I initially met Big Ed as I became active on an Internet forum relating to cowboy action shooting. I posted that I was to vacation in Tombstone and wanted to know what the insiders thought I should do and see. They all wrote that I should visit Big Ed at San Pedro Saddlery. I sent Big Ed a note and and received an open invitation to see him during my visit.
I visited Big Ed Douglas , or Big Ed on a Monday afternoon and was surprised by the people who visited him seeking gun advice. Ed explained that he had originally trained as a gunsmith before entering the leather field.
Big Ed served an apprentice to British Gunsmith, Edward Dimmock who liked building big bore rifles. Ed has always been fascinated by things that are old and rusty and he enjoys working on all types of guns, but his favorite are the old Colts and the Merwin-Hulbert revolvers.
Big Ed loves Cowboy Action Shooting, but he also loves any kind of shooting. It doesn't matter to him if he's shooting a Kentucky Flintlock or an big old Ma Duce (M-2 .50 caliber machine gun designed by John Browning and still in service). He'll shoot anything.
He's owned a Gattling Gun that used to sit in his office, and will soon be getting his first 4 pound mountain Howitzer. If it goes Boom, then Bid Ed loves it.
Ed had been making western style gun leather for a few years before SASS began. He sold his products to people who re-enact and to movie studios. He had an apprentice who was into SASS and he kept trying to get Big Ed to join. Ed kept telling him, "I think I'll wait and see if it's gonna fly first."
Ed put him off for about a year or so, then the rascal went and bought him his SASS membership for for his Birthday. He as been in SASS ever since, because it is made up of a great bunch of Pards!
I asked Ed what kind of changes he makes to his own cowboy guns and explained that besides the normal action job that most seem to need out of the box. He always cuts the forcing cone to an 11degree chamfer, and mirror polishes it. He has never had a Revolver that didn't improve from this modification. If needed, he will install a 1/8" headless setscrew under the hammer spring and close to the hammer/spring cam area.
This gives an adjustable stop for hammer to prevent over-travel and it can make a significant difference in some guns. Ed reports that some of guns have an atrocious amount of over-travel that affects how well the gun handles in action shooting.
Ed doesn't really know what made him get into making leather products and out of Gunsmithing. He still works on on Guns, it's just that now he can work on what he wants to work on and he only does it when he feels like it. That sounds to me as if he is now a hobby gunsmith with a lot of professional training and experience.
Ed went through a change that many business people pass through. He was a gunsmith whose hobby was leatherworking and that of a silver smith. He used to do a lot of rigs with fancy silver work on them. He reports having always gained more of a feeling of pride from taking raw materials and turning them into something useful as well as eye appealing.
His natural desire to start with raw materials called out to him as a stronger desire than repairing or modifying a piece of equipment made by someone else. He also found the production rates of leatherwork to be more satisfying than than working on guns.
Ed relates that the first time John Taffin interviewed him, he asked where where he learned to make holsters? John was perplexed to learn that Ed was self taught. Ed had to explain that his work was not always as good is the current products and that a lot of cows died in vain in those early years as he learned the craft.
I asked Ed how he arrived at his current marketing strategy of providing excellent customer service and friendliness so his customers would spread the word. These clearly are methods espoused by management expert Tom Peters as he helps companies pursue excellence. Ed seemed confused by the question that it was any kind of strategy at all.
Ed explained that when he started his company, he couldn't afford any fancy advertising as it just wasn't in the budget. He used a very old method of telling his customers that if they don't like the work he does, that they should tell him and he would make it right! He also asked them to tell their friends if they do like the product and he made a promise to treat their friends with just as square a deal!
This old time-proven method worked so well that word-of-mouth has often made it difficult to keep up with the work load! Ed reports that they usually stay pretty busy just trying to keep up.
Ed also reports that he has a rule in his shop about quality. He has what he feels is is the best crew in the business. He won't hire anyone with any prior experience, because he wants to train them to do thing his way. He teaches new employees how to do the job and how to do it right. He tries to foster pride in everything they do. His rule in the shop is that if they wouldn't be proud to have their name on it, then it doesn't get the San Pedro name on it either.
This method of training and his rule of quality leads to a high level of consistency in product quality. San Pedro Saddlery never sells any second quality products. If a flaw is discovered, the part is cut up and thrown into the trash. He simply refuses to put out a product that is less than their best.
Ed is not bashful about letting folks know he is a Christian, and that his Christian beliefs have guided him in the running of his business. He always strives to treat folks in a manner that they expect from him, and then try to give them the extra service that they deserve!
Ed fully understands that his customers are who feed his employees, his family, and himself! They have his utmost respect at all times. He told me that his Grandfather once gave him some important business advice. His grandfather said, "Make Friends first and the money will always come." Ed feels his Grandfather was was a pretty Smart man.
I asked Ed about his popularity with the cowboy action shooters and he told me that he it has been rewarding because has had folks come from all over to visit Tombstone, and to meet him. He has had the extreme pleasure of being invited to shoots for no other reason than to be a guest of honor.
His only regret, is that he probably won't live long enough to personally meet, thank, and shake hands with all of his customers! He says that if the day ever comes that he doesn't have time to sit and visit with someone who took the trouble to seek him out, that he just doesn't belong in business.
Ed feels lucky to have someone stop by who wants something special from him, even it it is just to meet the man who made their leather. For Ed, it's a special occasion to visit with them, learn out about them, and to discover what they like in the way of Special Leather.
Ed feels it is important to get to know his customers whenever possible. He gets to see the process complete the cycle when the finished product is in their hands and sees the pride in the customer's eyes. Ed says he shares that pride with the customer! As Ed has said on many occasions, "I owe all that I am to the good Lord, and to Pards like You!"
Some people have questioned how genuine Big Ed might be with his old style values in today's business world. I usually finish the story about finally meeting Big Ed.
"I had never done business with this man, but I had learned of his reputation through many very positive referrals. I had done my own leather work for my guns and was not in the market for leather."
"I visited Big Ed at San Pedro Saddlery and was welcomed as a friend. Ed shared everything with me, including some tales of his early work, and offered to help me learn the craft. His only request was that he wanted to see pictures of my work. We sat for two hours and talked about a lot of things. He looked at my own leather work and made a couple of suggestions. I had never done any business with this man and he was treating me as if I were his most important customer."
A true cowboy running a cowboy leather company in Tombstone with old west values. I feel it is only fitting to close this article with Big Ed's own signature.
Yer'Migo! "Big Ed"
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