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Swarovski optics - Dean Capuano - SHOT Show 40th Anniversary Interview
From its humble beginnings in St. Louis, in 1979, to taking every nook and cranny of the Sands Expo Center in 2017, the SHOT Show is the industry’s signature event, bringing together more than 1,700 exhibitors and 65,000 attendees. Next January, SHOT Show will be celebrating its 40th Anniversary, so we asked a handful of today’s top outdoor writers to pick two exhibitors they know well to tell their SHOT Show stories. Sixth in our “Blast from the Past” series is a visit with Swarovski’s Director of Communications, Dean Capuano, interviewed by Wayne van Zwoll. Enjoy!

— Chris Dolnack, NSSF Senior VicePresident and Chief Marketing Officer

Swarovski Optik

Aerial views of Swarovski's Austrian plant in the town of Absam.

Aerial views of Swarovski's Austrian plant in the town of Absam.

Forty years is a milestone, but some firms in the shooting industry predate NSSF’s SHOT Show by well over a century! In 1895, Daniel Swarovski started making crystal in the scenic Tyrolean village of Watten. Crystal still generates most of the company’s income. But, in 1948, the Swarovski family added a plant in Absam to make eyeglasses. Within six months, that branch of the business had 150 new hires. The next year it announced the Habicht (ha-beesh, meaning “hawk”) 7×42 binocular. A 4×32 rifle scope came in 1959. Swarovski Optik North America, Ltd., (SONA) took root in 1990.

“That was just before my first job there,” says Dean Capuano, whose 20 years at SONA includes the last 14 as Director of Communications. “Swarovski was already exhibiting at SHOT. I’ve missed only one show since, when SCI and SHOT events conflicted and we had to staff both.”

Time changes everything

Like other long-term SHOT veterans, Capuano can remember when the show was much smaller and “more personal” — before everyone had electronic devices.

“Meetings were longer then, and those of us who took notes used paper! Digital communication has accelerated the pace of SHOT. We reach out to more people, field more questions, take more orders, present products faster, in greater detail, to a bigger clientele. As the show has grown, we’re able to keep up. Meet more people. Tap into more opportunities.”

Keeping Pace

The Swarovski booth has expanded with SHOT Show.

“We’ve refined it to reflect our commitment to high quality and attention to detail in our products,” says Capuano, “and the pride we take in our Austrian roots.” You’ll find the company in the same place on the SHOT floor every year, because, like many with the history to choose top locations, “Swarovski is where it wants to be. And we want to stay where people expect us. We work hard to ensure visitors can find us easily, and that they leave impressed.”

Still, the maelstrom of SHOT Show can humble the most meticulous.

“Early in my SONA career,” says Dean, “we ordered elegant tablecloths featuring the Swarovski hawk. They were made in Rhode Island, but we didn’t see them until we spread them on tables at our SHOT booth. The hawks were backward!” He tells me every booth fixture and accouterment now gets triple-checked before the Show opens.

Evolving with SHOT Show

Swarovski’s business has evolved over the last 40 years. Besides establishing SONA, it brought in another Austrian firm almost as old. Kahles dates to 1898, when Karl Robert Kahles assumed control of a small optics shop founded 75 years earlier by Simon Plossl. Karl R. Kahles died suddenly in 1908, but his widow kept the business going until sons Karl and Ernest took charge. In the final days of WWII, the factory was bombed and young Karl killed. His widow, then his son Friedrich, rebuilt the enterprise, which in 1959 became the first to offer multi-coated lenses. In 1974, the Kahles family sold the company to Daniel Swarovski, who made it a branch of Swarovski Optik. In 1989, Kahles, Ltd., became independent. Capuano concedes it’s a complex story. “Swarovski wrote the most recent chapter in January 2017, when it again brought Kahles into its advertising and sales programs.”

Dean is pleased that NSSF has settled on Las Vegas as the place for SHOT Show. “There are other fine convention sites; some trump Vegas for smaller events. But I can’t think of another city better equipped to host SHOT. No doubt an eastern venue brings people who don’t show up in Nevada. Still, domestic and international sales groups, with retail customers and industry journalists, make a point of attending SHOT in Vegas. We think Swarovski’s global interests are so well served there, we’ve trimmed our participation at IWA in Germany.”

The Place to Be

Despite the high annual costs of shipping, assembling and staffing its ever-expanding booth, then tearing it down and shipping it back east, says Dean Capuano, “SHOT is a terrific investment. It affords Swarovski a platform for product introductions, a place for business meetings, a forum for customers and dealers, a way we can keep our finger on the pulse of the industry. We all want to stay abreast of change!”

Now 45, Dean Capuano is a Rhode Island native. He and his wife and young daughter live close to SONA’s Cranston headquarters. “But I’m on the road a lot, especially early in the year. SHOT Show is one of a series of industry events I routinely attend. Without question, it’s the most important!” Dean still makes time to “field test” Swarovski’s excellent optics in most of the world’s game fields.