Barnes Precision Machine Made A Smart Move During The AR Bubble

Like many AR rifle part makers, BPM entered the market during turbulent economic times in order to keep its machines running. However, the company quickly became an industry titan and built a business that can weather market downturns.
Barnes Precision Machine Made A Smart Move During The AR Bubble

Barnes Precision Machine was founded as a North Carolina tool and die machining company by Andrew Barnes in 1992. Long before he opened his BPM doors, he had a long career as a machinist, working for NASCAR legends, aerospace leaders and even firearms manufacturers while he perfected his craft. It didn’t take long for Barnes to become well known for premium quality.

During the post-2008 recession, Barnes turned his expertise to the AR-15 market to keep his machines running.

Like so many other OEM firearm manufacturers who started in machining, one simple request for part production grew to another and another — to the point where BPM was not only producing AR parts from detents, to barrels, to handguards, to bolts and carriers in-house, but also started to build complete BPM rifles, AR pistols, personal defense weapons and short-barreled rifles.

Tactical Retailer had the chance to interview BPM founder Andrew Barnes to get his perspective on the industry.

TR: How do you see the industry evolving five years from now?

Barnes: I think the coming elections will play a role in another potential sales boom, but likely not to the level of the last two presidential races. I foresee a huge brand consolidation within the AR-15 manufacturers and a lot of brands that will just fade away. I think everyone is working hard to assure that they do survive the next five years, but without question it is going to be tough.

TR: What markets do you think are particularly hot right now?

Barnes: Assuming firearms laws remain stable, I think the short-barreled rifle, personal defense weapon and suppressor markets in the consumer space will really grow now that people are becoming more familiar with the regulations and ownership process. Consumers are looking for something different and fun. In the military and LEO space, short entry rifles are hot here as well, but budgets are shrinking or becoming capped and they need to do more with less and are now looking for comparable quality equipment options for less money. Interestingly, the LEO market budgets are expanding to accommodate a broader array of equipment. We believe we have positioned ourselves from a competitive price and premium quality to approach both of these markets.

TR: Describe your work with the military.

Barnes: We have been actively involved with the military through our personal relationships here in North Carolina at Fort Bragg. We are not going to exaggerate and say we have a bunch of military carrying our gear, but we do have some dedicated military fans who have jumped through the hoops to carry our rifles in various theaters of battle. Of particular note, our .308 rifle is being used in Afghanistan by Special Forces troops with excellent reports of performance. We have always attempted to support our troops where possible, including donating products where senior leaders have noted there is an actual battlefield need.

TR: Are you primarily targeting military contracts?

Barnes: Not really. The Special Forces contracts are very competitive and in reality, not that large of a volume. We do have a complete .308 package, that competes with the Knight’s Armament SR-25 kit with more features at a significantly lower price point to taxpayers, and we are competing for that business. On the other side, we see LEO and university police as our major, non-consumer target markets.”

TR: Really, law enforcement and university police?

Barnes: Police departments are starting to look outside the typical Smith & Wesson and Colt options. We have just introduced a Magpul MOE equipped, $850 LEO-priced rifle with a chrome-moly barrel with all [of] our standard BPM build specs. We are in the bidding process now with a number of police departments. It should be obvious we are going after the Colt and S&W stranglehold on the LEO sales with these prices, but we are not the only manufacturer doing so.

The volume of one of these deals can be huge — in the hundreds of rifles.

TR: And the university guys with golf carts and Segways?

Barnes: Yes, people might laugh, but the university police departments need something small, compact and light that can be deployed from a backpack. The university police departments, in many respects, have huge budgets and the hot item seems to be short, 7-inch-barreled rifles with collapsible stocks. It has actually been a very active market for us, as some schools are equipping their officers to fight the deadly encounters we are seeing in universities.

TR: Tell us what’s tough about the industry right now.

Barnes: The entire industry is cash strapped — horribly cash strapped. There are just too many players in the industry all vying for the same customer, and it is hurting everyone. Anyone who is honest in the industry will tell you it has been a slow 2015 and a very rough summer, but what has made it tougher is when businesses do not honor their commitments. It’s really frustrating for manufacturers like us who ramp up for forecasted demands which required increases in raw material orders months or even a year in advance, and then retailers not honoring purchase orders and then attempt to renegotiate pricing. It leaves the manufacturer holding a lot of cost in the form of materials and inventory.

TR: This seems to be a problem across the industry.

Barnes: Yes, it is an industry problem, and one which could likely shutter many a door over the next year. I know account receivables and accounts payables have been a serious problem industry-wide for well over a year, but what would surprise people are the names of the companies who are having deep financial issues. We were fortunate that our equipment was all paid for when we started in the firearms industry, but we are unique in that respect. Others are suffering during the downturn under crushing equipment and facility debt due to overly optimistic expansion plans.

TR: With so many IOUs choking the industry, what’s your forecast for industry shows like SHOT and NRA?

Barnes: Every year, manufacturers are walking around asking how business is and then subtly asking do you have a check for me? But this year might be a bit more interesting when the people that owe the money are not even returning calls. It is never a comfortable discussion, but those uncomfortable conversations unfortunately will be even harder this year.

TR: On a lighter note, with Lube Gate 2015 alleging all the great lubes are just stuff we could buy in our local superstore’s cooking or automotive aisle, what is your preferred gun lube?

Barnes: My professional experience goes back to auto racing, and we tended to use Mobile 1 synthetic motor oil, but commercial and military jet aircraft, submarines, tanks, helicopter turbines and Formula 1 race cars all run the same oil. Mobile 1 in a spray bottle is the Military’s favorite gun lube for belt-fed machine guns.

All these noted applications expose that oil to super-high and -low temps with super-high friction in dirty environments — if Mobile 1 works in those environments then it should work perfectly for an AR-15. Buy a quart for a couple bucks at the auto parts store and it should last a lifetime. All my guns run Mobile 1 in all applications from defense to my 3-gun competition rifles. BPM test-fires and ships all its rifles lubed with Mobile, but we do include sample packets of FireClean.


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