Sunday, 15 May 2011 14:49

Climbing to the top: Decatur treestand maker is one of nation's largest

The Huntsville Times
By: Frank Sargeant

All John Woller, Sr., wanted was a safe, dependable tree stand from which to bowhunt. The first one he and friends cobbled together in his garage in the early 60's did the job, but Woller, an engineering grad from Auburn, immediately started thinking of ways to make it better.

"That stand went through at least 10 generations, and pretty soon we had people asking us to build them one like it," recalls Waller. "My wife, Pat, encouraged me to make it a business, and eventually I did."

That was several hundred thousand tree-stands ago. Today, the Summit Treestand factory in Decatur is one of the largest in the nation, capable of turning out up to 500 stands a day  and employing 50 workers.

"When we started out, I was still working as a full-time engineer for Amoco here in town, so my wife answered the phones and loaded the trucks," Woller recalls. "I'd put in a 50-hour week there and then come home and work on tree stand business until midnight, and then on weekends I was on the road visiting sporting goods stores to sell them."

He said the company's big break came in 1982, when Southern Outdoors Magazine ran a tree-stand test story, and Summit came out on top.

"From then on, we couldn't build them fast enough," Waller recalls. "That was about the time the whitetail deer herd really started coming back nationwide, too, and we grew right along with the number of deer hunters."

The pressures of building a multi-million-dollar company, sold to EBSCO Corporation of Birmingham a few years back but still operated by the Woller family team, seem not to have worn on the 77-year-old Woller, who still looks every bit the Marine Corps Shooting Team veteran that he is.

While the first stands were custom-built by friends handy with welding torches, these days much of the work is done by giant presses and robotic production lines.

"By automating the line, we've been able to keep production here in the U.S. and still remain competitive," says Woller proudly. "A lot of other companies have everything built in the Orient, but we only have one part put together over there--everything else comes right out of Decatur and provides employment here."

Woller says one feature he's particularly proud of designing is the locking track design of his aluminum stands.'

"We made stands of steel for years because I knew the welds would hold in steel but I didn't trust them in aluminum, and I absolutely would not build a stand that I did not feel was going to be a hundred percent safe. My sons, who were part of the business almost from the start, wanted to build aluminum for the lighter weight because a lot of our competitors were, and I told them the only way we could do it was to come up with a design that would stay together before any welds were made, so that it didn't depend on those welds. By designing our extrusions to mechanically lock the frame parts together, we were able to do that, so all the welds had to do was keep the parts aligned, and that's what we've been doing ever since."

He said that safety has always been a primary issue in building Summit stands.

"We've included a full body harness with every tree stand since 2000," says Woller. "In 2004, the Tree Stand Manufacturers Association made that a requirement for membership. If every hunter made use of the harnesses supplied with tree stands these days, the number of accidents from falls would be near zero, but a lot of hunters don't think it can happen to them and still don't wear the harness."

Woller says the business is seasonal, not surprisingly, since hunters start thinking about gearing up in August and pretty much stop buying gear by the end of January nationwide.

"We build as fast as we can spring into summer and fall, and then we have a slow period January to March while we sell off that inventory," says Woller.

Part of the facility on Summit Drive in southwest Decatur is dedicated to Pradco, also an EBSCO company. Turkey calls, deer rattling horns, trail cameras and fishing lures are among the items stacked 20 feet high in the vast store-rooms.

Summit stands and hunting blinds vary in price from $120 to $300, and are available from most major outdoors chain stores including Bass Pro Shops, Cabelas, Gander Mountain and many more. For details, visit

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