EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA


September 9, 2012

Going ballistic

US body armor business grows even in recession


American Body Armor was sold in 1985 and eventually became part of BAE Systems. The next year, Armellino moved to California and launched U.S. Armor with one employee in a 4,000-square-foot space in a strip mall.

“It’s what I knew,” he said. “I realized that what I knew about the business was different from everybody else.”

The early days were difficult.

“We sold during the daytime and cut the material at night. I sewed when I had to also,” Armellino said. “The dealers and distributors really didn’t want to work with me because they already had relationships with other manufacturers, including my father’s old company.”

To survive, Armellino went directly to the public safety agencies. Often the pitches went like this: “Give me the guy that hates wearing body armor. Let me make a vest for him. We’ll knock it out in like a week,” Armellino said.

“I’d get it back to them, show their guys how to wear it,” he said. “I would tell them, ‘Look, even if you don’t buy my product, you really need to educate your people. This is how to wear your body armor properly.’”

It worked. In an era of U.S. military withdrawals, many competitors are scrambling even harder for business, Armellino said, and the direct approach still resonates. So, too, does the company’s mantra: that every vest should fit as well as a tailored dress suit.

Company sales have continued to range between $8 million and $12 million, and did so even during the recession. That’s partly because international sales are increasing, the Armellinos said. U.S. Armor has picked up more than 2,800 new customers in the last five years, which has more than made up for losses.

The vests come in hundreds of variations of basic sizes _ often customized for the wearer _ and cost from $500 for a concealable vest to just under $3,000 for a fully outfitted, heavy-duty tactical vest.

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