first published on December 14, 2015 by Tim
Some people believe that Kel-Tec designs some of the most forward thinking firearms in the U.S., and I would be inclined to agree with them. Firearms like the Sub-2000, KSG, CMR, RFB and the new RDB step outside of the box in my opinion and open doors previously unopened. Because their designs are so intriguing to consumers it seems as though it takes months, if not years, before their most recent designs show up on the shelves of local stores. If you desire one of their latest creations, and patience isn’t one of your virtues, you’re often times relegated to paying scalpers prices on sites like GunBroker to get your Kel-Tec wonder-gun fix.
The inability for many to buy one of Kel-Tec’s latest creations has spurred conversions around the internet about their guns being “unicorns”. The term is internet vernacular for products that are exceedingly rare. In these digital fireside conversations, many speculate that Kel-Tec is incapable of producing their guns in sufficient quantity to satisfy a hungry consumer base. They fear the company has extremely limited production capacity and thus comes up with really cool designs they can’t mass produce. Oddly enough, I rarely hear people speculate that perhaps Kel-Tec is producing their guns in considerable volume and it’s the insatiable appetite of consumers that’s causing the lack of inventory on dealers shelves.
So which is it? Is Kel-Tec incapable of high mass production or is the market head-over-heals crazy for their products?
First, let’s take a look at another recently introduced firearm that was popular beyond expectations — the IWI Tavor. In the first year the Tavor was on the market IWI sold some 30,000 units which exceeded their own expectations. 30,000 guns sold is considered by most in the industry to be a very good year for that particular gun / company. So, how does Kel-Tec’s production stack-up?
To find out what Kel-Tec’s production capabilities were, I swung by their operations while on vacation in Florida and spent a few hours with Chad Enos (cover photo). Chad has become the online face of Kel-Tec over the last few years. You’ve probably seen him on Nutnfancy’s YouTube channel as well as others. He personally gave me a tour where I got a peek behind the scenes.
I will say, Kel-Tec’s sprawling Florida campus in Cocoa Beach is far bigger than I expected. There are several buildings, some connected and others not, that span a considerable area. I’m told that they’re in a constant state of expansion and are seemingly always buying or building new facilities in their chunk of tropical paradise.
I saw buildings full of modern CNC machines running on 24 hour cycles in three shifts churning out parts for all of their creations. When I say they’re manufacturing parts, I mean they manufacture most every part on their guns including the barrels. The only parts they don’t produce in house are the polymer components, screws and Mec-Gar magazines. Even more importantly to many U.S. gun buyers, every part is made in the USA with the exception of the Mec-Gar mags.
I witnessed building after building full of employees dutifully making and assembling parts, test firing, boxing and shipping guns. This lead me to ask the question, “How many guns do you make a month?”
The answer wasn’t surprising, “That depends on which model you’re talking about.” Right, I knew that. I refined my question, “How many KSG’s do you produce a month?” The answer was surprising, “Around 1,000 per week”.
If you take out 3 weeks for vacation and various holidays, that’s 49,000 KSG’s produced annually. I’m told that for all high-demand firearms such as the KSG, Sub-2000, PMR, etc. the production numbers are roughly the same ranging between 600-1000 units produced per week. For other products that aren’t in a constant state of high demand they scale the production back to meet market needs.
Looking around their shop and watching the production, I would say that such production numbers are indeed possible.
Despite being a good sized company, they remain nimble for a number of reasons that I could identify. First, I learned that all designs and subsequent decisions come from within Kel-Tec. George, the owner and lead engineer, buys everything out of pocket as the company grows. There isn’t a board of directors nor banks holding debt to hobble them, the company is a privately owned entity that drives its own destiny. I also learned that George pays for his employees healthcare and he’s endeared himself to the folks that work for him. I would say that based on my casual conversations with several employees they are quite happy to work for Kel-Tec. When employees are happy, things tend to move more quickly.
All of this is impressive when you consider that Kel-Tec is a relative newcomer to the firearms manufacturing scene (20 years old) and in that short time they’ve carved out a niche in the market with their diverse offering of 18 different firearms ranging from affordable pocket pistols to rifles and shotguns.
One more tid-bit of info I found to be interesting is that every firearm is test fired with a mixture of ammo. They purposely mix the test ammo up to make sure the guns work with a variety of commercially available loads. Most models are proof tested during QC, something that’s common for military contractors and overseas manufacturers but not something I’ve seen a whole lot of here in the U.S. The models that aren’t proof tested are those which proof loads aren’t commonly available (think .380 ACP, 22LR and .22 Mag).
So, there you have it. Kel-Tec isn’t producing a handful of guns a year, they’re cranking out a substantial volume. They’re not unicorns because Kel-Tec is trickling them out, they’re unicorns because people want them and buy them as fast as they hit the shelves.