Some of the new models of Surefire flashlights that will be released in the next few months to dealers. (Photo: Max Archer)
When a discussion occurs around tactical flashlights, Surefire is always at the center of those discussions. Though the flashlight is not a new invention, Surefire created the first durable, compact, high-output, lightweight, handheld, tactical light and, soon after, the first practical weapon-mounted tactical flashlight.
Militaries and law enforcement around the world quickly adopted Surefire tactical flashlights as tool to replace heavy, cumbersome and comparatively low-output metal baton lights. Today, Surefire continues being at the forefront of tactical light development, refinements and improvements and remains as the tactical light of choice for militaries, law enforcement and civilians around the world.
Tactical Retailer was able to talk with Mark Hanish, VP of Sales & Marketing at Surefire, about the history and the direction of the company.
TR — How did Surefire develop the first tactical flashlight?
Hanish — Our founder, Dr. John Matthews, invented and patented the first laser weapon sight back in 1979 and formed the company Laser Products, which later was renamed Surefire. Based on that first laser sight, requests came in for a weapon mounted light. Matthews created the first tactical light, and then worked to integrate it into the weapons.
We are company of a lot of firsts in lighting. Surefire invented high-output tactical flashlights, attaching it to a weapon, laser-mounted weapon sights and were the first to market for all these products. There are many competitors in the flashlight market, but Surefire has the most experience working with law enforcement and militaries around the world to continually refine a better and better product.
Dr. Matthews’ invention of the first 6P tactical light was groundbreaking with a then-shocking 60 lumen light output, which was more than typical issued police lights. That first light started Surefire on a path of innovation that we still see today. Sixty lumens was not a lot compared to our products today, but it was an amazing industry leading light output for such a small size. Today, our top tactical lights are putting out 1500 lumens in the same size package as the original 6P.
TR — What other products should dealers know about?
Hanish — We are definitely known for tactical flashlights, but in the consumer and LEO segment the product mix has expanded to include lighting, magazines and suppressors, which we refer to as “high performance fighting accessories.” We also have ear protection, rapid transition sights, tactical pens, batteries and lifestyle products.
TR — Has the premier pricing of your products been a sales hurdle for Surefire?
Hanish — Initially Surefire was the only compact high-output tactical flashlight, and those who needed the best tactical flashlight to do their job would spend the money. We will never compete on price, but we are committed to having the highest quality dependable lights on the market.
There are a lot of Chinese competitors, however those who tactically train with lights and use lights in the line of duty have seen firsthand imported lights fail. A $40 savings is not a savings if it does not work when you need it most. A quality $100 light could save you an untold amount of money and grief to illuminate and identify the difference between a potential intruder or the daughter’s’ boyfriend. One of the reasons customers are willing to pay the extra price is that and we remain military’s and LEO’s choice and are still made in the USA. Customers, trainers and field experience have shown customers that the investment in a premium tactical flashlight could be a lifesaver when you need it most.
TR — Are all the components made in the USA also?
Hanish — Every part on our lights are made and assembled in the U.S. with the exception of the LED diode finishing work after we make the LED diode. The diode finishing step represents a very small percentage of the overall actual light manufacturing, but that process would be too costly to do in the U.S. The bodies, switches, formed parts, reflectors, LEDs, springs, bezels and all other parts are all made, assembled and tested here in the U.S. Customers are not just paying for the pride of a U.S. made product, they are buying the best quality control, premium materials and best manufactured light available anywhere.
TR — What has made the company successful?
Hanish — Premium-tier tactical lights and weapon lighting has been at the core of our success. Since our first tactical light, we have been focused on delivering the consumer a very high quality product designed for the hard use needs of law enforcement and military that they can bet their life on. We are not just making utility grade flashlights for big box stores, Surefire has continued to be known as the most reliable and dependable lighting option on the market. We started by inventing the premium hard-use tactical flashlight and continue to produce and innovate products in the same uncompromising manner today.
TR — Have the suppressors been a strong seller?
Hanish — From a military perspective, they have. Crane Army Ammunition Activity did a huge test and selected our suppressors for all special operations commands. Many other NATO countries are using our suppressors as well. We have a fair representation in the consumer space and LEO markets, but right now nearly the entire production capacity is allocated to military sales.
TR — How have the other products performed for Surefire?
Hanish — Magazines and hearing protection have been the other non-lighting hot sellers. Our high capacity magazines have ridden the up and down sales wave depending on what is happening politically. The 60- and 100-round mags are great magazines designed by Jim Sullivan of Arms West who originally worked with Eugene Stoner.
Our very high-quality, reusable EarPro has been a great consumer product priced at only $12-$18 earplug set. We believe it is the best EarPro on the market. Customers love them and the U.S. and other militaries have bought them as standard issue.
TR — What is the next hot thing from Surefire?
Hanish — At this year’s 2018 SHOT show we introduced the Surefire Optimized Bolt Carrier. This is another Jim Sullivan design which increases dwell time, slows down the cyclic rate and exponentially improves reliability of the M4.
TR — What product blend would you recommend for Surefire dealers?
Hanish — The key is that dealers have to stock products because customers will impulse purchase based on what is in stock. Most stocking dealers will usually go across the board with a selection of our handheld fighting lights and weapons lights, EarPro, mags and accessory switches for weapon lights.
For handheld products the customers have liked the flexibility of the high/low output models, but we still have a lot of customers who want a single purpose/single output light as well. Most dealers stock both. The EDLC 1 and EDCL 2 1200 lumen (one and two battery) are unique and deliver gas pedal-like light control — jam the button you get all the light or a light touch gets a little light.
Most dealers opt for the X300 and X400 combo laser pistol lights, 300 and 600 series rifle scout lights and a few everyday CCW carry lights like the 6PX, G2X series, EDCL1 and EDCL2. Most will add in EarPro and batteries. Mags are hit and miss with dealers, but most know if they are in that tactical market and sell that type of product. Other popular sellers are our rifle lights over 1000 lumens, scout lights over 1500 lumens. Our dealer program is managed through the Evans Group, which can help work through the best blend depending on the size and type of dealership.
TR — What are some of the programs offered to dealers?
Hanish — Our typical program is based on a MAP pricing enforced dealer program to maintain margins. Historically our stocking dealer program has delivered high inventory turns and great margins. Smaller dealers can also purchase through their usual distributors, but they just do not have access to some of the Surefire direct sales resources. What we tell most dealers is that with the speed of the internet, if you are not stocking for impulse purchases, you are missing out of in-store sales.
We have promotional bundles to add some extra points to their margin and a new display program with stocking orders is only a one square foot countertop display. This little display was designed to maximize retail sales and ROI per square foot. Banners and other promotional and special event marketing items are available as well for stocking dealers.
TR — Where is Surefire headed directionally?
Hanish — Over the next year, Surefire is trying to make it easier for the dealer and consumer by reducing our number of skus. Consumers see six lights which look like they have the same specs and get analysis paralysis thinking they might under or over purchase. We are simplifying the models to a clear differentiation between task and fighting lights with noticeable lumen differences between the lights.
In the past we would put out fifteen new products each year at SHOT. We are going to change how we roll out products from a once-a-year product intro to rolling the products out continually throughout the year. This allows a better development cycle, more fluid inventory control and ultimately better products coming to market faster, which takes advantage of new lighting technology changes.
TR — Where do you see the industry going?
Hanish — With the uncertainty of the global political market and now having support from the White House, the real deal defense suppliers will see a surge to supply the world’s militaries. In the consumer market, you are going to see a lot of manufacturers and dealer in many segments closing who have popped over the last few years. The market is not large enough to support fifty me-too companies all competing for the $30 tactical light or $600 AR-15 markets. A lot of these companies have never lived in a normal, non-sales bubble market and it is going to be a painful learning curve for them.