Business Talk: Mission First Tactical

Durability, affordability and customization options are among the keys to success at Mission First Tactical.

Business Talk: Mission First Tactical

Mission First Tactical made a name for itself delivering a polymer STANAG-compliant AR magazine designed to fit in steel mag pouches, a well-designed product that gained a reputation as one of the most durable and reliable polymer AR magazines available.

MFT proved it could excel at high-tolerance manufacturing as well as in the use of unique materials, such as the super strong and tough military-grade Dupont polyamides used for its magazines. More than a decade later, the company has expanded significantly into stocks, grips, backup sights, lights, muzzle devices and slings and is now recognized as a major competitor consistently commanding dealer shelf space.

In the last few years, MFT has introduced a host of completely new products, including Extreme Duty polymer magazines, holsters, defense sprays and lifestyle products. Now the company is also doing some things that are truly unique in the firearms industry.

We talked with David Edelman, VP of Mission First Tactical, about how MFT is expanding and delivering some fun in the process.

TR: What sets MFT apart?

Edelman: Our family comes from a long firearm business operations and management heritage that spans well over 100 years. Ultimately, Mission First Tactical was formed in 2009 in an effort to deliver premium AR-15 accessories to the market with cutting-edge design, materials and special quality-control processes.

When we first went to market, we knew what the expectation and benchmark was and understood how to get there. Our products are simply an extension of that philosophy of listening to the market, customers, dealers and distributors.

TR: In the last two years, you’ve had a lot of new products.

Edelman: We have. The magazine line was expanded with our Extreme Duty magazine, which is extremely beefy with lower walls that are about twice as thick as our original magazines and, according to our tests, much stronger than our competition by a fair margin. We have now added windowed mags, colored window mags and decorated series using our specialized printing process.

The Extreme Duty mags were introduced two years ago, as a stronger, thicker magazine to cut into with laser imprint. It was also time to update the look and overbuild them a bit with LGF (long glass fiber), and they are much stronger and more rigid. The lower part of the magazine is the same thickness as Magpul’s PMAG; however, ours is just filled with more material, which results in a tougher mag.

We are not phasing out our original mags but instead dropping the MSR to $9.99 to offer a super-competitive polymer mag price point. I think other manufacturers need some competition in that segment, and customers will have a high-quality option under $10.

The Battlelink stock has been incredibly successful. Our stock line has expanded with RSC (restricted state compliant) versions, Extreme Duty and Extreme Duty Minimalist versions, a billet-machined Aluminum Minimalist Stock and Pistol Stabilizer coming out soon.

The charging handles, extended trigger guards and other accessories have done extremely well, and the muzzle devices have been incredibly popular. Dealers are saying they have become one of their top-selling muzzle devices.

Our holster line has continued to expand with a complete offering of OWB, IWB, Minimalist IWB, mag pouches and accessories supporting a wide array of the most popular pistols in the market from Glock, Sig, Springfield, Ruger, Springfield, Kimber, Taurus, 1911 formats and others. OWB can be easily converted to IWB with additional clips, and our IWB holsters are all ambi-convertible. Our IWB holsters can convert to OWB with $9 OWB ambi paddle conversion, so dealers only have one part to stock regardless of the holster or carry side.

TR: There are some unique features around your holsters.

Edelman: There are, especially for the sub-$60, $50 and $35 MSRPs of our holsters. Two years ago, we jumped into the holster market and saw a niche that mass marketers could not fill with the Kydex market demand. All of our holsters are handmade in the USA by vets in Pennsylvania, with a bit of automation thrown in to increase production, precision and consistency.

We brought our polymers manufacturing experience to it so we could deliver high-quality features that had an exact fit for retention and precise consistency from holster to holster while meeting distribution demands. A holster of our quality can easily exceed $100, and small manufacturers just do not offer the consistent distribution scale, stocking and replenishment that dealers need. We started by working directly with the handgun manufacturers to get technical data packets, which detail all the specifications of the gun. This allows us to create precision-machined forms instead of just forming over generic blue guns that do not necessarily adhere to exact manufacturer dimensions. We found that improperly fit blue gun forming causes retention issues and usually means customers are just cranking down some type of squeeze-tension device to get decent retention. Our holsters are so precise that you just do not need that.

Part of our manufacturing process was to select Boltron instead of Kydex, because it’s a much tougher material and more expensive, although it is harder to work with. With our laser cutting and forming process over machined forms, we are able to deliver much higher detail out of Boltron than Kydex with a product that has superior retention and is overall much more durable, stronger and rugged.

This last year, we created a minimalist holster with all the functionality of the full-size holster without the bulk. This model has been really popular for appendix and 5 o’clock carry, and it comes with a removable claw to push in the heel of the gun for improved concealment. Customers are also stripping this holster down to a minimal profile with just a belt paracord loop.

TR: You are doing some interesting things with colors and industrial printing.

Edelman: We have added new decorated lifestyle accessories, decorated mags, and thermoform handmade holsters using the new industrial photo-quality UV-cured ink printers that chemically bond the colors to the polymers. The printing process becomes a durable part of the material and is not just a surface print. In addition to our stock images and limited editions, we will be launching a custom page where customers and dealers can upload an image and do short runs with their own custom colors and logos — minimum quantities will be 18 for magazines, nine for wallets and four for trays.

We started with custom lasering, but it was expensive and time-consuming. The UV-ink printer moves faster, has shorter setup times and offers more flexibility and more creativity, and the cost for the consumer is lower — with a better final quality. We have some dealers who are doing custom program wallets and dump trays with their own logos and/or some unique cool design. Holsters are tough since they are so specific; however, we do have one larger dealer who has some select pistol models with camo and patterns that really break up the black wall of holsters. Some add their own taglines and state flags for state pride, and in the process, they get to offer an upcharge with better margins.

Customers want something different than their buddy or gals have on their guns. It’s fun and different, and for a small upcharge, customers get something that is unique. Everyone is into customized accessories and creating their own unique look and feel with gun accessories. Based on the response we have had with the industrial-printed customized products, we are really onto something with customers and dealers responding in a big way. We have been doing some fun limited runs on our site and then have a set of stock designs that we try to always have in stock.

TR: You have branched into lifestyle accessories as well.

Edelman: This was just an internal idea when one of our team took some Boltron, added a custom printed image, and created a dump tray to prevent his keys and nightly CCW pocket dump items from scratching up his dresser — a great idea that became a product. The original design used an $8 piece of Boltron, so we are going to move to an injection-molded dump tray base material to really drop the $40 MSRP down to around $25.

We have a pretty nice strip of Boltron that gets cut off during the holster production process, and I told our team just to pile it up and hold onto the scraps. It seemed crazy to toss potentially thousands of dollars’ worth of Boltron. One of our team grabbed a bit of that scrap and created the wallet concept, which was the perfect use for otherwise high-dollar scrapped material.

TR: MFT has always done a good job of self-selling packaging.

Edelman: This was some of those experience-based learnings from our history in the business. A lot of companies assume you know what is in the polybag or package; however, we wanted to ensure we clearly noted what the product was, what it did and what the key benefits were — sellers do not always have the time to help a customer with selecting a magazine or a holster.

We have received numerous compliments from dealers and customers on our packaging, selling points and key features. It certainly does cost more; however, it has also really helped us grab a lot of competitive sales and more dealer shelf space.


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