Carl (left) and Lou Garcia founded Drago to disrup the import market and deliver affordable packs with quality on par or better than the well-regarded brands of the industry.
About 20 years ago, the tactical-pack sales revolution began and suddenly Joe Consumer found use and utility in MOLLE packs and bags that delivered much-improved durability over clothing-style brands.
The tactical-type customer was also demanding an increasingly feature-laden and durable pack. Within a few years we had U.S.-made extreme-duty bags and packs that were weighing in at well over five pounds and were priced in excess of $200. Ten years ago the outdoor industry began to see a lot of imported knock-offs to fill the price and feature void, but in most cases quality was poor.
Carl and Lou Garcia saw an opportunity to produce solid and durable packs complete with lifetime warranties that leveraged overseas suppliers. Drago was founded specifically to disrupt the import market and deliver affordable packs with quality on par or better than the well regarded brands of the industry.
Today Drago is an OEM manufacturer of packs and bags for many firearms brands and has captured a significant portion of the affordable pack and bag market in both consumer and tactical markets.
From personal experience with a variety of Drago bags over the last eight years, I can attest that these are very solid bags with construction and quality far above what the affordable retail price would suggest. With this previous experience, I was excited to talk with the father-and-son team who founded Drago about their products and what dealers and customers can expect from the brand.
SSR – How did Drago start?
Lou – My background is as a gun dealer for the last 40 years, and through that experience I saw a lot of gaps in the bag and pack market, which I knew could be filled with the right product strategy. My son Carl was working at the corporate headquarters for Home Depot, and I thought that experience could be leveraged with some of the ideas I had for a new bag company.
Carl – Shortly after finishing my MBA, my dad asked if I wanted to start a bag company. I had learned a lot from the corporate side at Home Depot and had a lot of ideas that had been floating around in my head all the way through grad school. After a lot of discussions, we agreed the timing was right to start a business that combined both of our strengths. Dad has great intuition and industry contacts, and I had a lot of new and fresh ideas.
SSR – What was the driving force for starting a bag company?
Carl – My dad had a lot of insight into what was out in the market and what was actually selling. Everyone wanted the brand-name tactical bags and packs, but the sell-through was really slow. What was selling were the mid- and low-priced bags, but the quality was not there, which resulted in some customer service issues. We saw some manufacturers were just rebranding or restyling higher-quality imported bags at U.S.-made prices, but customers were starting to realize that they were overpaying.
After a lot of research into where we wanted to enter the market we started in 2010 with the simple goal of offering a high-quality bag brand that everyone could afford. Most of our bags are in the $50 to $70 range with our highest MSRP around $150. This seemed like the sweet spot where the customer felt they were not buying junk, and also that price tier allowed us to deliver all the quality we were striving for.
We looked at where it would fit in the marketplace. We want to make sure we are noticeably lower priced than competitive offerings and deliver high or higher quality that can drive higher volume dealer sales.
There were also a lot of trends in the market where customers were buying several different packs either from a color, size or style perspective. We wanted the average Joe to be able to own several packs without breaking the bank; $100, $150 or $200 at a time. We saw there was a gap in the market that we could jump in. Most of our like-quality competitors’ packs start in the $100 range, where dealers can sell a similar Drago option for around $60. We are happy to say that we hear all the time that customers have four or five Drago bags.
SSR – How have customers and dealers reacted to your strategy and brand?
Carl – They love it. The branding and logo has been a hit with customers. Our dealer sales are really very strong — and growing. Many of our dealers note that our bags and packs are an easy sell, outselling competitors’ offerings two or three to one. From a dealer perspective they can also stock up to four times the Drago stock compared to just one of the high-tier packs, which delivers a stronger selection. Dealers also note they are seeing repeat customers and customers buying multiple packs at a time. As you know from reviewing and using our products long-term, the quality is exceptional for the price.
SSR – What should dealers know about your materials and quality?
Carl – Admittedly there are a lot of cheap packs on the market that look good in the store and fall apart the moment they get loaded down and actually used. Our packs are meant to get used hard and we back our quality promise up with a lifetime warranty.
We do not skimp on materials or construction. We use the industry-standard parts; such as Zoom Zippers used by Nike and UTX buckles — dealers should know we are not making a less expensive pack with less expensive components. Our fabrics are all 600 Denier polyester, but not all these fabrics are the same, with some similarly-named fabrics featuring a loose, light stitching weave. We have chosen the strongest and tightest-woven stitching rated. We have learned a lot along the way with the manufacturing as well to improve on areas where we initially saw some warranty issues and by listening to customer feedback. We are doing more secondary strap reinforcement of high-stress areas like the shoulder straps, and increased the amount of bar tacking (thick overstitching reinforcement) to assure durability of high wear and stress areas.
We are not in the business to create just an affordable bag. Anyone can do that. We want to make the best possible, durable, feature-rich bag on the market that is also affordable. We also have a lifetime warranty, which is surprising for a lot of customers.
We are up front that our bags are made overseas, however we have a single-source factory that we believe offers the absolute best product possible and is done the right way the first time. We also have an internal QC process here in Florida. My dad and I personally check random lot pulls from the product line to assure the products are up to the standards and then our warehouse team also does individual quality assurance of each and every product. We even go so far as to slide magazines into the pouches to assure everything fits.
SSR – How are the style and features developed on the bags and packs?
Carl – Dealers should know these are our designs and we are not just importing some overseas company’s factory design. The tactical marketing was and still is hot and was the original design theme. Over the years, our packs are definitely strongly tactically influenced but we now have our first Defender pack, which addresses the urban covert tactical looks. Due to the success of this model with dealers, we are looking at a number of ideas for 2019 to expand that line.
From a style perspective, we wanted to develop a set of styles and features for the largest segments of people instead of five versions of the same pack. Currently we offer eight backpacks, eight utility bags and a little over a dozen rifle and pistol cases with most available in several colors. Initially we started with basic colors of black, tan and green, and we were one of the first to introduce the grey color for bags and packs. Grey has been really hot for us and we plan to expand this color to most of the line.
SSR – My understanding is that Drago has become a strong OEM manufacturer as well.
Carl – We have. And we do custom OEM bags and packs for Glock, Palmetto State Armory, SIG Sauer and Colt to name a few. For custom bags, we usually target some larger volumes, but we have started a new program where we can co-brand our pistol cases and other items with 500-unit minimums. We have a number of dealers that are now doing around 500 at a time with their logos.
SSR – How do dealer programs work?
Lou – We use almost exclusively a distributor sales model and Drago is available from nearly every major distributor in the U.S. including RSR, Sports South, Bill Hicks, Chattanooga, Zanders, and many more of your favorite distributors. We do support all dealers directly with signage and stickers and warranty support. We have become members of Sports Inc. and NBS buying groups and we continue to plan for that membership in the future.
We can also help dealers with product assortment questions. Our hottest products are pretty consistent and include the 36- and 42-inch double and single gun cases. The Tracker and Assault backpacks, Tool bag and Double Pistol Case are always hot sellers that dealers cannot miss with. Black is still our No. 1 color with tan being second and seal grey third. With the Mossberg Shockwave shotguns we have developed the TAC29 specifically for that model.
SSR – What is your perspective on the state of the industry?
Carl – The market is strong in the shooting industry. We do have a lot of people who are entering the industry each year and we believe that will grow. People are sending us tons of photos of people using our products that range from non-sporting hiking trips, urban adventures, tradesman bags, and even just as school bags. We know that we are bleeding into a lot of non-tactical markets. Our sales manager was at the airport and an entire hockey team had our packs. When asked, they noted they were cooler, cheaper and way stronger than regular school bags. It may be a market for us to explore.
SSR – How did you come up with the cool logo and name?
Carl – We had a designer who presented that design to us. The original design was more complex but we simplified it a little with the shield. The name Drago came from shortening Dragon, which is a figure renowned for its strength. We felt that embodied our idea of the brand, plus it’s just a really cool logo that customers comment on all the time.