By Carolee Anita Boyles
A trip to the SHOT Show makes one thing very clear: We have many more women in the industry than we had 30 years ago. At the 1990 show, you could look around a crowded cocktail party and see perhaps half a dozen women in the room. At the 2020 Women of the Gun cocktail party, 10 or so men were in a large company of women. A number of those women are entrepreneurs, bringing innovation and new ideas to the firearms industry. Let’s take a closer look at some who are leading the way.
Andrea Beasley is one of the owners of Stern Defense, a specialty manufacturer of precision firearms accessories.
Her family has been in manufacturing for about 25 years, through Summersville, Mo.-based South Central Manufacturing.
“About 17 years ago, we were approached by an up-and-coming gun company to do some OEM work,” Beasley recalled. “The company today is quite large. We grew with them into the firearms industry and started manufacturing for other people, as well.”
Beasley was in school at the time, but each year she would take off a week to go to the SHOT Show.
“I put the gun down and said ‘I can’t do this. We have
little kids at home. Let’s take some classes.’”
Laurie Fettig, Owner T&L Tactical
“This was before there were any dedicated lowers in the market,” she said. “My father came up with an adapter that converts a standard Mil-Spec AR to accept a pistol-caliber magazine. We took it to SHOT Show to show a couple of people and to see what their thoughts were, and people went crazy over it.”
Beasley told her father, “Dad, we really need to start another business with this.”
Her father told her he didn’t have time to run another business, but Beasley persisted. Finally, along with her sister Kristin Tuttle, father and grandfather, they founded Stern Defense.
“I was in Texas doing financial software for a company making apps for banks and credit unions,” Beasley shared. “I told my CEO I wanted to start my own business with my family. I flew back and forth between my job in Austin and my job here in Missouri with this company for the first year while we were getting started.”
Today, Beasley and Tuttle run most of Stern Defense.
“We utilize some of South Central’s employees to help manage our warehouse and that sort of thing, but mostly we do all the work,” she said. “We’re still fairly small but growing rapidly. We do everything from sales to marketing to traveling to different shows. We run and handle the range days. Two years ago, we couldn’t get anybody to even email us back and now some of the influential social media folks want to review our stuff and are reaching out to us. It has just been such an interesting ride.”
Several years ago, with her kids all off to college, Deb Sullivan moved to Sarasota, Fla., to be closer to her parents.
After a break-in in the neighborhood, she took a CCW class and learned to shoot. Then she discovered GSSF, the GLOCK Sport Shooting Foundation.
“The GSSF is competitions put on by GLOCK, where you have to use a GLOCK pistol,” she relayed. “I really liked it and got a group of people together to join me. We discovered T1 Ammunition, which is manufactured in Sarasota. T1 worked with us to develop a good competition load we could all shoot.”
In early 2019, Sullivan learned the owner wanted out of the ammunition business. She and her friends tried other ammunition brands and loads but couldn’t find one they liked as well as the T1 load they’d been shooting. So, she bought the company. Almost immediately, she had to relocate because the building’s owner didn’t want a firearms-related business in her building anymore.
“We found a larger space, and in a better location for what we wanted to do,” Sullivan shared. “I started learning how to make ammunition and how to work the machines, how to process the orders and the tax stuff we’re responsible for. I’ve kept the formulas the same. It’s been a steep learning curve because I don’t really have a background in any of it. I brought my daughter Lauren Burgess along with me; she has been instrumental in the business end of it, doing the marketing and being young, she is able to do social media much better than I can.”
One of the men who worked for the original owner has continued to work with Sullivan.
“He knows those machines inside and out,” she noted. “He has been a godsend. He has been there one day a week for months to show me how to use the machines and how to fix one when it breaks down.”
Sullivan has big ideas for where she’d like T1 Ammunition to go, but for the moment she is busy getting her feet under her in the industry.
“I figured the first year was going to be surviving and learning,” she said. “I bought the company June 2019. I’m giving myself until this June to get up and running and knowledgeable.”
Laurie Fettig had little exposure to firearms growing up.
“It wasn’t until after we were married a couple of years that I even fired a gun. My husband brought home his first handgun and took me to his parent’s house to shoot it,” she recalled. “It scared the pants off me. I put the gun down and said ‘I can’t do this. We have little kids at home. Let’s take some classes.’”
They started taking NRA shooting classes through their local recreation department.
“I discovered two things,” Fettig noted. “One, my husband and I were pretty competitive and two, we really liked to shoot. So, we started shooting on a regular basis, going to the local range every week. When our kids were old enough we started taking them, started taking our friends and started taking our family.”
Then the 2013 ammunition shortage hit, and like every other shooter, they were looking for ammo.
“My husband and I were already in the retail industry,” Fettig said. “We own a mattress store.”
She told her husband, “We can’t find ammo. What are we going to do? We can’t shoot if we can’t find ammo. Maybe we should open our own gun store.”
Her husband kind of brushed her off, but Fettig started talking to her friends and asking them about their experience buying guns.
“My experience was very poor as a woman buying a gun,” she said. “I would get frustrated because people would want to either talk to just my husband or they wanted to sell me a pink revolver, which really ticked me off.”
When she started talking to her friends, Fettig discovered they all had similar experiences.
“I thought, ‘I know retail. I can do this,’” she declared. She opened her store, T&L Tactical in Manitowoc, Wis., toward the end of 2013 and was immediately swamped with customers.
“I had to pretty much resign my position at the other company and beg my daughter, who was 18 at the time, to come and help me,” Fettig said. “We slowly built. And in 2018, we started building a range at a new location. Now we’re certified instructors and teach classes. Women drive two hours to come because they see our ad on TV, and say, ‘Oh, women are in there. I’m going to go, and women are going to help me.’”
Jerah Hutchins grew up in a hunting family.
“We would bird hunt in the fall and duck hunt in the winter,” she said. “I was primarily familiar with shotguns. As I got older and went to school, I always had a shotgun with me, and I never really lived on campus anywhere.”
In her early 20s, Hutchins had a stalker situation and learned about handguns.
“I started training with handguns, but I didn’t really enjoy them,” she admitted. “It was something I knew I had to learn, so I made myself learn it. But I didn’t enjoy training because I was being trained by men who I could tell were irritated by my lack of knowledge.”
Hutchins knew she could do a better job of training women. She took classes and learned to be an instructor.
“I launched my training company, Clearing The Chamber, in 2018,” she said. “I market toward women and youth in the Dallas–Fort Worth area. Sometimes couples want to take classes from me, and I’m fine with that. There are some other really good, significant female trainers in the area, but as far as I know, I’m the only one who truly specializes in women and youth.”
From instructing, Hutchins moved into consulting on firearms-training facilities.
“I’ve assisted with building four gun ranges in Texas,” she shared. “I also consult on training programs for different gun ranges. Currently, I’m working with one in Lubbock to write a training program for them because they have this amazing outdoor facility, but they don’t have a training program outside of License to Carry. I’m also going to help them scout good trainers from their area to employ.”
“I raise money to put single moms and
low-income women through defensive training.
I believe the Second Amendment and having
access to this kind of education isn’t just
for people with money.”
Jerah Hutchins, Founder Women’s Awareness & Defense Endeavor (WADE)
Hutchins also started the nonprofit WADE, Women’s Awareness & Defense Endeavor, which is currently in the process of getting its 501(c)(3) status.
“I raise money to put single moms and low-income women through defensive training,” she stated. “I believe the Second Amendment and having access to this kind of education isn’t just for people with money.”
Early last year, Hutchins got involved with Trident, a company that develops FFL software. She consulted with them on a project to incorporate training classes, events, gunsmithing, firearms tracking and range management into a single point-of-sale program.
“We took it to market at the 2020 SHOT Show,” Hutchins said. “We got tons of leads. Now we have to start working on future versions dealing with state laws.”
Carolee Anita Boyles has been writing about the outdoor industry since 1981 and has been a mainstay Shooting Industry contributing editor since 1998.