By: Dane Deroshia
NM3 has the distinct honor of being the first local media group to present an inside look at Armor Express’s superior ballistic laboratory, production operation, and innovative marketing strategy.
You probably can’t double somersault front flip through a one and a half story window while pursuing a criminal. It’s okay, most of us can’t. If you did have ninja-like abilities wouldn’t it be ten times cooler if your outfit could stop bullets!?
Nestled in the little Northern Michigan town of Central Lake is the headquarters of a company whose mission is to protect those who protect us. Leaders in the body armor industry, Armor Express not only supplies superior protection to our nation’s military and law enforcement, but they also provide jobs to numerous people from Central Lake who depend on them for employment.
CEO Matt Davis credits his father Richard Davis as the inspiration for Armor Express. Considered to be the godfather of body armor, Richard Davis founded Second Chance Body Armor in the 1970′s. A former U.S. Marine, Davis was the first person to use Kevlar as body armor, yet in 1998 he introduced a lightweight alternative material called Zylon into his bullet-resistant vests. In 2005 the NIJ (National Institute of Justice) determined that Zylon vests did not meet their standards and were possibly defective. The result was a major product recall that eventually landed Second Chance into Chapter Eleven bankruptcy.
As the assets of Second Chance were sold, Matt Davis saw the opportunity to start a new company that embodied the same values and business practices that his father had established so many years ago, while improving upon its products. Furthering his motivation to start a new company was the decimation of employment to the town of Central Lake from the closure of Second Chance.
In May of 2005, Matt Davis launched Armor Express with the intention of introducing the company onto the market in September of 2005 at the IACP (International Association of Chiefs of Police) in Miami, Florida. In four months, Matt and his small team developed a corporate identity, products, and created a catalog which was revealed to the industry as a statement of existence. They ended up selling twenty vests at that trade show and in turn solidifying their place in the market.
Richard Davis was known for his dramatic presentations during sales pitches. He would strap on one of his vests and place a phone book underneath. He would point a handgun towards his abdomen and fire. The phone book was only used to absorb excess impact for Richard has shot himself over two hundred times to this day. Feeling like there’s a reputation to live up to, Matt Davis is known to also demonstrate his product the same way, yet he still has a lot of catching up to do. To see this demonstration scan the QR Code or type in “Armor Express” in YouTube’s search engine.
Before they designed their facility, company technicians visited numerous ballistic research labs and ranges throughout the country. “We view the new Tech Center as the crown jewel of the company,” explained Matt. The new 80 foot shooting range accommodates ballistic testing ranging from .22 caliber to .30-06 armor-piercing bullets. It’s constructed with oversized concrete blocks and a three-layered ceiling composed of bullet resistant steel. A protective glass viewing window affords ballisticians optimal oversight, while a custom HVAC system with HEPA filters and laminar air flow provides a very clean and safe working environment. “This allows us to develop products and validate vest design with R&D testing in-house, and under very controlled scientific conditions, thus ensuring they will meet NIJ requirements before we send them for certification. This now gives us the most state-of-the-art lab in the ballistics testing industry.”
With a full range of bullet resistant products, Armor Express proudly released their Lighthawk XT. It is credited as being the most versatile full-coverage “Extended Tactical” vest in the industry. Product Designer Charlie Raymond is an industrial designer who specializes in human factors and anthropomorphics. Charlie described the vest and its features to us during our visit. “It’s geared for mobility. It allows you to function normally, unlike other tactical vests that are big and bulky and lock you in place. It allows you to easily get in and out of your car, it allows you to shoot correctly, it allows you to eat your lunch. It is aggressively cut for mobility all while adequately protecting. Another factor that sets this vest apart is its scalability. There are many components to the vest that you can either add to or take away that scale it bigger or smaller. This is key for different scenarios that can be encountered in the field.”
Over the summer, Armor Express went into production of an innovative marketing strategy that would visually demonstrate the ergonomics (efficiency in specific environments), scalability, interoperability, and functionality of their innovative Lighthawk XT, a tactical level 3A armor vest. Art Director and Marketing Coordinator Adam Spinniken came up with the idea of creating a promotional short film using NMMATF (Northern Michigan Mutual Aid Task Force) along with Waters Edge Free Running Parkour athletes equipped with the Lighthawk XT to demonstrate an over-dramatized yet purposely driven police scenario.
As the film’s director, Spinniken researched numerous video production companies from around the region before finally choosing one. Local to Northern Michigan and Grand Rapids, John Paul Morris of Eleven35 Production was contracted to produce the film. It was shot in high-definition throughout two locations, an NMMATF practice house and The Village at Grand Traverse Commons (Traverse City State Hospital). The NMMATF arrive in SWAT vehicles at what looks to be an abandoned house. A raid takes down the bad guys inside, only to discover that one got away. The chase begins.
Parkour expert Levi Meeuwenberg, best known for his appearances on Ninja Warrior, along with Benjamin Cichowski, and Ryen Keenan were cast as the heroes and chase after the villain Joey Breithaupt. These skilled athletes, equipped with the Lighthawk XT, flew through each scene like police ninjas. As they jump off roofs and over obstacles while flipping through the air, you forget you are watching a film about the functional wearability of Armor Express body armor and not a major action movie. The action was purposely exaggerated to show the extreme conditions these vests can handle and accommodate.
Because video is a major force in the marketing industry, this idea has immense potential as a sales tool. Armor Express is planning on debuting the film in January at Shot Show in Las Vegas. It will be made available for public viewing online after the show. Until then scan the QR code for a sneak peek of Armor Express’s film. For more information visit www.ArmorExpress.com
“Our MISSION is to SAVE LIVES by providing superior quality body armor with unparalleled protection, comfort, wearability and service.” -Matt Davis, President/CEO