What an unusual name for a company. Thank goodness Doreen Garrett, who founded the corporation in 1985 when she was 16 years old, didn’t have a dad named Bob or Pete … although once we got used to it, a company named Chuck or Joe Technology might be perfectly acceptable.
In the finest of American traditions and lacking a million-dollar golden parachute, Garrett started her business assembling a product she called the “Whole Kit and Caboodle” right there on the kitchen table in her parents’ Leyden, New York, home. She was still 16 when she attended her first SHOT Show, she says, but five years later, she moved production to a horse barn, and in 1997, to a 25,000-square-foot building at the current Otis location in Lyons Falls. Since then that space has nearly doubled.
So, after building a multi-million-dollar family-owned corporation with robust civilian, military and law enforcement sales, Garrett finally took a well-deserved promotion from the rigors of day-to-day operation in January 2014. She is now chair of the Otis board of directors and has many outside board interests as well. This means she looked around the corporate world and found a CEO who could make her company thrive. She found that man in Leonard Puzzuoli, who had been her CFO since 2009.
Shooting Sports Retailer recently sat down with Puzzuoli to discuss business and the future of the shooting sports. Here are his comments:
SSR: Tell us a little about your background, Len.
Puzzuoli: I started work with Otis in 2009 as chief financial officer but also worked on projects in business development, sales and marketing, research and development and other areas. So when Doreen Garrett decided to step into a less hands-on management role, she looked around and hired me. Obviously, it’s a great opportunity.
I’ve spent most of my career in various manufacturing organizations. Actually, I’m passionate about U.S. manufacturing. This country needs to maintain a strong industrial base, because that’s the backbone of a balanced, flexible economy and a robust national defense. My primary professional background, however, is finance and supply chain organization.
As far as outside interests, I like to target shoot, travel and spend time with my family.
SSR: So, Otis is still family-owned and family-operated. Which probably means there are no plans to move the company out of New York — and away from Doreen and her family — to follow other firearms manufacturers into more gun-friendly states.
Puzzuoli: We like to think of Otis as “privately held, family-owned and professionally managed.”
As far as moving the company is concerned, we have no plans at all. We operate from a world-class facility and our workforce here is highly trained and dedicated. That combination — location and personnel — would be extremely complicated to replicate.
We enjoy this area even though New York is not the most business-friendly state. Still, we’re coping and we’re going to continue to be successful here in upstate New York.
SSR: What happens at Otis’ Center of Excellence in Phoenix?
Puzzuoli: Jim Brooker, who has also been with Otis since 2009, is our vice president of engineering, research and development. He leads the company’s R&D team in what we call our Engineering Center of Excellence in Phoenix — and that’s Phoenix, New York, not Phoenix, Arizona. Aside from R&D, we also perform injection-molding operations there.
SSR: Why would you put research and development in a separate place? What’s the value in that?
Puzzuoli: We wanted to keep the R&D and manufacturing functions separate. That allows the R&D people to focus on innovation, on new products and better ways to do things. Our Phoenix lab is kind of an Otis “Skunk Works.” A little distance gives the people there an opportunity for creativity because they’re not involved in the day-to-day pressures, the give-and-take of the manufacturing floor, and the continuous grind of business.
So far it’s been a recipe for success. At [the 2014] trade shows we featured award-winning products developed at the Center. The Ripcord — a lightweight, inexpensive tool for cleaning a bore breech-to-muzzle in the field in one quick pass — was voted “Best New Accessory” at the SHOT Show. Our 5.56 B.O.N.E. Tool, one tool that cleans the difficult areas of an AR-style rifle — the bolt, bolt carrier and firing pin — with three different scraping mechanisms, was awarded American Rifleman’s “Accessory of the Year” at the NRA Show.
SSR: The Otis Mission Statement says Otis will “continually assess our customers’ needs and adapt our organization to meet these requirements.” Are customer needs changing these days?
Puzzuoli: From our point of view, customer needs begin with blocking and tackling — in other words, with the basics. How can we provide a consistent product at the right price and quality and be able to deliver it on time.
And the term “customer” depends on the sales outlet. We sell almost entirely through the business chain, and we’re very keen to supporting the shooting sports business model.
We have a strong customer service group for businesses support and for end users, too. Aside from standard practices, we post a lot of information on our website and upload instructional videos on Facebook and YouTube. We have an active Twitter feed, too … although these days I suppose you could call those information e-venues “standard” and necessary, just like having an instructional pamphlet included in a product package was a generation ago.
SSR: Can you give me an example of customer feedback that resulted in product development or change?
Puzzuoli: Okay, here’s an example. At first, our kits had foam inserts that would hold the various parts and pieces, but we got feedback from customers that the foam broke down and made the kit a bit of a mess inside. We have a program to change that to an injection-molded insert.
SSR: Three or four years ago, after this U.S. president was elected, gun sales were booming. The latest reports indicate that gun sales have leveled off, even declined, in some places quite dramatically. How does such an inconsistent cycle affect Otis’ ability to maintain a strong, consistent workforce?
Puzzuoli: We’re a lean organization, so we’re able to withstand some of the rollercoaster swings of the economy. We build to product demand without over-building our inventory. We also believe in a stable workforce, so during lull periods we commit to training and workforce development. Slow periods give us an opportunity to cross-train and expand our employees’ capabilities, and that, we believe, makes Otis a stronger corporation going forward.
SSR: What about international sales?
Puzzuoli: You have to remember that most of the world practices strict gun control. So we’re active in the foreign commercial market, but we’re active in the foreign military and law enforcement market also — a much larger sales opportunity.
For Otis, sales and marketing are similar to a three-legged stool: domestic commercial, domestic military (including law enforcement) and international.
SSR: What is the value of the “Made in USA” brand these days?
Puzzuoli: A good example of that are our sales into NATO-member countries. The U.S. military is the preeminent military force in the world, and our allies like to use products that the U.S. military uses. In this area — military and law enforcement — the USA brand is very strong.
The geo-political situation is always going to have pockets of instability. That means the opportunity for sales of small arms and ammunition, and support products like ours, is always going to be there.
SSR: So what’s on the horizon? What’s coming down the R&D pipeline for 2015?
Puzzuoli: Look, we realize that the sales environment — and the shooting environment — is changing. In the mid-90s, who would have suspected such a strong Internet sales presence or the very strong move to the modern sporting rifle? To quote the old Chinese proverb, we live in interesting times … and we certainly work in a dynamic industry.
Obviously I can’t disclose what we’ll introduce at the SHOT Show, but we support this industry 100 percent and I guarantee that we’ll have several new and exciting products for customers in January 2015.
SSR: Have we left anything out, Len?
Puzzuoli: Here at Otis we feel bullish on our industry and I have two things to say.
First, all of our products and components are manufactured and assembled in our state-of-the-art manufacturing facilities in Lyons Falls and Phoenix, New York. All products are made in the USA.
Second, I want to urge all of us to exercise our right to participate in the shooting sports, whether it is target or hunting or self-defense. We strongly support the NSSF and the NRA and other organizations that are fighting to maintain our Second Amendment rights. We also believe we need to lead from the front and maintain a strong national defense posture.