As we celebrate our 8th Anniversary this August, we sat down with the founder of The Armored Republic® and AR500Armor®, Tyler O’Neal, to chat about where we came from, where we are, and where we’re headed.
Here, Tyler talks about the current state of AR500 Armor.
Q: Tell us about The Armored Republic and AR500 Armor today.
A: We currently have more than 100 employees and are running multiple shifts, 24 hours a day, six days a week. At our 25,000 square foot facility here in Phoenix, we handle everything from production, customer service, marketing, and software development. We also have a fully-fledged R&D group with an in-house test lane.
If we can manufacture it in house, that’s what I want to do so we can control the quality and product. That sometimes annoys my team members, but I think it’s the best way to be able to provide [our customers] with the right components, and I don’t have to worry about relying on quality from somebody else. It lets me feel confident about the products we deliver, and given how important body armor can be, I and everyone here take that very seriously.
It’s a massively different operation from when I began in 2012, but it’s allowed me to challenge and change the industry, which I believe is important. Because even with [AR500 Armor] existing, it drives everyone in the industry to get you a better product, which otherwise might not exist had we not been here pushing things forward. Competition benefits everyone, especially the consumer.
Somebody had to get into the industry, somebody had to take the risk, and somebody had to take that step forward. And that somebody was us. If you look back 8 years to civilian ownership of armor then to [ownership] right now, it’s a wildly different dynamic. I’m happy to be a part of that.
Q: Why is the $65 plate so important to you?
A: Our $65 Level III plate by today's standards might not sound as impressive as it was 8 years ago. But if you looked at a Level III rifle-rated plate 8 years ago, you were talking $500 on the low end to $1,300 or more at the top end. So a multi-hit rated, reliable, Level III plate at $65 was unheard of. I wanted to come in with something that was unquestionably affordable and really removed any excuse from owning armor.
One-hundred dollars is a lot of money to a lot of people, but when you compare it to what was available then, for $130 you could have two rifle-rated plates in a surplus military plate carrier...that’s attainable for nearly everyone. Anybody could now afford armor. That’s why it’s such an important product for me and is the ideology of why I started AR500 Armor.
Q: What do you see as the biggest challenge in the armor industry today?
A: Advancement in technology, and even some perception of hurdles in [the proposed NIJ 0101.07] rating system, I believe. I think there’s a heavy influence of lobbying behind the scenes that most people don’t know about. When you’re a company that promotes the Second Amendment and caters to the civilian [body armor] market, it isn’t a popular position to a larger demographic. We’re on the outskirts, fighting an uphill battle to design and improve technology and bring that technology to [our customers] while keeping it affordable without sacrificing quality.
Unless you’ve been under a rock for the past 6 months, 2020 has been a wild year, especially with the massive increase in gun sales as people realize it’s important to take self-defense into your own hands. [We’re seeing] a shift into the normalization of body armor ownership, it’s not as taboo as it once was, as people start to think “it might be a good idea to own armor and nobody will be coming to save me..that my self defense is my responsibility.”
This is something we’ve been preaching for a long time but I believe it’s become a realization for a lot of people. From the pandemic to body armor regulation proposals to the rioting, it reminds people that unrest isn’t that far away. And while we live in an amazing country with a lot of great things here, things can happen no matter where you are. So the question then is, “Should you intelligently prepare?
Armor ownership is one piece of that puzzle. We’ve seen a huge increase in the demand for armor ownership from people realizing the events that have been largely sparked by what’s happened in 2020. I think a lot of people will agree that 2020 will be considered a pivotal year, and while I don’t want to say in a ‘doom-and-gloom’ way that the future is uncertain, it's very uncertain right now. There are a lot of interesting things going on.
So we’ve had to scale up to meet this demand by bringing new production people on board, adding a third shift, bringing in more customer service personnel, more machines…everything we need to do that. But as we grow, we need to do it in a way that allows us to maintain the quality you expect. Because it’s body armor, we can’t sacrifice quality while keeping it affordable. We can’t just throw bodies at the problem, because it takes time to train our production staff, get our customer service personnel up to speed to speak accurately about threat levels, our products and policies, etc.