GREENFIELD — If Mark Highsmith had a vision, it was a hazy one. After being injured in a construction accident, Highsmith needed to find a new way to make a living, and he knew just one thing – he didn’t want to work for anyone else ever again.
Highsmith began apprenticing with a gunsmith, eventually starting his own operation in 1988. For 20 years, Highsmith worked in near-solitude out of a small shop next to his New Palestine home.
The 51-year-old said he would have been content working that way right up through retirement.
So even as he puts the finishing touches on a new, 12,0000 square-foot gun shop in the heart of downtown Greenfield, Highsmith still seems a little surprised at the turn his business has taken.
“It’s the culmination of 30 years work to get into this place,” Highsmith said.
One who isn’t surprised is Highsmith’s son, Shane. If his father’s vision for the future was hazy, Shane’s was crystal clear. The 25-year-old first started thinking about adding a retail component to his dad’s business as a marketing and management major at Ball State. Shane put together a business proposal, helped his dad move into the small space the two currently work out of on south Ind. 9 and went back to school.
“It opened two weeks before school,” Shane explained.
By the time Shane graduated the following December, the business had taken off and Highsmith brought his son on board.
“It’s worked out pretty well,” Mark said. “It was an awful lot of determination and foresight (on Shane’s part).”
Growth was limited, though, by the shop’s small size. Though the 800 square feet seemed large compared to Mark’s 300 square feet in New Palestine, Shane said they almost immediately outgrew the small shop and began thinking about an ambitious new model: a complete shop that would offer retail, custom gunsmithing, a firing range and training.
And that’s exactly what’s set to open next week.
Highsmith Guns, relocated less than a mile up State Street, is expected to open by the first part of November at 123 N. State St. The building is the former home of Greenfield Office Supply, though its hardly recognizable once inside. Walls have been removed, carpet ripped out and faux log paneling hung throughout to give the space a rustic feel.
With a sales floor more than three times larger, an 11-lane shooting range for both handguns and archery and 40 percent more hours, the move will be a huge leap for the Highsmiths. They’ll bring several other employees on board to help manage.
Mark will continue to focus on gunsmithing work, while Shane will run retail and training aspects of the business.
“Greenfield’s done a great job supporting us,” Shane said. “Now we want to provide somewhere people can shoot safely.”
A desire to add additional training capabilities was a major impetus for the move, the Highsmiths said.
Certified through the National Rifle Association’s Law Enforcement program, Mark has been training both law enforcement officials and civilians for more than 20 years. Shane, too, has been giving private shooting and gun safety lessons for individuals and recently completed the same NRA course.
Right now, those classes are offered on the Highsmith’s outdoor range, which means all classes are subject to cancellation during inclement weather. With the indoor range, classes on gun safety and both basic and advanced shooting will be offered on a regular basis.
The Highsmiths’ level of professional training is what sets them apart from similar establishments throughout the state, Mark said.
Their reputation was evident when more than a dozen local citizens turned out to support the Highsmiths’ proposal during a Board of Zoning Appeals meeting in December.
Mark also points to a longstanding training contract with deputies from Indianapolis’ Community Hospital Network that will pull dozens of visitors into Greenfield; Highsmith is also in talks with the Indiana Department of Homeland Security to train hundreds of its agents.
The Highsmiths are hoping the move adds to the vitality of the downtown area by attracting people who otherwise may not visit and by becoming a fixture in the up-and-coming area.
“My dad’s dedicated his life to gunsmithing,” Shane said. “Now it’s my turn to step up and take this to the next level.”