CALLING THE SHOTS
When Mark Stone was building his gun-making business Nighthawk Custom, he was always cognizant of a few simple words of advice he received from his parents. “You might do 100 good things,” they’d say, “but you’ll be remembered for the one bad decision.” That statement proved true in Nighthawk’s early years when it had to overcome initial production problems that resulted from sourcing components from other manufacturers. “We’d created the processes to deliver consistency,” says Mark, “but sometimes the parts we ordered from outside vendors failed and I was worried it would damage our reputation.”
Mark decided to implement two crucial changes. First, Nighthawk would manufacture all of its own parts, each fully machined from bar stock steel and fitted by hand. Second, each firearm would be built, from start to finish, by a single gunsmith. The goal was to establish personal accountability and responsibility by each gunsmith. Today, the business’s motto of “One Gun, One Gunsmith” is taken so seriously that the initials of the craftsman are metal-stamped under each pistol’s left grip panel. The result of these two decisions has been overwhelmingly positive.
The training process at Nighthawk Custom has also evolved. Some new employees arrive with gunsmith school credentials, but Nighthawk insists on mentoring them further. Mark explains that it usually takes more than two years for a new smith to become fully trained and earn the title of master gunsmith. He can usually spot talent early on by testing them for sharp hand–eye coordination. As an indication of the talent level exhibited by Nighthawk Custom Gunsmiths, Nighthawk has more employees in the fabled American Pistolsmith Guild than any other business in the country.
Nighthawk Custom’s change in philosophy, unmatched quality and commitment to customer service have made it a leading innovator in the industry. From its humble beginnings, working out of a retrofitted storage building, Nighthawk Custom now finds itself with 65 full-time employees, selling to over 400 dealers in the USA and in 21 countries worldwide. Starting with a passion for the 1911 pistol, it has expanded the product line to more than 40 different 1911 models, premium revolvers in partnership with Korth from Germany, and innovative tactical shotgun designs.
This attention to fine detail shines through in its products. For instance, the Nighthawk VIP (which stands for “Very Impressive Pistol”), has a classic antique nickel finish, giraffe-bone grips and is hand engraved by a master engraver. The VIP Turnbull – a collaboration with vintage gun restoration expert, Doug Turnbull – boasts a 14-carat solid gold bead front sight and a highly polished, charcoal-blued slide. “Our customers are successful people who appreciate beautiful things,” says Mark. “Some are driven by passion, others a commitment to owning the best.”
Nighthawk continues to drive industry standards higher and, as a result, the business is undergoing a substantial expansion. It has invested $750,000 on a new building and equipment in the small city of Berryville, in rural Carroll County, Arkansas. This comes on the heels of the $1.25 million machine shop it opened in 2015. “The Nighthawk difference is more than a commitment to quality products,” says Mark. “We want our employees to raise families here and to establish roots and hopefully stay long enough to retire. In 100 years, I want the descendants of our gunsmiths to look down at the Nighthawk they inherited, gaze at the stamp and say, ‘My great-grandfather built this’.”