American Rifleman - August 2017 - 61
"To be the best run,
most respected business in America,
for the benefit of our Customers."
For T MidwayUSA Celebrates 40 Years
-MIDWAYUSA VISION STATEMENT
wanted to be a millionaire by age 40, then retire
so I could hunt and fish all the time," recalled
MidwayUSA founder and CEO Larry Potterfield from
his office desk in Columbia, Mo. Barely an adult at the time
he declared this goal, the young Potterfield, like so many of
us, was perhaps a little naive. You see, 40 years after starting
his company in 1977, he is still working, albeit with plenty
of time taken for hunting and fishing trips around the world.
But as literature from midwayusa.com, his wife Brenda
and Larry himself reveal, a successful business doesn't just
start up and run itself. It all began in rural Missouri, on the
outskirts of a town called Ely, population 26.
Larry Wayne Potterfield was born in 1949 to Mr. and
Mrs. Gilbert "Bert" Potterfield. One of six children, he
grew up hunting and fishing in the game-rich hills of
eastern Missouri, not far from Mark Twain's Mississippi
River. He took his first duck at age 9 and his first quail
at 13 after being given a 16-ga. Stevens single-shot by
his older brother Marion for Christmas. It was during that
time that Larry developed his hunting skills and a keen
nose for adventure. After graduating from high school,
Potterfield attended Hannibal-LaGrange College and later
the University of Missouri, where three life-changing
events happened: he met his wife and confidant Brenda;
he developed a passion for skeet shooting; and he studied
business administration, accounting and, to a lesser extent,
computers, before earning his first degree.
Weeks after graduating, the newly wed Potterfields
moved to Lackland Air Base in Texas after Larry enlisted
in the U.S. Air Force. After a transfer to Blytheville Air
Force Base in Arkansas, Larry helped establish and run
the base's rod and gun club-mainly so he could shoot
skeet. In doing so he acquired a Federal Firearms License
that allowed him to deal in guns and ammunition. He
finished his six-year military stint in Rapid City, S.D.,
where he rose to the rank of first lieutenant. In addition
to teaching him life and business skills, his service experience stoked his desire to open a gun shop and work for
himself. Although an ardent hunter, he noticed that most
Photos courtesy of MidwayUSA
local gun shops around the country catered to hunters.
To be different, he wanted to cater to shooters, while also
providing wares for outdoorsmen.
In 1977, with 3-year-old son Russell and infant daughter
Sara strapped into the family car, the Potterfields trekked
back to Missouri. Plunking down $30,000 in cash and equity
from their gun collections to combine with a $50,000 bank
loan, Larry and younger brother Jerry built a 1,600-sq.-ft.
metal building/retail storefront outside their hometown of
Ely on Old Highway 40 near the "Midway" exit. They named
the store Ely Arms, Inc., and began selling guns-mainly
used ones from their personal collections.
With an eye ever-peeled for a deal, Larry discovered he
could get .30 Remington ammunition really inexpensively;
and from his days learning how to reload from his neighbor
and Guns & Ammo writer George Spence, he had an idea. With
a few borrowed tools and a giant can of elbow grease, Ely
Arms happened upon a niche market when the brothers began