The entrepreneurial, family-owned business is as common to Wisconsin Dells as the dairy cow is to Wisconsin, but the Zawistowski family and their relatively new store in the downtown Dells added a wrinkle to that truism.
The family’s store at 797 Plum St. just off Broadway features neither fudge nor t-shirts nor vacation-oriented souvenirs.
But, in their own way, the Zawistowskis — husband and wife Dwayne and Sherry and son Brian — have developed a brand as attractive to their line of customers as the rock formations, scenic views and candy shops are to the thousands of visitors who flock each year to the Dells of the Wisconsin River.
As the big yellow sign overlooking Broadway a few feet from the store’s entrance indicates, DEZ Tactical Arms sells tactical rifles — rifles made largely from parts manufactured by the company founded by Dwayne Zawistowski in 2004.
DEZ Tactical Arms opened its doors in early 2017, following four years of operating mostly as an online retailer out of the Easton home where Dwayne and Sherry Zawistowski reside.
As indicated, the company grew out of a successful rifle barrel manufacturing business started by Dwayne Zawistowski, whose high-quality barrels had developed a following in military, law enforcement, marksman and gun collecting circles.
He eventually widened his manufacturing scope to include rifle receivers and barrel hand guards, and when Brian Zawistowski returned to Wisconsin after graduating from college in California, the younger Zawistowski had the idea to start a company hand-building rifles made from those high-quality, family-manufactured parts.
“It was, literally, let’s take the next step and build the whole thing,” Brian said recently. “The dream was to create a complete DEZ rifle that could rightfully display the reliability and accuracy capabilities of our barrels.”
Just as DEZ Arms had developed first as an internet-based retailer, DEZ Tactical Arms grew its client base those first four years across mostly by the internet. But the company also drew local interest in the Easton area, and the potential for growing that local business led the family to open the Plum Street store last January.
Even though it goes by the DEZ Tactical Arms brand name, the downtown store is a home for both of the businesses, Brian Zawistowski said.
“We’re two in one,” he said. “They (his parents) do all the barrels and parts manufacturing, I own the store and the rifles.”
DEZ Tactical Arms must follow all state and federal regulations regarding gun sales, whether the weapon is sold over the counter at the Dells store or via the Internet, Brian Zawistowski said. That means a customer purchasing a DEZ Tactical rifle online must have it shipped through a local licensed gun dealer with all the same state and federal regulatory requirements of any over-the-counter firearms purchase.
In its relatively short time in existence, the new downtown store has generated business robust enough to rival that of its online retailing efforts.
“The brick and mortar customer base has grown tremendously since the store opened,” Brian Zawistowski said. “We definitely had pretty consistent traffic in Easton, but most of it was online. Now the amount of local business is starting to compete with our Internet business. It’s cool to see that happen within a year.”
To keep the flow of local customers coming, the company purchased billboard space on facing traffic coming into the Dells on Wisconsin Highway 13.
Wisconsin-wide, the company’s customer base has grown to include law enforcement agencies in 10 counties, Zawistowski said. The brand received a national boost in 2016 with a featured appearance on the cable television-produced show “History of the Gun,” which lauded DEZ Tactical Arms products during its on-location reporting.
“Everything you’re doing, you’re doing right,” “History of the Gun” host Bill Rogers said to Brian Zawistowski following the episode’s introduction, which included a drone’s-eye view of the scenic Dells-Delton area. “These are the kind of guns you have around for a while, then pass down to your kids and maybe even your grandkids. That’s exactly what you’re building here and underlying it all is that it’s high quality and hand-built.”