by Carmen Macdonald
For one of the most liberal states in the union, Oregon does a really nice job with shooting and hunting related companies. Leupold, Nosler, HeviShot, Crimson Trace, Benchmade, Kershaw (always loved the old Kershaw commercials back when they were ranch oriented) and a host of others call the state home.
One of Oregon's most beloved shooting sports companies was Michaels of Oregon. If that name doesn't mean anything to you, certainly Hoppe's, Butler Creek, Uncle Mike's and Stoney Point, the consumer brands beneath the Michael's of Oregon banner, will ring a bell. In 2005, Michaels of Oregon was sold to Bushnell. It was the end of the company's machine shop in Oregon, the end of top-quality swivel studs, sling swivels, rifle slings and ammo accessories from a U.S. manufacturer. Or was it?
As the Michaels factory in Oregon City was shutting down, Bob Grover was a part of the process. He travelled overseas to train a new workforce to build the products for Bushnell. The whole endeavor did not sit well with him. Being Michael's production manager, and holder of an engineering degree, Grover was in a position to effect change.
As the machines in the American factory sat idle in the plant's final days, Grover approached Bushnell with an offer to purchase the machines in order to start his own company and service Bushnell with American-made products necessary to do business with the United States military.
In 2006 GrovTec US, Incorporated began with a staff of five and a tremendous amount of experience, passion and ideas. At first occupying a single little office and shop in a cookie cutter little strip mall looking building off 213 in Clackamas, GrovTec set off creating and improving processes and practices, knocking back patents on their ideas whenever possible.
Within just a couple years, the company doubled the space it occupied, adding a commercial sewing operation and entering the soft goods side of the business. Along the way, Kim Graham, past regional sales manager for Michaels, joined in the GrovTec effort. Add sales experience to product and the pace quickened.
Thing about Bob Grover is, he's an idea machine and a stickler for process. Step through the door of his office and you're guaranteed to see drawings, lots of technical drawings, for the products that may or may not make final production. His company wears its ISO registration (a certification that relates to lean manufacturing and quality control processes) like a badge of honor. Both components would be necessary to success.
The hunting community is a fierce stronghold of "buy American" thinking. At the same time, however, it's become a frugal community. Want to sell a big game rifle? All of the sales volume of the last five years has been in accurate, yet no frills entry-level rifles. To GrovTec's advantage, they've recognized from the beginning that American Made is not a substitute for quality and competitive pricing. Competing for space against entrenched, heavily marketed brands, imported or not, would require they hit on all cylinders.
In the first years, GrovTec found its' stronghold in supplying OEM products to manufacturers. If you've purchased a rifle in the last five years, have a look at the swivel studs. If they're quality steel and adorn a true black-oxide finish, chances are they were cut on a screw machine right here in Oregon.
Retail consumer goods came next. GrovTec's expertise in machined metal parts was apparent from the beginning. Grover has amassed numerous patents on swivels and the company delivers a broad range of swivel sets for all types of firearms. The surprising enterprise was soft goods: slings, ammo accessories and holsters. To me, metal products on screw and CNC machines made sense for an American manufacturer. The raw materials are heavy to ship and there's not an immense quantity of human contact required in manufacturing. Soft goods, however, well how could an American manufacturer compete?
Soft goods are the strength of the import market. Certainly consumers would appreciate an American made sling. The problem would be that they would not pay the premium price for it. The wild thing here is, there is no premium price. GrovTec's soft good go head-to-head with the top brands on both quality and price. Oregon's newest firearms related manufacturer is growing fast.
There's a lot of pride over in Milwaukie, between Lowe's and McFarland's, then back a block. With each step the GrovTec brand employs more members of the community, more of your neighbors. You can find their products at Fisherman's Marine & Outdoor, Keith's, and most of the local gun shops. If goods on a peg hook do not satisfy your interest, stop by the company's facility in Milwaukie and say hello. Damn fine people that'd love to show you around.