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It's a Great Day to Be Alive!
Paul Meeks, Innovator in Outdoors Technologies
One of our nation's most innovative outdoors industry leaders, Paul Meeks, has remained on the cutting-edge of technology for over forty years. In 1978, he introduced the first climbing treestand to the world---which literally revolutionized the hunting industry. Through continuous design and construction improvements such as the transition to aluminum versus steel, API Outdoors, Inc. became the country’s largest producer of tree stands and the largest private employer in North Louisiana with over 350 employees. In 2003, Bass Pro Shops acquired the API Outdoors brand and immediately made API Outdoors a Bass Pro company brand.
Following the sale of API, in July of 2003, Paul Meeks and his son, Ilar, rolled out a new, cutting edge operation producing specialty accessories for all-terrain vehicles of all kinds---ATV’s, UTV’s, Jeeps and trucks. The new venture, Great Day, Inc. headquartered out of Tallulah, Louisiana, distinguished Paul and his team once again in developing outdoors products to meet the rising demand for better and more efficient methods for bringing sportsmen and their families together in the great outdoors. Over the 12 year life of Great Day, Inc. Paul has successfully patented several of the most unique products ever for use in the Outdoors.
Many have asked, "Who and what is behind the success of Great Day as a company?"---Meeks has often been referred to as a marketing guru, a man who is relentless in his desire to solve problems even before most of the outdoors market even realizes that a problem exists. Beyond technological innovation, Paul's team is considered "out of the box" in its design strategies and ability to prove a product's value in meeting the needs of today's outdoorsman.
Join with the staff of The Christian Sportsman in welcoming Paul Meeks for the cover feature story for this edition.
"Paul Meeks, thank you on behalf of our loyal readers who are not only curious about the man behind your company but look forward to your responses to the following insightful questions. We appreciate your time and desire to share with us the secrets behind your success at Great Day, Inc. Let's get started!"
1. Are you originally from Louisiana and what are your family roots and educational background?
Actually, I was born in Arkansas where I lived until I was 12 years old---at which time, my family moved to North Louisiana. There, I graduated from high school and then attended the University of Louisiana at Monroe where I earned a B.S. degree in business management and marketing.
2. How involved has your family members been in launching and operating your business ventures?
My father-in-law, the late Ilar Osborne, was my partner and mentor with API in the beginning, but passed away unexpectedly in 1980. Up until 2002 when my son, Ilar Paul, graduated from college, no other family members were involved. (However, I had a supportive, encouraging and praying wife at home!)
3. Give our readers a brief history of your earlier successes in life over the years, especially regarding API Outdoors?
After college and a stint in the U.S. Air Force, I enjoyed eight years of management experience in the corporate world before taking a giant leap of faith in starting the treestand business. As for API Outdoors, success did not come easy---marketing a contraption that no one had ever seen before was a challenge to say the least. With a limited budget (from borrowed money), I traveled all over the southern states in a used pickup truck demonstrating the climbing tree stands and setting up small dealers. Later, as I attended trade shows and consumer shows, the demand for the stands exploded. The process from the beginning to a point of reaching financially stability took about 12 years---required a lot of work, faith and praying!
4. What attracted you to become associated with the outdoors market and the hunting community in particularly?
I grew up in the country and had an abnormal level of fascination with hunting whitetail deer (still have it). When the opportunity to be a part of the hunting industry came along, the decision to abandon the security of a good-paying, 8 to 5 job came pretty easy. Once in the hunting industry, I found myself among a lot people with whom I had common values and aspirations.
5. Who have been some of your role models and mentors throughout your career?
My father-in-law was my early mentor---he was, first of all, a good Christian and also a wise businessman. Although he passed away quickly, he left me with a lot of business “savvy” that would help me in my young career to avoid many pitfalls.
Later, once in the industry, I took notice of marketing techniques and character traits of men such as Jim Baker of Baker Treestands, Fred Bear, Chuck Buck, Jim Dougherty and others. I remember sitting all afternoon beneath a grove of pine trees with Fred Bear in 1979 at a Mississippi Bowhunters Jamboree and hearing him explain how he used the practice of introducing “new and improved” models of bows to expand his business. Believe me, I paid attention!
6. When did you first come to a place of understanding God's plan for your life?
When I was nine years old, I accepted Christ and immediately had a sense of direction as for my life values. The decision to leave a good job to start a business was a difficult one; but through it all, I always believed that everything would be OK. Constantly leaning on God’s promises such as those in chapter 6 of Matthew when Jesus referred to how God took care of the birds of the air and the lilies of the field, I always felt a sense of peace and security. I did my best to practice the wisdom of Matt 6:33 that promises “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be given to you."
For a while, I had concerns of whether what I was doing had any real value in life. Later, I began to realize the impact that introducing the first climbing treestand had on an entire outdoors industry---the bow, gun, camo and other manufacturers would enjoy the most prolific level of demand for their products in history. Hunting from tree stands increased hunting participation exponentially---everyone has benefitted---businesswise and in the enhancement of the sport we love so much.
7. I personally know that you have always been very up front and personally open with regard to your faith as a Christian businessman. How has your deep faith contributed to the success of your businesses and your career in general?
My faith has been everything to me in life and business. Starting and developing any business is a challenge... faith plays a tremendous role in having the courage to persevere and to make wise decisions. My faith was tested to the ultimate in the early, struggling days of API.
8. In looking back over your years and many business opportunities that you have had, how would you change your career path, if at all?
I don’t think I would change anything about the path that God put me on or to where He has brought me to in life. He is in control of all things and obviously is ok with where He has me.
9. Deeply committed to your family, I also know your priority and commitment to those closest to you including your wife, Melonie, your sons and daughters. As a husband and father how do you pray for your family members and how has God answered those requests?
As most husbands and fathers know, the best thing we can do for our families is to be good role models, pray for them and encourage them to honor God with their lives. It is then their choice to make good decisions. They are human and will make mistakes---we just have to continue supporting and encouraging them.
10. What advice could you share with other men just starting their marriages and career, especially those entering the outdoors market?
The outdoor business is unique---it often requires us to be away from home for trade shows, special events, etc. However, one has to be careful that the activities of the business doesn’t become more important than your family. Marriage is a fragile institution and a business owner has to be very careful to keep a good balance between business and family. The best protection against conflict is to keep God in the center of both one’s marriage and his business.
11. On another note, how long have you been participating in trade shows and what are some of the benefits in attending those events, such as the Shot Show sponsored by the National Shooting Sports Association, and networking among other industry leaders?
I am a charter member of the SHOT Show (1979 in St. Louis MO) and have only missed being at the SHOT Show twice in its history. However, the SHOT Show is only one of hundreds of shows I have attended over the last 40 plus years. The ATA Show is another show that has been extremely important to the hunting industry. The most prominent benefit of trade shows is to build name recognition and familiarity with your products and your business.
12. How do you see the future for the outdoors industry and its continued positive effects on sportsmen, especially those categorized as the millennial generation?
The outdoor industry is changing constantly because of the obvious reasons---demographics, new trends with products, changes in hunting regulations, etc. Overall, the outlook seems to always be positive... changes usually close one door and open another.
13. What have been some of the most impactful changes that have transpired within the outdoors market over the last ten years, both positive and negative?
One of the most glaring changes in the past few years is the trend for many companies turning to sourcing their products from overseas. In my opinion, this has had a negative impact on both the outdoors industry as well as our country in general. On a positive note, there continues to be many creative people in our industry who continue developing new products that keep the fires of demand burning.
14. Who have been some of your peers over the years providing to you inspiration and serving as a role model in business as well as in your career?
Many of the prominent owners of businesses such as Bass Pro Shops (Johnny Morris), Cabelas (Dick and Jim Cabela), and others have been amazing in their accomplishments and inspiring to new and veteran entrepreneurs. However, some of my smaller customers, less-well-known friends and acquaintances in the outdoor industry have been inspiring to me with their values and lifestyles.
15. How long have you been a follower of Jesus Christ and how were you first introduced to Him?
I accepted Christ when I was nine years old 9 years old (in 1954) at an old-time revival at a small country church. It was the best decision of my life.
16. Most outdoorsmen believe that God exists and acknowledge the importance of the Christian faith and yet have never personally received Him as Lord and Savior of their life. Please give us your take on the spiritual state of today's average sportsman whom we might meet while in the field hunting or on a bass lake while fishing?
There has been a trend in the past few years for television personalities to openly express their faith. This has given others in the outdoors industry the courage to follow suit. However, “the woods are full” of sportsmen who have never given any serious thought to their relationship (or the lack thereof) with God. As Christians, we just have to watch for opportunities to personally witness to our hunting and fishing buddies .
17. It has been said that the most effective way to communicate with fellow sportsmen concerning God's unconditional love and acceptance is to exemplify an authentic Christian lifestyle while building close friendships. How do you believe that grace impacts relationships?
It goes without saying that we all have faults and we all make mistakes. Our willingness to forgive is a must in order to establish trust and consistency in our relationships with others---and to have any impact on them spiritually.
18. How have you found to be the most effective way to pray for fellow sportsmen, even family members and close friends, who may not have yet received God's gift of eternal life by grace through faith in His Son, Jesus Christ?
Personally, I have been blessed to share my story and testimony all over the country at church wild game banquets. Also, being a member of the Gideons International for 28 years, I have had the opportunity to share the Gideon message and my testimony in hundreds of churches.
From more of a day-to-day perspective, consistent involvement in my church and “walking the walk” in my community hopefully influences others to realize that Christianity is the real thing.
19. Give us your insights into some of the leaders within the Christian faith who you most admire and why?
In a league by himself, Billy Graham stands out to me as the greatest ambassador of the Christian faith since the apostle Paul.
20. Who are some of your favorite book authors and song writers? Why?
My favorite author is the late Dr. Adrian Rogers---his spiritual insight and ability to pass it on to other people is amazing. Even now, his books and recorded sermons continue to touch hearts all over the world.
The books of my good friend Steve Chapman perfectly tie the experiences of hunting to spiritual and family value truths. I had the honor of reviewing the original manuscript of his first and widely-read “A Look at Life from a Treestand” prior to its publication.
There are many great singers and song writers, but there are two that come to mind for specific reasons. Dallas Holm is at the top of the list as an artist whose ministry in music has had a tremendous impact on so many people. His connection with young people over the years has been incredible. His songs “I’ll Rise Again” and “At my worst He found me” resonate with the fundamentals of the Christian faith and God’s amazing grace.
My friends, The Martins, a trio made up of two sisters, Joyce and Judy and brother, Jonathan Martin are also at the top of the list of my favorite gospel singing artists. Since childhood, they have been "sold-out" in their commitment to sharing the gospel by means of their award-winning, harmonious delivery of spiritually-powerful songs. The background story of their parent’s, J. W. and Wilma Martin, longtime friends of mine, only add to the “Martins” legacy.
21. How would you as a man, husband, father, businessman and church leader like to be best remembered in your legacy?
I would simply like to be remembered as an unashamed, non-pretentious person who served the Lord and tried to help others understand and enjoy life with God’s guidance. My life hope is that every effort I have made to honor God has been successful.
22. Tell our readers about your home church and how you respond to God's call to serve others while personally growing in the grace and knowledge of Christ Jesus?
I attend the First Baptist Church of Tallulah, a part of the Southern Baptist Convention. I have had the honor of teaching the Bible to young adults in my church for almost 30 years. The phenomenal thing about teaching is that the teacher receives the greatest blessing.
23. Could you lead our readers in a brief prayer for their friends and fellow sportsmen as well as the future of the outdoors industry in general?
Father, I thank you for blessing me with life and for every opportunity that you have given me to bring honor to your name. Thank you for forgiveness, that your abundant grace is sufficient.
Thank you for including in your master plan for mankind to enjoy the wonderful outdoors that you created. Although we enjoy the pursuit of wild game, we should remember that it is from your gracious hand that you first provided game and fish for our ancestors’ survival. And now you have blessed us further by using the manufacturing and sale of outdoor gear and accessories as a means of providing for our families. Help us to be good stewards of the outdoors and I pray you will never allow us to destroy it through foolish actions.
I pray for your Divine watch over our nation---that you would place Godly leaders to guide us with your wisdom and courage. In Christ’s Holy name, Amen.