Recently Smith & Wesson, one of America’s oldest and largest firearms companies, completed its acquisition of Crimson Trace, one of the nation’s premier weapon-mounted laser companies. This comes on the heels of Smith & Wesson also acquiring Battenfeld Technologies, one of the largest firearms accessory companies that operates several well-known brands. What does all of that mean for the average tactical retailer? I had the chance to travel to Portland, Oregon, to Crimson Trace headquarters to find out.
Crimson Trace is no small company and in more than 20 years has grown to be the leading manufacturer of weapon-mounted red and green laser and tactical light systems with more than 50 percent market share and offering more than 225 products. Their philosophy is that a weapon-mounted laser should not be seen as an add-on accessory, but rather as an integral part of the firearm like optics or sights. For all that, and Crimson Trace’s state-of-the-art 50,000 square foot manufacturing facility, Smith & Wesson ponied up $95 million cash money, although I assume it was actually a giant check.
James Debney, President and CEO of Smith & Wesson Holding Corp. said in their press release, “Firearms purchasers frequently buy electro-optic accessories to enhance the capabilities and performance of their firearms. The growth that Crimson Trace has delivered is a testament to the high product quality and the robust product development capability that Lane Tobiassen, President and Chief Executive Officer of Crimson Trace, and his team have established.”
I asked Debney what is driving this impressive expansion at Smith & Wesson. “The company’s vision is to become a leader in the large and growing markets for shooting, hunting and rugged outdoor enthusiasts,” he said. “The acquisitions of Taylor Brands [knife makers] and Crimson Trace fit perfectly into that strategy. Our structure consists of a Firearms Division, a Manufacturing Services Division, an Accessories Division and our new Electro-Optics Division. With this structure in place, and with talented management teams in all divisions, we are well positioned to explore new opportunities.”
Electro-Optics Division? Sounds like an alternative rock band name. Crimson Trace is not known for optics, so does that mean that retailers will soon see a new product line? “With its robust new product development capability and its market leadership position, Crimson Trace provides a solid framework for growth,” continued Debney. “Although Crimson Trace has been narrowly focused on the laser sighting market, its management team now views the Electro-Optics market in its entirety. This is a broad and sizable category that includes products such as various sights, aiming and ranging devices, magnifiers and scopes for a variety of applications. Therefore, we believe that this division will have ample expansion opportunities, both organically and inorganically.”
While Crimson Trace is now part of Smith & Wesson Holding Corp., it will remain largely independent in its operations as it seeks to expand market share with new programs and products for the tactical retailer. According to Tobiassen, retailers can expect to receive continued support from their traditional Crimson Trace sales representatives. “Crimson Trace is moving forward with its current operations following the acquisition, so retailers will continue to see the same strong sales and marketing support they’ve come to expect from the market leader in laser sighting systems,” he said.
Obviously, Crimson Trace doesn’t just make lasers for Smith & Wesson guns, but for just about every model of handgun and rifle/shotgun with rails imaginable. As an OEM manufacturer the company works closely with firearms companies to tailor new lasers to fit their guns. But they don’t just work with firearms makers. Recently, Crimson Trace established a close relationship with Blade-Tech holsters. That allows new laser sights to be sold in one package with a quality concealed carry Blade-Tech Klipt IWB (Inside-The-Waistband) ambidextrous polymer holster custom-made to fit your customers’ laser/gun combination.
I asked if Crimson Trace will continue its OEM relationship with other firearms manufacturers given the integration with Smith & Wesson. “Absolutely!” said Tobiassen. “OEM packages have been an important component of the Crimson Trace product offering for many years because they enable consumers to optimize their personal defense firearms in a convenient and cost-effective way. As a semi-autonomous business unit within the Electro-Optics Division structure, Crimson Trace intends to work with firearms manufacturers on new product development and marketing programs exactly as it has done for years. The company will continue to expand its OEM product line with all relevant manufacturers as it looks to grow the Electro-Optics Division into new categories.”
Crimson Trace Classroom For Your Sales Force
One exciting new initiative from the company is offering free laser training to retail shops and their sales staff to better inform customers on the benefits and uses of weapon-mounted laser systems. “Our Crimson Trace Classroom initiative has trained more than 2,500 retail sales personnel this year on the benefits of laser sights and how to sell them more effectively,” said Tobiassen.
This involves taking sales staff to local ranges and conducting in-depth classes on the laser systems as well as live fire exercises to show the direct real world benefits of the defensive uses of laser-equipped firearms. The class includes a guidebook that retailers and ranges can then use to train their customers.
The class is broken down into two parts. The first is in a classroom where sales staff are educated on the details of how lasers function as well as gaining familiarity with the Crimson Trace product categories. But this is much more than a sales presentation and includes the practical application of laser sight fundamentals, accuracy, improving confidence and protection training.
In the second segment of the Crimson Trace Classroom, students hit the range armed with lasergrip-equipped revolvers. Experienced Crimson Trace instructors guide the students through a series of exercises both with the lasers off and with the lasers on. That allows your sales staff to discuss the benefits of laser sights with customers from a position of actual experience in a more knowledgeable way. According to Crimson Trace, “Stores that have included the free training for staff are reporting better prepared staff — and better served customers.” It should also be noted that all staff who complete the training receive a framable certificate.
I was able to participate in a demonstration of the range portion of this class and it is indeed eye opening with different exercises for strong and support hand shooting as well as obstructed vision shooting using glasses designed to obscure your vision so it resembles very dense fog or a shower door. The difference in results on target between no laser and laser is dramatic. This training is available — free — nationwide and Crimson Trace provides all the guns, ammo and eye protection needed. Any tactical retailer or range interested should contact Crimson Trace to set up an appointment by calling (800) 442-2406.
LiNQ Wireless Laser System
The Crimson Trace line of products already includes some well-known and acclaimed innovations such as the Lasergrips, Laserguard and Rail Master as well as the Defender Series and Lightguard. Now a new and previously never before developed item joins the lineup, the LiNQ wireless activation system.
Tactical customers, especially in the AR market, like to add accessories to their accessory rails. However, controlling a forward-mounted weapon/light system has always posed a challenge. One option that Crimson trace offers is the MVF-515 Modular Vertical Foregrip that allows the operator to control the light and laser using the support hand. Other operators instead use systems that require cords with activation pads that must run along the length of the rifle so they can be operated. This carries its own downside as the cords must be secured to the rifle and still pose a hang-up or snag challenge.
The LiNQ system is revolutionary in that you get a small forward-mounted green laser/tactical light unit that is controlled wirelessly and uses a custom AR grip that contains the controls. I was first introduced to this system a year ago, but it is just now at the end of 2016 that Crimson Trace is satisfied with the quality and reliability of the LiNQ that they are being shipped to retailers. In designing and perfecting this system, Crimson Trace relied on user feedback and extensive testing.
“Crimson Trace just started shipping LINQ, the first wirelessly activated light/laser platform for MSRs, which is being supported by substantial consumer advertising, media relations and in-store merchandising programs. Looking to the future, Crimson Trace will look to leverage the considerable market footprint of the entire company to jointly market new product launches and other initiatives which directly benefit retailers,” said Tobiassen.
One interesting choice is that they did not rely on existing off-the-shelf wireless communication software, like Bluetooth, but rather developed their own proprietary system using a unique 256-bit encryption to ensure near 100 percent reliability and security. The LiNQ comes already synced from the factory so there is no need for the customer to manually link the laser and the grip. The grip will activate the unit up to 15-20 feet away even through barriers and, as each unit has a unique RF frequency, there is no possibility of crossover from tactical teams using multiple units.
The laser unit itself combines a green laser (much more visible to the human eye that red lasers, especially in daylight) and a 300 lumen LED white light. The unit has four separate settings including laser/light, laser only, light only and laser/light strobe with a two-hour constant use run time. These can be activated remotely using the waterproof polymer pistol grip or directly using a button at the back of the aluminum unit itself. Once a setting is selected, there is instant activation with a button at the front of the grip. A version for the AK is being developed as well.
The unit is available at the retail level in an attractive display box and retailers are eligible to receive a display unit attached to a white polymer AR rifle that customers can easily and safely test and try out. Like all of Crimson Trace’s other products, the LiNQ comes with free batteries for life, another selling point for customers.