Featured Member: Sierra Bullets

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Sierra Bullets, a precision bullet manufacturer, is known for exactly that: precision. In fact, their bullets are known for holding tolerances that are second to none and can be found in retail locations all over the globe. sierra-plant

Sierra’s niche is quality, proven by an impressive customer base, which includes almost every ammunition manufacturer in the world and the U.S. military. Sierra will not sell a bullet that is over or under three tenths of a grain off from a predetermined weight. For those unfamiliar with the size of a grain, there are 7,000 in a pound. Simply blowing on the grain scale can increase the weight by ten to twenty grains. This is indicative of both accuracy and excellence in Sierra’s craftsmanship.

Sierra manufactures handgun bullets, rifle bullets and bullet jackets. Among those bullets are several different brands, including MatchKing (pre-eminent target bullets), Varminter and BlitzKing (for varmints and small game) and GameKing (for medium and heavy game animals).

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Underground shooting range

The facility is nothing short of outstanding. With an expertly designed manufacturing system, an in-house pressure-tester, and a three football-field-long underground shooting range, it’s easy to see what makes Sierra so special.

Sierra’s story began all the way back in 1947. Three friends living in California saw the aircraft industry’s need for precision rivet sets, so they started a company in a garage as a side to their regular jobs. The business was good, and it eventually outgrew the garage facility. After a few more relocations, rapidly growing business and a number of years, Sierra finally decided that California wasn’t a good place to produce bullets. State taxation was excessive and regulations were rampant.

In 1990, Sierra Bullets moved to Sedalia, Missouri to gain better support from local and state government, a centralized location, good roads and affordable energy, a supportive community for manufacturing, and most importantly, remarkable employees. They have been prosperous in Sedalia ever since.

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Draw Press and Bullet Press Machinery

In 2011, current-president Pat Daly took over. Confident in the quality of their products, Daly saw room for growth in a company that was not maximizing its full potential. Sierra had been operating the same way for years, making employees very averse to change despite inconsistency seen in production. His new plans included better incentives for employees, a more efficient production system, and a work in progress (WIP) reduction in the plant. He also set forth an expansion plan to increase capacity by 40%.

“I continue to throw hand grenades in this company because I believe that’s the only way it will grow,” Daly said, looking back on the initial changes. His unique approach has been successful in many aspects of the business, from employee performance to machinery investment and everything in between.

One of his most noteworthy developments is his incentive plan for employees. He noticed that employees weren’t driven to earn their bonus. Based on the entire plant’s output rather than performance, it was more nebulous than motivating. Every employee was assigned to one machine without knowledge of how to run the others, so managing errors and inefficiency was difficult. It was easy for employees to blame those operating other machines, reducing accountability. Production quality wasn’t optimal.

To solve this problem, Daly implemented a new system. Bullet press operators were partnered up between two machines and taught how to operate both. Each workgroup worked on each piece from beginning to end. This increased accountability, pride in workmanship and greatly increased quality. Bonuses became dependent on specific performance between the partnerships. This put it in the best interest for employees to not only work hard, but to train their partner efficiently due to dependence on each other. He also installed a yearly “super bonus.” The culture of the work environment changed.

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Left to right- Master Bulletsmith, Jeff Gilbertson; President, Pat Daly; Master Bulletsmiths Dan Hoke, Scott Jenkins, Bryan Brock; Production Manager, Mike Gunter; Production Lead, Brad Vansell; and Vice-President of Operations, Doug Wickham

Sierra also began training Bulletsmiths (bullet craftsmen in the plant) with an extensive criteria-based program to become Master Bulletsmiths. Criteria for the Master Bulletsmith designation includes thorough knowledge of all bullet production processes, an exemplary demonstration of all of Sierra’s operating procedures and a reliable, respected leader. Every bullet manufactured by Sierra is overseen by a Master Bulletsmith to ensure quality and accuracy for the customer.

Sierra Bullets has overcome many obstacles since the year it was founded. Through effective leadership and business decisions, Sierra serves as an example for other companies that strive for continued growth, employee satisfaction and retention even in the later stages of a well-established business.

Brought to you by Associated Industries of Missouri and Missouri Enterprise.