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BiS Small business of the year: Blue Force Gear

Subheadline: 
Pooler company leads way for America’s military heroes

Always better.

That’s the trademark of Blue Force Gear, a Pooler-based military gear manufacturer, and it rings true not only in their products but also in customer service and daily operations.

What started in 2004 in a bonus room with a sewing machine and five employees has grown into a thriving company with 36 employees and 5,600 square feet. And more expansion is on the horizon, according to founder and Savannah native Ashley Burnsed, whose passion for military gear started long before the company began.

“Since adolescence I’ve had an interest in guns and military stuff. I was a Boy Scout, and I always liked all of those the outdoorsy things,” he said.

After working on a project with a friend in the industry, Burnsed said, he realized he could take his passion and interest further.

“I realized that this passion and interest I’d had my whole life — because I’d always tinkered as a hobbyist — that I could be successful at that... What I’m doing today is something I’ve wanted to do my whole life.”

In 2006 Burnsed quit his job as a construction contract manager to focus full time on Blue Force Gear.

This spring the company will move to a nearby 27,000-square-foot building, which will feature a retail store and will allow them to triple their work force over the next five years. They’ll also be able to provide training classes and increase their manufacturing capabilities.

“We keep a fairly low profile here... So over in the new building we’ll have a place for folks to actually touch the brand, and we’ll be able to give a glimpse of who our real customers are,” he said.

“A lot of folks don’t know the ‘whys’ behind they way we build gear or the design choices we make, so in that new headquarters we’ll have a store where they can come in and get a little more of our story.”

An early focus of the company was weapon slings, many of which were sewn by Burnsed on his sewing machine affectionately dubbed “Old Betsy.” Today, slings remain an important aspect of the product and most are sewn in-house, but the product line now includes various pouches, chest rigs, trauma kits and sling hardware.

What makes it stand apart from other military gear is the state-of-the-art material, ULTRAcomp.

The high performance laminate is custom built to the company’s standards and is much lighter than the standard nylon used to make competing gear and equipment while still exceeding the military standard air-textured nylon in tear and abrasion resistance.

“It’s stuff that only carries other stuff, so if you could get away with that being feather weight, you would... If you didn’t have to have those pounds and pounds of nylon, you wouldn’t, so that’s what we attacked,” he said of the various pouches and packs carried by soldiers.

All military pouches feature MOLLE (Modular Lightweight Load—carrying Equipment) style attachments on the back, which allow the user to weave the pouch onto a vest, and feature heavy stitching and plastic stiffeners.

The most common MOLLE attachment backing consists of 27 parts and weighs about 84 grams or three ounces, but Blue Force Gear brought both of those numbers down with their patented Helium Whisper technology, which uses only six parts and reduces the weight from 84 grams to 44 grams thus creating their MOLLEminus load carriage platform for pouches.

Burnsed said that means less weight, minus the aggravation of traditional packs.

“We looked at it and could achieve the same modular pattern with our MOLLEminus by just cutting holes. It still has a grid, but I didn’t have to sew all the webbing, so I don’t have double layers of fabric,” he said of the final product that takes three to five pounds off a solider’s total gear weight depending on the number of pouches they’re carrying.

All of the company’s products are made in America with American materials, the term, Blue Force is commonly used to identify friendly forces, or as Burned puts it, the good guys, but the company’s reach spans beyond the U.S. with dealers across Europe, Asia, Australia, New Zealand and Canada.

If you can think of an American ally, Burnsed said, chances are they probably have Blue Force Gear.

“In essence, Blue Force Gear, gear for the good guys. We’re broadening our sense of the Blue Force to say in today’s world almost any one that is on the side of freedom and liberty can be part of the Blue Force,” he said.

“Always Better is not a state of being. It’s aspirational and what we aspire to be. We want to be Always Better five minutes from now and be better than we are now in the future and that’s inspired by the customers we serve because that’s their mind set... And that’s why we have the best special operations forces on earth and that mind set influences and inspires the whole team at Blue Force Gear.”

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ABOUT THE SERIES

As 2015 comes to a close, the Savannah Morning News, Business in Savannah and savannahnow.com continue the tradition of profiling companies and organizations that made major contributions to the local business environment during the past year.

The Business in Savannah staff chose the honorees from a list of nominees submitted by local business and community members, utilizing broad criteria — from growth and success to philanthropy and community involvement.

Thursday: Newcomer of the year

Friday: Manufacturer of the year

Saturday: Business advocate of the year

Sunday: Entrepreneurial business of the year

Monday: Retail business of the year

Today: Small business of the year

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