Diane Mastrull: Taking aim at the target

Chuck Matasic, president of Kodabow, tests one of his crossbows in his W. Chester facility. He sees a growing use of crossbows in hunting.
Chuck Matasic, president of Kodabow, tests one of his crossbows in his W. Chester facility. He sees a growing use of crossbows in hunting. (RON TARVER / Staff Photographer)
Posted: August 29, 2011

Chuck Matasic gently squeezed the trigger, releasing an arrow that streaked across the warehouse at 330 feet per second before piercing the center of a bottle cap.

His target was just eight yards away, the demonstration of his crossbow's accuracy limited by the size of his company's tight headquarters near West Chester. Matasic offered assurances that he would have achieved the same dead-on results from 40 yards out.

Hitting his business target might not be as easy.

His plan is to take his crossbow-manufacturing company, Kodabow, which made its first sale about a year ago, from relative obscurity to sales of $30 million to $40 million within five years.

That's with an ailing economy, high unemployment that is choking off discretionary spending, and his bows priced about $900 - when the market offers some at a third of that cost.

But the way Matasic sees it, many things are trending his way - particularly a steadily growing acceptance by states of crossbow use in hunting.

"I wish we had started this company a few years earlier, because the vision was clear several years ago," he said. "But every start-up takes time."

In 2000, the Pennsylvania legislature removed crossbows - essentially a combination archery bow and rifle - from the list of prohibited hunting devices. In almost every year since, the state Game Commission has approved more hunting seasons and geographic areas for its use. New Jersey has allowed crossbow use by anyone in archery season since 2010.

"From a growth-industry [standpoint], crossbows are it," said Larry Herrighty, assistant director of New Jersey's Division of Fish and Wildlife.

Before the recent actions by Pennsylvania and New Jersey, crossbow hunting was restricted to people with physical disabilities that made it difficult, if not impossible, to use conventional bows. Vertical bows, for instance, require significant effort - including pulling back on the bow and holding that position until a good shot can be taken. Operating a crossbow is far less strenuous, requiring a slight trigger pull after the device is cocked.

Other factors Matasic, 58, considers favorable to his business plan: fellow aging baby boomers, who don't quite have the arm strength they once had, and a push for more youth involvement in hunting. He's banking on both groups finding crossbows far easier to handle than vertical bows and compound bows, the cam- and cable-enabled devices that were an improvement on verticals.

Another group's abundance should prove good for business, too: deer.

"People may be antihunting to a degree," Matasic said. "But once they have Lyme disease or . . . a couple of insurance repairs where their $500 deductible was exhausted because they hit a deer on the highway, those attitudes sometimes say, 'You know what? We've got to manage this somehow.' "

Jerry Feaser, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania Game Commission, said the deer population remains in need of reduction in three of the state's 22 wildlife-management areas, including Philadelphia and its suburbs.

"If it weren't for hunting, we'd be up to our eyeballs in deer," Feaser said.

A native of Virginia, Matasic is a lifelong hunter. On a table behind his desk sits the head of a 600-pound waterbuck he took down in Africa from 32 yards away - with a vertical bow.

It was after a career in the Navy, another in the industrial gas and chemical business, and still another as president of Sig Sauer's U.S., a major handgun and rifle producer, Matasic said, that in 2008 he grew convinced crossbows "would be a major category in sporting goods and put more and more time into figuring out how to make a great crossbow and obtain funding to become established."

Kodabow had a working prototype in 2009, which went a long way in helping to woo investors, Matasic said.

He established a "C" corporation, raising $200,000 from investors who now own preferred stock in Kodabow.

With the exception of the optics and one of the grips, all the nearly 120 parts in Kodabow bows are made in the United States, many in Pennsylvania. The bows - primarily made of aluminum and weighing about nine pounds - are assembled in the company's warehouse/factory/offices along Route 202 in West Goshen Township.

The company consists of four employees - Matasic as president and chief executive officer, a chief financial officer, a director of assembly and operations, and an engineer - all of whom understand that the path to robust sales in a field dominated by a half-dozen manufacturers is persuading distributors to carry their product.

Thus, Matasic said, Kodabow's focus has been on generating consumer demand. Trade shows have been especially effective, he said, because visitors get to actually hold a crossbow and fire it.

That exposure, and gaining a presence in the Hamburg, Pa., store of megasporting retailer Cabela's has Kodabow closing in on $1 million in sales this year, Matasic said.

Rob Servis is predicting brisk future sales. A 42-year-old quadriplegic from Browns Mills, Burlington County, who broke his neck in a fall 16 years ago, Servis still hunts despite having only limited use of his hands. He helped lead the push for New Jersey to allow crossbows in hunting.

"It's catching on pretty quick," said Servis, who has bought a Kodabow for himself.


Diane Mastrull:

Chuck Matasic is in the hunt to be a dominant player in the world of crossbow manufacturing. Hear why he thinks his West Chester-area company, Kodabow, can be, with an intereview at

www.philly.com/business


Contact staff writer Diane Mastrull at 215-854-2466, dmastrull@phillynews.com, or @mastrud on Twitter.

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