Newfound success teams up with desire to help hometown, vets
Sometimes the simplest ideas can be the best.
For Moran native Jeremiah Cottle, fighting his way back from a brain injury and being able to have a little fun in the process has turned into more than he could have ever dreamed possible.
Cottle, a retired Air Force veteran who came back home to Moran in 2005 to recover from a pair of surgeries to repair a brain injury suffered while in the military, finds himself at the helm of a fast growing company that is having a substantial economic impact on his hometown of about 250 residents.
The 34-year-old Moran graduate is president of Slide Fire Solutions Inc., a company that produces a replacement or retrofit stock for certain military type rifles allowing semi-automatic weapons to fire more rapidly.
Launching the product just a year ago on the internet from an office in his home, the company has experienced phenomenal growth requiring the construction of a 22,000 square-foot building along with moving in at least a dozen modular buildings to provide office and storage space, as well as homes for employees.
The company currently employs 26 full-time workers and is providing an economic boom for the Moran community.
“We were expecting to sell 500 to 1,000 units the first year, but we sold that many in the first week,” said Cottle. “We have exceeded over 35,000 units in the first 11 months, which are sold through a dealer network of about 500 retailers.”
Having met his first-year sales expectations in the first week of operation during December of 2010, Cottle moved quickly to keep up with the tremendous response by the marketplace.
“I saw immediately that I needed help, so I employed my grandparents and my wife to help me. We had boxes stacked to the ceiling in our bedroom.”
Cottle and his wife Lora, who is vice-president of the company, did get to reclaim their bedroom space after the operation was moved into a 14×30-foot portable building that had served as a kennel.
“We literally made our first million in a dog house,” Cottle said.
With sales exceeding $10 million in the first year, Cottle says the sky is the limit.
The operation moved from a collection of portable buildings into the new 22,000 square-foot metal building in November, which now houses the sales and customer service department, assembly, shipping and storage.
Another smaller structure located about 50 yards behind the main building houses research and development where new products are designed and prototypes are constructed for testing.
While sales during the first year have all revolved around a replacement stock for the AR-15 type rifle, the standard issue of the U.S. military, similar retrofits for other military style weapons are on the drawing board. Slide Fire brought a comparable product to market this month for the Soviet built AK-47, which is also popular with recreational weapons enthusiasts.
“This year was all based on one product for one type of gun, but we now are working on six more that we will be able to provide to our dealers over the next 18 months.”
Plans are already in motion to double the size of the new building as the product line is expanded.
All About Fun
Cottle says that the Slide Fire product is all about recreation and having fun.
“A friend and I were out shooting one day and we weren’t able to fire as fast as we wanted. We couldn’t afford what we wanted – a fully automatic rifle – so I started to think about how I could make something that would work and be affordable.”
Cottle explained that a semi-automatic AR-15 rifle is priced between $800 and $1,200, while a fully automatic model can run $15,000 or more.
“Most people think that a civilian can’t own an automatic rifle, but they can if they have the money and if they go through all the paperwork,” he explained.
Cottle’s product, which has a patent pending, does not reclassify a weapon as automatic. In fact, each of the plastic stocks includes a copy of a letter from the ATF stating that the product is legal.
“Our product allows people (recreational shooters) to have fun at a price that they can afford.”
The replacement stock, also know as a bump stock, retails through dealers for $349.95.
“I toyed around with the idea of a sling type stock for a couple of months, and then one night the idea just popped into my head,” said Cottle. “I went out into the shop and made the first prototype in about two hours out of a piece of lumber and some metal. I tested it the next day and knew I had something.”
Cottle refined his design a couple of times before taking a leap of faith to hire a patent attorney and sink $15,000 of his life savings into the idea.
“Six months later we had to get a mold built for production, which was another $75,000. It was a little scary.”
In all, Cottle sank $120,000 of savings and retirement to bring the product to market.
Once the mold was made, production of the parts could be ordered through a fabricator, initially in Texas, but now in Ohio because of the large number of orders. All assembly, quality control, and shipping of the conversion kits is completed in Moran.
Slide Fire Solutions officially launched its sales on the internet on Dec. 15, 2010, and the Cottles attended industry gun shows to sell the product to retailers.
“One of the things that I am most proud of is what our product is doing for the ‘mom and pop’ type businesses,” he said. “We structured in a fixed profit margin, which protects the dealers’ investment in our product. And we only sell to dealers with actual store fronts, not just internet sales.”
Cottle had to overcome finding and retaining employees in a town as small as Moran.
“There wasn’t any available housing, so we just had to bring in our own.”
To date, the company has moved in eight modular homes, each over 2,000 square feet, and the company is in the process of developing a residential compound for employees who need housing.
“I am very proud that we provide full medical, dental and even LASIK eye surgery for employees who need it.”
The former office building located behind Cottle’s home is now being converted into a school building. A retired teacher’s aide has been hired to tutor employees’ children after school.
Cottle has hired a number of area residents, including former ag teacher Grant Robinson, retired game warden Brian Huckabay, neighbor Tommy Brooks, and his grandparents, Buster and Julie Cottle. Several younger Moran residents have also found employment at what is now the biggest employer in town, along with several of Cottle’s former military buddies.
“We are finding really good people, but our biggest challenge has been the lack of housing.”
In addition to be what Cottle has been able to provide for his employees, he is also happy to be helping his community.
Raised by his grandparents, Jeremiah is a 1991 graduate of Moran High School. He returned to Moran in 2005 to begin the process of rehabilitating after his head injury and surgeries.
“It was a difficult recovery the first five years. I wanted to do it at home in Moran, and I wanted to make sure someone was here for my grandparents.”
Now Cottle is able to give back to the community that rallied around him when he needed them.
The first thing that he pointed to was being able to remove Moran’s post office off the closure list, at least for the time being. Orders shipped through the post office turned around its numbers enough to stave out closure this year.
“We needed to be able to get fiber optic cable out here and we negotiated with a company that will provide it, which will mean that the entire community will be able to get it too.”
Slide Fire Solutions is located on the Cottle family farm about two miles east of Moran on FM 2408 next to the Moran Cemetery.
A couple of hundred yards to the north stands a new cell tower erected by AT&T, also negotiated by the company due to their cell phone usage. Prior to the tower being built there was little cell service in the Moran area.
The presence of the new business is also having a ripple effect on other businesses, such as Pizza Mark which delivers lunch each work day for employees.
“This has all been an answer to prayer for a lot of people,” said Cottle. “This is beyond a Cinderella story. If you don’t believe in miracles, drop by and we’ll talk.”
“We have brought out several patients and their families from Brooks Army Medical in San Antonio who are recovering from injuries, especially brain injuries.”
Cottle and his wife have formed Heaven Hunting Escapes to provide a positive experience in a natural setting for vets and their families.
“We try to help anyone who is about to undergo the transition period when they leave the military after an injury,” said Lora. “We want to share what we have experienced and learned to make it easier for them.”
She said that the couple had a rough time finding the help they needed when first dealing with Cottle’s injury and recovery.
“We were basically homeless for over a year while we were waiting for the Veterans’ Administration to do something. We don’t want other people to have to go through what we did.”
Cottle said that he hopes soon to resume bringing vets and their families to the family farm for recuperative hunting trips since having to concentrate more on getting Slide Fire Solutions operational during the past year.
“We hope to even convert some of the modular homes into quarters for the vets who visit after we have employees build more permanent housing,” said Cottle. “Everything has been designed with disabled vets in mind and all facilities are handicapped accessible.”
Cottle said that going out to do some recreational shooting has been therapeutic for him.
“I love going out and shooting, and all of this came from that,” he concluded. “I just didn’t realize that so many other people would enjoy it too.”