Going Great Guns
Troy Industries Has Growth, Diversification In Its Sights
Steve Troy calls his venture, “the biggest company no one’s heard of.” And that’s largely due to his hard work to fly under the radar screen as he’s nurtured Troy Industries, a government contractor that designs, manufactures, and markets advanced small arms components and other products, into a diverse, cutting-edge company that will soon have 100 employees. But remaining anonymous is becoming increasingly difficult as this unique success story adds new and intriguing chapters.
Steve Troy already had plenty of evidence that his company was becoming a real force in the large but mostly unseen world of modern small arms design and manufacturing.
There were the soaring revenues, which had doubled nearly every year since the venture was started in 2003, as well as a rapidly expanding workforce, which stood at six only a few years ago, and is now approaching 100. And then, there was the growing collection of trade magazine covers featuring company products — publications such as Guns & Ammo, Tactical Weapons, American Rifleman, Shotgun News, and SWAT magazine.
But then came some additional proof that made him pause and reflect.
Indeed, when Troy, a Massachusetts state trooper stationed in Lee (he calls that his “night job”) was issued his MP 15 semi-automatic patrol rifle roughly a year ago, he noticed that the Smith &Wesson-made product bore several components with the Troy Industries name on them.
“I looked down, and there they were, a Troy sight and a Troy handguard,” he said, adding that he was not involved in the procurement process, and, to the best of his knowledge, the state police didn’t know he manufactured the components. “For them to endorse that product was personally rewarding, and it also drove home the importance of the high quality standards we set here; I’m using this gun.”
Personal satisfaction has come in a number of forms for Troy since he started the company not long after a deployment in Kuwait as a security forces team chief with the U.S. Air Force in 1998, during which he concluded that he could design and manufacture a gun sight better than the one on the weapon he was issued — and then set out to prove his point.
Since then, Troy Industries has seen its product catalog expand to more than 300 items — including sights, slings, upgrade kits for existing weapons (much more on that later), and a gun stock that comes complete with an embedded GPS device — and revenues skyrocket. (Troy, the sole owner of the venture, wouldn’t release specific numbers, but said sales are now in eight-digit territory and he believes they could hit nine in only a few years.)
The company is now a vendor for some of the best-known arms makers in the world, including Smith & Wesson, Sturm Ruger, Viking Tactics, LaRue Tactical, and many others, and its products are being used by U.S. Army Special Forces (Green Berets), SEAL teams, SWAT units, traditional law enforcement, government agencies, the Colombian National Police, and similar outfits in other countries.
“We’ve taken a weapon that was 50 years old and transformed it into the front-line, tip-of-the-spear of American special operations and airborne brigades,” he said, adding that the chassis system reduces recoil, enabling users to fire more quickly and accurately, while also allowing users to add scopes and other hardware that transform the basic M14 into a sniper weapon. “These are being used all over Afghanistan and Iraq, and soldiers are doing very well with them.”
Meanwhile, the company has produced its own version of the M-4 carbine, one of the mainstays in the U.S. military today, and has submitted the entry in hopes of winning a large government contract to replace the current Colt product now in use.
At least that’s the ultimate goal.
At the very least, Troy Industries wants to use this exercise to showcase individual components of the product — everything from the sight to the magazine — with the hope and expectation that some of those parts will become specifications for the eventual weapon chosen for production.
As that project and a host of other initiatives are advanced, the main challenge for this company moving forward, said Troy, who is still a part-time CEO in this venture — he parks his state police car, No. 2061 in a designated spot behind the building — is to effectively control the growth of this rapidly expanding company and create an effective balance of on-site production and outsourced work.
“The growth has been phenomenal, but we need to carefully control growth going forward,” he explained. “The business is there for us because of the reputation we’ve built, and it’s easy to attract new business, but we want to make sure that we can deliver on what we promise.”
Taking His Shot
The Troy Industries logo says a little about the company, sort of, but a lot more about its founder.
And it’s not the design — a somewhat mean-looking Trojan horse with what appear to be heavily armed soldiers rappelling down it — that speaks volumes, as much as the time and energy Steve Troy says he put into it.
“I came up with it myself and I’m rather proud of it,” he said, adding that there was much thought and imagination that went into the concept, which is both a play on his last name and a nod to modern weaponry and technology, as well as great attention to detail.
And the same can certainly be said for every other aspect of this venture, which Troy started with a $10,000 home equity loan, some mechanical ability but no formal training in that area (he said he built that house himself), and certainly no shortage of confidence as he went about designing and manufacturing improvements over what he saw and experienced first-hand when it came to weaponry.
Retelling the story, Troy said that he was already involved in a different kind of entrepreneurial venture with a colleague from his deployment in Kuwait when he started to conceptualize what would become Troy Industries. That business was called Basher Tactical, which he started with Matthew Picardi, now a lieutenant colonel in Homeland Security. It provided training seminars for police departments and federal agencies seeking to learn how to handle so-called “active-shooter disturbances,” such as the incidents at Columbine in 1999, Heath High School in West Paducah, Ky., in 1997, and Virginia Tech in 2007.
“We’d set training scenarios for between 100 and 150 students,” he explained, “where we had both a classroom session and an active portion where we actually seize control of a school; we’d teach the history of active shooters, and some theories on response, touch on motivation, and then do a training scenario in which they’d be responding, containing, and assaulting the situation.”
Eventually, Picardi would opt to continue his work in training, while Troy would launch his own venture, focused on small arms components and accessories, that started with some R&D and crude prototyping in his basement.
“While I was in Kuwait, I saw some shortfalls in the weapons they had,” said Troy, an expert marksman, “pistol master,” and trained sniper. “I decided that I could do better; I saw what was out there, and no one was really hitting it right on the head, so I developed a set of folding sights for a federal contract that I responded to and won for internally silenced rifles for tunnel fighting for homeland security.”
To date, the company has delivered more than 500,000 of these or similar sights, while also expanding the product catalog to more than 300 products. These items come with names — such as ‘battlerail,’ ‘prograde sling adapter,’ ‘low-profile gas block,’ ‘mash hook,’ ‘NAV stock’ (that’s the GPS device), and ‘Medieval flash suppressor,’ to name just a few — that mean little to those not versed in automatic or semi-automatic weapons, and some sell for just a few dollars each.
But together, this roster of products has become a very effective niche for the company, and for a number of area manufacturers as well; while Troy produces some of these components and accessories at its facilities on Capital Drive in West Springfield, a former U.S. Postal Service processing facility, many others are outsourced to a host of businesses, all within 10 miles of the Troy plant.
Most all the products now in the catalog have come to fruition though the same basic formula, if you will, that Troy employed with the folding sight that he started with: observing, listening, and learning, and then applying that data to improve upon products already on the market.
And it has obviously been a winning formula, based on Steve Troy’s ambitious sales projections, as well as the amount of expansion going on at the company’s facility. And if the growth has come quickly and steadily, it has also come quietly. Indeed, with the exception of those trade-industry magazine covers and stories — seen by a relatively small percentage of the population — Troy Industries has flown effectively under the radar, especially in this region.
“We’re probably the biggest company no one’s heard of,” said Troy, adding that BusinessWest’s look inside is the first provided to local media. Nationally? Well that’s a slightly different story; Troy has been starting to get some attention, he noted, adding that one of the Hollywood studios has expressed interest in doing a television segment on the company and recently asked for background information with which to start preliminary research.
Staying on Target
While giving a tour of his facility — which included stops at everything from the injection molding area to the procurement warehouse, complete with razor wire (security is ultra tight here) to a new employee-wellness center now taking shape in an area being built out on the second level of the 55,000-square-foot complex — Troy stopped to pick up one of the M4s that he and his engineering team designed from scratch.
Moving his hands quickly across the weapon, Troy pointed out several features that he thought made the gun stand out, from the sight to the hand rest, and reiterated his hope that at least some of these individual components will catch the attention of those who will eventually award the contract.
“We’re competing against 60 other companies, and from what we understand, we’re in the top of the competition,” he said. “What we think the Army will do is say, ‘we’d like to take the features on these various weapons and combine them’; we’re just trying to enable the government to see our accessories, which is our main line, and our enhancements, and maybe incorporate them into the rifle of the future for the military.
“Right now, basically only commando forces are using our products,” he continued. “They’re choosing them over the general-issue items, because we’re superior to everything that is issued in the Army, but we’re not mainstream, or general issue.”
While gunning hard for such broader customer bases, Steve Troy is focused on many other aspects of a rapidly evolving business plan.
Chief among is them is the expansion of his operations and manufacturing facilities, a definite work in progress being undertaken with expected further growth, diversification, and new-product development in mind. Indeed, as he showcased different areas of the business, Troy noted that many were at some level of transition to new and larger quarters.
One in particular is the engineering department; 10 people are currently crowded into cramped quarters that will soon be replaced by a much larger suite of offices on that second level.
Meanwhile, in addition to an ongoing push to increase the quantity of items in the colorful product catalog, there is also a greater stress on quality and efficiency. The company recently received ISO-9001 status — Troy proudly displayed the plaque — and is engaged in an organization-wide ‘lean’ initiative.
“Most people in our industry choose not to do this,” he said of ISO certification. “It’s not required in our industry, but as a growing company working toward being different and unique among the competition, I chose that as a way of strengthening our quality and our processes.
“With this rapid growth that we’ve had, we just haven’t had time to slow down,” he continued. “With many things, we’ve just thrown money at them; we’ve characteristically had a high scrap rate, rather than really getting into the problems that were scrapping parts.”
The stronger focus on lean will enable the company to continue its insistence on only sending out parts that meet the highest of standards — “the user is betting his life that the product will perform properly,” said Troy — while also reducing waste and therefore cost.
Part of the quality initiative is to continue to increase the amount of work done on-site, he continued. “We’re not looking to take all our production in-house, but we certainly want to have more involvement in especially our military product line,” Troy told BusinessWest. “Doing so will only help ensure quality.”
Marketing is another area in which the company is sharpening its focus. While it is still somewhat press shy (and that is changing), Troy is being aggressive with getting its name and product list known across the broad market in which it operates. Initiatives include everything from a large, high-tech trade booth display, taken to several dozen shows a year, to an interactive Web site designed, in large part, to tell the company’s story.
There is also ongoing work in research and development, much of it following intensive research, consultation with customers and potential customers, and lots of hard questions about what’s needed in the field.
“There are some incredible things that are happening around the world that we’re involved in,” he said. “We’re doing consultation for governments, as well as counter-terrorism training, consultation on product design and development for larger weapons manufacturers, and other work that I’m passionate about.”
‘Passion’ was the word Troy used to also describe his work with the State Police, and explain why he is still a part-time CEO at the company he started.
“I guess it’s one of the ways I give back the community,” he said of his police work, adding quickly that he is at least thinking about retirement and devoting more time and energy to Troy Industries.
For now, though, his police uniform still hangs on a locker in his cramped office (he’s also due to get larger quarters through the renovation project), where the walls feature photos, citations, and assorted memorabilia from his days in the military.
Those experiences helped provide the spark for the largest company that most people have never heard of, but will probably know much more about soon, because it’s going great guns — and in more ways than one.
George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]