Guns have been around in one form or another for 800 years. Much has changed, but the firearms industry cannot be accused of being on the leading edge of technology. The 1911 handgun is still widely used and adored, as is the AR-15. The 1911 by its name alone tells you that it has passed the century mark, and the AR-15 is more than 50 years old. These are just two examples of the antiquated technology employed by most firearms industry manufacturers; but not all of them.
What happens when a newcomer to the industry combines tradition with cutting-edge technology and 21st-century company culture? Magic. Welcome to the universe that Josh Waldron and Jonathon Shults have created in the Salt Lake Valley of Utah. Two less likely candidates to start a firearms company have never come together before.
Waldron was a professional photographer by trade. He spent years on assignments for publications like Newsweek, Outdoor Life and Forbes. Feeling maxed out as a photographer, Waldron wanted to do something challenging, but fun. “If you’re going to work, do something that you love; otherwise, what’s the point of being on this earth?” Waldron said during our interview. He grew up in northern Utah County, Utah, where shooting sports are popular and places to shoot and hunt are abundant.
Shults, Waldron’s partner and lifelong friend, was a music producer and sound engineer before they joined forces to revolutionize the suppressor industry. He too, grew up in northern Utah County.
MANY EUROPEANS COUNTRIES ENCOURAGE THE USE OF SILENCERS SIMPLY TO FIGHT NOISE POLLUTION.
What brings two artists into the world of manufacturing and firearms? Customer service, or more accurately the lack thereof. Waldron told me, “Shults and I have always loved shooting and we started buying suppressors in our early twenties. We were often disappointed in the quality, as well as the customer service. It was horrible.” Not only did these two dislike poor customer service, they also felt that the suppressor industry was archaic and inept. The market was ripe for a revolution, and Waldron and Shults were poised to lead it.
BUILDING THE TEAM
Describing the diversity of SilencerCo’s team is much like describing the taste of sugar; one must experience it first hand in order to truly grasp the concept.
The team is an eclectic group: beards, tattoos, bright red hair and piercings are just a few of the things one will see when walking the floor. What is immediately apparent from the moment one steps into the workspace is excitement, fun and creativity. These are exactly the things that are generally lacking in a firearms manufacturing facility.
The team members come from across the country and all walks of life. While I visited their 72,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art manufacturing facility in Salt Lake City, I met this group. Many are prior military representing all branches of service, but there are also ferriers, blacksmiths, graffiti artists, gun armorers, painters, photographers, graphic artists, videographers, editors and engineers. They do not fit any kind of traditional mold other than they love what they do and are creative thinkers. The SilencerCo atmosphere is more like a software firm than a firearms company. If you are looking for crusty old men talking about the good ol’ days, you’ve come to the wrong place.
The director of product, Willie Booras, is a twenty-something with the most vibrant, almost iridescent, red hair I’ve ever seen. She (yes, she) is from a small town in Wyoming and studied industrial design at Georgia Tech before coming to Utah. She is a fun, smart, no-nonsense lady who gets things done. Not only does she oversee all of SilencerCo’s products from start to finish, she is also in charge of large-scale events, as well as branding and public relations. A testament to her abilities can be found in SilencerCo’s award for best booth at the 2015 SHOT Show.
SilencerCo’s CFO, Josh Mercer, has an unusual background. Before becoming a financial wizard Mercer earned his Bachelor of Science in biochemistry, followed by a Masters of Business Administration with an emphasis in finance.
I also met Ellie, a beautiful, fair-haired golden retriever that comes to work with Booras, and another dog named Izzie, a blue healer, that kept a close eye on me during my tour of the facility, making sure that I, too, was well behaved. All employees are encouraged to bring their dogs to work.
The customer service team is the number one department at the company. SilencerCo came to be because of poor customer service, so they make sure this area is the best of the best. They warranty all of their products for life and will, according to them, “even fix stupid, once.” They told me about a customer who had used the incorrect thread adapter to install his suppressor on a handgun. This ruined the baffles as well as the threads on his barrel. They fixed not only the suppressor, but the threads on his barrel at no cost – once.
THE FACES OF SILENCERCO
Firearms companies tend to use known gun celebrities in their ads and on their websites. SilencerCo headed in another direction. Waldron uses personalities outside of the traditional gun channels. On his website you’ll find videos of Aoki, a music phenom who double majored at U.C. Santa Barbara in Women’s Studies and Sociology; Travis Browne, an MMA fighter in the UFC’s heavyweight division; and Cam Zink, an insane, professional mountain-bike rider who apparently fears nothing. These three have nothing in common except that they all love shooting firearms, sporting suppressors from SilencerCo, and value their hearing.
What makes Waldron and the SilencerCo team think that this kind of marketing will work? Waldron stated it very simply: “If you want to control a market, you use known industry insiders in your marketing, but if you want to create a new market, you use other industry insiders.” Waldron and his team of fanatics have created an entirely new market, which is where shooters from all areas of the industry come to buy the highest quality and most reliable suppressors made by the most innovative company in the firearms industry, where excellent customer service is the minimum and exceeding customer expectation is mandatory.
ALWAYS ON THE MOVE
Times haven’t always been this good, though. In the beginning there were many weeks when Waldron had no idea how he was going to even make payroll, and it was two and half years before he actually took a paycheck home. Waldron and Shults had trouble finding people to loan them money to grow the business, and when they did find a lender, they were forced to endure loan-shark-level interest rates.
While Waldron no longer worries about making payroll, he isn’t sitting in his office admiring his successes either. Everyday Waldron worries about his company and strives towards perpetual innovation. When a company stands still they are actually moving backwards. Complacency breeds laziness, which can ruin companies. There is no laziness or complacency at this company, and this applies to the CEO, president, machinists, office staff and everyone else in the SilencerCo family.
For a company to be highly successful and creative they must espouse a company philosophy. SilencerCo takes this seriously; so seriously, in fact, they have a vice president of culture.
The VP of culture focuses on recruiting and retaining the best and brightest talent available. This atmosphere is vital when creativity is essential. Creators and innovators must think outside of the proverbial box in order to be successful. Once inside a box, creativity is stifled and innovation suffocated.
While the worries of being a new company have, for the most part, passed, new worries have taken their place. The biggest is production. Waldron and his crew are so good at what they do and are providing such a superior product that they are operating at full capacity — all the time. While this may sound like a highlight, operating this way leaves a company vulnerable to disaster if a machine or an employee goes down.
Wait times are another issue that must be addressed when a manufacturer is operating at full capacity. Most consumers will happily wait for quality, but not forever.
SilencerCo is vertically integrated, meaning that you only rely on outside companies for raw material. In the manufacturing world this is the holy grail. Quality and precision are in the hands of their talented machinists, allowing the company to avoid issues of correcting outside quality-control mistakes.
Not only do they control manufacturing from start to finish, all of the advertising, PR, photographs, videos, editing and anything else they need is handled in house.
CHANGING THE LANDSCAPE
It’s not just innovation, creativity and operating at full capacity that have Waldron and the SilencerCo crew occupied; they have also started a campaign aimed at getting the archaic and invasive National Firearms Act changed to reflect the 21st century. Many may think that the 1934 NFA was passed in an attempt to thwart gangland mobsters like Al Capone, Lucky Luciano and Bugsy Moran from getting silencers and concealable and automatic weapons, but in truth it was designed to thwart poaching and to keep hunters from quieting their firearms to shoot under the radar.
Flash forward to the 21st century and the law still stands, as does the tax stamp required to own silencers. The misconception is, of course, that a silencer (or suppressor, depending on who you ask) only reduces the noise level to a tolerable and safe decibel. It does not render a firearm completely silent. The ammunition someone is shooting (supersonic, or subsonic) will determine how quiet a gun’s report will be. A supersonic round will still crack and a subsonic round will be much quieter.
With these issues in mind Waldron started the Fight The Noise campaign. This effort focuses on hearing loss in the shooting-sports world. The number one medical claim for veterans today is tinnitus, a constant ringing or buzzing in the ears. This problem alone costs close to $2 billion in medical bills annually.
Guns by their very nature are loud, but that doesn’t mean the shooter should be subjected to punishing noise during target practice, hunting, serving in the military or working as a cop. The United States is falling behind the rest of the industrialized world in our treatment of suppressors. In Denmark, Finland, and Germany only a firearms license is required to own a suppressor. In Poland, Ukraine and Norway, suppressors aren’t regulated at all. Many European countries, including France, encourage the use of silencers simply to fight noise pollution.
Fight The Noise is pushing back and not accepting status quo as an answer.
The webpage is clear on their goals: “Fight the Noise is a movement to regain our voice. To exercise our right to protect our hearing and silence the sound. To be responsible gun owners and be treated as such. We want law-abiding citizens to have the ability to purchase and own silencers without being subjected to excessive wait times, paperwork, and taxes. We are the silent majority, and it is our time to be heard. We are your friends. We are your coworkers. We are the suppressed.”
With this campaign, Waldron and crew hope to educate the general public, making them aware that: 1) silencers are legal; 2) you shouldn’t have to pay an extra tax and wait months for the ATF to act just to own a silencer; 3) and guns don’t have to be loud.
The campaign is clever in its simplicity. Supporters are asked to take a picture of themselves with a piece of tape over their mouths. The tape says Fight The Noise. There are pictures of kids, mothers, grandmothers, businessmen, cops and soldiers. There are also a fair number of celebrities who have joined the fight, including Jep Robertson of Duck Dynasty. All races and walks of life are represented in the campaign lending an aura of unity amongst a diverse following.
LOOKING TO THE FUTURE
Steve Jobs spoke of people like Waldron and his SilencerCo mates when he said:
“Here’s to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently, and not fond of rules. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them, but the only thing you can’t do is ignore them because they change things, they push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do.”
If you think that SilencerCo will stay in their lane, you have a big surprise coming. I’ve been sworn to secrecy about what’s next for them, but I can tell you that they are poised to make waves in other parts of the industry in the very near future. Love ’em or hate ’em, you can’t ignore ’em. They are here to stay and are ready to change the way business is done in a good ol’ boy industry. AmSJ