Back to the basics: A business primer

After several phone calls to a number of different industry folks in the last couple weeks I am struck by something a business professor told me years ago, “Profit margin only matters if you actually sell something.” I spent some time in the business world and learned some lessons the hard way. I ran the West Coast branch of a company that managed private car collections; It’s a fancy way of saying I took care of rich peoples cars. I did everything from cosmetic detailing to major event logistics and a lot of marketing events, my client’s collections ranged in value from several hundred thousand dollar accounts to a few accounts worth in excess of 100 million dollars. The one thing all my clients had in common was that they expected the absolute best and at the end of the day the buck stopped with me. I loved what I did and learned some lifelong lessons but eventually I couldn’t take the business world any longer.

Over the years I have bought more crap than I care to admit. From my first $50 rifle optic to countless questionable pieces of nylon, I have tried the cheap route enough to know that quality ain’t cheap. I now do fairly extensive research before I make big dollar purchases, ask my poor wife it’s damn near a fulltime occupation for me. What I have found over years of piecing together my kit is that corporate culture differs greatly from company to company. We’ve all heard of or experienced some kind of nightmare customer service experience… I’ll start with one of my own: Safariland

If you’re in the Law Enforcement world you’re probably familiar with Safariland holsters. They are the industry standard and for good reason. Over the past couple years I have had the distinct displeasure of dealing with the Safariland customer services department on many occasions… Be it for broken holsters or simple product inquiries I’ve called, emailed and even sent message by carrier pigeon to their CS dept. (That last one might be an exaggeration) The one common theme I’ve received is that no one has the answer and although helpful on the phone every single CS employee must have been born without fingers as not a one of them can call or email you back. So you call back and you get a different person on the phone who has a whole different idea on how to solve your problem. Don’t worry they’ll check into it and call you right back; except they won’t! Here is a perfect example of a company that has gotten too big for its britches.

I’m sure you’ve experienced something similar, as a matter of fact if you’re anything like me it’s probably what you’ve come to expect. In our modern hustle and bustle we have given up some expectation of quality personal service in favor of expediency and accessibility. Think about it; when was the last time you called the customer support number on the back of an electronic item in your house and had a person answer the phone in an accent you could actually understand? How many buttons do you have to hit to actually talk to a human when you call your bank? As a society we have grown to expect to make a call at 2:00AM and have the call go somewhere other than voicemail.

A couple years ago my wife ordered me a Mean Gene Leather belt for Christmas. (Yes my wife is that cool) Somehow a communication breakdown occurred and I wound up with 1.75” width instead of the 1.5” she thought she ordered. After a few minutes of searching I found the number for MGL and even though it was the weekend I thought I’d call and leave a message. What happened next forever changed my opinion of both Gene and his company. Gene actually answered the phone! I asked to speak with someone from customer service regarding an order, I heard Gene chuckle and say, “I’m it”. What transpired was a damn near hour long phone call, Gene told me all about his company and couldn’t have been more helpful!   Over the next several months Gene and I talked on many occasions and he even sent me the Duty Belt I’m currently wearing as a T&E. It is not uncommon for me to get a text or call from Gene just to catch me up on his next big thing. Gene is the perfect example of a Southern Gentleman even if he’d rebuff me for suggesting it.

Last year we lost a lot of law enforcement officers. Everyone that puts the uniform on took a long hard look at how we make a living and most that I knew started to look at the ballistic protection they had. Being a self admitted gear whore many of my colleagues came to me in search of suggestions. I reached out to several companies in the hopes of sourcing some deals that would help my colleagues afford to upgrade their armor. One such company was Point Blank, I don’t remember the process of how I wound up being put in touch with John Ringo but the result has been nothing short of incredible. John and I spoke several times and he always provided more assistance than I asked. He was happy to go out of his way to help me help my colleagues and even made a trek up to Reno to show some of their armor offerings to the small crew here at the courthouse shortly after the Shootout in Dallas. This would be one thing if I represented a major account or a significant order volume but the truth is that I don’t think my references have represented a single dollar worth of sales for John. It just doesn’t matter, John and I share dinner every time he is in town and he still goes out of his way to answer the random questions regarding armor my peers ask me about.

Some of you will know that I recently wrote a scathing review of an Inforce WMLxIR after using it in a class. I sent that review to Inforce and received an immediate reply offering to inspect and exchange or refund my purchase. I then received an email calling into question my experiences with this product. Although a bit gruff I could tell the person sending the email believed strongly in the product and had dissimilar experiences with its performance. The very next day I received an email from the Vice President of the company, Mr. Wolfe, requesting a chance to speak with me regarding my experiences. That afternoon Mr. Wolfe called me and we had an extremely productive, nearly hour long conversation. Mr. Wolfe immediately apologized for the tone of his employees response to my review and went on to ask detailed questions regarding the specifics of my experiences. He didn’t make any excuses for his product and didn’t take any of my rather blunt commentary personally.

Now don’t mistake my listing of specific companies as some attempt to steer you towards or away from any of the above companies. You’re grown adults and the beauty of capitalism is that you can spend your money however the hell you choose. Instead what you should consider is what I have seen; although seemingly rare there are still people in the business world who believe in the idea that, “The buck stops here!” Gene and John could have blown me off and treated me like the relative nothing I am, but they didn’t! Mr. Wolfe could have sent me an email saying, “sorry for my employee” and under his breath mused about my obvious inability to correctly evaluate equipment, but he didn’t! There are countless others I have met through the years that have gone out of their way to help me out and through their efforts have gained my respect.

What does this mean for you? Well, all of us need to hold companies to a higher standard. We should demand that the companies within our relatively small industry go above and beyond simply answering the phone. This also means we need to police our own… If you play airsoft and expect a company to send you their latest greatest product for review on your youtube channel you should expect to get shut down. Don’t be mad, remember that these companies can only give so many items out for testing and hopefully them saying no to you means that an LE agency or Military unit can now get that product to test for possible implementation. Believe it or not companies are very good at finding people to test their equipment, they probably don’t need every tom dick n harry with a badge asking for a handout. There are people within their agency or entity in a position to effectuate change everyone else is just looking for a handout! Do your part and support the company you’re interested in, buy the product, if it works great if it doesn’t then send that shit back.

Take the time to share your experiences with your peers, they may not listen and they might still buy crap but you’ve done your civic duty. If you are reading this then you are already a big step ahead of most of your peers keep hunting down good info and help others help themselves!

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Tim Braginton
Contributor
Tim is a Sheriff's Deputy in Northern Nevada; he is a firearms instructor for his agency and works with LMS Defense as a RSO.