AIMING HIGH — TALON shooting for very top of tactical firearms market

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Published: November 15,2013

Tags: Business, guns, Mississippi, Newtown, startup

Assault-Rifle-AR15_rgbTALON Ordnance CEO Clay Baldwin can relish the stillness and quiet of his office at Ridgeland’s Highland Colony Business Park, but he knows that all changes soon after New Years.

If the logistics he and his partners have mapped out come off as planned, shipments of dozens of parts for TALON Ordnance’s state-of-the-art tactical rifle will arrive at a rapid-fire pace and go straight into the hands of assemblers in a warehouse area at the rear of TALON’s suite of offices.

That’s Baldwin’s best-case scenario for the production start-up of TALON’s TM4-A1 weapon system, a premium AR-15-style semi-automatic sporting rifle whose $2,695 retail price is three times the amount a buyer would pay for a garden variety AR-15.

Baldwin and partners Rick Webster and Paul McPhail, PE, plan to market a fully automatic-fire version of the TM4-A1 to law enforcement and military buyers around the world, a segment they expect to account for 20 percent of TALON’s market. Webster is CEO of Key Constructors LLC in Madison and McPhail is CFO.

Baldwin makes some bold claims in a multi-page presentation on company website Talonordnance.com titled “Why TALON?”

The former Army intelligence officer and attorney-turned-gun-maker promises TALON “is taking tactical weapons where they have never gone before.”

Clay Baldwin, CEO of Talon

Clay Baldwin, CEO of Talon

Through the pages of “Why TALON?”, Baldwin outlines in great detail the machining, metals and coatings that are going into producing a weapon he proclaims the “Cadillac of tactical firearms.”

Time and again, Baldwin emphasizes that the craftsmanship, materials and parts that go into the TM4-A1 easily surpass standards the U.S. military sets for its M4 and M16 weapon systems.

It’s all overkill but it is intentional overkill, he says.

Distilled to its simplest terms, he adds, the TALON product pledges two traits: Reliability and durability.

“Law enforcement will gravitate to this in droves,” Baldwin says. “We’ll quadruple the service life because it is going to be so much more durable.”

The buyer – whether a civilian, a law enforcement officer or a special operations warrior – “is going to be that person who is going to bear down on this hard,” Baldwin adds.

And in those instances, “You’re going to want the best,” he says.

The company plans to keep production levels low, say, around 10 rifles a day, at the start and ramp up from there once logistics and production issues smooth out. A workforce of around 50 people is expected when full production begins.

TALON intends to use the TM4-A1 as a springboard for production of a premium tactical shotgun and a handgun made in Colt Manufacturing’s famed 1911 style.

But everything first hinges on TALON’s TM4-A1 living up to its billing.

Leaving the Law

PrintAfter 20 years in the military as an active duty and National Guard and reserve member, Baldwin completed law school at Mississippi College. From there, he settled in at Jackson’s Baker Donelson for a career in commercial law.

Last spring a group of investors hired him to do the legal work required for establishing a firearms manufacturing company in Mississippi.

At a final meeting last April, the investors told Baldwin they wanted to move forward with the manufacturing plans. They also told Baldwin they wanted him to run the operation.

“I was very excited to receive” the offer, he says. “How many times do you get a chance to head up a multi-million-dollar operation?”

And in a field you love, he adds.

The first question the start-up company addressed was the market.

“One group wanted to build AR-15s for the commercial market… the same one being built by some hundred other companies out there,” he says.

At the time, AR-15s were flying off the shelves of retailers around the country and backorders were growing lengthy as the White House pledged new firearms restrictions.

Baldwin correctly figured the buying frenzy would pass, just as had happened in cycles over the last couple decades.

The TM4-A1 would be built, TALON’s leaders decided.

What lay ahead for Baldwin was a summer of persuading metal suppliers, engineers, machinists and others to provide the quality materials and work the weapon would require. “Nobody wanted to do anything different, especially the metal folks,” Baldwin says.

Finally he found the right people, he says, mostly “a bunch of old military guys.”

For quality control purposes, he says, each part will be made in the United States.

These “right people” are scattered around the country producing the various parts that will go into the TM4-A1. After the holidays they’ll be sending their work to Ridgeland where a crew of about 10 assemblers will put everything together, multi-tasking as they rotate through work stations until assembly is completed.

A fortified trailer will be set up behind the warehouse to serve as a test-fire range. “We’re going to take every single weapon and put it through a 10-round firing phase,” Baldwin says.

Though the TM4-A1’s buying segment will be narrow, marketing of the rifle will cover mediums from print to Internet to television, according to Baldwin, who says he expects to get write-ups in the various firearms magazines and is in talks for sponsorships on cable’s outdoors channels.

Yet to be decided is whether the TM4-A1 will be sold through a network of distributors or direct to retailers, Baldwin says, and adds a manufacturer’s rep is also under consideration.

TALON is leasing the 12,000 square feet of office and warehouse space at Highland Colony Business Park. Its permanent home will be elsewhere, however.

Baldwin says the company envisions a campus-like setting on anywhere from 30 to 100 acres where all of the machining and assembly will occur and potential buyers, both commercial and institutional, will test fire and train on various firing ranges.

So far, a suitably isolated site has not been found. Baldwin says his hope is that he can locate one somewhere in Central Mississippi.

Meanwhile, he answers without hesitation the question CEOs frequently get: What’s keeps you up at night?

“Are you kidding? Start-ups are always high-risk…. This is where you have to plan everything under the sun.”

 

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