markets. Some manufacturers, like Obsession for example, clearly try to target younger "hip" buyers. While manufacturers like Bear might tend to focus on conservative core bowhunters. The difference is apparent in the actual bow designs and aesthetic appointments. For example, Obsession tends to offer more edgy angular designs with menacing graphics and eye-catching aesthetic contrasts, while the Bear designs tend to be more muted and subtle with aesthetics that better blend and into the profile of the bow. This isn't to say that one of these designs is better than the other, but the designs (and the relative retail price points) are intentional strategies - not incidental happenstances. Each bow company knows where they fit into the market and they attempt to appeal to the specific buyers they believe their brand can best attract. What makes this really interesting is how bow manufacturers will sometimes change their target market strategies from one season to the next. Perhaps the grass is always greener on the other side.


Here's another infantile notion that needs swatting - the idea that a "pro-shop only" bow is professional quality and all others are somehow standard quality. If you don't know what a pro-shop bow is, it's a brand or model of bow that's reserved for sale only in a local walk-in store (not sold online or by mail-order). Here's the point of confusion. Local archery stores are commonly called pro-shops, even if they're just a bait-n-tackle store with a little archery section in the back. Whether they're a real dedicated archery store or not doesn't matter. Any independent walk-in store that sells a line of compound bows is called a "pro-shop". And since the word pro seems to imply professional, some consumers assume the "pro" designation refers to the quality grade of the bows (e.g., the professional grade bows are only found in pro-shops). That's an unfortunate myth. The phrase "pro-shop bow" refers to the type of store in which the bow is sold - not to a grade of bow. In fact, there is no such thing as a professional grade bow - nor is there a set of standards which would designate any bow as professional grade and another as standard grade. So unthink that thought too. A pro-shop only bow is a function of industry politics and sales channel strategy, not product quality.


To better understand how this works, you have to understand a little about the archery market. As with most things, the truth can be found by tracing the path of the money. About 45% of the archery market is sold/served by the network of local archery pro-shops (usually independent Ma&Pa style stores, bait shops, gun stores, mini-mall shops, garage/basement shops, etc.). There are about 3,500 retail locations in the U.S. which could be considered an "archery pro-shop". These small stores typically have no internet presence, conduct business only over-the-counter, and they're generally known only to local buyers. While very few local pro shops sell more than a few hundred bows per year, the local pro shops collectively control a good portion of the overall market. The other 55% of the market is commanded by the major big-box retailers (Cabelas, Bass Pro Shops, Gander Mountain, Dick's Sporting Goods, Sportsman's Warehouse, etc.), a half-dozen major internet pro-shops (like Hunter's Friend, Lancaster, Mountain, 3Rivers, etc.), plus a few powerselling eBayers and resellers who list bows on Amazon. From the perspective of the bow manufacturers, these two sales channels create a serious distribution dilemma, because meeting the demands of one side often means sacrificing relationships with the other. Tricky.


compound bow commentary long axle to axle trend perception highlightNot so much! As you might imagine, the two sales channels are always at war. Pro-shops generally see big box/mail-order stores as illegitimate dealers out to destroy them, and big box/internet stores generally see local pro shops as nuisance operations that are behind the times. But one must respect the other - because bow companies pay attention to the politics. In the best of worlds, all bow manufacturers would simply distribute their products to any type of store wishing to sell them, and customers would go where they wanted to buy. In fact, research indicates that's exactly what customers want. Customers universally HATE restricted walk-in only policies. Customers like being able to buy a product where, when and how THEY prefer to shop. A restricted sales policy is generally perceived as an irritation, particularly to tech-savvy buyers. Nonetheless, if demand is high enough and customers like a product line enough, they'll tolerate it (for a while). This distribution strategy and buying behavior literally keeps the local pro-shop from going the way of the Dodo, so perhaps it's a good thing. But the local dealer MUST have exclusive access to key brands or they're dead meat.


Since small local retailers see big-box and internet stores as a major threat to their livelihood, they pressure bow manufacturers to give them exclusive bow lines to sell - free from big-box store and internet competition. In fact, many local pro-shops will outright refuse to carry any brand of bow (and other equipment) unless it is a pro-shop only line. Some bow manufacturers exclusively embrace this sales channel. In fact, this is the "no mail order" strategy that Mathews used so effectively in the 90's - a strategy partially responsible for strong Mathews dealer loyalty even today. So in order to appease the local dealers and tap into that share of the market, bow manufacturers may reserve some (or all) of their products for sale only in the local walk-in stores. Unfortunately, local stores are slowly losing this war, as much of the archery market - as with most American retail sectors - is evolving away from local independent brick-n-mortar stores.


compound bow commentary cross market sales channel trend perception highlightOn the other hand, big box retailers are financial powerhouses, capable of reliably moving millions of dollars in product. So for some bow manufacturers, working with the big box stores is essential to their success. They need the volume sales the big box stores can generate, and since it's logistically easier to deal with a couple-dozen major accounts vs. hundreds of small independent accounts, some bow manufacturers find that the big box stores and major internet retailers offer a better sales channel for their products. But there are some problems. Big box stores tend to have very strong sales for youth, entry-level, and mid-priced bows, but expensive bows tend to be slow sellers in big box stores. Shoppers expect low prices and better values in mass market formats and high-end equipment isn't always a good fit. There's also another consideration on the wholesale side. Big box stores are demanding customers who don't hesitate to use their purchasing power to leverage special wholesale discounts and other financial privileges that small local stores generally don't receive. Even a healthy bow company can't push around a multi-billion dollar retailer like Cabelas. Small local dealers, on the other hand, are much easier to keep in-line. Ultimately, this means that the big-box accounts might be big, but they typically yield a lower profit margin for the manufacturer. So it's not exactly a win-win.


In order to tap both sides of the market (local and broad market), some bow manufacturers offer a split bow line - a Pro-Series and a Mainline Series like PSE, or sometimes two separate sister brands like Bowtech/Diamond or Prime/Quest. The higher-priced lines go to the local stores (who want the "exclusive" bows with the high price tags) and the value priced lines go to the big box stores and major internet retailers (where those products tend to perform best). But even this solution is problematic. Sometimes a bow manufacturer simply cannot find a political sweet spot where they can appease both sales channels. For example, some local dealerships refuse to carry the Bowtech line (which is a protected pro-shop line) simply because Diamond is not a pro-shop only brand. Bowtech is assumed (politically) guilty by association. Same with PSE and several other brands. Local pro-shops want total exclusivity - or nothing at all. So brands like Mathews and Hoyt are the preferred lines in the local walk-in sales channels, again, not because they're the best bows, but because those companies cater to the business politics of that sales channel. So this is messy. A number of bow brands have moved back and forth from one sales channel to the other over the years- trying to find the right equation of adequate representation and satisfactory sales volume. Brands have been created, destroyed, beloved and maligned - all as a result of the sales channel war. The actual bows hardly have anything to do with it.


compound bow commentary long axle to axle trend perception highlightDon't think for a second that bow manufacturers care about market politics as a matter of principle or corporate righteousness. They care about market politics only as a matter of sales revenues. If a bow manufacturer thought they could maximize their profits by offering their compound bows for sale in vending machines, then that would be the sales channel they would support. Every bow manufacturer works their own equation as to how they should best navigate industry politics and bring their products to market. And if that equation changes, so shall the manufacturer's strategy. Don't believe for a moment that any bow manufacturer is fundamentally loyal to anyone or any "side" of the sales channel dispute. Bow manufacturers are on the side of Franklins, Grants and Jacksons. Aren't we all?


compound bow commentary local stores close perception highlightHere are some points to remember. Brands of bows aren't sold in a particular store because of how good or bad they are - that's ridiculous. Compound bows are sold using the sales channels and strategies which yield the best profit for that particular manufacturer. And as you might imagine, both the market and the strategies are subject to change. Our market has, in fact, changed quite dramatically in just the last ten years. The 45/55 balance was more like 55/45 just a decade ago. The local sales channel is in statistical decline, losing 10-15% of their total market share since the turn of the millennium. In another 10 years, it will be unlikely any bow manufacturer will be able to thrive without representation from the broader market stores. So perhaps this war will one day end. No matter the brand of bow, when the profit equation slips away from the local sales channels, the political fight will become moot. The pro-shop only format will disappear. Unfortunately, that will only give rise to new wars, as bow manufacturers struggle to appease powerhouse clients and meet their increasing demands. Time will tell.


A fight about compound bow brands is really just a fight about money. Local walk-in stores are much more likely to recommend the brands they sell (Mathews, Hoyt, Elite, Bowtech, etc.) and broad market stores will recommend the brands they sell (Bear, Diamond, Martin, Parker, PSE, etc.). As a consumer, you can either choose to jump into the political fray and soak in the brand propaganda, or choose your bow based on other attributes. We submit it's far wiser to judge bows on their individual merits and value rather than on family pedigree and perceived coolness. We've worked with every brand of bow on the market at one time or another. We've seen models from every brand disappoint. We've seen models from every brand shoot beautifully. There is no best brand; there is no worst brand. Modern compound bow designs have FAR more commonalities than differences. So be objective and don't make your bow buying decision based on what "you heard" somewhere or based on what your buddy says "rocks". Learn what makes a bow a good bow for YOU and ignore the industry politics.

Compound Bow Selection & Research Guide  |  Chapter 2
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