By Ben Langlotz | August 4, 2023 | Firearms | 0 Comments
This story is getting long in the tooth (look at that patent date) but everyone seems to love it. I like being able to say that I’m a firearms inventor, and am one of y’all. I file a couple of patents each year on my own inventions, have a mediocre track record in getting them granted, and this one is the only one that has made me money. Yet.
How the Story of my Small Firearms Business Venture
Provides Valuable Lessons to Any Firearms Business.
I’m proud to reveal that I’m not just one of those guys who serves the firearms industry, because I have made my own proud little contribution. When I started out in the firearms industry more than 20 years ago, I remember how thrilled I was to meet some of its most respected leaders and biggest names. Then, when they entrusted me with their valuable assets and sought my counsel, I was even prouder.
So it’s funny when once in a while someone will learn about my little contribution to the industry, and shake my hand like I’m a minor celebrity. A very minor one! I can thank the want-ads of the Reno Gazette-Journal. In Nevada we could buy and sell firearms privately, and there were decent deals to be found. One day, I spotted an ad for a Steyr AUG, and figured, “What the heck!” The price was right, and it looked like fun. Besides, I can always resell it if I don’t’ like it. The AUG had some paint scratches but was otherwise in good shape. I tried dry-firing it, and quickly learned of the AUG’s most famously bad feature: The trigger.
It Takes a Team of Monkeys to Pull the Trigger!
That’s how one AUG user described the trigger. And it’s not just heavy at 9 pounds, it is a long pull, and plenty crunchy and creepy. The bullpup design means that nearly a foot of steel rods connect back to the hammer pack from the forward trigger, rubbing against the plastic housing all the way. Oh, and that hammer pack!
As an amateur gunsmith, I’d fiddled with plenty of triggers, stoning the steel surfaces to achieve a slick and smooth performance. So imagine my shock when I dismantled the AUG and found that every trigger component, every engagement surface was PLASTIC! That certainly shouldn’t work, or last very long. Yet the Austrians weren’t idiots, so I proceeded with my inspection.
I have this urge to know how stuff works, and generally dismantle every gun I buy, just to get to know it better. It doesn’t feel like mine until I have taken it apart, tried to put it back together, relented and read the manual (or Numrich catalog exploded view) and eventually got it running again. But the AUG had me amazed. The Legoland hammer pack with the plastic sear at least was big enough (Duplo-sized) to think about working on.
So I dismantled it, and saw why the trigger weight was so needlessly high. Granted, if Austrian soldiers drop their rifles out of helicopters and don’t want them to discharge, maybe 9 lbs makes sense, but I was looking for a bit more accuracy and shooting pleasure.
It looked pretty simple. There was a spring that pressed the sear forward, resisting the trigger force. I just needed a lighter spring. So I went on the Internet, searched “AUG trigger” and found all the complaints. I added “spring” to the search and found that someone had tried to do a new custom spring to solve this exact problem, but they had failed, or there wasn’t enough demand, or they were far too expensive. I don’t remember exactly, but I couldn’t get a spring, and wasn’t about to try to make one. So I needed to figure out a way to work with the original spring.
I looked at how the spring was held, and realized that if I could position one end of the spring in a more relaxed position, I’d reduce the trigger pull. I figured out where I wanted that end to be held, and imagined putting in a support to hold it in the new position.
I needed to add some material with a new notch on a simple flat plastic part. It was easy to imagine, easy to design, but how would I make it without spending thousands on tooling? I Googled “laser cutting plastic” and found a small company that makes gears and custom parts for robotic hobbyists. They pointed me to a CAD software website that gave me a free 30-day download, so I drew up the part on that. I emailed the CAD file to the company, and in a week had prototypes in hand, and in the rifle. Today, I’d have my seven-year-old boy 3D print a prototype.
So I Decided to Go into the Gun Business.
What’s the first step when start a new venture? Pick a brand name. This is the fun part. I narrowed it down to “Trigger Tuner” and “Trigger Tamer.” I didn’t want to limit this to AUG rifles, because I might develop products for other rifles, with one brand covering any possibility. “Tuner” was OK, but suggested fine adjustments, while “Tamer” suggested taming an ugly beast, which fit perfectly. So I immediately grabbed the triggertamer.com domain name.
Then, I set up a website and started selling, right? Not just yet. I had to make sure that I wasn’t going to get into trouble infringing someone else’s trademark. So I did a trademark search for all the firearms-related products that used “trigger” or “tamer” to make sure there wasn’t a problem. If I had come across a problem, I’d have picked another brand, and moved forward. The next obvious step is to apply to register my new trademark, even before I started using it. That way, not only would the trademark examiners serve as my watchdog and reject conflicting applications, but I’d prevent predators that got wind of my plans from applying first and preventing me from using my own brand. But because this wasn’t really an important financial venture, I deferred the filing fees (which would be foolish if this were anything more than a hobby).
How Google Screws Gun Companies And How I got the Best of Google – For FREE
Next step: Create a website. I had never done this before, or even dealt with hosting issues. The site I created is so famously bad and was set up in a way that probably wouldn’t work today that I won’t even tell you how I did it. It’s still terrible but it still generates revenue. I connected it to my Paypal account, and was in business. The site was nothing fancy, but it told the story, and had all the installation instructions and safety disclaimers.
I didn’t make the mistake on pricing that many small businesses do. I didn’t base the price on what it cost me to build (a laser-cut piece of plastic the size of a stick of gum doesn’t cost much). Instead, I weighed the value of the rifle (about $2000), the fact that this was solving what many considered the worst aspect of the rifle, and ended up at about $50 (I could have set it at $100, but then it would go from a no-brainer to a real purchase decision). It was easy to post some ads on various enthusiast websites, but I wanted to reach a larger audience. I wanted to reach the next guy like me who buys an AUG, hates the trigger, and goes to Google to look for solutions. So I learned all about how to set up a Google AdWords account. I’d be happy to pay a nickel, maybe even a buck, for every guy searching “AUG Trigger” who clicked my ad:
Adwords is a powerful way to reach buyers, and it’s one reason Google is worth billions. It represents almost all of Google’s revenue. And I was happy to chip in a few bucks a week to their pot. Unfortunately, after the ad had been up for a few hours, their “Standards” people reviewing the ad and my website shut me down. They refunded my money, and told me to buzz off. You see, I was advertising something related to… GUNS!
If you want to learn about Google’s priorities, do a simple search for something innocuous but gun related like “gun barrels”. You’ll notice that the right column is blank, with no ads. Then, just for fun, and if you’re not on a work computer, do a Google search for the naughtiest sex toy you’ve ever heard of. You’ll see a long list of ads, page-after-page for the product you imagined. I’m not making any value judgments here, except on Google’s gun bigotry.
How I Got Even With Google.
Google hates guns. But they won’t get customers if they censor the actual searches, because people will use other search engines. So when you search “gun barrels” or “AUG trigger” you get the regular list of search results. And Google doesn’t get a penny. I wanted to get on that list.
I wanted to be on the top of the list for anyone who searches “Aug trigger” or “USR trigger”. So I learned about something called Search Engine Optimization (SEO). After spending an hour learning the basics, I made some changes to the website, being sure that I had set the “metatags,” “keywords” and other items to fit the searches I wanted to be listed for. I changed the copy a little bit to be sure I was using the key phrase “AUG trigger” often. And lo and behold, in a few months, I was the top result for my desired search phrase! But I had also learned how to make my listing look good, to grab the buyer’s eyes. I didn’t want it to look like this:
No, I wanted to control exactly what my free “advertisement” said. So I set the title and other key phrases just like I was writing an Adwords ad, so the buyer knew this was what they were looking for:
I haven’t tried to track how much of my business comes from Google (it’s not hard to do, but I didn’t bother, because I wouldn’t change anything based on what I learned). But years later, the product pulls in maybe $1000 a month, and I don’t do anything other than answer the occasional technical question by email, walk to the mailbox a couple times a week, enjoy the grateful fan letters, and place a production order every year or two (shipping and handling charges pay for an assistant to do all the packaging and mailing).
Technical Disaster Turns into Customer Service Triumph
The reviews were good, but the first version had a technical problem. The material just wasn’t holding up, and a small percentage of customers were sending them back for replacement (none wanted their money back, now that they were addicted to the lighter trigger pull!) We had a generous lifetime replacement guarantee and a 60-day, money-back, try-it-you’ll-like-it refund guarantee.
After some added testing, I realized that all the units I had sold were probably going to fail, and I just hadn’t yet heard from the customers who hadn’t shot theirs yet. I immediately sourced a much tougher material, arranged production, and then sent a replacement product to every single buyer who had ever bought a Trigger Tamer. They were grateful to get their replacements without even asking for them, and I could sleep well knowing no one’s rifle was going to fail in a critical situation. My stress testing (to destruction) on a Rube Goldberg setup showed a 5x strength increase. Since then, there’s never been a failure.
How I Kept Away Competitors and Preserved Monopoly Pricing
At the outset, I filed a patent application on my little invention. For me, it was an investment of time, not the financial investment decision faced by most start-up entrepreneurs. The big challenge is knowing in time whether the investment will be justified. You need to file the patent application the first year the product is on the market, and it’s hard to know whether the benefits of patenting a small-revenue product will ever pay for the investment.
In the first 5 years the Trigger Tamer has been out there, it would have paid a patent attorney’s bill many times over. But I really don’t know whether I would have faced competition in this small niche market if I didn’t have the patent. Still, with other rifle versions expanding the market, and with talk of Steyr manufacturing in the US, it’s easy to imagine that someone would want to knock off my product. Maybe even one of the makers might want to include it in their product.
In fact, Steyr once contacted me about the possibility of including it in their upcoming AUG. We’ll see how that goes. But they certainly wouldn’t even be talking to me if I didn’t have that patent (#7,165,352).
One of the Boys?
Maybe the best thing about my tiny contribution to our industry is that it gave me a better appreciation of what it is like to be a firearms industry manufacturer. I had the pleasure of lawyers telling me that I couldn’t say the product was too safe (customers need to be warned of risks) but couldn’t admit that it made rifles more dangerous.
I learned how our State Department might consider a lump of plastic an “armament,” and decided to ship only to U.S. addresses. I found out how advertisers like Google prevent those of us in the firearms industry from reaching a mass audience. But I also found how much fun it is to turn a passion and a hobby into a profitable business.
Since then, I’ve met innumerable clients who started as hobbyists and enthusiasts, and turned it all into a profitable gun business. If that’s you, drop me a line and tell me your story.