Feature photo: To say Greg Summers (right, shown with Tristan Mason) is a perfectionist is an understatement. That’s obvious in everything T.R.U. Ball/AXCEL produces, and legions of archers are better for it.
Making archers — and archery — better. That’s the guiding philosophy at T.R.U. Ball/AXCEL. And that’s not just an empty motto. This is a company that works hard to develop products that make archery better for everyone — their title-winning tournament archers, hardcore bowhunters, recreational archers and the retailers who make archery available to their own communities.
Spend a few minutes speaking with the team at T.R.U. Ball/AXCEL, and you’ll hear about all the tiny details that the company focuses on. That’s in large part because T.R.U. Ball, and sister product line AXCEL, were born of a machining background.
Founder Greg Summers established his own machining company, S&S Machine, Inc., in 1985 after working for a number of other top machine shops. Ten years later, the desire to produce archery equipment that actually made archery better led Greg to establish T.R.U., Inc (Tomorrow’s Resources Unlimited). Later, the company brought its fanatical attention to detail and high demands to the bowsight category, launching a cutting-edge tournament sight under the AXCEL brand.
No wonder, then, that both brands are known for producing the kinds of products and technologies that make a genuine difference in the field and on the range.
But designing high-quality products is just part of how this company makes archery better. T.R.U. Vice President Ben Summers devotes time to improving the entire industry through his work with the Archery Trade Association. Ben was initially elected to the ATA Board of Directors in 2006, serving as the Board’s vice chair beginning in 2010. In 2016, he was elected chairman of the Board, and he was recently re-elected to that position. Ben also served on the community archery programs committee and works with lawmakers in the nation’s capital to advance the interests of the archery community as a whole.
We recently sat down with Ben to discuss what the two brands have to offer for 2018.
AB: What sets AXCEL apart from other bowsight manufacturers?
Ben: If you were to ask the designers, it’s the lack of backlash in our sights (moving a sight one direction and immediately moving the opposite direction when you turn the adjustment knob the opposite direction). We’ve found that an archer has to turn the adjustment knob on our closest competition three clicks the opposite direction before it even begins to move. In a competition where an archer needs to make fine-tuning adjustments, this can result in the difference between winning and losing. For a bowhunter, this cuts down on frustration and time taken to sight-in a bow or fine-tune broadheads.
The true answer to this question is that we use the same technology and attention to detail in our Olympic gold- silver- and bronze-winning tournament sights as we do in our “tough as a tank” hunting sights. We design, CNC machine and assemble all metal parts in our Virginia factory, so we can control the quality and dependability in each part. Anyone who compares our sights to any other sight on the market will quickly notice the difference.
AB: What features/technologies does the new RheoTech sight introduce?
Ben: The first feature is part of the name! Two years ago, our designers focused their attention on creating the most technologically advanced tournament scopes on the market. One of the key features that 3-D tournament shooters loved was a quick and easy rheostat setting that allowed them to move from dark woods to a bright field and dial down the brightness of their fiber optic to prevent “starbursting” (a pin can grow so bright in high sunlight that it takes on the appearance of a firework). This patented feature allows hunters extreme adjustability from low to high light.
Another feature in the RheoTech is true third-axis adjustment. Hunters often assume that their bows are perfectly straight, when camo coatings or minor machining tolerance variances can throw off the squareness of their sights. Some will sight-in their 20-, 30- and 40-yard pins and assume their bow will function the same in hilly woods as it does on flat ground. In some cases, they’ll notice their 20-yard pin shooting left and their 50-yard pin shooting way right. In other cases, when they bend at the waist in a treestand, they notice the bubble level in their scope acting crazy. Buying an AXCEL RheoTech at a local dealer will result in the bow being set up properly, with the first, second and third axes set correctly and the best chance of accuracy in hilly, long-distance situations that real bowhunters experience.
AB: What advantages do AXCEL sights give a bowhunter?
Ben: First, the micro-adjustability of our sight pins makes them extremely quick and easy to fine-tune. To adjust, an archer simply backs out a set screw in the pin(s) he or she wants to adjust, then moves a micro-adjust knob clockwise or counter-clockwise to move that pin up or down. To finish, they just tighten the set screw and the pin is exactly where it’s needed. It’s interesting to see old-fashioned pins that tighten along a slot in some of our competitors’ sights.
Second, our sights are built to withstand years of the toughest conditions in the most rugged spot-and-stalk hunts. Our ArmorTech sight pins are encased in steel, while our RheoTech pins are machined from strong aircraft aluminum so they can withstand a trek through heavy brush. We do everything possible to design sights that will protect fiber optics.
Third, we’re constantly thinking about how to make our sights better for bowhunters. When sitting in deer blinds with our kids, we noticed that the sun doesn’t hit fiber-optic pins when the roof of the blind is blocking light from the top, so we designed the scope fiber to access more light and incorporated our now legendary crosshair into our scopes. When you’re in a low-light blind looking out on a bright cornfield at first light, your fiber-optic pin may stay dim while your crosshair will be the perfect aiming device to hit your target.
AB: How did your team grow the AXCEL brand?
Ben: Knowing that our American-made quality mentality couldn’t compete with the price of low-quality, mass-produced sights made in third-world situations, we focused our efforts on giving tournament shooters and bowhunters the best features possible. At times, this makes our sights extremely expensive, but we have tried with models like our AccuHunter slider sight to bring top features to an affordable price.
Our ArmorTech hunting and AX3000 tournament sights are good sellers, but once Olympic athletes used the AX3000 to win two gold, silver and two bronze medals in the London Olympics, it solidified our reputation as the top-quality sight manufacturer in the world. Our shooters won almost every major tournament in the world last year, and our reputation in bowhunting grows with every sight we sell.
AB: What keeps the T.R.U. Ball brand fresh and innovative in a rapidly changing market?
Ben: We have seen tons of copycats, from exact duplicates of our products to companies that have “borrowed” our patents to a company that even tried to register our exact logo in China as their registered trademark. We have adopted the mentality that Mathews immortalized in its “Catch us if you can” tagline several years ago. T.R.U. Ball continues to innovate and create the most incredible designs with the best features on the market. We are pushing to be better, and it is forcing counterfeiters and our competitors to keep up. It’s tough to sell an exact duplicate of technology that is last year’s model.
We have also stepped up and sponsored tournaments and several tournament series at levels higher than many bow manufacturers. For the past several years, we have been the title sponsor of the ASA Kentucky Pro/Am. We sponsor World Archery, NFAA and USA Archery, knowing that their success will help archery grow.
We also invest a lot in keeping our brand relevant in magazines like Archery Business, and we keep our social media pages engaging. In today’s world, it’s all about connecting with people on a personal level, and we truly care about every one of our shooters and bowhunters.
AB: What are the new-for-2018 release models from T.R.U. Ball, and what do they bring to the table as far as release technology and performance go?
Ben: We turned one of our most successful tournament releases, the Blade, into a silent hunting version called the Bone Collector T-Rex this year. The handle has the exact same geometry without the cocking bar that makes it a little loud. The performance of the trigger in travel and sensitivity are very difficult to differentiate. In fact, after testing each release that ships out of our factory to 100 pounds, we pull-test each handle to check for travel and sensitivity. I can tell you firsthand from this test that the bowhunter-focused T-Rex is almost as sensitive as our World Championship-winning Blade release.
We’ve also added new twists on two of our very best sellers. Our original Short-N-Sweet wrist-strap release was used by Dietmar Trillus to win the most prestigious indoor tournament in Vegas and has been a solid seller for over 20 years. We figured it was finally time to upgrade by rounding the edges and giving it our new easy-adjust Cinch web-strap connection. We also brought back our super popular Copperhead release in our new Copperhead TC. The original version was the only release we ever allowed anyone else to make through metal-injection molding (MIM). They had promised the same quality we have in our shop, but they couldn’t produce to the same standards. We constantly rejected what they shipped to us and had to test every part for quality, so we eventually phased it out of our line. The Copperhead’s popularity was still legendary, so we decided to bring it back in a CNC-machined version this year. We even added our super-effective Tornado Connection (TC) that allows bowhunters to tuck the release into their sleeves when not in use.
Finally, we wanted to own the title of the top tournament wrist strap in archery, and the Execute release is exactly that. Used by world champions and bowhunters alike, this release has the finest, crispest release ever made in a wrist strap. The body of the release is made in brass that adds weight with a matte nickel coating that really gives a different feel from any other release on the market.
AB: While T.R.U. Ball and AXCEL are big in the hunting market, both brands are also popular among target archers. How do you cater to the needs of both groups?
Ben: This is always an interesting struggle, more when we’re designing our catalogs or focusing on a social media post than when we design the actual product. Because we are experts in both target archery and bowhunting in our personal lives, we can incorporate top features like micro-adjustments that move a sight .0015 inches with each click into both target and hunting sights. We can help a 3-D tournament shooter move from their target bows in August to their hunting bows in the fall with releases that feature the same geometry and feel. What can be difficult is creating a brochure where you need to feature the Bone Collector Team with some great deer and also target a vegan mom from New York City. Our approach is one of class and good taste in which there is respect for the animal and respect for our customers.
AB: What should retailers know about T.R.U. Ball and AXCEL? What should consumers know?
Ben: For retailers, I would point to a sign we posted at ATA and each of the dealer shows this year with the following text:
1) T.R.U. enforces MAP. We are actively pursuing MAP violators, even when they make it tough to track down who is the source of the dealer or distributor that we sell to.
2) T.R.U. gives shooter dealer credits! When we sell to shooters at tournaments, a portion of each sale goes back to the local dealer in the form of a sales credit they can use to buy product.
3) T.R.U. does not give under-MAP discounts to your customers. We kept our price structure steady, even when we saw our competitors offer steep discounts to online retailers that were way below MAP in the busiest sales months for dealers, or crafted special deals for “special” dealers, or went behind dealers’ backs to give commission to floor employees for selling their brand. Our sales remained strong in a tough economy during the past 2 years despite these crazy tactics to gain market share.
For consumers, I would say that we care about you over the long term. We’re not here to make a few dollars off of you today by selling you a gimmick or product that will break after a year. We make products that will last for years and, in several cases, have lasted decades. We are here for the long haul and want to earn your business the old-fashioned way — by making quality products that work.