25th Anniversary Interview with CEO & Founder Anthony Imperato
They're Not The Biggest, But They May Be The Best
When you started Henry, what was your vision?
I do specifically recall asking myself the question, “What do I want Henry to be? How can I define the company I wanted to create and sum it up in just a few words?” I decided that the answer was that I wanted Henry to be the best long gun company in the firearms business. Period. At that time, cities were suing manufacturers that made handguns, and getting into the handgun business just wasn’t a wise business option. In short, being the best meant manufacturing a quality product that provided value to the consumer and is backed by the best customer service in the industry. If we could deliver on those points, it would be a win-win. From there, I created our first corporate motto, ‘Made in America and Priced Right.’
Tell me about the financial beginnings of the company.
Typically, a small, privately owned business has limited capital, which was no exception in our case. So we got started with a $140,000 home equity loan that I took out against my house. At that point, success was the only option.
Why did you choose Brooklyn, New York, as the company’s founding location?
To get a business off the ground and ultimately survive, I knew I was in for long days, seven days a week, and I wanted to be as close to my house as possible to accommodate that. I didn’t want a long commute and wanted to see my kids in the little spare time I had.
What were the unique ingredients that helped you build Henry into the company it is today?
We have always been all about Made in America, even before it became fashionable. Also, we were obsessed with customer service from the get-go. Not only did we set the bar in our industry, but I could confidently say that our level of customer service can stand on top in any industry. Our advertising and marketing strategy was a complete departure from what was the norm 25 years ago. We decided to focus on the consumer and drive them to our retailers. We advertised in non-traditional places, such as the Travel Channel, RFD, even CNN, and MSNBC at one time because they were lumped in a news network buy. Can you imagine seeing our commercial on CNN or MSNBC today? I wanted to show that what we do is as American as apple pie, and we’re not going to hide in shame. As you may recall, we also ran infomercials for many years, which is quite unique for a gun company.
Yes, I recall your infomercials. Certainly a departure from the norm in firearms industry marketing. Where did you come up with this idea?
I couldn’t sleep one night, and I went down into the basement to watch television. So here it is, at 3 am in the middle of the night, and I find myself watching a colon cleanser infomercial. A lightbulb went off, and I told myself if they could sell colon cleansers, we could sell our American-made rifles.
You also mentioned being obsessed with customer service, for which Henry is well-known. How did that develop, and how do you sustain it?
The brand has been very personal and hands-on for me since day 1. I felt that if someone was going to spend their hard-earned money on a Henry, we need to make certain that they are satisfied no matter what it takes. Delivering anything less than complete satisfaction would make me feel embarrassed. Our entire staff is empowered to do whatever is needed, and I don’t play Monday morning quarterback. We are happy when our consumers are happy.
You and your family had 100+ years of history in the gun business in the New York/New Jersey area, so how did you end up with a factory in Rice Lake, Wisconsin?
In the late 1990s, we were purchasing some critical parts from a company named Wright Products based in Rice Lake. They were a leading window, door, and automotive parts manufacturer. After a few years, I received a call that the parent company was shutting down five factories in the USA, including the Rice Lake plant, and that they were going to import parts from China to compete in price with their competitors. I told them that there was no way we could use parts from China in our rifles and that finding a new supplier in such a short amount of time would be next to impossible. In the end, they offered me the building and the equipment used to make our parts, and I made that purchase in November of 2006, although it was a ton of money for me at the time. I kept 17 people who knew about our parts production, including Andy Wickstrom, who became our Vice President and General Manager and ultimately the company President. Today we have close to 400 people working there.
With Andy Wickstrom recently being named the company president for Henry, you have taken the title of CEO & Founder. How would you describe your job now?
These days it is all about problem-solving and pursuing the vision. When people ask me what business I am in, I sometimes respond that I am in the “keep everyone happy business.” Business is about relationships, and we value those of our customers and our employees – and everyone in between!
You are well known for being a hands-on owner, personally answering phones and emails. After 25 years, are you ready to abandon that and pass it on to others?
No, sir, I love it too much. But, kidding aside, with our extensive advertising and social media presence, it has been a very long time since I have gone it alone. When we were first starting, there was no choice. I had to and wanted to connect with people interested in our firearms or personally resolve any issue they may have had and learn what needed to change from whatever went wrong. And I still do.
It’s clear that Henry is built on a foundation of hard work, but surely you have had some fun along the way. Does anything stand out?
I can give you two, though we have been fortunate to have had a lot of fun in the past 25 years. The first moment that comes to mind was the Henry 1,000 Man Shoot in 2016. People from all over the country, from all walks of life, every race, creed, color, and religion gathered with us at the world-class Ben Avery Shooting Facility to set a world record. The sound of 1,000 Golden Boy rifles firing simultaneously was incredible and gave me a great sense of relief and joy. Over the course of the day, I shook every participant’s hand. Another fun moment was at a packed Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tennessee. I presented Charlie Daniels with a donation for his Journey Home Project organization on stage, and he gave me a chance to sing backup (if you want to call it singing) during The Devil Went Down to Georgia.
What was the toughest challenge you have faced since you started the company?
Hurricane Sandy making landfall right at our Bayonne, New Jersey facility in October of 2012 certainly comes to mind. That factory sits right on the waterfront, and the damage was immense. The storm surge blew off one-third of the roof, and we had 3 feet of saltwater going across 109,000 square feet of machinery and inventory. Yet, with determination and grit, our employees and key vendors all dug in and got us up and running in about three months. I will never forget what they did for the company, and I am eternally grateful. Without their efforts, that could have been a storm that sunk the ship.
What was the most memorable moment of the past 25 years?
I am blessed to have had many great memorable moments in the past 25 years, and hopefully more to come. One that immediately comes to mind was a day that I was told to pick up the phone, and a familiar voice said to me, “Anthony, I just want to tell you what a fine job you and your father are doing, and we are very proud of you.” That familiar voice on the other end of the call was President George H.W. Bush. I said, “Mr. President, thank you, we are proud of what you and your son have done for our Country as well.”
How about the most emotional moment?
With all of the military veteran tributes we have done, I have been brought to tears and choked up many times. One moment that really sticks out was meeting World War II hero Louis Zamperini, who survived 47 days at sea and three years of being tortured in a Japanese prison camp. He went back to Japan to forgive the head guard who tortured him for three years, which is incredible strength, to say the least. He invited me to his home. I walked into his living room, presented him with a Henry Military Tribute Edition and a box of Italian cookies. I sat down, and we spoke for 3 hours. It was an extremely emotional experience and a moment that I will never forget.
Incredible. Are there any other presentations that stick out?
Yes, certainly. At an NRA Annual Banquet in 2017, one of our honorees that evening was a 97-year-old World War II veteran named Mr. George Krakosky. To get him to Atlanta, we rented an RV for the family so that he could travel in comfort. Before the presentation, I went backstage to greet all of the recipients. I went over to Mr. Krakosky, sitting in his wheelchair, and introduced myself. He told me that he did not want to go out on stage in the wheelchair and said that he would make it across the stage if he could hold on to my elbow. Well, when he walked out across the stage, he was met with a standing ovation that still gives me chills to this day. I told the crowd of his heroic story of landing on D-Day, where he fought up the hill and was running through the debris of a blown up church. He looked down and saw an iron cross on the ground. He picked it up, put it on, and had worn it every day of his life ever since. Sadly, he passed away at 99-years-old just a few months shy of 100.
Tell me more about Henry’s recognition of our veterans and those serving?
We have recognized and thanked those who have served, those currently serving, and Henry will continue to do so. It’s part of what we do and who we are. Every year we honor several veterans, heroes from World War II, Korea, Vietnam through today’s conflicts. Over the years, we have also developed a strong relationship with and support the VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars), the American Legion, and many other charitable military organizations.
Even though police departments aren’t using your rifles and shotguns in the line of duty, it’s apparent that Henry isn’t shy about where it stands with its support.
I grew up in my family’s police equipment shop, so I have had a longstanding respect for law enforcement officers and what they have to endure daily. Our store was right across the street from the back of the NYPD headquarters. Even as a youngster, I saw and heard firsthand how tough it was to be a cop, and I have respected that ever since then. And even more so today. So honoring law enforcement, first responders, and the non-profit charitable organizations that support these groups is part of our DNA. We are also honored to have created several special editions marking the anniversaries of the Michigan State Police, the New York State Police, Kansas Highway Patrol, and special projects with the Las Vegas Metro Police Department, the Maricopa County Sheriffs Department, and many others. My vision is to return to the law enforcement business at some point; I love it that much.
What can you tell me about the significance of Henry’s Guns for Great Causes program and what it means to you personally?
Our charitable endeavors started in earnest about 20 years ago. I felt blessed, grateful, and fortunate in many ways, and I decided that we needed to give back somehow. Hence the formation of what we now call Guns for Great Causes. The primary focus is helping the families of individual sick children, supporting children’s hospitals and veterans organizations.
Henry is well known for its seemingly unending generosity in the hunting and shooting sports world as well. Can you elaborate on that?
We are, of course, staunch defenders of our 2nd Amendment and always will be. As I like to say, we can never be asleep at the wheel, regardless of what is happening politically. Just because things seem to be going smoothly for us does not mean letting up on the gas. Henry has also been a longtime supporter of youth shooting sports programs such as the Youth Shooting Sports Alliance, NRA Youth Shooting programs, International Hunters Education Association, the Boy Scouts of America, 4-H, and many others. To date, we have donated somewhere in the neighborhood of 10,000 guns to teach youngsters firearm safety, discipline, the enjoyment of the outdoors, and our shooting sports and hunting traditions. Our efforts also extend to wildlife and habitat conservation so that our great outdoors can be enjoyed for generations to come. These partnerships include working with incredible organizations like Ducks Unlimited, the National Wild Turkey Federation, the Rocky Mount Elk Federation, Pheasants Forever, Quail Forever, the Mule Deer Foundation, Whitetails Unlimited, and many, many others.
In a world full of choices, why should someone buy a Henry?
You could not have asked a better question! In short, you can’t lose. If you buy a Henry, you are completely happy with your purchase and the service that comes with it, or you get your money back. A Henry owner has purchased a reliable, quality product with a value greater than they paid, supported by a lifetime guarantee, my personal promise for 100% satisfaction, and award-winning customer service. And of course, let’s not forget that it’s ‘Made in America or Not Made at All.’
A lifetime guarantee is quite an offering by any manufacturer. How is that sustainable?
Since the first day in business, we have not charged a single person for a repair on one of our firearms. And it will stay that way for as long as I am around. There is no planned obsolescence in what we manufacture, that’s for sure. No manufacturing process is perfect, so as long as we strive for reliability and quality in everything we make, we will only see a tiny fraction of what we make come back for a repair. That continuous pursuit to better our machining and assembly is what keeps the lifetime guarantee sustainable. We put out a product that we are proud to stand behind.
Look back on your career up to this point when we’re celebrating 25 years of Henry Repeating Arms. What makes you the proudest?
Our reputation. Life is short, but your name and reputation live on forever.
What about when you hit the tremendous milestone of selling one million H001 Classic Lever Action .22 rifles? How did that feel?
It was an incredible milestone to celebrate, and when the guys told me that we had just hit one million, my mind went back to 1997 when I had the prototype H001 sitting on an 8-foot draped table in the basement of SHOT Show. I realized we had come a long way since then.
It’s incredible to think that it all started with a humble .22 rifle. If you look at the entire catalog, which model gives you the greatest sense of pride?
It is sometimes hard to believe that we are now producing more than 200 different models in a wide variety of finishes and calibers. Each and every one of them has a story. You asked for one, but I have to give you three. First is the H001 simply because it got us off the ground. The second is the New Original Henry because we brought that 1860 design back to American soil for the first time in over 150 years. Lastly, the creation of the Golden Boy is where we really started to hit our stride and create our own lane in the gun industry. Without these three models, we would not be who we are today.
Do you think today’s Henry owner is any different than the Henry owner of 25 years ago?
Yes and no. As our product catalog continues to swell, every new release has the potential to bring in consumers that may not have been interested in what we were doing before. Our X Model lineup is a perfect example. When we launched that series and started to promote it on social media, we began to see many people get interested in owning a lever gun for the first time. Younger or older, I think every Henry owner places value in what we’re offering, so they are the same in that respect.
Today, Henry is about more than just lever actions, but we can’t ignore the fact that it’s a big part of your brand identity. Talk to me about that.
The lever action is America’s unique contribution to the international stage of firearms design, and all other actions originated elsewhere around the globe. Thanks to Benjamin Tyler Henry, we have this purebred American firearm action, which was the dominant long gun choice from the 1870s to the 1980s. It put a lot of food on the table in those 110+ years. I feel strongly that Henry Repeating Arms not only resurrected the lever action market but continues to take it to new heights and bring in a new generation of enthusiasts.
Earlier in our conversation, you mentioned that “pursuing the vision” is a big part of your job now. So what does the future hold for Henry Repeating Arms?
The future is all about building on the foundation laid so far. We have a strong message, a strong desire to be the best gun maker in the country, and a strong group of people to keep the wheels moving. It is exciting to think about the direction that we are heading.
What do you hope to be remembered for when all is said and done?
That I treated people right, even better than they expected, and that we did our best to never let them down.