Remove. Nock. Draw. Anchor. Breathe … Release.
This is the life of Bill Pellegrino.
Pellegrino and his wife Arlys are the owners of Bill Pellegrino’s Archery Hut, located just east of Powers Boulevard off Platte Avenue. Inside an expansive building lies a bow hunter or target archer’s Valhalla.
There is a well-stocked retail component, a shop area and staff to tune bows, as well as a 30-lane indoor range. The shop even offers lessons and competitive leagues.
“If it has to do with archery, we sell it,” Bill said.
‘Are we in trouble’
Bill moved to Colorado from Florida in his 20s. He worked in the fire sciences in the South, and says he came to Colorado because the bugs were smaller, there weren’t any alligators, and there were paid firefighters. Today he is a lieutenant with the Colorado Springs Fire Department and only a few years away from retiring. But his archery addiction and side business are more than enough to keep him busy.
“When I moved here, I was [bow] hunting, but didn’t do competitions,” he said. “A buddy in the fire service asked me to go to an archery tournament. I went and was absolutely hooked.”
He went on to compete and earn state, national and even world titles, earning quintuple-digit cash prizes for a single tournament.
“It’s a fun sport, but also a great way to make money,” he said.
And that was true beyond competition.
The Pellegrinos purchased an existing archery business in 2005, about a mile north of their current location.
“The owner didn’t have the time to put into it, was going to close it down and it was the only indoor range in the city,” Bill said. “I didn’t want to see it close, so I told my wife and she said, ‘Let’s buy it.’”
“I was not thinking at the time,” Arlys said.
The Pellegrinos admit they knew very little about running a small business.
“Our first day was July 5, 2005. We opened and didn’t even do $75 in sales that day,” he said. “We looked at each other like, ‘Oh God, are we in trouble.’”
But word of their acquisition soon got out and, because of Bill Pellegrino’s stature and connections within the archery community, customers started coming.
“We ended up with so much work by late August, there were some times when I would stay [at the shop] all night and work days on end,” Bill said.
Despite the success, the Pellegrinos couldn’t swallow their costly lease.
The Archery Hut, Part II
While on a hunting trip in Idaho, Pellegrino stopped at an outdoor outfitter for a map. An older couple owned the business and told Bill they’d paid for their building twice.
Confused, he asked what they meant.
The couple told Bill they had leased the building for 25 years before eventually buying it.
“I immediately did the math. … I’d spent more than $100,000 on a lease in three years,” he said. “I got home and my wife asked how hunting was. My exact words were, ‘We’re buying a building.’ I was petrified I’d be those people.”
Bill visited a couple dozen properties before settling on the one they are in today. The space was perfect for a retail operation and range, he said.
Arlys, who worked as a mortgage lender before leaving to run the shop full time, said, however, that she had never been through anything like applying for a small business loan.
“You could take 10 mortgage loans and stack them up, and it would be nothing compared to a small business loan. It was a nightmare,” she said. “You also needed a big down payment, and we had to scrape from everywhere to get it together.”
In 2008 the Archery Hut opened its second iteration just outside the north gate of Peterson Air Force Base.
Girls ‘n’ bows
According to the Pellegrinos, archery has always been an obscure, male-dominated sport in the U.S. But the demographics are changing, and that’s something the Hut embraces, Bill said.
The Hunger Games movie franchise was the best advertising the pastime could have had, he said. In those movies, the young female protagonist is a dead eye with a bow. Young female fans flocked to the sport, Bill said.
“We saw a huge influx of women and young girls,” he said. “They don’t typically buy the expensive stuff. Where bow hunters are spending $800, those just getting started are looking at a couple hundred.”
But the sport is so addictive, many who come in for starter bows and a couple arrows go on to upgrade equipment, hunt and compete, he said, adding while many retail shops focus on seasonal bow hunting, they merely get by during the remaining months of the year. Bill said the Archery Hut’s equal focus on target archery and the non-hunter makes them relevant year-round.
“Citywide, I would say the percentage of target shooters here is very high,” he said.
Bill said profit margins are greatest in their service department because the only cost to him is labor. Retail sales are second, and all the ancillary services, such as lessons and lane rentals, bring up the rear. Bill said retail has challenges because archery equipment markup is notoriously low — about 30 percent.
“I have a buddy who sells tires with a 200-percent markup,” he said. “We have to stay competitive and the archery industry has always been that way.”
He said the range takes up the most amount of space, but brings in the least amount of revenue. However, the range ensures a steady stream of enthusiasts in need of better equipment and tune-ups.
“In cold weather, if you come in on a Saturday, all 30 lanes will be full and you’ll have to wait for a spot,” Bill said.
As for the appeal?
For one, it’s relatively cheap and accessible, no matter the age, gender or even athletic ability. But the challenge keeps many coming back.
“When I shoot a rifle, I expect to hit my dot every time,” Bill said. “But we have so much influence over the bow. It’s so easy to miss. It’s way more of a challenge. But when you’re successful, it’s way more rewarding — a thousand times.”