2019: Last year of Commissioned Builds
Everyone has a five year plan in business; for me, in April of 2014, the month that I officially left the corporate world, my plan was to grow a business to design, build, and market some of the best built, most accurate 1911s on the market. How do you get to that point? I knew it would be a continuously evolving business model and it has. I started repairing and refinishing guns and on occasion, I would get a request to build a 1911 to customer's spec. I would pour my heart into the build, always going over time budget, always delivering the best I could... and people took notice. I cerakoted and blued thousands of guns, I modified everything people sent my way, built one-off custom guns for other shops and manufacturers while my back-log of custom 1911s slowly grew. I finally got to the point where I had enough custom 1911s on the books that I made the decision to discontinue other services... since those other services were not part of my original plan, simply a way to help achieve it.
Fast forward five years I reflect on my journey and ask some questions... did you achieve your five year goal? Would you have done anything differently? What is next?
So did I achieve my five year goal? I believe so. I started this business with an idea and a collection of hand tools and a work bench. Today I have a shop complete with two CNC machines, precision lathe, precision grinder, finishing equipment, a host of other ancillary equipment and more measuring tools than I ever thought I would need in this business. I have built a brand synonymous with quality and confident that I am well on my way to accomplishing what I set out to.
Would I have done anything differently? Of course. I would have embraced automation earlier, I would have discontinued other services earlier, and I would have built more spec guns and parts.
What is next? Here I am, looking ahead to the next five years of business, what will the next five years bring? As I explained in earlier blog posts, CNC changed my entire perspective on the business. In the next five years I plan on taking full advantage of today's technology to bring more parts design and manufacturing in-house. My goal is to produce most of the parts used in crafting a Bunker Arms 1911. I also want to break away from the traditional designs and concepts which have always governed custom 1911s. To be able to effectively achieve this, part of my plan is to discontinue commissioned 1911s.
Many people compare crafting a 1911 at this level to art. I reference this because most artists are not famous for their commissioned works, they become famous for their own original pieces, starting with a blank canvas and creativity . Commissioned works can suffocate creativity. One of my biggest complaints in the corporate world was the lack of autonomy you have. Companies want ambitious and intelligent employees, but then insist on micromanaging every move and decision they make. I never thought that building custom 1911s could be the same with regard to autonomy and creativity, but building to a customer's spec does ultimately restrict the builder.
Other factors commissioned builders experience are hours upon hours communicating build preferences and options, usually late at night and on weekends taking time away from family (the most important thing in life!), change-orders which cause unexpected interruptions to the build process, and late payments/cancellations which kill cash flow and effective scheduling. For each amazing experience you have with a commissioned build, you have one which makes you ask why you even do it. This is simply a reality of what we do that you either have to accept or reject.
While I am incredibly grateful to those amazing people and experiences I have had in the past five years building commissioned custom 1911s, the next five years do not include commissioned builds as a primary business model. Instead, I will be focused on designing and manufacturing parts to sell to other builders and consumers. Each Bunker Arms 1911 will start as a blank canvas and use the parts designed and manufactured in-house to complete the build; this was my dream, and so the journey continues. Thank you all for your support; I look forward to the next five years!