You can improve your shooting skills at the SIG Sauer Chalk sessions. More importantly, you can learn a lot about the SIG Sauer product line and how to better serve your customers.
Dubbed the “Sig Sauer Chalk” sessions, selected dealers from across the country are invited to get the full immersion into the company’s manufacturing facility and more than a day on the range with instructors. Chalk is a fun spinoff of the World War II signification of troops or cargo being deployed from a plane. After the week, attendees can help their customers by providing more knowledge of Sig Sauer products and personal insight about shooting specific firearms.
The academy is located at the company’s headquarters in Epping, New Hampshire. The 140-acre campus includes a pro shop, multi-bay “Area 51” range, 1,000-yard range, indoor, multipurpose and shoot-house ranges, classrooms, a pro shop with Sig-branded items, and tactical training area. Classes are available for armorer certification, instructors, specialty training, shooting development, competition and guest instructors.
“This is where you can see the factory, get involved on the range, ask questions and get answers,” Tom Taylor, chief marketing officer & executive vice president of commercial sales, told attendees at the Sunday evening welcome dinner. The company also has an ammunition production facility in Jacksonville, Arkansas, and its Electro Optics facility in Wilsonville, Oregon.
“The (firearm) facilities feel more like an optics factory,” Taylor said. “Everything is state-of-the-art with high quality control testing. Everything here is under the Sig Sauer brand and has been organically developed. At the SIG Academy, our instructors have the crazy ability to be able to teach a grandmother how to shoot safely or they can get on a plane and go teach SEALS.”
SIG SAUER Tour
After signing in and clearing security at Sig’s sprawling headquarters, attendees split into three smaller groups and headed in different directions for the guided tour. Along with firearms, ammunition, air rifles and optics, SIG also produces suppressors. Our Chalk groups saw raw materials, boxes of finished goods and a range of pistols and rifles in various stages of production.
“We machine the slides, barrels and frames here,” said Tom Butler, who led my group’s tour and has been in the firearms industry for 30 years. “The rest of the parts we buy, about 2.2 million parts per month, or we make them ourselves. When I first got here to SIG Sauer I saw a 6-foot 2-inch 12-year old. It was a small company that outgrew what it had, but our team has worked hard to help it grow and mature.”
Today’s modern firearms manufacturing facilities are bright, clean and efficient with little wasted space. When you’re dealing with millions of parts and hundreds of thousands of finished products each year, your facility has to be a model of efficiency. Sig Sauer’s is exactly that, with thrumming machines and clean spaces.
As you might expect, the requirements for tracking everything in an international firearms facility are incredibly high. For example, parts for the new M17 military and civilian pistol models are never co-mingled; the M17 pistol’s military parts are held and assembled in a separate area from the other. That’s part of the contract for the M17, that everything is segregated and tracked. It makes sense, obviously, for the military to want to have detailed tracking should anything ever happen.
Barcodes and other tracking systems are employed for parts, products and movement through the system for other products, too. That’s simply good management to be able to easily keep up with everything. Also, more than 1 million rounds of various ammo is tracked through SIG’s internal testing range each month. Everything from small pistols designed for concealed carry to large rifles are tested. The test tube and shooting area, all of which are monitored by video, have extensive ventilation systems. Lead is recycled at the catch-area, too.
“In 2011 we decided to expand, and expansion was done in 2014,” Butler explained. “But we already had outgrown it. Since then we’ve been growing and expanding rapidly here (in New Hampshire) along with Arkansas and Oregon. We have new machines being rotated in and are looking all the time at how to be more efficient. One machine we have saves four minutes per slide (from the previous machine) and on 24/7 production that is huge.
“We want quality components, assembly controls and as many eyes on it as possible to make sure a product is certified to ship,” Butler said. “We take that very, very seriously.”
SIG Academy Range Time
Following the Monday morning tour, we went to the SIG Academy ranges to shoot pistols and rifles. It gave attendees an opportunity to get familiar with the guns and gear they’d be using Tuesday, which included the P320 X-Five Series pistol and others, SIG MPX with Romeo3 1x25mm Mini Reflex Sight, and the SIG 716G2 7.62 NATO rifle with Tango6 optic in 5-30-56 or 3-18×44 scope and SRD762TI Grade 5 titanium suppressor.
It was also an opportunity for attendees to get familiar with the range, instructors and their commands. Instructors got a good look at the shooters to gauge skill levels, which were strong. Spent hulls flew and targets clanged for hours. Safety, of course, was heavily emphasized at all times throughout the shooting events. Everyone rotated through the rifle and pistol areas to get hands-on experience.
I spent the morning session with the “Shoot to 1,000” crew and instructors David Hinkell and David Perkins. Those who selected this session began at 100 yards and, by the end of the day, moved to 1,000. Everyone was successful, too. Much of the first hour or so was devoted to safety and familiarization with the rifle and scope, getting them fit for sight, shooting at 100 yards for accuracy and precision, and a lot of positive emphasis. With all the instructors throughout the day, as I rotated to the close quarters battle “urban” setting and pistol range, the depth of positive reinforcement was overwhelming.
“If you have a question, ask the question,” Hinkell told his group. “There probably are nine or 10 other guys with the same question but they won’t ask. I want you to leave here with more answers than questions. We work to do whatever works best for each person. We offer advice but don’t say ‘Do it this way.’ A guy may need to move his leg up to get tension off his lower back, for example, in the prone position. Each person is different.”
Over at the CQB and pistol ranges, the same scenarios were taking place. On the pistol range, shooters would draw the PX320, shoot once, holster, draw again, shoot once, holster and continue until the magazine was empty. Ripping off multiple rounds is cool, but gaining muscle memory, target acquisition and confidence with single shots is better. At the CQB range, with a light rain falling, bursts from the Sig MPX hit targets as shooters moved to, from, around, under and behind cars and buildings.
Confidence clearly grew throughout the day. Encouragement from instructors never flagged. Competitions for time or accuracy increased the fun, too, which is part of what these Sig Chalk sessions are for — fun, gaining knowledge, meeting new people, experiencing new things and exchanging ideas to be able to help customers who want to know more about Sig Sauer.
On the final night of SIG Chalk 18-2, following a full day at the Academy range, we gathered at Surf Portsmouth restaurant overlooking the Piscataqua River. Cohen mingled and spent time with attendees while sharing and listening to stories. He was clearly enjoying the downtime and camaraderie, meeting and talking with those who share his passions.
“Ron Cohen is the steady force behind Sig Sauer’s success over the past 14 years, since his arrival in 2004,” said Taylor. “He has driven the company to win, because he’s not afraid to fail from time to time. Ron has led the way in the many recent successes in product category expansion and innovation. He continues to balance the company’s focus on defense with an ever-growing list of military and law enforcement agency contract wins in the U.S. and around the world.”
Sig Sauer’s new marketing tagline is “Never Settle,” which is what Cohen emphasizes. In describing the new M17 pistol, he emphasizes that a customer’s civilian version deserves the same attention to production detail and quality as those going to the military. He challenged his R&D engineers and staff to put the new Advanced Sport Pellet rifles through the same rigorous processes and standards. Optics and ammunition get the same. There is no difference in standards because it’s not a pistol or rifle.
Cohen’s smart enough to know that good people turn out good products, in part because they buy into the process. He met with Chalk attendees in his spacious office, which has an impressive wall display of all the SIG firearms. Cohen said he pushes himself hard and expects Sig employees to do the same. But there doesn’t appear to be any evil taskmaster at play.
“When I think about them putting kids through college, paying mortgages, that kind of thing, it’s scary and humbling,” he said. “When you leave here, I hope you don’t think just about the buildings and materials, but about the people. All this, all the success, it’s strictly about the people around me.”
He knows there will be mistakes. He doesn’t like them and strives to avoid them. With 1,800 or more employees and multiple facilities, they’re inevitable.
But like a good football coach, Cohen wants to know what happens after the mistake.
“Everybody screws up,” he said. “It’s how you react to the situation and screw-up that makes the difference. You do the same (in your stores). When you sell Sig Sauer you need to understand it. If you’re selling cars, you need to understand the engine and features. It’s the same being a dealer with your products.”
SIG Chalk Details
The SIG Sauer Academy is not a beautiful, pristine facility with manicured grass and flowers. It’s a 100 percent top-notch facility where visitors can get their fill of shooting targets on short and long ranges and an urban course (with cars and buildings!) to strengthen skills and confidence.
The academy is located in Epping, N.H., on 140 acres. It includes a pro shop, multi-bay “Area 51” range, 1,000-yard range, indoor, multipurpose and shoot house ranges, classrooms, a pro shop with Sig-branded items, and tactical training area. Classes are available for armorer certification, instructors, specialty training, shooting development, competition and guest instructor.
If you attend — and if you’re a dealer with an invite, I suggest you accept — plan accordingly with the seasons. In spring and summer you’ll need sunscreen and bug dope for flying insects. If ticks give you the heebie-jeebies, take appropriate repellent although ranges are in open areas. During my visit in May we had pleasant temperatures; a light jacket or sweatshirt might be a good idea to pack.
Sturdy closed-toe shoes or boots are required. You’ll get dirty having fun on the range so don’t wear your summer seersucker. Sig Sauer’s event team does a great job providing information for a visit or answering questions.
Sig Chalk attendees stay at the Hilton Garden Inn in Portsmouth, which has a good variety of shops should you need extra apparel, toiletries or other items. If you want to venture out a bit, Portsmouth Brewery has a good selection of libations and the Rusty Hammer deserves a hard look for its excellent selection of food and beverages.
Badger Island, where U.S naval hero Adm. John Paul Jones supervised the building of his ship, is a short walk across the Piscataqua River on the World War I Memorial Bridge. Jones’ house is maintained as a museum in Portsmouth.