By FRED KRONER
Big things can come from small areas.
There is no greater proof than Precision Shooting Equipment, which is now — and for decades has been — the world’s largest manufacturer of compound bows, target bows, crossbows and traditional recurve bows.
The company got its start on Mahomet’s Main Street in 1970.
Mahomet was then a community of 1,296 residents, according to census reports.
Main Street had among its tenants a grocery store and a hardware store on the north side and a drug store, a furniture store and a cafe on the south side.
It was in the back of Jahr’s Hardware that Pete Shepley — who was then a product engineer for the Magnavox Corporation — designed bows for himself as a hobby.
There was some interest in what he was doing.
“Pete was selling products off the hood of his car,” said Blake Shelby, Precision Shooting Equipment’s current executive vice-president.
A 1974 newspaper story in the Champaign-Urbana Courier said, “within 18 months, the demand for archery equipment had increased for Shepley to go into business full-time designing and manufacturing equipment.”
Estimates in 1972 indicated 500 bow hunters in Champaign County. Among them was Shepley, the Illinois state champion.
The article noted that until 1973, the company operated with a limited workforce.
“Precision Shooting was a two-to-three-man operation,” according to the story, which went on to say, “by June, 1974, 30 people were working, with 10 to 15 more to be hired by fall.”
At that point, the Eisner’s grocery store had closed and the building was vacant.
Precision Shooting took over the space (which is now the Victorian House) in March, 1974.
George Chapman was the sales manager.
The company wasn’t open around the clock, but the Courier article said, “The Mahomet plant has two eight-hour shifts. The majority of the workers are women.
“Precision Shooting participates in the M-S High School Distributive Education Program in which students work a few hours a day while attending class.”
The company was producing 20 archery products and the newspaper article noted its extensive reach, “The distribution area is worldwide.”
A 1972 News-Gazette article went behind the scenes.
“The bows are laminated in Tucson (Ariz.), where the climate is drier, and parts shipped to Mahomet, where an assembly line puts out about 300 bows per day.”
By 1977, the Mahomet facility had expanded to 250 employees and was the world’s largest manufacturer of compound bows.
Shelby said, “as the company grew, so did the sport of archery.
“It became more of a viable source for taking game. Now it’s a given that it’s a great weapon for taking large animals.”
In 1982, Precision Shooting Equipment relocated to Tucson, where its plant covers an entire city block. The 150,000-square foot building is about the equivalent of 3.4 acres.
“The biggest reason for relocating to Arizona was Pete’s vision for fiberglass-molded limbs,” Shelby said, “that could increase the durability and performance.
“The leading expert was in Tucson. The technology development was out there. It was a big migration. We moved equipment, everything.”
A number of employees from Mahomet — including Chapman — also headed west.
Depending on the season, Precision Shooting now has between 250 and 400 employees.
Shelby said the company builds about 100,000 compound bows annually.
Pete Shepley, who is now in his 70s, “still has a major role,” according to Shelby.
Shepley’s son, Jonathan, is the PSE President, a position he has held since December, 2011.
Shelby said Precision Shooting produces virtually everything associated with its products.
“We can control the process from start to finish,” he said. “All we have to buy is the screws.
“We can manufacture everything else. A lot of times you can import (parts) cheaper, but it’s more about quality control and reacting when you have a problem. When you import, you can’t react quickly enough.”
The company’s strategy helps prevent products from becoming obsolete.
“If we need to make a part for a bow we made five years ago, we can,” Shelby said. “When we quit manufacturing (a product), we try to make enough to get through warranty issues.”
As for the future, Shelby believes improvements can still be made.
“There will come a time when you can’t redesign because it has all been done,” he said. “It’s getting harder to be innovative.
“We’re engineers. I see more advancement in materials. What is the next great material to be used? We’re always trying to be the industry leader. We will push the envelope in the materials we use.”
Since Shepley formed the company in downtown Mahomet, the changes have been staggering.
He first substituted plastic vanes for turkey feathers on arrows. The soft, flexible plastic vanes were less wind-resistant and could be used in rain, snow or sleet.
Shepley’s development of the compound bow was billed as 40 percent faster than the conventional bow.
The design featured pulleys to make the bow lighter, yet allowed the archer to pull more weight.
From there, he developed a number of release aids, which were designed to increase the efficiency of the bow and arrow.
PSE has nearly two dozen patents for bow design and archery products.
Mahomet bow hunter Nic DiFilippo is a fan.
“Pete Shepley a great man who knows his stuff about archery,” DiFilippo said.
The Shepleys have been unavailable for an interview during the past seven months.