Most retailers would quickly admit that Henry Repeating Arms has earned a right to be stocked on shelves. Although Henry just celebrated its 20th anniversary in March 2017, the brand continues to deliver firearms customers want and are excited to own.
Customers and retailers both have great things to say about Henry’s support, service, affordable pricing and amazing quality, fit and finish. The company also has been unwavering in the support of those who serve to protect and 2nd Amendment events. Henry recently donated 1,000 custom Silverboy .22LR rifles for the NRA/Henry 1,000-Man Shoot record-breaking event on Nov. 14, 2016. Many retailers are not aware that Henry rifles have become one of the top presented rifles to U.S. and state officials. This includes a presentation late last year by the Republican Party of Arkansas presenting a Henry to President Donald Trump. Henry has again become a heritage firearm everyone is excited about owning. Shooting Sport Retailer talked to CEO/President of Henry Anthony Imperato about the start, the growth and the future of the beloved company.
SSR: Did you just wake up one morning and decide that the world of firearms needed Henry back?
Imperato: Not quite. My father had owned Iver Johnson on and off a number of times over the years. It was a company that passed through a number of hands and when it looked like it was floundering, my father would step in and buy it back. The last time, we found it was too difficult to manage due to its location and ended up closing Iver Johnson. My father and I went back and forth about what we wanted to do with the business. Ultimately we decided to re-enter firearms manufacturing with some of the manufacturing capabilities of the business.
SSR: Is that when the Henry brand was restarted?
Imperato: No, restarting Henry was still a few years down the road and still not really in the plan. We had an existing relationship with Colt and they asked us to start making black-powder guns in 1993. After that operation was up and running, my dad thought about resurrecting the Iver Johnson brand, but I felt very passionately about restarting the Henry brand instead. Henry existed from 1862-64 and were sold under New Haven Arms company, which was owned by Winchester. That design then became the Winchester 66. After that, the Henry name sat dormant. We took ownership of the Henry brand in 1996 and then worked hard on the design and tooling. There was a lot of history there and a lot of consideration to create a brand that honored the legacy of the Henry rifle.
SSR: When you started working on the original .22LR lever-action design, where you attempting to recreate the original or deliver something different?
Imperato: There really is no connection to the original in the first Henry design. The original design was a .44 Rimfire. I do not think the market would have been ready for that design as our first rifle. It took us 15 years to get to the point where we could introduce the Henry Original Series in .44 Colt and .44-40.
SSR: How did the Henry rifle line develop over the years?
Imperato: If we walk through the chronology, we first introduced the H001 with youth and .22 Magnum offshoots of that design. Then the Henry US Survival AR7, Pump Action and Golden Boy. In 2003, we broken into the centerfire rifles with the Big Boy Series. We had so many requests for a premium version of the original Henry design that we created the Henry Original Design chambered in .44-40 and .44 Colt. We have now expanded the line with the Long Ranger in .223, .243 and .308, the Silver Series and the ongoing release of special limited editions.
SSR: What has been the most popular model over the years?
Imperato: Definitely the original .22LR H001 and Golden Boy H004.
SSR: Speaking personally, what is your favorite Henry?
Imperato: I am sentimental to the Golden Boy line.
SSR: Was the goal always to lead Henry to the premium $2,000-plus models?
Imperato: When we resurrected the brand, my goals were simple: I wanted us to be the best gun company in the world and treat everyone right. We feel we have delivered the best product we can on each model. As a new company we could have entered the market with a $2,300 original Henry design, but that was not the right strategy. The initial product was the H001 — basically a great little .22LR at a good entry-level price point. We never imagined we would get to a point where customers were demanding and buying everything from $200 to $3,500 custom limited-
edition engraved guns.
SSR: You started with a basic blue model with H001 and now you have quite a selection.
Imperato: We do with a very large range of lever actions now available in blue, hardened brass, silver, color case and all weather.
SSR: What’s to come at Henry?
Imperato: We have a lot of new models coming out in 2017. We are going to introduce leverage-action shotguns in .410 with 20- and 24-inch barrel options, single-shot rifle cartridge models, various Big Boy models, including a lot of new all-weather models in revolver calibers. Also we have a single-shot, hardened-brass or steel-received shotguns in final development in 12, 20 and .410 gauges. We even have a .41 Magnum and .327 Federal Magnum Big Boy and a suppressor-ready .22LR Frontier model coming out.
SSR: Have you considered doing an over-under or side-by-side?
Imperato: Over-under shotguns are their own science and we are more of a classic style. If we did in the double-barrel market it would be more of a coach gun style. It is still something we are looking at after we see how the shotgun models are received this year.
SSR: I have asked this before, but would Henry ever consider offering a Big Boy in 9mm? Many of us who has asked the same question would love to see a 15- or 17-round 9mm lever gun that would be really cheap to shoot.
Imperato: We do get a lot of inquires for that. It is certainly something that is still being considered. We know there are a lot of Henry .22LR owners who are already 9mm shooters.
SSR: How has your experience played into how you have built the business?
Imperato: I have been fortunate to have been able to do just about every job in the business — wholesale, surplus arms and ammo business. I have worn all the hats from retail gun store counter to distributor to manufacturer. I know what it is like to be in all the peoples’ shoes we work with every day. I want assure we never put our dealers or distributors in a situation where we are making things difficult.
SSR: What do you strive to be known for to dealers and distributors?
Imperato: Exceptional customer service. If our dealers and distributors need help with availability, we never want to make things problematic for the retailer. I make myself personally available for the retailers. They can feel free to email me all the time with any question or concern related to Henry.
SSR: Your dealer referral program is notable in the industry.
Imperato: We have over 6,000 dealers listed on our site. We do a very good job of sending business to retailers directly from customer inquires. The goal was to make it easy to get customer to dealers.
SSR: Did you start with cutting-edge technology or some of the legacy Iver Johnson equipment?
Imperato: We started with some patent Pratt & Whitney gun-drilling machines. We slowly added CNC machines and more and more state-of-the-art machining technology. Henry now has about 400 employees and 250,000 square feet of manufacturing space among our facilities. We have consistent growth of the years.
SSR: Did you ever think you would be where you are now?
Imperato: No, [laughs] … no. It may seem like we have grown fast, but to us it seems like we have grown grain of sand by grain of sand. There were dips, however. We have been blessed with very steady growth. In 2013, though, Hurricane Sandy nearly put us out of business. It was devastating. We had 3 feet of saltwater on over 100,000 square feet of floor. The roof was ripped off, metal was everywhere in our New Jersey facility. In fact, we just finished some of the final repairs from the hurricane.
SSR: Have you thought about diversifying manufacturing outside of the hurricane area?
Imperato: We are expanding in Wisconsin operations which will give us a lot of capacity and backup. At the Wisconsin facility we do not have to worry about anything like hurricanes … just the cold.
SSR: How do you think the election will impact gun sales?
Imperato: The advice I would give to our dealers is to hold steady with a buying strategy. We are probably not going to see a post-Obama-election sales boom. There will be peaks and valleys in some areas but overall steady.
SSR: Henry has been a strong 2nd Amendment supporter over the years.
Imperato: We have. Recently we donated 1,000 rifles for the record-setting NRA/Henry 1,000-Man Shoot and NRA fundraiser, but we have also had our rifles featured as notable presentation firearms to 2nd Amendment supporting politicians. The Republican Party of Arkansas gave President Trump elect a Henry Big Boy, for example.
SSR: I have always said that the only people that do not own a Henry are those that have not shot one yet.
Imperato: Thank you. We believe we have delivered a great smooth action, good looking 100 percent American-made gun with impeccable fit and finish. Those are the things that make a Henry a Henry. Because of that, they certainly are head turners at the range. It is a natural point and shoot design that has survived and thrived the test of time. We are thrilled that customers and dealer have both fallen in love with Henrys.