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Interview with Andy York, President of SIG SAUER Electro Optics

Andy: The first thing that I always start with is my team before I get into product. Because the first question a lot of people ask are two things: 1) How is this any different from what SIG did with SIG Tac or how is it any different from other firearms companies who’ve forayed into optics—they kind of go on a shopping trip overseas and slap their logo on it. And that’s the reason why I start with my team.

I was brought on by Ron Cohen, the President and CEO of SIG SAUER, basically at SHOT show 2014, is when we started talking. I was on board with SIG in April. I spent the first two or three months assembling my team. I spent ten years as head of sales, product development, and marketing at Leupold, running everything from rifle scopes to binoculars, to range finders, to tactical products.

I hired Scott Smith at Leupold, back in ‘04, to be my head of R&D. He’s here with us now, he’s our VP of product development, so he has extensive Leupold experience. He also went to work for Tracking Point for a year and a half. Are you familiar with Tracking Point?

LDD: Yes

Andy: Really cool product—

LDD: Yeah, I actually got to shoot one at SHOT show Range Day 2013. [/i]
Cool product. A little bit before its time--

Andy: Well, I don’t know if has a time, it’s $10,000-20,000. It’s very expensive #1. And #2, most snipers that I’ve talked to want to be ultimately responsible for pulling the trigger. They don’t want the system to acquire a tag and let a bullet go down range unless they are the one to pull the trigger. And most hunters that I know, that are really purists: if you take away the challenge of the hunt with too much science, then at the end of the day, why don’t you just order a deer on the internet? You know what I mean?

LDD: There’s a certain experience that can’t be encapsulated--

Andy: There’s a spiritual part of hunting that is the reason why I hunt. I love hunting with a rifle, but I’m actually a bow hunter—because for me, it’s the pursuit, the challenge, the strategy, the sport.

Brad Brumfield, we hired not too long after Scott (back in ~’05-’06 at Leupold). Optical engineer, graduated with a 4.0 from University of Arizona. It’s the best optical program in the country. He is the guy that designed the Mark 8, the CQBSS, the VX-6, the HAMR, you name it. All the different optical innovations that came out of Leupold, Brad was the optical engineer. He’s on our team now.

Don Cramer, electronics engineer at Leupold, worked on range finders, illuminated reticles, things like that—that was really the core team that we started with. Us four plus two other guys, very experienced SIG employees, Bert Sheets and Eric VonBosse.

Josh Vail was a manufacturing engineer at Leupold, he consulted with us for a while and [said] “I want to be on the team.” Bert Sheets was a former SIG employee, he designed the P227, then went to work for Knight’s Armament and he was doing some free-lance consulting for SIG. He was based here in Portland, we hooked up for lunch, we met him and said “You’re on the team.” He’s a great design engineer.

Eric VonBosse, 15 year SIG SAUER veteran, up in New Hampshire, program management, configuration control, working the systems, working with Oracle, working with manufacturing to bring products to market. He had transitioned into sales and was living out here in Oregon. When I started, I was also responsible for sales and marketing—I was re-structuring the sales force and I said “Hey Eric, I want you on the team.” He joined here as a program manager and he’s doing a great job.

Joe Fruechtel is the son of Tom Fruechtel, who is the prior CEO who hired me at Leupold. Joe kind of grew up with rifle scopes at the breakfast table every day, he’s an avid hunter, he’s been around optics his whole life and he’s been in program management in Leupold and Benchmade, and Blount International (which was where I was for two years between Leupold and SIG).

Craig Pfeifer is our latest hire. He’s also from Blount. He’s going to be my right-hand guy in terms of sales operations, customer service, marketing programs, things like that.

And then we have consultants: guys from Zeiss, Kahles, Leica, we have engineers from Crimson Trace, all guys that have worked in engineering, product development, that have left those companies, and are now working with us.

I spend a lot of time [on my guys] because I want to make a couple things really, really clear: I’ve been in the optics industry for twelve years. The collective experience of everybody in this office is over 60 years [in] optics. I’m not putting my name on something that is [from] a shopping trip. I’m not going to stake my reputation on it unless I’m confident that it’s the best product we can build #1), #2: As a company, SIG SAUER stands for durability, and accuracy, and innovation. If I can’t look at our optics in terms of being durable, accurate, and full of innovation and precision, we’re not going to put our name on anything unless it builds the brand. That’s true of all the new divisions. When you look at the ammunition division, the silencer division, the airgun division, the optics division, it’s got to earn the right to wear that SIG badge.

That’s why you mention some of the things you saw at SHOT [2015]—I can point to a dozen things you would have seen at SHOT [2015] that I didn’t like. But we had to get something out there to tell the world that we were launching. And since SHOT [2015], frankly, that’s the reason why we’ve delayed the launch. But when it ships, it’s going to be right.

LDD: I would say that of all the divisions that you mentioned, optics seems to be the most risky—based on my retail experience.

Andy: Why do you say that?

LDD: Silencers are a piece of metal with a hole down the middle. Ammunition has been made forever and people expect reliability, but not necessarily innovation. People will buy ammunition, they’ll try out a box. Someone is more likely to risk $400 on a gun than to risk $400 on a scope, much less $1600, $2200, $2800, on an optic that they don’t have brand experience with, like Leupold, Nightforce, US Optics. If I go on a forum and ask “I’m going to spend $1600 on an optic” no one’s going to recommend me a SIG optic. I would just observe from my perspective that optics seems to be the riskiest in terms of what the investment cost in making good optic is vs. how easy it is to sell and make sales and profit off that investment.

Andy: I hear your point, and I think it’s valid. I think the vision that Ron had--there’s companies out there, great companies, great brands, but they grow through acquisition. They grow by tacking companies on. Ron Cohen’s vision was a lot closer to home, wrapped around the core firearms business. And that was: anything that goes in or on a firearm is where we’re going to go. So ammo, silencers, optics, etc. We’re not going to get into spray to hide your scent, we’re not going to get into camo clothes and boots and accessories. We’re not going to have a catalog two inches thick full of branded product. It’s a tight core strategy that wraps around handguns and rifles.

That’s why optics is included, #1. #2, The owners of this empire, Michael Lűke and Thomas Ortmeier, based in Germany, are passionate hunters. And frankly, that’s what’s fueled their investment into this industry in the first place. Not just that it was a good financial opportunity but they are passionate about it, so they bought Blaser, and they bought Mauser, and they bought JP Sauer & Sons, they bought SIG SAUER, they bought Rigby, they own German Sports Guns (GSG), they own Diana Airguns. They have had a vision for quite some time. They want to get into optics.

So, the bloodline if you will, you feel it when you pick up a classic gun, the P226 if you will. Just the precision manufacturing. We want that to come through in our optics. We’re trying to look at ways of merging electronics that provide previously non-existent innovation, but not in a way, for example of what Tracking Point did. We’re not looking to build $20,000 optics-of-the-future. We’re saying: How do you come up with electronic solutions that are affordable but bring a value, and a level of innovation that didn’t exist [before]. And maybe that costs $50 more, maybe that costs $1000 more. It’s not $20,000 more.

Some products like binoculars, they don’t have any electronics in them (yet). But from the inception, it was “Let’s try to bridge this gap.” There’s a lot of companies in our space that are good with electronics. L3, Raytheon, BAE systems, Eotech, they focus on electronics and build very militarized gear. Then you have optics companies that kind of know optics. We’re trying to live right in between. We’re trying to be, not only a center of excellence for optics, but also for electronics. And that means, also, yeah we can stretch and do some pure optics, we can stretch and do some very high-end electronics for military type stuff. But we can also find that fusion in the middle for that commercial market where we get the best of both.

When you look at the strategy, it’s obviously going to be high-performance and rugged. We’re not going to put our name on it if it’s not. This unified idea of an industrial design, because we launch the whole product line at the same time, we had a chance to do the ID (industrial design) in a way that looks and feels like SIG. So when you see knurl patterns and things, those knurl patterns—we call it the “split waffle” design—basically comes right from the X5/X6. We try to do things that make it look and feel a little like SIG. You’ll see grip textures on binoculars—this is as close as we can get to a mold-tech grip which is on some of our pistol grips. So we tried to do things that made it look and feel like some of our handguns.

In the systems approach we can design things to work as a system, say for instance for .300 BLK we’ll have .300 BLK reticles to go with our new .300 BLK rifles that work with a suppressor. Military grade and hunt ready, the key thing there with all our optics experience is we write very detailed product specifications before we do any product. But before we start pursuing that product we go to our guys at the academy up in NH—guys who have served in the military or are active duty SWAT—and say “What do you guys want in this product?” and give them an opportunity to be part of the discussion up front. And when the product comes in, we don’t go to market until it goes through a very exhaustive torture test up in NH, both with our engineering department on impact testing and also at the academy.

Your question on “Why is somebody gonna look at SIG?” People know who SIG is. That gives us a leg up. It also gives us stronger marketing. It also gives us an entrenched sales force, a much more robust distribution network. At the end of the day, from a consumer perspective: I’ve got to earn the sale with innovation and value that is so compelling that they want to try the product. Who was GoPro? Five years ago, they didn’t exist, but people love the brand now. When we go through the product line and I show you what we’re doing, every product had to be so compelling that a consumer—I think everything that we’re doing gets them to the counter. When you’re at the counter and the guy picks up the product, he’s got to feel like “Holy Cow! This is really cool and I can’t get this in somebody else’s product.” The end game, it comes down to the product.



SIG Electro-Optics President Andy York, with Tango scope and Kilo range finder, in front of laser etching machine.

This message has been edited. Last edited by: LDD,
 
Posts: 16791 | Registered: August 12, 2000Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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Very cool, I saw their scopes at SHOT show and like what I see, but you are spot on with your assessment LDD about optics purchases being high risk, especially with no positive prior performance as a company. Only time will tell, but I hope they do well!




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Posts: 34366 | Location: Around | Registered: July 12, 2008Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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I can't for the life of me figure out why they went with grey instead of just simple black...
 
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quote:
Originally posted by creslin:
I can't for the life of me figure out why they went with grey instead of just simple black...
My guess is branding - it seems to be more and more prevalent these days, to include even small accessory makers stamping their logo all over the part.




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Posts: 34366 | Location: Around | Registered: July 12, 2008Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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My Kilo 2000 has been very impressive. I dont think I'll take the leap on the scopes but the Kilo came highly recommended.


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Posts: 6144 | Location: One step ahead of you | Registered: February 10, 2009Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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quote:
Originally posted by RHINOWSO:
quote:
Originally posted by creslin:
I can't for the life of me figure out why they went with grey instead of just simple black...
My guess is branding - it seems to be more and more prevalent these days, to include even small accessory makers stamping their logo all over the part.


Leupold has that gold ring on their non-military grade scope. See a gold ring on a gun, and you know who's it is.

I hope Sig gets this right. SigTac really hurt the Sig Brand.


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Posts: 24305 | Location: NoVa | Registered: May 06, 2003Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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Thanks LDD for another great interview. I like that you were so open, and candid about your thoughts on them entering the optics market. I think for me Sig seems to be saying all the right things. I like others have mentioned hoped they actually are able to pull it off. I am actually interested in the Bravo line, and a P320RX that has the I believe the Romeo 1 on it.
 
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Interesting progression. yah SigTac hurt the brand but I am hoping this turns out to be a nice competitive line. SIG branded optics would be very nice if the quality is behind the name.




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Posts: 2590 | Location: PA | Registered: March 04, 2006Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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quote:
Originally posted by creslin:
I can't for the life of me figure out why they went with grey instead of just simple black...


Lots of people complain about the color of Vortex Razor optics but I actually like it.

Very little in nature is black, it makes sense for things to be a less... stark, color.
 
Posts: 12533 | Location: The Edge of the Ozarks | Registered: December 04, 2003Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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those rangefinders are the real deal. If they would just make a removable sd card for them or install a usb port to upload ballistics they would be perfect.


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