Missouri Business

Aiming High

Missouri firearm manufacturing startup earns growing national profile

From the inception of Black Rain Ordnance Inc., company president Justin Harvel vowed to make only firearms he would be proud to personally own and operate.

“Our mission is to produce the highest-quality products out of the highest-quality materials, with the best customer service,” said Harvel.

Harvel is continuing a multiple-generation history in the firearms industry.

“My grandfather was always a big gun trader around the area and, in fact, hosted the very first gun show in our hometown of Neosho, Missouri, back in the late ’50s,” he said.

Harvel’s father started a shop selling firearms in 1988, and Harvel worked as a manager there for several years. When his father retired, he took over the business in 2004. In 2009 Harvel incorporated Black Rain and started branching out into manufacturing with a specialization in sporting rifles.

“I knew that we as a company could not jump on the market and be the cheapest. If that was the case, there was no need trying to compete against all of the big corporate American gun companies with bottomless pockets because we would have been eaten alive,” said Harvel. “What we had to do was to produce precision quality craftsmanship with a little flash.”

Each Black Rain product is an authentic American creation, made by hand with metal produced in the U.S. It’s an intricate process handled by skilled team members who specialize in different aspects of production.

“Although I have never done it, I imagine it being a lot like trying to choreograph a Broadway show. There are so many people involved and everyone is so important,” Harvel said of the production system.

Even the tiniest detail amiss can cause a full halt until the issue is resolved.

“Something as small as a roll pin or owner’s manual throws a cog in the wheel where the whole production screeches to a stop,” said Harvel.

The company’s high goals for customer service include the commitment that callers always speak with a real person, not a computer, Harvel said. And Black Rain’s repair service is an especially well-greased process. When a product is sent in for repair, it is fixed by the company’s experts and shipped back the same day.

“We receive packages in the morning and ship packages out in the evening,” Harvel said. “I don’t know of any other firearms manufacturer in the industry that will promise service like that.”

Black Rain’s dedication to making superior products and ensuring customer satisfaction has paid off.

“We have just experienced an explosion of growth since creation. We are very fortunate to be able to grow at such a rapid rate. I’ve always said that we have been very lucky, but then again, you don’t get lucky sitting on the couch,” Harvel said.

Black Rain recently opened a second building between Neosho and Joplin.

“With the purchase of this new 25,000-square-foot location, we are able to be self-sufficient in one location as a manufacturer but also offer a retail storefront and outdoor range for the public to see firsthand what we do,” said Harvel.

Black Rain also sells via their website and at trade shows and conventions. But a majority of sales come through wholesale and distribution to over 10,000 independent stores, Harvel said.

“You know, it wasn’t an easy road as I look back. There are a lot of pitfalls and a lot of competition,” he said. “The hard part was creating the name brand that people knew, trusted and respected. We now sit on the shelf at Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s right next to names such as Smith & Wesson, Colt and Remington. These are 150-plus-year-old companies that have already won over a fan base, where we were starting from scratch.”

Black Rain currently maintains about 40 employees. Harvel said the company hires many veterans as well as current military members and individuals with law enforcement backgrounds.

“Starting out, we were small and it was easy to turn to friends and family for help. But the bigger we grow as a company and the more we expect and demand, the more difficult it becomes,” said Harvel. “We will typically find motivated people with a good skill set and then train them specifically for our needed positions.”

Handling all the regulations involved is a full-time job in itself. One Black Rain employee’s sole responsibility is to manage manufacturing reports, licenses and new regulations as well as to work with the numerous local, state and federal agencies involved.

“The firearms industry in general is obviously very heavily regulated, as one might expect, but it multiplies when you cross over from being a dealer in firearms to a manufacturer of firearms. It makes things incredibly more intense and difficult,” Harvel said.

The current volatile political climate regarding firearms adds another layer to an already complex business.

Photos courtesy of Black Rain

“I am concerned with the way guns are thought of in today’s society. Kids are oftentimes not being raised around guns, nor are they being taught safe and responsible handling of them,” said Harvel. “What they see is what they know, whether it be violence on the television and movies or video games.”

However, he added, he sees Black Rain customers passing along safe handling practices to the next generation.

“During deer season I always get sent hundreds of pictures from hunters that bagged their buck with a Black Rain rifle. I see parents teaching their kids the proper way to use a firearm just like my dad did,” Harvel said.