The Great Challenge
[su_heading size=”30″]Exclusive Interview With Tony Hook, Owner and Founder of RTD Manufacturing[/su_heading]
INTERVIEW BY DANIELLE BRETEAU * PHOTOGRAPHS BY RTD MANUFACTURING
[su_dropcap style=”light” size=”5″]T[/su_dropcap]he American Shooting Journal sat down with Tony Hook, owner and founder of New Hampshire’s RTD Manufacturing, who shared how he went from ﬁxing cars for a living to manufacturing guns, as well as the trials and tribulations of what it takes to start, own and operate such a company, one that prides itself on extremely low tolerances.
American Shooting Journal How did RTD Arms get started?
Tony Hook It was started due to a question my 14-year-old stepson Robby asked. I had just purchased a brand-new AR-15 made by one of the more recognizable manufacturers. I brought it home and took it apart while he was watching. I found that most of the parts inside were very poor quality, and the upper and lower receivers did not ﬁt well. After using a few words I should not have used in front of a 14-year-old, he asked me if I could build a better one. I thought about it for a minute and said, “Yes!” Then he asked if I could make money making guns. I think my response was, “Maybe,” and that I would have to look into it.
ASJ Where did the name RTD come from?
TH I get this question a lot. I wanted to keep the name simple, because a gun manufacturer’s business name has to appear on their lower receivers the exact same way it is listed on their federal ﬁrearms license (FFL), and I didn’t want it to take up too much space. At the time it was my intention to have Robby be part of the business, since he came up with the idea. RTD stood, at the time, for Robby Tony Development. Not long after we were licensed and had started manufacturing, Robby quickly realized that guns were not his passion or within his many skill sets. He opted not to be involved. Luckily the name was not going to be wasted on meaning. We had two dogs, Roscoe
and Tucker, and they were dubbed the R and T of RTD. But that was not the end of the story. One day, I was teaching an armorers course on one of our pistol platforms and a retired Army captain stepped up, slapped me on the back and said, “What a great name for a ﬁrearms company – Ready To Deploy!” So, with a straight face, I thanked him and RTD has been Ready To Deploy ever since.
ASJ What a metamorphosis! Now that we know where the inspiration came from, what drove the passion to jump through all the hoops it took to get a gun-manufacturing business up and running?
TH I don’t know if it started as inspiration; it was more like a challenge, and I didn’t want to lose face. I had always loved guns and shooting, and the idea that I could
build a riﬂe better than what I was ﬁnding on the shelf excited me.
ASJ How long have you been in business?
TH We have been in business since 2012, and a licensed manufacturer since 2013.
ASJ What is your background?
TH My background is mostly in the automotive industry. I’ve made most of my living either owning a shop or running someone else’s for years. I tried to escape the auto-repair world and got into machine and tool, welding and even insurance, but these jobs always pulled me back in until now.
ASJ Tell us more about your family.
TH I have a great family, both immediate and extended, and most of them shoot but all of them are supportive. I lost my ﬁrst wife to cancer at a very young age before we had any children, so I do not have any children of my own. However, I do have three stepkids that anyone would be proud to call their own. They have one heck of a mom, Debbie, who did an awesome job bringing them up. The oldest is Maria, who just got her doctorate and is taking her board exams to become a pediatric physical therapist this month. When it comes to brains and beauty she gets very high marks, and she is a good shot when she can sneak in some range time. Next is Paige, the middle child and much more of a free spirit. Paige just graduated college and is now studying for her CPA. She is yet another smart and beautiful woman not to be reckoned with. I often say if you give Paige $10 and a Swiss army knife she could take over a small European country; she also enjoys going to the range and exposing her friends to shooting.
The youngest is Robby – the person responsible for why I am answering these questions for you today. At 6 foot 6 inches, Robby is a very talented basketball player, and has been accepted by three colleges to play basketball next year. Building guns might not be Robby’s strong point but with his brains and business spirit, I do not think he has anything to worry about. My wife Debbie is the love of my life. She has gone through a lot of culture shock supporting me and RTD – she was quite the soccer mom when we met. Debbie had never even been in a gun shop before we met. Now, she shoots too and works the RTS table at gun shows. One Saturday night she even helped me build four guns until 2 a.m. because we sold out of every single gun we brought to the Concord Gun
Show and needed more for Sunday. So, yes, I have family.
ASJ What was the hardest hurdle when you started this company?
TH Wow, there were a lot! For starters we had to get our FFL; to be honest, I thought that would be the hardest – it was not. The hardest aspect was ﬁnding quality manufacturers that could supply the parts we could not make ourselves. Most wanted huge quantity orders or big-dollar minimum orders that we were in no position ﬁnancially to pull oﬀ, so began plan B: ﬁnd local machine shops that had the equipment and tooling. Most were very receptive, and we have great relationships with all of them. They are also one of the main reasons that over 85 percent of an RTD ﬁrearm is made right in New Hampshire.
ASJ What has been the best payoﬀ, in terms of realizing you made the right decision?
TH I think what makes it all worthwhile is when a customer goes out of their way to come to me at a gun show or an event to thank me and let me know how much they love the gun we built for them, or that it is the best one they have ever owned. That lets me know that I am doing what I started out to do and did not lose sight of why I started.
ASJ Do you compete in shooting sports?
TH When I started RTD, I was an avid shooter competing in International Defensive Pistol Association (IDPA), Civilian Marksmanship Program (CMP), F-class long range and local pin shoots. I even did a little 3-Gun competition, but nowadays the only trigger time I get is test ﬁring. I hope 120 to get to a place where I can enjoy the fruits of my labor and get back to more competitive and recreational shooting.
ASJ What are your business goals at this point or the next milestone, shall we say?
TH The biggest business goal at this time is branding. I know there is a lot of competition in the AR-platform market and we are working very hard to put our stamp on it. This goes hand-inhand with the next milestone and that is to have our riﬂes available in no less than 100 gun retailers and distributors by the end of 2016. As far as growth, I feel it needs to happen naturally. My greatest fear is growing too big too fast and compromising the quality of our ﬁrearms, which I won’t do. Another big item on my goal chart is a 1911 pistol, and if all goes well it should debut in late 2016 or early 2017.
ASJ What are you most excited by right now?
TH We just went into production with our new riﬂe and AR pistol featuring a side-charging upper. It is our ﬁrst departure from mil-spec and I am very excited about it. I believe it ﬁlls a need for several diﬀerent applications and is not just novelty. The side-charging upper ensures the shooter does not have to reposition their gun to lock and load, and my favorite beneﬁt is it oﬀers an opportunity for shooters with a weak hand possibly due to arthritis, handicap or injury to be able to enjoy and operate an AR-platform ﬁrearm.
ASJ Do you support any charities?
TH Yes I do, both personally and through my business. I support the Susan G. Komen foundation and their ﬁght against breast cancer, which is how I lost my ﬁrst wife, and I also support the ASPCA and some local animal shelters in the area.
ASJ What is your personal motto or creed?
TH Live free or die trying.
ASJ Thank you very much for taking the time to talk to us, Tony, and the American Shooting Journal and our readers would also like to extend a huge thank you for your generosity in donating one of your beautiful RT-10 riﬂes for last January’s SHOT Show raﬄe and this month’s NRA show raﬄe. Another lucky reader will soon be the new owner of an exceptional piece of workmanship.
TH Thank you, it was a pleasure. ASJ