Reflections on A BIG SHOT

Jan 23, 2023

After a week with lots of walking, talking and long days, it’s a bit of a shock to be sitting in a quiet office looking at a blinking cursor on a blank page. Especially when the rest of the desk is covered in receipts, notes, business cards and the inevitable stack of paper I swore I wasn’t bringing home this year.

SHOT Show takes all the preparations for your year, tosses them into a blender, adds a massive amalgam of new ideas, new products, new contacts; then tosses in a dash of cold reality -there’s no way to see it all, walk it all, or report it all. Then -bang- it all ends on Friday afternoon.

As the ephemeral nature of circuses (and trade shows) was once described: “ A dog barks. A baby cries. And the circus moves on.”

You never catch up. You can only hope to hold on.

This SHOT Show, like all that preceded it, was unique. It’s true flavor we won’t really taste until later in the year. But it’s safe to say not everyone left happy. I’ve spoken with several smaller companies who arrived with great expectations, then departed with zero orders. That’s a bitter disappointment, but any of us who have started a business from ground zero realize that the Oak Ridge Boys were correct when they sang “where the sun always shines, there’s a desert below…” It’s hard to appreciate the view from the summit it you’ve never looked at it from down in the valley.

Hopefully, the ones who are struggling this week will have better weeks ahead. But the fact is that when 2,500 exhibitors are clamoring for attention, not everyone will get the outcome they’re seeking, even when there are 52,000 potential opportunities.

Time, distance and and interest guide attendees at SHOT. The three don’t always align to the benefit of everyone. Fortunately for the disappointed, a smaller than anticipated SHOT outcome doesn’t mean failure. It may be the reality that leads to a needed, but otherwise unrecognized, refocusing of a business.

It’s also a reality that the connections made before or after the exhibition floor closes can sometimes be the catalyst that brings success. SHOT 2023 didn’t lack for those, with after hour events that revived tired feet, recharged thirsty throats and even brought the opportunity to kick back at a music event with rock-and-roll legends. The All-Star Jam concert was a big hit-and brought even more of the Las Vegas atmosphere to SHOT Show.

Shot After Dark might sound like a plot for another film noir Las Vegas mystery, but it wasn’t. It was the NSSF realizing that being all work and no play makes a four day event unnecessarily difficult. Chatter on the floor made it obvious that plenty of attendees appreciated the opportunities.

SHOT Show was also the coming out party for an international company with a new, decidedly All-American segment. Nioa Group, an Australian global munitions company announced it’s acquisition of Barrett Firearms during SHOT Show, and that announcement sent ripples across the industry.

For some, the idea that Barrett Firearms, the company known for two things- long-range, shoulder-fired rifles and an unflinching stand against any government group that would deny the same arms to citizens it used to equip its law enforcement was heresy.

After all, Barrett and it’s founder/leader Ronnie Barrett steadfastly refused to do business with California law enforcement -and any other state/municipality that told its citizenry it couldn’t have the same kinds of weapons their police did.

We wondered the same thing. So we went looking for answers-and found them.

Ronnie Barrett (left) and Robert Nioa (right) aren’t just business acquaintances. They’re businessmen who look at their coming together under a common umbrella as an alignment of common values in business and family. Photos from Barrett Firearms and Nioa Group with permission.

On Thursday, I spent time with Ronnie Barrett, and Robert Nioa, the eponymous names behind the two companies. What I discovered was there was far more in common between the two than there were differences.

In my initial conversation, Ronnie Barrett explained that there were times when the federal “death tax” made it impossible for a prudent parent and grandparent not to think about how to protect their legacy from excessive taxation. Failure to do that kind of planning, he explained, was why many family businesses were sold after the owners’ deaths because the tax burden was simply impossible to meet.

“Say a company’s theoretically worth $100 million,” he explained, “when the owners die, the inheritors can find out they owe $40 million in ‘death taxes’ -that’s too-big a number for anyone to pay within the federal timeline. They’re either forced to sell, or pushed into terrific debt.”

That, he told me, wasn’t something he was willing to allow to happen at Barrett, and the driving force of the initial conversations between the two groups.

“We have had a longstanding relationship with Nioa, and we have a lot in common.”

How much common ground they actually share was brought home in my follow-on conversation with Robert Nioa.

Yes, Nioa is a global munitions company, with business interests that range from artillery shells to missile defense systems. But it’s also another family-owned business -this one celebrating its fiftieth anniversary this year.

“We’ve worked hard for everything we have,” Robert Nioa explained, “no one gave us anything. My father began in the back of a garage.”

That sounds like the start of another “American success story” doesn’t it? Yet, it’s the story of an Australian company that’s come from “very humble” beginnings to a position of prominence in its industry and country.

It wasn’t just the common business interests that brought the two companies together, it’s that up by the bootstraps story. A story shared by two families separated by a lot of geography, but not much difference in philosophy.

Throughout our lengthy conversations with the two of them, they demonstrated two common values: a steadfast business commitment to both growth and excellence, and an equally unshakable dedication to family.

They also indicated something that should make Murfreesboro, Tennessee, residents (like me) happy: there’s absolutely no intention to move Barrett anywhere. In fact, Nioa told me in no uncertain terms that he isn’t looking to move Barrett, he’s looking forward to growing it beyond what it is today. And, he says, “I love Murfreesboro. We’re not going anywhere.”

The conversation with the two of them was both informative and intriguing.

Those conversations are indicative of what you’ll be able to read in our new service, Q&A.

It’s launching shortly, and it is designed to bring you conversations and insight from interviews with business leaders from a variety of industries- including manufacturing, banking and business development.

In the meantime, there’s plenty more news from SHOT Show 2023 coming over the next few weeks.

All part of our promise to you: we’ll keep you posted.

— Jim Shepherd