At Jerking the Trigger, one of our missions is to connect gear buyers with gear makers. We want to you know the people who are driving the industry, because if you can trust the person, you can trust their gear. I am happy to bring you this conversation with Earl Pittman of Impact Weapon Components.
Can you tell us a little about your background?
Sure. I grew up in California where I watched my father, a heavy construction equipment master mechanic, build and fix a variety of things. I learned a lot from him. I’ve always been mechanically inclined and a natural problem solver. I really enjoy the mechanical aspect of things like bikes, firearms, and automobiles. In high school, I began racing bicycles and trained about 300 miles per week. I worked in a small custom bike shop after school and learned to build high-end wheels. After graduating High School, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do as a career, so I began attending a community college for a few years, where I studied General Ed, and I did not graduate.
When I turned 21, I began shooting a Colt 1911 at a local range. It was a lot of fun and really got me hooked on firearm ownership and the Right to Keep and Bear Arms.
After college, I started working for a start-up company which built high-end custom wheelchairs, called Quickie Designs, Inc. At Quickie, I used my experience building bicycle wheels to create a product line of high performance wheels disabled athletes used to participate in wheelchair tennis and basketball. The wheels were lighter and faster than our competition and our sponsored athletes won events and we sold more and more wheels. I moved up in the company as they grew and when I left I was in the career I enjoyed, Purchasing and Supply-chain Management. Which basically means I delivered the parts, components and materials needed to build our product at the right price, in the right quantity when it’s needed in production.
After eleven years, I left Quickie and worked for Conagra in Gilroy, CA as Purchasing Manager. I worked for them for a couple of years, then moved to Ames, IA to work for a Water Quality Instrument Company. Soon after joining the Company, they offered me an opportunity to move to Colorado. This was in 2000.
Colorado is really great. The Company took off and my job as Director of Procurement was exciting and challenging. I was with the Company until May of this year, when I left to focus entirely on growing Impact Weapons Components, LLC.
How do you make the decision to start a business in economic times like these?
I know this may make some of your readers skeptical, but the decision to start IWC was one I knew was right. My family and I are Christians and we truly believe the idea for IWC came through inspiration. From the time when I had the initial idea for our first product, the Quick Detach MOUNT-N-SLOT brand Direct Attach Mount and through each point since then when I needed advice, or someone to advise us on our Patents, design, testing our packaging, the website, and how to begin advertising and distributing IWC’s products, the right people were placed before us and our Team who had the experience, and talent we needed to take the next step.
Financially and as a start-up, IWC did not require a great deal of money to get to where we are today. My Partner and I have been blessed to have lived conservatively within our means during our previous careers, so we are able to self fund IWC, which means we’re not indebted to anyone. We are able to pay as we go for the needs of the business. We are planning on writing a book or training program so we can share what we’ve learned with others interested in starting a business, but more on that later.
I also think timing has played a big part in IWC’s success so far. Jensen Arms in Loveland is a great place to buy all your gear. It’s also a great place to do VOC (voice of the customer) and Market Research. I spent a lot of time there observing customers and what they looked at and purchased, what new thing came to market and what was hot and what wasn’t.
I watched the large stock of basic AR-15’s fly off the shelf when it became clear that President Obama would win the White House. This told me there were a large number of customers who would be looking for accessories to trick out their AR’s in the next few years.
When the economy collapsed in late 2008, I saw the traffic in the store fall off and at FRGC, people were more aware of the prices for ammo, when you could find it..
In late 2009, and going into the SHOT Show in January 2010, I asked my long-time supplier of the parts used at the Company I worked for and fellow shooter, Craig, to make a few prototypes of our MOUNT-N-SLOT. I filed a Provisional Patent on them and then gave to a large number of them to shooters I had became friends with. I asked them to break my part or at least tell me what we needed to change to make it better. They all loved the prototypes.
So I continued to look for a manufacturer to introduce a similar product at SHOT in mid-January. No one did. When Magpul announced that they would be making MOE Hand Guards in Mid and Rifle Lengths by summer, 2010, I knew the timing was right to move foreword with IWC.
The final factor in our decision to move forward with IWC was the retail pricing we’re able to offer. IWC will soon offer a full line of accessory mounting components for the gear people want to trick out their rifles at a fraction of the price, weight, and complexity as those based on a quad-rail. We can do this in an economic environment when money is tight, ammo remains expensive, and people really want value for what they buy. By offering a made in Colorado from USA made materials product line, IWC believes we have the quality and value people are looking for. Our pricing leaves them with more money to spend on the sling, light, VFG, and some ammo to enjoy their new or existing AR.
My partner and I, along with our family, prayed for confirmation of our decision to launch IWC, which we received beyond question. From then on, we’ve been working flat-out developing, testing, and manufacturing our current and new products which we hope meets the needs of our customers.
How did the idea for the Mount-n-Slot line come about?
The idea for our first product, the Quick Detach MOUNT-N-SLOT brand Direct Attach Mount came after I went out to the Pawnee Grasslands one day to do some long range target shooting with my AR. It had a MOE hand Guard and a rail section with a rail type QD Mount. I was walking out to place the target and stumbled and caught my had on the rail section, which kind hurt. In the car on the way back home, I thought about why the rail was there in the first place. Why couldn’t I just make a simple QD socket that weighs less, uses fewer parts, costs less, and is cool and different looking? So I asked my long-term business owner and supplier of parts for the Water Quality Company and fellow shooter at the FRGC, Craig, to make me a few prototypes, which he did. The ideas for the other products have been flowing ever since.
Does living in a state with such an outdoors culture like Colorado play a role in your products at all?
Oh yeah, for sure. Colorado, and Larimer County where we live and work, have some of the best firearms laws in the nation. There is a culture of gun ownership and shooting sports in the area and some of the best places to go shooting that I’ve ever seen are within 30 minutes of our facility. In 2004, the Clinton gun ban expired and I found a local Class 3 dealer in Loveland, Jensen Arms, who specialized in tactical gear. I enjoyed shooting and now that the ban had expired, I wanted to get an AR, which lead to a few more as well as a few suppressors and SBR’s that I’ve been fortunate enough to add to my collection.
I wanted to help others learn to enjoy firearms like I did, so I took an NRA Pistol Instructor’s course and became an NRA Certified Pistol Instructor. I worked out a relationship with a world class range, the Front Range Gun Club in Loveland as a location for training and last year, I taught over 50 people how to safely use firearms.
IWC is planning on promoting the Loveland / Fort Collins / Timnath area as a firearms manufacturing center as we grow and learn. We envision having an R&D Center combined with the Front Range Gun Club and offering our services to others interested in starting a business in our industry. IWC really wants to give back to our community by creating opportunities for others to achieve what we’ve done so far. But by no means are we even close to this today. We’ve got a long uphill road ahead of us, but like I said earlier, we know this is what we’re meant to do and we’re all-in!
I want to commend you on your commitment to not just making your products here in the USA but also sourcing your materials here. What drives you to do this?
So many products are made off-shore by countries and governments who do not offer their citizens the freedoms which we as Americans enjoy. These countries get stronger with each new product that is made off-shore and America looses a little each time.
Coming from a Procurement and Supply-chain background, I know that America has the industrial capacity, skilled workforce, and creative talent which is often superior to that in other countries. IWC wanted to take advantage of these resources by only sourcing USA made materials and then turning these materials into our products right here in Colorado.
The challenge was being able to make and sell our products for a cost which supports a retail price point that offers our customers value while still allowing IWC to invest in new products, advertising, and continue to grow.
We’ve been able to achieve these seemingly competing objectives through simple designs. Take our single-piece box as an example. When we looked at the packaging used by others, it consisted of a part in a poly bag, with an instruction sheet, with maybe a printed card, which is stapled to the poly bag. This is placed in a corrugated carton, maybe with some packing material, a packing list, and then sealed with tape and shipped to you, the customer.
The IWC Team looked at this, and conversationally tore each component in the box apart, questioning why it was there and the value it added to you, the customer. We began to consolidate each component into what became our single piece instruction sheet, product protection packaging, and shipping box which held our brand. We worked with the talented Team to family owned Warneke Paper Box Company in Denver to bring our concept to reality. They improved our initial design, further refining the concept, while reducing cost and complexity.
We estimated a cost of over $2.00 for the others packaging materials, while our package costs a fraction of this amount.
This process is used by the Team at IWC for everything we do. How do we do it better than the others at a lower cost to us and especially, our customers.
You state on your website that you don’t have a Quality Department but choose instead to take a more holistic approach to quality. You state that quality is part of every area of your business. What does that mean to your customers?
The fact that we don’t have a “Quality Department” means that every person at IWC who is involved with the our product, interacts with our customers, or has anything to do with our brand has an obligation to make sure… no, guarantee, that the quality of our product, service, and experience meets the standards which IWC has documented for these areas. So, in effect, quality is built into what we do.
How much does feedback from users of your products play a role in how you refine existing products or develop new ones?
Feedback is central to the Team at IWC. That includes good and bad feedback, feedback about what needs improved, what we can do better, and what we are doing well.
Our customers trust us, a start-up without a long history, by spending their hard-earned cash on our products. We want them to be satisfied so that they tell others, their friends, family, co-workers, fellow shooters that they found this great new product that works better than the other products that they considered buying. So our challenge is to continue to create new products, to reduce the costs of manufacture while improving the quality of the components, to test them, to offer them to our customers to use, try to break them and evaluate them, so that we can continue to grow and improve the experience for our customers.
Do you have any plans for Mount-n-Slot accessories for other hand guard systems like the VTAC rails?
Yes… IWC has a New Product Portfolio outlined which will have many new PATENT PENDING mounts designed for many of the hand guards currently in use on AR-15 type rifles.
By Fall, we plan on announcing a Patent Pending line of accessory mounting products which attach to:
1. MOE-style flat surface hand guards
2. 2″ OD Round Hand Guards made by Midwest Industries, JP, PRI and Viking Tactics
3. 1.75″ OD Round Hand Guards made by Troy and Viking Tactics
What products can we anticipate seeing in the future? Flashlight mounts? Handstops?
All I can say today is that IWC will offer a complete line of MOUNT-N-SLOT brand Direct Attach Mounts which will be backwards compatible with any of our currently available mounts, so our customers do not have to buy a replacement mount for one they already have to be able to take advantage of our new product offerings.
Thank you Earl and IWC for taking the time to answer our questions.
Check out our previous review of their Mount-N-Slot Direct Attach Mounts.
Visit the Impact Weapon Solutions store to see all their Mount-N-Slot mounts.