By Josh Lantz
There’s nothing remotely sexy about foam earplugs. Sure, style does come into play when choosing shooting glasses and electronic hearing protection, but that can be dangerous, because all such products should be judged by how well they protect, not necessarily by how they look.
If there is such a thing as a sexy hearing- and eye-protection brand on the shooting sports scene today, it’s Howard Leight, a Honeywell company named after the remarkable man who started the business over 40 years ago to serve the demanding needs of the emerging industrial safety market. But the brand’s DNA goes back even further.
A Storied Past
“My father started Howard Leight in the early 1970s,” says National Sales Manager, Chris Leight, “but the company itself goes back to my grandfather, who began building and selling earplugs for the shipyards during WWI.”
Howard Leight’s strong growth throughout the ‘70s and ‘80s can be attributed to many factors, but was largely driven by continual research and innovation. This led to the development of new products that ultimately fit better and worked better. Howard Leight invented banded hearing protection in the ‘70’s, and the bell-shaped polyurethane foam earplug in the ‘80’s. And the original thinking has not ceased since. In fact, the company has been awarded over 160 patents to date, with nearly 40 more pending. No doubt, that’s a lot of innovation.
In the early ‘90s, Chris Leight went to work for the company, which was completely focused on the industrial sector at that time. The younger Leight saw how the brand had grown and sought out new markets. Specifically, he believed the shooting sports industry could benefit from Howard Leight’s products and technologies, while driving even more growth and innovation.
“I traveled along the West Coast, meeting with retailers and learning about the shooting and hunting markets,” says Leight, who went to his first gun show in 1993 and hired his first sales reps a year later. “We already had products and technologies that were better than anything being marketed for the shooting sports, but we were an industrial bulk-pack-focused manufacturer. One of the first things we did was work closely with shooting sports retailers to develop new packaging and counter displays to meet their needs.”
Chris took Howard Leight to the SHOT show in 1994 and the team has been there every year since, absorbing valuable feedback from the industry and launching exciting new shooting sports products. One that would prove extremely popular was the ImpactTM Sport line of electronic hearing protection, which featured a sleek, low-profile design, courtesy of Howard Leight’s Air Flow Control (AFC) technology.
“With our patented AFC technology, we found a way to deliver superior low-frequency attenuation and more consistent performance across the whole frequency range,” says Leight. “AFC is a big part of the science behind how we get higher attenuation on our earmuff products without adding weight or material. That’s a big deal, because many shooters prefer a slimmer, more compact earcup.”
Honeywell acquired the brand in 2010, and Howard Leight leveraged Honeywell’s vast engineering resources to continue innovating while delivering even more choices and better products for shooters. Honeywell’s UVEXTM line of eye protection was a natural companion brand, and specific UVEX products and technologies designed to meet the uncompromising demands of the industrial safety market were quickly adapted and marketed under the Howard LeightTM Shooting Sports brand. Technologies such as HydroshieldTM – a hydrophobic anti-fog coating – and Spectrum Control Technology (SCT), which minimizes certain wavelengths and enhances other ones to improve visual acuity and reduce eyestrain in specific environments, were developed to help shooters to not only protect their vision, but improve their performance as well.
A Dynamic Present
Howard Leight’s 25 years in the shooting sports market have resulted in an authentic brand with products that people love. “Our products have driven the brand; the brand hasn’t driven the products,” says Leight. “Our products have longevity because they are designed and constructed well. They also have a unique vibe. We developed our Impact Sport line of electronic muffs 15 years ago, and that product is still going strong. People love it, but we’re not sitting on our laurels; we are continuing to offer more choices in muffs, like the 30 NRR Impact Pro and the digital Impact Sport BOLTTM launched in 2018. We also offer a variety of color choices, including our three all-new MULTICAM® patterns, because individual shooters have individual tastes,” he says. “If they like how their muffs look, they are going to be even more likely to wear them.”
While Howard Leight’s passive and electronic earmuffs are extremely popular choices with shooters, Leight says foam earplugs remain the core of the company’s business. “On average, we sell about 5 million earplugs every day,” he says. “They’re feature-enriched, with comfort, fit and protection being some of their key features. If plugs don’t fit, don’t protect or aren’t comfortable, people won’t wear them. Howard Leight earplugs provide some of the best protection shooters can find, but only when they are used correctly. Taking the time to read the instructions is the key to inserting and using earplug correctly. Most Howard Leight earplugs come with patented technologies… so much more than just ‘foamies’,” he continues. “They are designed to fracture and re-fracture sound waves better to provide better protection. And our plugs have a nice smooth skin on the outside, which stays clean, soft and comfortable.”
In today’s multi-media environment, Howard Leight is reaching and engaging its customers in a variety of ways – through compelling digital, print and social media content designed to educate; through relationships with top competitive shooters like Travis Gibson and KC Eusebio; through partnerships with shooting advocacy groups like the National Shooting Sports Foundation and Babes with Bullets; as well as through traditional advertising and their interactive website, howardleightshootingsports.com.
“The big change for us in 2019 has been establishing exciting new links to our customers via our newly launched website,” says Honeywell Retail Head of Marketing and E-commerce, David Mesicek.
“howardLeightshootingsports.com is enabling us to have a stronger and more direct link to those who use our products. We’re able to showcase the breadth of our Shooting Sports catalog while directly engaging with consumers,” he continues. “The questions and dialogue we’ve had with visitors to our site has been fantastic, and it’s helping us advance our brand in a way that’s authentic and meaningful, while adding value to our product line.”
An Exciting Future
According to Chris Leight, quality and technology will drive Howard Leight’s future, just as it always has. “We pride ourselves on the quality of our products and the technology we have pioneered over the years,” he says. “This will continue. We will certainly offer new technologies and new styles in both hearing- and eye-protection, but regardless of what our line looks like, it will be comprised of quality, long-lasting products, which is what we have done consistently and what our customers expect.”
Mesicek agrees. “The team at Howard Leight by Honeywell is busy working on some really exciting new hearing- and eye-protection technologies and products for shooting sports enthusiasts,” he shares. “We’re not announcing any specifics quite yet, but when we do, our customers can be confident that Howard Leight products will continue to lead the way in quality, performance, longevity, style and value.”
All of this is very good news for shooting enthusiasts who need to protect their eyes and ears while taking part in the activities they love. Because regardless of what, where or how people shoot, everyone has a life away from shooting that requires good hearing and eyesight to live fully.
And when you think about it that way, hearing- and eye-protection actually do become very sexy, don’t you think?
Note: MULTICAM® is a trademark or registered trademark of Crye Precision.