By Eric Peterson | May 02, 2022
Sights, scopes, night vision, and other firearms optics
Sellers started Sellmark in Coppell, Texas, as a sales consultancy for his "sell-marketing" strategy.
"What I saw at the beginning of my career is how there's a mass disconnect between the people in the company that were interfacing with the public and the people that were doing the brand development and the marketing," he says. "It was like they were doing two different things with two different groups. I thought there was a great opportunity to make sales and marketing to be part of one cohesive strategy where the messaging is consistent. Sales is ultimately the most expensive version of marketing, so it needs to work in conjunction."
"I saw a lot of issues where products were being launched and sales didn't know until it was public," he adds. "They play catchup and are confused and stop pushing it."
By aligning sales with marketing during product development, Sellers' customers were able "to get the timing right on the messaging, so when the product's message is hitting the consumer, it's already in stores -- and then you get this huge lift."
After focusing on tech brands during the dot-com boom, Sellers put Sellmark on pause and worked for a company in the firearms optics industry, but ultimately left to launch optics brands on his own.
Sellmark's focus has been squarely on sights, scopes, and other optics for firearms ever since. Sightmark was the first such brand launched in 2007, followed by Firefield in 2009. The company acquired tripod and grip maker Kopfjäger in 2019 and bulletproof vest manufacturer BulletSafe in 2020 and is a strategic partner and the exclusive North American distributor for thermal imaging innovator Pulsar.
"We have now become a leader in digitalization of optics," says Sellers. "We are right now bringing all the new technology into rifle scopes and red dots and doing things we never dreamed of, with recording and sharing content. We're leading the charge in thermal sensors getting out to the market with Pulsar."
To build its products, Sellmark has leveraged contract manufacturers since the Sightmark launch. "I didn't have tens of millions of dollars to start a manufacturing company," says Sellers. "What I had was the ability to find opportunities in the marketplace, and then find solutions and drive that to the market through sales and marketing."
Initial attempts to find U.S.-based manufacturers were fruitless due to the low quantities the company was looking for in its early days. "They weren't able to make small-run, experimental stuff at a price that would make sense for the market," says Sellers. "Our first major manufacturing being done at scale was being done in China."
"We quickly realized that sourcing wasn't enough," he says. "You have to be able to articulate to production houses exactly what you need in a way that they can meet it."
And even if communications are clear, capabilities may still be lacking: "Two-thirds of the time, we could never find anybody to make what we wanted. It just didn't exist. Since we didn't have the ability to do it ourselves, we missed so many opportunities in those years."
An ongoing transformation from marketer to manufacturer began in short order. Sellmark has rectified many issues by vetting more contract partners and bringing some light manufacturing under the roof of its 67,000-square-foot facility on 10 acres in Mansfield.
ISO 9001 certification circa 2010 was also part of that shift. "We started working with TMAC to implement the ISO management system," says Sellers. "That was an extremely major foundational shift for us."
Repair services have also proven to be a catalyst in the transformation of the way Sellmark approaches manufacturing. "With the ISO project, we ended up taking a much bigger hand in the repair of our products," says Sellers. "We started building and rebuilding and repairing stuff and taking total ownership of that, whether we built it all or it was built somewhere else."
Sellmark has continued to lean on TMAC, Texas' reprenentative in the federal Manufacturing Extension Program (MEP) program, as it implements new processes and systems and explores options for manufacturing new products. "TMAC is trying to help improve Texas' manufacturing competitiveness by bringing the latest and greatest technologies and best practices," says Sellers, who serves on the organization's advisory board. "There's a lot of manufacturers out there that need somebody to help them continue to grow and evolve and stay competitive. I couldn't say enough good things about TMAC."
Sellers says newly appointed Sellmark President Darrell Mitchell brings a manufacturing background to the executive suite, as well as "a mandate to upgrade and prepare the company to be a leading manufacturer."
That's something Sellers is keen on as a wave of reshoring begins to crest. "We could manufacture pretty much everything that we sell today, it's just still not cost-effective for us to do it all," he notes. "A lot of manufacturers that sell consumer products, they do the final assembly themselves because they want to maintain that quality. That makes sense. Utilizing independent manufacturers and partners is really a great strategy."
It's a case-by-case process that is always evolving: BulletSafe manufactures in Florida, Kopfjäger relies on U.S. partners with final assembly at Sellmark's facility in Mansfield, and other products are largely made in Asia and Europe. The company also maintains a facility in Bulgaria.
"Our goal is to look at the best way to produce the best-quality product possible," says Sellers. "That does open up the opportunity and flexibility to do more. At the same time, when you have certain countries that have a competitive advantage, we still leverage that."
The strategy is working, as Sellmark is in the process of a 42,000-square-foot expansion to its headquarters -- including 10,000 square feet dedicated to employee health and wellness-- that is slated for ribbon-cutting by early summer 2022.
"We've been growing significantly year after year, upwards of 30 or 35 percent. U.S. production is growing faster, because it's a newer part," says Sellers. "We're definitely outpacing most of our peer group and I think it's really because we have some amazingly talented, dedicated employees that keep pushing the boundaries. We are willing to reinvent ourselves every year or two."
Challenges: Supply chain. "It has been a very disruptive environment the last couple of years," says Sellers. "Demand, inflation, materials, labor -- all of those things have been very difficult to manage."
In response, he says, "We're actually putting together a supply chain team, which we didn't have a couple of years ago."
Opportunities: New products and markets, says Sellers. "We have a lot of technology being developed in other areas, which we can't talk about quite yet. It's really exciting stuff that's going to revolutionize the way we do red dots and other parts of the optics industry."
Needs: Sellers says the company needs 15 to 20 more employees in the short term, and possibly many more in the long term. "If there is a bigger availability of labor and the costs were competitive, we have 20 acres next to us that's designed to be a state-of-the-art manufacturing and innovation center. We're waiting for an opportunity or product that can be manufactured here."
Sellmark owns another 120 acres in Corsicana to further scale if the opportunity presents itself, and the company is also establishing a relationship with a 6,800-acre working ranch near Fairfield, Texas, for R&D, testing, and events.
Beyond that, Sellmark is looking for other manufacturers to partner with on new products, or possibly acquire. "Right now, we're looking for new partners, people who have products or technologies or designs they want to bring to the consumer market," says Sellers. "We are very interested in doing more of that with American manufacturers. One of my great hopes is that as we get bigger and stronger that we have a whole list of partners in the United States to do that."