Back in October 2011, when the last post was made on this blog, Down Range Gear was facing a fundamental small business problem. A lot of unique concepts were shown publicly without the business infrastructure to sell them. Among other things in this business, you live and die by your original, differentiating ideas. If you show your cards and don’t make an effort to play the game, you’re stupid. And the business suffered for it. Hence the year (+) long retrenchment.
Since this blog went on hiatus, a lot of things have changed. The wider industry of course never stands still. A number of concepts that first showed up on this blog years ago have gone mainstream. Despite the quiet outward appearance, Down Range Gear has maintained a very busy tempo behind the scenes. That’s what the rest of this post is about.
Down Range Gear has a new look, the best example of which is emerging at downrangegear.net, the new, standalone e-commerce site. If you haven’t found it yet, take a few seconds to have a look around. It’s a work in progress but the look and feel is starting to settle and the hard work of developing and listing product is well underway. It will steadily fill out in the weeks and months ahead.
Downrangegear.net was built on basic and dated software which will constrain functionality until it is migrated onto a more sophisticated platform. Despite this handicap, the design is deliberately simple. Functional issues aside, the key idea was to strip the site down to it’s most essential components in order to load quickly and then get out of the customer’s way. That means a clean design with big pictures, an intuitive layout that shows everything up front without the need for elaborate navigation with never more than 2 clicks to make a purchase.
If the site looks empty it’s because of the lack of extraneous content and clutter. Does the customer need to read a copy write notice? There are good legal reasons to have one but what does it have to do with buying gear? Shipping, warranty, contact information and a few links are all tucked in at the bottom and out of the way. You can find them if you need to but you probably didn’t jump on the site to read about that. The things you’re looking for are always front and center.
Down Range Gear is going to be spread out over several different websites, each with a specific focus, playing to the strengths of the platform. We’re saving downrangegear.com for other purposes so it’s being used as a landing and redirect page in the interim. Downrangegear.net is the commercial hub. This WordPress blog will support the site with a focus on gear information and related features. We chose to establish a separate Tumblr account because that format lends itself as a dedicated gallery for custom, one-off projects. We’re still looking for the best place to load the massive photo archive. A few other, satellite sites will be specific for products that need to stand apart. Other social media is still out for the time being. Word of mouth has worked very well for Down Range Gear but it’s only effective if the products are good; the quality of the work needs to speak for itself.
Shopping At Down Range Gear.
The only items listed for sale on downrangegear.net are those built and ready to ship. While the standard is 24 hours, a majority of orders will be filled the same day. If it’s on the site, it’s in stock. If it’s in stock, it ships. The downside is that certain options (colors/patterns) are limited to what is on hand so if you’re wondering why the item you’re looking for only comes in the color(s) you don’t want, that’s why. Availability will improve as time goes on.
Orders can be customized on a case by case basis though the work may be subject to additional cost.
Down Range Gear is going to have a very specific color palette. With few exceptions we’re going to be focusing on coyote brown as a solid earth tone, black for government/agency customers and Multicam where appropriate. This will expand to include ranger green and foliage/gray but there won’t be any “ninja” options in the core product line.
Orders are diligently followed first with receipt confirmation and then verification of shipment with tracking information. The email messages are generated from the primary Down Range Gear Gmail account (email@example.com,) meaning that although they are pre-formatted for efficiency, they are sent and monitored by a real, live human being and not automated from a secondary account. That means that we receive and respond to replies from those messages, putting you in touch with someone who knows gear and has a vested interest in your experience. So if you need to talk to someone at any point in the order process, just reply directly to the email notification and we’ll be in touch promptly.
All shipping is via USPS unless otherwise specified. Shipping is a flat fee of $5 regardless of the size of the order and applies anywhere in the US to include APO/FPO orders. The only exceptions are for special shipping instructions from the customer or overseas orders.
Merchant services and payment processing at downrangegear.net go through PayPal. This can be controversial for some people and alternatives are being explored but all other considerations aside, PayPal is a very good starter platform for a small business because it’s easy to implement, straightforward to use, is reliable and well established. When the time is right and it makes sense to migrate to a different system, we will. Right now, we just want to design, build and sell gear with as little friction as possible.
Competition and the rate of change in this industry can be grueling. A sense of humor helps but it does get ugly sometimes. While not above a little professional jealousy, as fellow consumers, we’re just as excited about the next great piece of gear as anybody. That’s the fun part. The business reality is that there are many paths to success: make a quality product, release breakthrough design concept, foster a new technology, build a fancy website, have a good business model, ride the wave of hype, get an endorsement from an industry personality, market like hell… the list goes on. At the end of the day, the customer makes the deciding and most important vote.
Among other things, we do what we do at Down Range Gear for the sheer joy of it. Everybody understands the satisfaction of putting out good work and that is reflected in the smallest details.
We honestly believe that customer problems are service opportunities as there is no better way to demonstrate real character than when things go wrong. We’re not going to hype the gear; there’s a power in the simplicity of understatement. When you’re proud of what you do, it can be difficult not to make a big deal of it but we strive to under promise and over deliver.
Our commitment doesn’t end after we’ve made a transaction. We sincerely believe that customer service starts in earnest after the order has shipped. We’re professionally invested in making sure the gear works and respect that there is no more honest feedback than from a paying customer who has skin in the game. Feedback drives the constant improvement that a business needs to stay fresh and innovative. You can’t fix the chink in your armor if you don’t know where it is, so when a customer takes the time to point out a problem and gives us the opportunity to make it right, that’s actually doing us a favor. We’re grateful when you do that.
We don’t do a lot of advertising and marketing, the time, money and effort generated by positive word of mouth from doing right by the customer more than makes up for it.
Custom Work, Parts And Materials.
Some really great ideas come from customers who have identified a need or bring a fresh perspective. The challenge with taking on obligations to do custom work are balancing them with the limited production capacity necessarily for developing the existing product line. That’s what we weigh every request against. We know there’s a constant need to customize gear and we’ll try to help whenever possible. As the business matures and the product pipeline finds it’s rhythm, the ability to do custom work will only improve.
Customers will notice that in addition to finished product in an establish product line, we’re also offering parts and materials for sale. These items are drawn from the same stock used to build finished product, essentially giving customers to access to a portion of the raw materials used to build gear.
The apparent low barrier to entry has made for a crowded market. Anyone with a good idea, a sewing machine and a little time can hang out their shingle. That’s starting to change as technical materials and sophisticated fabrication methods change the industry but there’s still room for good ideas to stand out. Of course it takes more than that to run a business that will fulfill the needs of it’s customers and live up to it’s potential. The painful lesson learned is that business fundamentals still matter.
The big question is where does Down Range Gear fit in the wider industry? Is there still room for what we do and the way we do it? This is an existential matter! Are we making a difference? Does Down Range Gear stand out? These are questions we ask on a regular basis. You have to look externally at the wider industry and then internally at what you’re doing to find the answer.
At least part of the answer is that Down Range Gear doesn’t really play in market segments unless there’s a contribution to be made, something to add, or differentiate by feature or process. The excuse that there are only so many ways to build a certain design as a means to justify overlap in the industry really doesn’t hold up. It differentiates those who create from those who don’t among informed customers.
A certain amount of overlap and random confluence of design are inevitable but reworking an existing design just to stamp your brand on it is, if nothing else, a boring way to run a business. It might work if your primary goal is to chase dollars (not that there’s anything wrong with capitalism and giving customers choice is a good thing) but if that’s all there is, you’re just going through the motions, always one step behind. It’s not personally fulfilling and there’s no joy in the work. We can do better one design at a time by doing things that haven’t been done before or in ways they haven’t been done.
Though not in the same class as professional photography, the pictures are adequate to show the work in detail. And we really want customers to see everything. The pictures on the blog are high resolution and expand to full screen on white backgrounds to showcase the work. Click for the full page image and zoom in to see the fabric weave or a close up view of stitch work. Nothing says how much care or take pride in the work more clearly than the pictures.
We show everything. Buying decisions are made on those pictures and if a customer can’t get hands on a sample, the next best thing is a clean, detailed picture and useful descriptions. If a piece of work won’t stand up to that kind of scrutiny, it doesn’t ship. The attention to detail really drives the business.
In order to capture the half dozen or so images that illustrate the typical blog entry, literally hundreds of pictures may be required trying variations in light and angles. They all get processed through image filters to find the best way to present the product.
In the past, a select few have been loaded onto the blog with the remainder stowed on disc. The collection is extensive. It occurred to us that making these images available might be of interest to our customers (and, let’s face it -competitors.)
An organized Photobucket image library has been accumulating. As of this writing, it shows a relatively small selection but will grow with continual updates. The end result will be an expansive, detailed look at Down Range Gear’s portfolio.
Periodically checking in will not only show items currently offered, but from time to time, also reveal pending, unreleased projects. At lest two such items are in the album as of this writing. Whenever practical, blog entries will link to more extensive picture collections to give customers and readers an expanded view of the item.
The PALS Belt Platform is a short section of PALS (MOLLE) built on a solid backer designed for use on a belt and surfaced on both sides with nonslip material. It allows MOLLE (and compatible) pouch systems and accessory items to be properly woven onto a PALS grid allowing the user to take advantage of the full range of PALS compatible systems in a belt mounted role.
Usually built in a 2 column by 2 row grid, this piece was modified by customer request to accommodate 3 columns.
The original Drop Rig Belt Hanger was a drop-in upgrade for the 6004 hip extender assembly. It improved the function of the holster by combining and integrating some of the most sought after features. The result was a new system with enhancements incorporated into a unique design:
- Single point, push button latch for quick disconnect.
- Sized to mount the holster for high ride.
- Rock solid attachment.
- Compatible with both MOLLE and conventional belt systems.
- Swiveling buckle hardware allowing for a naturally ergonomic, arcing range of motion.
To mark the pending re-release, what follows is a top down look at the improved system that has been renamed “Tactical Holster Platform -Safariland.”
The heart of the system, giving it the features that set it apart from all others currently on the market is the National Molding/ Duraflex Swivi-Lockster buckle. The Swivi-Lockster is a unique latch system that allows for a single point, quick disconnect and is designed to pivot in a 120 arcing range of motion. There’s no other piece of hardware on the market with these features. It keeps the holster securely connected but easy to remove and moves on the leg with the wearer’s natural range of motion.
The upper half of the Tactical Holster Platform is the belt hanger. It supports the “female” end of the Swivi-Lockster buckle. Spaced widely apart for stability are two Tactical Tailor MALICE Clips who’s locked ends make for natural, secure belt loops. Passing the MALICE Clips through a series of PALS (MOLLE compatible) rows of webbing allows them to be properly woven into a PALS grid. Because this is a load bearing component, construction is especially robust in this critical area.
The bottom half of the Tactical Holster Platform directly supports the holster. It is a one-for-one, drop-in replacement for the existing OEM hip extender aligned with the Safariland three hole screw pattern. Like the part it replaces, it is supported on 2” scuba webbing but is not adjustable and only comes in one length: cut short to carry the holster as high as the hardware allows. At the top, a loop of 1.5” webbing attaches the Swivi-Lockster buckle and serves to secure the top portion of the shroud.
The best parts of the 6004 have been left alone. Parts that were merely functional have been upgraded to enhance performance of the system as a whole: quick detach, ergonomic range of motion, high ride, great belt and modular platform attachment options all in one well executed package. In this latest iteration, the Tactical Holster Platform has really hit it’s stride.
As good as it is, Tactical Holster Platform isn’t for everyone. The design excels with a very specific set of features for a narrow subset of professional users.
Down Range Gear’s Tactical Holster Platform integrates seamlessly with the Safariland tactical holster with a design that emphasizes function, adding versatility to the 6004 series tactical holsters.
The complete set of Tactical Holster Platform images is available on Down Range Gear’s Photobucket album.
The Modular Panel Insert is the base component for Down Range Gear’s EDC (every day carry) system. Designed primarily as a drop-in organizer for backpacks, they can be made to order to fit various bags and cases in either horizontal or vertical orientations. The design is very basic but executed with exacting attention to detail: a rectangular panel (height and width made to order for the customer) with a Velcro surface that is configured into a PALS (MOLLE compatible) grid. These panels are incredibly versatile and can support equipment in a number of different ways. The PALS/Velcro surface runs top to bottom, edge to edge with no wasted space. The panel supports it’s weight with a removable, heavy duty, internal plastic frame sheet, allowing it to stand and maintain it’s shape. It’s simple but effective. Assembling each one to custom specifications is time consuming and labor intensive, thus expensive, but no corners are cut anywhere in fabrication.
The Modular Panel Insert can be enhanced with add-on features like the pull-out handle and custom designed, integral, elastic flat pockets. The pull out handle allows the user to extract the entire panel from the pack in order to quickly access the contents. Drop-in simplicity means that panels can be swapped between different packs or multiple panels can be configured for different purposes allowing the user to hot swap multiple load-outs for the same bag. Sewn-in, elastic flat pockets are lightweight, low profile and versatile organizers that can securely accommodate a variety of differently shaped and sized objects. They are a great alternative to add on pouch systems and can also be tailor made to fit the customer’s needs.
Although outwardly simple, the attention to detail and customization comes at a premium. That said, the panels can be a significant upgrade to a pack system configured for the EDC role and are solidly built to last.
Order 201109010000: make a Tactical Tailor Mini-MAV work with a Mayflower Research & Consulting harness, upgrade the rig with Down Range Gear’s Enhanced Strap Replacement, Waist Strap and Side Straps.
Mating the Mini-MAV to the Mayflower harness was primarily a matter of achieving buckle compatibility. Familiar territory for Down Range Gear.
The real performance upgrade was the Enhanced Strap Replacement package which brings features like ergonomic front pull to adjust and the benefits of constant elastic tension to the conventional harness setup. Superior comfort is a natural byproduct of a harness system with straps that have an elastic core, which stretches and moves dynamically with the wearer rather than resist movement. The system just works and it’s just better than anything else currently on the market.