Shooting Sports Retailer had the opportunity to speak with David Edelman, vice president of Mission First Tactical (MFT). Many retailers will immediately recognize the MFT brand as the company that went head-to-head with Magpul on retail shelves across the country with extremely well thought-out products, excellent customer-friendly self-selling packaging and margins that are better than competing products.
But there’s more to MFT’s story.
Edelman comes from a family with a long heritage in firearm business operations and management heritage that spans well over 100 years. Ultimately, MFT was formed in 2009 in an effort to deliver premium AR-15 accessories to the market with cutting edge design and quality control. Less than a decade later, MFT seems to be gaining market share against major competitors.
SSR: There are so many “me too” companies in the market. What sets MFT apart?
Edelman: We did not just jump into the market because we saw the surge spurred by political sales. Our family is from and was raised in the firearms business, so we get what customers want and what dealers, distributors and buying clubs want and need. We have the experience from years in the industry to recognize trends, understand customer needs and know how to assure reliable order fulfillment for retailers. That experience was gained through a lot of blood, sweat and tears by doing things the wrong way and learning the right way.
SSR: Many people believe that Fobus and MFT are the same company. Can you clarify that.
Edelman: We get that question more than you think. Fobus is an Israeli company that is exclusively distributed by First Samco in the U.S.. First Samco and MFT are two completely different companies that are owned and operated separately. The confusion is usually that many of the faces that people knew from U.S. Fobus sales now work at MFT, so people assume they are the same company.
SSR: What was the push that created MFT?
Edelman: Through the years, the family learned some hard lessons with First Samco. MFT represents our effort to manage, create, quality control and package our own designs to deliver a top-tier, premium product with the best technology and materials available. We also had a great deal of military and law enforcement customers asking for higher quality options for AR-15 and M4 accessories.
The designs began to flow and our marketing team worked dilligently to assure that we had some of the best product marketing in the industry for accessories.
SSR: Was the involvement of military and law enforcement a major influence in the design process?
Edelman: They were and still are key to our success and ongoing designs.
We created a small team of consultants with real-world field experience, including SOCOM operators. Later on,the design team expanded to include experienced law enforcement and shooting competitors. These folks had access to and aftermarket accessories and had used them in the field of battle, in the streets and in competition, but had improved unique designs and tweaks in mind.
Optimizing weight and strength required modern computer-aided design software, rapid prototyping and the development of materials that were not currently used in the firearms industry. These operators would then put a hellish beat down on the prototype parts to assure that they would perform under extreme conditions.
SSR: It is my understanding that your company worked directly with Dupont to develop and leverage a super tough polymer. Elaborate on that.
Edelman: When we saw failures with some of the designs during destructive testing, we began looking for a replacement of the typical polymer used on AR-15 magazines and accessories. We are using a special Polyamide material from Dupont’s military plastic division. Dupont’s highly crack-resistant material delivered the durability we wanted without compromising our designs so that parts can be thinner and lighter while still being stronger. Almost all of our products are made from the proprietary Dupont material.
We partnered with several specialized manufacturing facilities in Pennsylvania who do a lot of DOD and precision injection molding. It was this constant research and development process that made our products shine once shooters had them in hand.
SSR: What parts did you focus on for your first product introduction?
Edelman: Everything we offered in the initial product and company inaugural release were bolted on tweaks for fielded military M4s and that were compatible with any AR-15. The first MFT products were the Utility Stock, React Vertical Grips, React Folding Grip and Magwell Grip and Engage Pistol grips. We were also distributing the First Samco Classic Products, which included an M4 handguard and full-sized pistol grip.
Today, we have a greatly expanded the MFT product line to include support for both the AR-15 and AK-47 platforms.
SSR: Was the idea initially to go head-to-head with Magpul?
Edelman: We felt there was room for two leaders in the industry. There were a lot of shooters with multiple rifles in the safe, and they wanted them to look different instead of like clones. We also knew the market wanted to see some different designs.
A head-to-head competitive product line was our plan all along. The MFT team worked diligently to assure that we delivered better marketing and packaging, which enabled our products to self-sell from the pegboard to all levels and skills of customers. We also heard a lot of good initial feedback from customers and retailers that our package was selling products so much faster than poly-bagged products from competitors. Today, we pack even more information into our packaging than our initial releases.
SSR: Can you comment on why MFT focuses so much on packaging?
Edelman: The market for AR-15 products has changed from the guy who knows AR-15s and just grabs a magazine or grip in a poly bag off the retail floor shelf. Now we have people who are new to the market and need to know what it is and how to install and use it.
MFT was also the new guy on the shelves, and we wanted to make a huge impact from a sales perspective for dealers. MFT looked different and delivered more info on the package, and our sales reflected that. We even added video links and extra instructions where they were needed for the first time do-it-yourself AR-15 upgrader.
Our market research indicated that packaging was a key component and that retailers and buyers wanted plenty of instructions and on-box marketing to make the products sell themselves off the peg versus having someone behind the counter spend 30-minutes explaining and selling a $30 part.
SSR: How has MFT handled the price wars?
Edelman: We concentrated on delivering higher margins to dealers than they would see from other competing brands, but we do strictly enforce MAP pricing to assure that those margins are maintained. We will not allow an internet-only retailer to kill margins.
SSR: I have noticed MFT furniture and accessories on some OEM rifles. What’s the story behind that?
Edelman: I am glad people are noticing. We are excited about all the OEM relationships. We currently have Armalite, DPMS and Patriot Ordnance Factory offering models that are MFT-equipped. Sig and Colt are also offering our furniture on select military products, and we have many other OEM manufacturers who are interested in our product line.
SSR: What makes MFT products stand out from a construction-and-design perspective?
Edelman: Everything is made in the USA and backed by a lifetime warranty. Our magazines are slim and compatible with metal magazine pouches, even the tight ones. The Dupont Polyamide material allows us to have one of the slimmest polymer magazines that is just as durable as the thick poly mags.
MFT is also the only company to use the actual mil-spec Pantone color palette to deliver a perfect color match to U.S. mil-spec colors. Everyone else creates their own colors, which does not conform to U.S. color schemes.
Our manufacturing process uses a laser spectrometer to assure that the part colors are consistent from grips and stocks to handguards and magazines. One of the reasons we introduced the Scorched Dark Earth color was to match the many other non-mil-spec FDE colors in the market. MFT was the first to come out with a grey that is another Milspec Pantone grey. Tactical Grey was a hot trend that we saw in the custom finishing market, so we jumped at the opportunity to introduce the color first. It is currently one of our hottest selling colors.
SSR: Any comments on the state of the industry?
Edelman: The last year has been challenging. We have seen a lot of new, unestablished businesses struggle. In that same time, we have seen the same for some older and bigger companies, as well. Over the years, our family has learned that we all must help each other get through the rough times while working around or reaping the rewards of U.S. politics.
Let’s all hope that the November 2016 election brings us a little relief instead of fear and uncertainty.