When I chatted with Savage Arms’ legendary Efrosini Sullivan (“Effie”) on her birthday, she began with a request: “Don’t tell people my age.” Of course, we can’t omit the fact that she’s been a mainstay at Savage for 45 years, beginning in the factory in 1973. She was there for the advent of hiring women and basically, created the job she’s been doing in the custom shop for the past seven years. Whatever her age, she doesn’t plan on ever retiring—but she did graciously take time away from her busy schedule to answer our questions about life and work as a woman in the firearms industry.
1. What do you do for Savage?
I run the special order shop for Savage, which is located in Westfield, Massachusetts. I take the calls and create the orders for the custom guns … I have technical knowledge, and sometimes, even Engineering will come to me to ask me things. I support customer service, as well. Vista Outdoor [Note:Savage once belonged to Vista] has an award program, and we still service and honor that, and I still do all those orders for their employees. I do all the employee orders within the Savage company.
2. How did you train for this job?
My friend’s brother told her that Savage was going to start hiring women, back in the 1970s. I had moved here from Greece, was a single mom and needed a job to raise my children. They gave us the hardest jobs in the factory, and it was tough, but I wasn’t going to give up … I started in the barrel shop where we used to make doubles in those days for side-by-sides. It had to do with a lot of oil, running the machines, to prepare the barrels to be used later on. I had a lot of cuts and bruises. I am a petite woman. Being the low person on seniority, I got bumped a lot … I’ve driven a forklift and I’ve done filing, run small parts power mills, done production scheduling, done inspection and shipping.
Everywhere I went, I was interested in what I was doing, and I retained it and learned it from scratch. I was in customer service, and so if a customer called to ask me about a gun, I knew about it – from the inside out. While in customer service, I had a very nice boss and he knew and understood that I knew what I was talking about when it came to the product. Customers would call and request different materials, twist rates, whatever … I went to my boss and I saw that we could handle these requests. I asked, “Why can’t we do this, create a custom gun and charge more money?” So, we did.
3. What does a typical day look like for you at work?
It starts from talking to a customer, talking to a dealer, creating all that needs to be done, having a gunsmith put the parts together, and finish it up to deliver. A typical day could be all calls and no orders, or a few calls and 10 orders. I’m never bored. People, like engineers or the master gunsmith, will stop by my office.
4. Is it unusual to see women in your field of work? Why is that?
Yes. It’s difficult for women to earn the respect of men in this field. Being a woman, you have to work twice as hard. You need to know what you are talking about. I have accomplished that, but it’s very hard to do. I do everything I can to understand what people are looking for, and the men respect me for it. In the field, the word has passed, they say to “Call Effie, and she will take care of you.” I have seen a trend upward, and although there are not any female gunsmiths at Savage, there are women in other areas of the gun industry who are well respected.
5. Would you please elaborate on the design of the 11/111 Lady Hunter? Other than it being also available in a left-hand model, what is its appeal to female hunters?
Savage is proactive about making the firearms to address women’s needs. Of course, women tend to be smaller in body than men … so a few years ago, Savage decided to make a rifle, the Lady Hunter, with a walnut stock and a curve on the top – because women’s necks tend to be longer than men’s – an angled recoil pad and a slimmer grip. We made it in a left-handed option, too. That was well received. A lot of men called and said, "I’m of a small stature, I’d like to order this gun." That’s fine, but we still call it the "Lady Hunter."
6. You also work on taking orders for custom guns … which guns are the most popular?
I have done custom guns for African safaris, where hunters need bigger calibers. Most of my orders, though, are from the standard products that we offer in our catalog that people want to make their own. The main thing, though, is the left-hand option. As for turnaround, in some cases, I’ll have to request the floor to make a special receiver. Or, if it’s a caliber we don’t make, I’ll have to request that it’s made on the floor. Based on if I don’t have to have anything made, or send anything out for a finish, the standard turnaround is six to eight weeks or less.
7. What’s your favorite part of your job?
I love what I do, that’s why I don’t intend to retire. My favorite part of my job is when a customer says, “I’ve tried everywhere and I can’t find this gun,” and I’ll say, “Why sure, we can help you.” Then, at the end of the conversation, they’ll say, “Thank you so much, you’ve made my day!” Sometimes, I’ll stay online before they hang up and they don’t know I’m there, and I’ll hear, ‘Yes! That’s great!’ I go to extremes to give them what they want.
More about Effie Sullivan
Effie Sullivan not only walks a customer through the ordering process for a Savage custom gun, but she remains a part of the story, sharing in the successes of a hunter or shooter who has used a new gun. It’s not unusual for customers to send her photos of their hunts and their families with guns she’s provided. It’s also not unusual for Effie to get a follow-up call – to order another gun.
Jessica Treglia, senior brand manager at Savage, said, “From a product development standpoint, it is so useful having her wealth of knowledge to be able to determine feasibility, history and possible interest in a new product before we bring it to market. She has always been able to tell me, and anyone else, if a combination of components is possible without having to do a lot of behind-the-scenes work to get the answer.
Additionally, we often track repeat requests that she gets in order to determine if a product should be introduced into the catalog. Therefore, her efforts have allowed us to introduce the 212/220 Turkey, a majority of left-hand configurations, a few upcoming new products, and many caliber extensions while also helping us identify areas for in-line product improvements.”
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About the Author: Barbara Baird is the publisher of Women’s Outdoor News, which features women shooting, hunting, fishing and leading lives of adventure. Her byline has appeared in outdoor and firearm magazines, as well as travel publications.