Glen Rock, Pennsylvania-based American Built Arms is one of those accessory makers that has decided not to be everything to everybody. Instead, A*B Arms focuses on being really good at a few things, and other gun makers are taking notice.
Founded by Army veteran and all-around country boy Jason Combs, A*B Arms designs, prototypes and builds parts and accessories for the U.S. defense industry and commercial firearms makers. The company also does custom laser engraving for artwork or marking on most metals and many types of plastic. Unlike many parts and accessory makers, A*B Arms is a smaller company that has elected to focus on doing a few important things and doing them really well.
And they put their money where their mouth is. American Built Arms makes its parts in America, no overseas sourcing or engineering work. From handguards to bolt carriers and everything in between, all A*B Arms products come from its southern-Pennsylvania shop.
Tactical Retailer recently caught up with Combs to get a rundown of just what it is that American Built Arms does, and how it does it so well.
TR: Hi, Jason. Tell us a little about your personal background and how you came to found American Built Arms Company.
Combs: I grew up in the country, and after high school I joined the U.S. Army. I was assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division in the 1/504 Parachute Infantry Regiment. After four years of active duty, I joined the Maryland National Guard and spent another four years in the infantry. I then spent most of my adult life in sales and marketing for corporations that didn’t seem to care much about service or quality, so I made a choice six years ago to start my own company and bring American innovation home to where it belongs. A place where service and quality are number one and profits come later.
TR: Tell us a little about American Built Arms.
Combs: American Built Arms Company is a good old-fashioned American success story. I started it in 2010, using my own savings to start the company and relying only upon short-term personal loans to launch new products. The company has been self-sufficient from day one.
TR: What got it started?
Combs: As an Army veteran, I saw a need for a better carbine-length AR-15 handguard in the market. At the time, there weren’t that many options available. That handguard grew into the design and manufacturing of other parts and accessories for other firearms. I wanted to make high-quality innovative products that the average Joe could afford.
TR: Could you tell us a little about that mission and how it impacts what A*B Arms does?
Combs: Our company tagline, “Honor, Service, Integrity,” is the foundation of Our Mission. We take it very seriously. Our Mission is broken into four distinct parts: Our Philosophy, Our Promise, Honor Our Veterans, and American Built and Made in the USA. We made a commitment to ourselves and our customers to focus those four elements into everything we do. From manufacturing and marketing to proactive customer service, we make sure we are keeping to our mission.
TR: “Veteran Owned” is displayed prominently on A*B Arms catalogs and the website. Tell us about that aspect of the company.
Combs: I am very proud of my eight years of service to this nation. Being an infantryman in the 82nd Airborne Division has given me a unique perspective on firearms and crew served weapons. When you have humped equipment for 25 miles or more, you come to understand how that equipment could be designed for better comfort. That’s what we do.
TR: Obviously, the “American Built” aspect of A*B Arms is a major factor.
Combs: Over the last decade, too many American companies have sent production overseas to low-wage workers in cookie-cutter factories. Quality has suffered and American jobs have suffered. We made a commitment to keep all of our manufacturing in the United States. Our Mission states that we will always be American built and made in the USA.
TR: Tell us about your operations in Pennsylvania’s York County.
Combs: As A*B Arms grows, we build a labor force that is good for this country. Our manufacturing facilities, which include polymer injection molding and Swiss and conventional CNC machining, are all within an hour’s drive of our world headquarters. Our main office focuses on assembly work, laser engraving, quality control, shipping, sales and marketing, and all the administrative tasks a successful company needs. We chose Pennsylvania because of its long history of quality manufacturing.
TR: One of the biggest products I see in the AB Arms lineup is the Mod*X Modular Rifle System. Tell us about that.
Combs: After focusing for three years on designing and manufacturing parts and accessories for the AR-15, IWI TAVOR and AK-47, I made the decision to get back to my roots of hunting. We proceeded to look at the market and found some major challenges. Firstly, most rifle chassis systems have not been sold through dealers. They have been sold directly off the manufacturers’ websites. We wanted to change that, but to make that happen, we had to find a price point that dealers could work with.
Through an extremely time-consuming design process and multiple iterations, we developed and produced a lightweight, affordable chassis for the Remington Model 700 SA. We decided to start with the Model 700 due to its storied history and the prolific number of rifles in use around the world today.
TR: Who do you see using the Mod*X?
Combs: We have police departments, law enforcement snipers, long-range shooters, Remington Model 700 enthusiasts and even private consultants who have taught at the Marine Corps Sniper Program using the MOD*X. We are very proud that these folks have chosen our product.
TR: What has the reception been like?
Combs: The feedback we’ve received from our current MOD*X users as to why they bought one has been pretty consistent across the board. Buyers have said that a well-thought-out design, its affordability, being U.S. made, its light weight and the “cool factor” all played into their decision to purchase one.
TR: You mentioned the IWI TAVOR. The T*Grip and T*Rail are accessories designed specifically for that platform, which obviously has different requirements than most typical AR-style tactical rifles. What made A*B Arms develop and market these TAVOR-specific products?
Combs: The U.S. headquarters for IWI US is only 45 minutes north of our office, and we knew that the TAVOR was going to be popular due to its connection with the Israeli Defense Forces. However, when we saw that the TAVOR SAR had very limited accessory options and the ones that were available from other manufacturers were actually designed for AR-15s or other rifle platforms, we knew we had to do something about it. We saw issues with how vertical grips worked on the TAVOR and decided to design and manufacture a vertical grip specifically to address these issues. Shortly thereafter, we came out with the aluminum T*Rail, which is an excellent replacement for the standard IWI polymer Picatinny rail.
Interestingly, AR, AK and shotgun owners have started buying the T*Grip for their non-TAVOR rifles due to its short angled ergonomic design.
TR: Though not exactly a household name (at least not yet), A*B Arms products end up in some well-known places. Tell us about some A*B Arms products we might be using without even knowing it.
Combs: American Built Arms Company has manufactured parts and accessories for some very well-known firearms manufacturers, including LWRC International, Mossberg, Axelson Tactical and Slide Fire Solutions to name a few. A list can be found on our website in the “Clients We Serve” link.
TR: What are some key points that retailers should know about AB Arms products?
Combs: We have made it extremely easy for retail dealers to carry the A*B Arms brand. We provide retail packaging, UPC codes on the packaging, and retail dealer display programs. The main reasons dealers carry our product line are: we are “different and innovative” and offer something unique compared to the “popular” accessory manufacturers, we are extremely flexible and easy to do business with, and finally, we return emails and phone calls in a timely fashion. We take that last reason very seriously. If there is one thing that our industry needs to improve, it is the response time to our customers and strategic partners. We make communication a priority.
TR: Any bold predictions about where the tactical firearm market is going in the future?
Combs: The strong profit margins are in the tactical accessories. We believe that new forms of manufacturing capabilities, product material, 3-D prototyping, and social media engines are going to have a huge impact on the design, turn-around time, and revenue generation of new tactical firearms products in the very near future.
We are also planning on launching the MOD*X Modular Rifle System for additional well-known bolt-action rifles in the near future, so stay tuned for that announcement.