Thompson/Center has been a household name among American firearm fans for decades, and when Smith & Wesson acquired the brand in January 2007 its potential was set for a long and solid future. Danielle Sanville, who joined S&W in 2008 and now holds the reins as T/C’s brand manager, moved into S&W’s marketing department in late November of 2010 and walked into her first SHOT Show just a few weeks later.
Kevin Tate (KT): You were not only new to SHOT Show but also new to the job in 2011. What were your first impressions of the event?
Danielle Sanville (DS): It was an amazing experience. I don't think I realized how large it was and how well attended it was. It was an overwhelming experience, to say the least. There's no other way to really explain it. Until you've been to one, there's no way to know what the best way to prepare would be, so you might as well just splash right on in and start learning.
Being in the job for a couple of weeks and then going and, obviously, being a female in the gun industry was a huge challenge as well. It was a really great opportunity for me to get my feet wet, but in a way, it was almost like drowning.
KT: Tell me a little bit about Smith & Wesson's relationship with Thompson/Center.
DS: Thompson/Center was located in New Hampshire for many years, and then when Smith & Wesson purchased it, we moved all of its manufacturing basically into the Smith & Wesson facility in Springfield, Massachusetts. Before the sale, at previous SHOT Shows Thompson/Center had its own full booth there, and then when we moved into the Smith & Wesson side of things we blended those two booths together. The brand has had its own unique space inside the Smith & Wesson booth each year.
KT: What would you say the most effective product launch has been for Thompson/Center since coming on board with Smith & Wesson?
DS: I probably would say the Thompson/Center Compass bolt-action rifle. It hit the market at exactly the right time. It’s a rifle with an entry-level price, but we jam-packed a bunch of features and benefits into it and still offer a lifetime warranty, 5R rifling and our minute-of-angle guarantee. It got really good reviews at the show and has been a really good addition to our line ever since.
KT: Going back to what you said your first experience with SHOT Show was, you mentioned how being a woman in the industry was a little bit different. Tell me more about that and how you felt like you were received.
DS: I felt, with Smith & Wesson, I was received pretty well and in the industry. I think there have been some really great, strong women who have paved the way over the course of the years, but, as you look around SHOT Show you'll see the number of men in the industry outnumbers the number of women quite substantially. For me, I had joined the marketing department in the modern sporting rifle section and then transitioned from that to a hunting brand as well. So I think for me it's just always been making sure I know my product and, if I'm ever asked a question and I don't know the answer, I never try to make anything up. There are so many people who know way more than you’d think anyone could, no matter how much you study. So many people are Thompson/Center fans, and no matter how much I know about the line when I go to SHOT Show or NRA or any of those shows, there is always somebody who knows more about the history of the brand than I could ever learn through research.
KT: What would you say your favorite SHOT Show memory would be?
DS: For me, everyone is unique, and it's great because I get to meet all the folks we work with on a regular basis, and it’s also a great opportunity to be able to reach out to everyone else in the industry. I'm not sure I have one single memory that stands out. I think each year brings something different and more exciting.
KT: Are there any SHOT Show mistakes that you might have witnessed that would serve as cautionary tales for others?
DS: One thing is, don't try to hang with everybody. Make sure you get a lot of sleep. SHOT Show is long days on the floor from early in the morning setting up to the end of each day, and then there are dinners and meetings and all sorts of things. Just make sure you get enough sleep. The more rest you get, the better.
Another thing is making sure you have the right shoes. I'm not one for high-heel shoes or anything like that. That's just not me. But, whether you're female or male, make sure you bring several pairs of extra socks and shoes. At least once, if not twice, I have actually been in my socks on the show floor because my feet hurt so bad.
KT: What would your advice be for other companies or maybe new companies for making the most of the SHOT Show and their opportunities there?
DS: SHOT Show is huge and it can be overwhelming, so I would say the first thing would be, know who your target audience is and align your objectives for the show to that target audience.
Second, don’t overbook yourself. Leave time to be flexible and adjust as the show goes. I think, over the course of the years, the show has morphed and there are lots of new opportunities to communicate your message. Bloggers, new TV shows, your own camera crews and productions, your social media assets all need time and attention, so much so you can forget the show is also about launching your new products and meeting with your dealers, distributors and strategic retailers. You have to find a piece of yourself to spread along to everybody, so I would say schedule your time appropriately and make sure that you find some time for just about everybody.
I would also, say, remember to have a good time, because it can be stressful. Even though it's a trade show and it's supposed to be about launching new products, which is something that should be fun and exciting, the scope of the show can still be overwhelming for everyone at every level of your organization and for those attending. So take a moment and take a breath and take it all in and have some fun as well.