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Frank Gray

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Courtesy John Jackson
John Jackson created a game, and a business, based on a foam-tipped approach to archery.

Archery Tag about fun over profit

About a year and a half ago, John Jackson, who owns a software development company, among other things, in Waterloo, was looking at some foam for use in one of his businesses.

Off the top of his head, the man with Jackson said that you could put a chunk of the foam on the tip of an arrow and shoot someone with it and it wouldn’t hurt them.

Instantly, a light bulb went off in Jackson’s head.

Jackson has been involved in archery almost all his life. He started out with traditional archery as a child, shooting with his father and grandfather, and saw that almost die out after the compound bow was introduced.

Traditional archery has made a comeback of sorts, but a lot of people still consider it sort of dangerous to be shooting sharp-tipped arrows at things.

But what if the arrows had foam tips?

Within a few months, Jackson developed a whole new form of archery. He designed fiberglass recurve bows and foam tips for carbon arrows and came up with something he called Archery Tag.

It was just a variation on paintball, Jackson said. People could team up, put on masks for safety, and shoot arrows at each other using bows that had pulls ranging from 16 to 28 pounds. The big difference was that getting hit in paintball hurts. Archery Tag doesn’t.

The same bows and arrows, though, could be used for old-fashioned target practice. The arrows, even though they have these fat foam tips, fly with the same accuracy of regular arrows, Jackson said.

Jackson, for his part, likes to use the arrows to shoot fruit off the trees in his yard. He said he was shooting ornaments off the tree in his office. He’s even let people shoot an apple off his head.

Jackson has resisted mass marketing of his product. He sells Archery Tag equipment online, but he has turned down people who want to be distributors and retailers who want to carry his product.

Instead, he has affiliates who buy the equipment set up at everything from archery competitions to private parties to movie theater lobbies where the movie “The Hunger Games” was showing. People who have never considered archery have picked up bows and actually taken part in archery for the first time in their lives, he said.

Jackson says he designed special bows for the world premiere of the movie “Brave,” and celebrities were lining up for chances to target shoot with his foam-tipped arrows.

“It’s a game changer,” Jackson says. “It’s opening up opportunities to shoot archery where you never could before.”

Jackson says people have told him the business could make more money if he had the equipment made in China, but he won’t do that. The bow risers are made in Fort Wayne, the limbs are made in Michigan, the foam is made in Ohio and other parts are made in New York. It’s all assembled in Indiana.

Whether Archery Tag is even profitable is something Jackson isn’t sure about. But money isn’t really the issue. His other businesses are his bread and butter.

“What’s my purpose? What is my mission?” Jackson asks. “It’s to introduce more people to archery.”

It might seem a little bit presumptuous, but, he believes, “History will credit us with bringing a lot of people into archery.”

Frank Gray reflects on his and others’ experiences in columns published Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. He can be reached by phone at 461-8376, by fax at 461-8893, or by email at fgray@jg.net. You can also follow him on Twitter @FrankGrayJG.

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