How Battle Arms Development Created a Premium Custom-Parts Market

Battle Arms Development has made a name for itself in the market for customized AR-15s. Here's how they accomplished that.
How Battle Arms Development Created a Premium Custom-Parts Market

When we see a top-end custom AR-15, it is unusual to not also see a Battle Arms Development Ambidexturous Safety Selector (BAD-ASS) or a set of pivot pins installed.

Battle Arms Development created the custom billet ambidextrous safety selector market for the AR-15 the same way KNS Precision Inc. did with anti-rotate pins. None of us knew this was something we had to have on our custom AR-15s until they came along, but retailers and customers could not get the money out of our pockets fast enough to install them.

Battle Arms Development’s product line has expanded to encompass its own take on over 80 percent of the parts on an AR-15. We had an opportunity to speak with Battle Arms Development President George Huang and learn about how the company has evolved over the years.

TR: Many believe that Battle Arm Development started the custom AR15 parts business. How did these great ideas come to fruition and affect the market?

Huang: We were not the first custom AR-15 parts manufacturer and, technically, not even the first ambi-selector on the market, but we were the first to offer a unique design. People loved it, and customer response has been significant. We have created a market that never existed before, all thanks to retailers and customers supporting us. It started for me as an everyday shooter who was getting frustrated with the lack of part options for firearms. It was so infuriating that I decided to do something about it.

TR: Many people don’t know that you are neither a gun industry guy nor a machine shop owner and that you are actually an architectural engineer. Tell us more about that.

Huang: That is correct. I am not from the firearm industry. I am an architectural engineer by trade with most of my work centered around theme park engineering, which was a fun job. A lot of that is working with casinos, Disney, Universal Studios, and other similar companies to develop out-of-the-box ideas for theme park designs and structures. With a day job of doing things like designing roller coasters and themed space stations, I couldn’t help but tear apart a gun to figure out how to make it better. I look at development and engineering differently than someone with a firearms or machine shop background.

TR: Was the ambi-selector the first product?

Huang: The M1A/M14/M1 gas cylinder lock wrenches were actually the first products, but the ambi-selector came next. We started the company in April 2009 and went live with our website on July 4, 2009. 

TR: Has the growth in demand for AR15 custom parts driven your business to expand?

Huang: Our business focus has always been to start small and slow. We have seen a lot of great companies struggle with overpurchasing equipment and facilities. We are extremely fiscally conservative. Although we have needed to expand for some time, we wanted to take the right expansion steps for the right reasons. Customer demand has remained high and consistent for our products, so we are planning to finally expand our facilities this year.

TR: Can you talk about your design philosophy?

Huang: Everything we build is designed with a purpose, not to just look cool. A cool design was the byproduct of lots of functional design. Our design goals are safety, functionality and innovation while also looking aesthetically cool.

We always have a logical and functional need driving the design, but we do add some style. We certainly could have just created a duplicate of a mil-spec selector and made it ambidextrous and in titanium, but one of our goals is to develop something that is unlike anyone else’s product.

Dimpling, for example, looks cool on the buffer tube, but the dimpling is an engineered feature to reduce weight while retaining strength. The buffer tube dimples will support future accessories that will snap on to those dimples.

We are always blowing the designs up to a microscopic level to analyze our designs. Many times, some little edge, curve or pivot can destroy a great design. When building our ultra-light rifle, we had to go back to a point of hardcore R&D. The research on the ultra-light rifle was extensive to assure that we analyzed every aspect of it to ensure that we were not overlooking any potential areas where we could reduce weight without compromising strength.

TR: How are you using existing mil-spec parts as an inspiration for a new part?

Huang: We look at the mil-spec standards from a couple different perspectives. Sometimes we ask how this part could be better, and sometimes we use the dimensional requirements to create something new on a blank screen. Everyone told us that you could not make a pivot pin better, but we made it functionally easier to pull with the fingers and to install. We also added a divot so that punches don’t slip off the pin if it’s pushed out. We even offer a model made in titanium. So, we did make an old design better.

Our billet bolt catch increases surface contact, reduces weight and makes it easier to use with less likelihood of accidental release. When we started designing our own lower receivers, we started with a mil-spec fire control pocket and mag well, and then everything else was engineered around it to deliver the strongest and most functionally rich receiver we could.

TR: We have seen a lot of pricing fluctuations in the industry over the last decade. How has this impacted your customers and dealers?

Huang: Battle Arms is not going to play the ‘what’s-on-sale-this-week’ game or seasonally discount items. In seven years, our prices have not changed, even during the periods of high demand.

We have an MSRP and an enforced MAP pricing, which means that dealers should never have to get into a price war on any of our products. Dealers find that our products move and deliver 40-percent margins, which means that the inventory and their money is not just sitting there.

TR: Has your business been impacted by some of the cash-crunched manufacturers you work with?

Huang: Unfortunately, it has. In some cases, we have restructured some of our terms for the slow-paying OEMs. Even though we are just supplying selectors to some OEM companies, some rather big names have had a hard time paying us. We never want to be in a situation where we have to chase down people for payment.

TR:  What would you like to tell retailers about your Vert PDW lower receiver, which is arguably the most expensive production lower in the industry?

Huang: I think the first point is that none of our retailers have been able to keep it in stock. The Vert PDW comes with our parts, grip and stock system, but not everyone can spend $900 on a lower receiver. 

The incredibly short collapsible stock was a joint effort with Jeff Cross at CMT, which was combined with our PDW lower and his VERT stock system into a monolithic integrated design. The Vert PDW represents all of the design innovations that we created in one product.

Unlike a bolt-together custom build, all of the parts are designed to work together. There is a lot of attention to the design of how everything works together. For example, the right-side guide rods are short so they won’t crash into the ambidextrous bolt release like other collapsible stocks.

TR: Give us your take on the state of the firearms industry these days.

Huang: The industry has reached a point where the big companies have consolidated and are now run by venture capitalists or boards of directors.

Sure, some innovation will come out of those companies, but the real firearms advances are being made within the smaller, more agile companies.

Some of those trends are good, such as rethinking how a collapsible stock could be designed, but some aren’t. One such idea is to cut holes in things to drop weight, but, structurally, I typically ask, ‘Have you engineered those cuts, and does the gun need that weight from a safety, functional and operational perspective?’

Reducing the fat is ok through engineering, but too often the trend has been for companies to develop something that’s ‘cool’ with little regard for  safety or function.

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