In 1975, Steve Smith took on his first business venture. Hunting was his passion, as was archery — two pastimes that kept him busy. But at the age of 13, he also saw an opportunity. He saw a gap in the market of reloading shotgun shells for dove hunters.
Starting on his own, he was soon able to employ some neighborhood kids — and he began saving up his earnings.
“Between that and mowing lawns and picking pecans, that’s how I made money to start my business, ” he says.
By 15, he had opened up a backyard bow shop — with about $600 worth of equipment. Though he had no formal training, local hunters would bring in their gear and he would repair and service it. There were no hunting shops in the panhandle of Florida, he says; they were unheard of. But as he continued reloading ammo, hunters continued coming to him for tune-ups.
“It was all hands-on, trial and error, ” he says, working from “what information I could gather with a phone conversation with somebody else. That’s about the only way you got it.”
Luckily, he says, he started with a natural ability to tinker.
“I was always mechanically inclined. I could always look at something and figure it out.”
His backyard operation grew steadily for the next nine years, until he moved into a building in Jackson County, Florida. Hunters from Florida and beyond would visit his shop, and his reputation grew within the archery community.
In the years since, Smith has continued within the industry, working as a traveling sales rep and owning archery locations in North Carolina. He credits his success to his natural salesmanship and willingness to try techniques — like offering financing — that he gleaned from other types of business. He also offered archery-specific deals like setting up entire bows, with all the accessories needed for sighting, balancing and more, and selling them as a package deal.
“They literally flew off my shelves, ” he says. “We didn’t know it all, but we made a big impact.”
Today, Smith co-owns Archery Connection in Phenix City, with his wife, Janice. Their son, Mason — a professional archer who holds a sponsorship with equipment maker PSE — manages their store.
Janice got into the business after the two married; the shop got so busy that she had to quit her full-time job to help. Since then, the pair has shot at and won numerous tournaments, all while making their living through archery.
Now, 32 years later, she’s proud that they still represent a mom-and-pop shop. “I recognize the value of you walking through my door, ” she says, adding that’s what sets them apart from big-box operations.
The Smiths work to keep their customers loyal, with a combination of customer service and perks. For example, bows bought from Archery Connection come with free service (minus parts), a lifetime of free lessons and more.
They boast the largest selection of bows in the region, offering both compound and recurve styles — think mechanical pulleys for the first style, Robin Hood for the second — as well as crossbows and more. Brands include PSE, Obsession, Hoyt, Elite, Parker, Bear, Gearhead, Bowtech and Genesis.
Customers can find a wide selection of arrows, feathers and plastic for fletching, strings in every hue imaginable, bow stands, quivers and more.
They also offer hunting supplies, coolers, clothing, cases and a selection of guns. If you can’t find precisely what you’re looking for within their shop, they’ll help you track it down.
Their operation fills a 30, 000-square-foot building that incorporates two indoor shooting ranges and a virtual shooting simulator, with a 3-D target course outside.
“We’ve got everything, ” Janice says. Even a dog. The family pup, Archer, is a crowd favorite among customers.
On average, Archery Connection sells 500 bows per year, with hunting season and Christmastime being their busiest seasons. Archery Connection also hosts weekly tournament shoots on Thursdays and Fridays.
In addition to the Smiths, the store has four full-time employees and four part-timers, including Jerry Presley, a bow technician who also offers shooting lessons. A veteran shooter himself, Presley says he’s been impressed with Archery Connection’s commitment to helping customers grow in their skills.
“Steve has a real nice way of teaching people to shoot. It’s the right way. If you take the time, it’ll make you a much better shot, ” he says.
Bethaney Wallace and Nathan Leduc are freelance contributors to Business Alabama. Wallace is based in Phenix City and Leduc in Columbus, Georgia.
Text By BETHANEY WALLACE // Photo by NATHAN LEDUC