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Meet Eric Montgomery of Bullets2Bandages in Mission Gorge

Today we’d like to introduce you to Eric Montgomery.

So, before we jump into specific questions about the business, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
We got started in early 2011 when our co-founders, Erik Rivera and Cole Evans, had just gotten out of the Navy and were in the process of figuring out what they wanted to do next. They started selling dog tag necklaces and bracelets made from spent ammunition casings as part of what they thought would be a one-off fundraising effort for the Travis Manion Foundation, a charity founded by the parents of one of our USNA classmates who was killed in Iraq. In our first year of existence we donated at least 15% of our profits to veteran charities, and that’s a trend we’ve continued for each year we’ve been in operation.

After a few months Erik and Cole realized that there was enough interest in our products to sustain a business beyond those initial fundraising efforts and they soon expanded into a few other product lines made from spent ammunition while forming partnerships with a handful of other veteran charities. Two of those new products were our bottle openers made from once-fired .50 caliber and 7.62mm brass casings — they quickly became our most popular products and have remained so to this day.

I was a Marine from 2004-11 and started up at business school shortly after Erik and Cole started the company, and I ended up back in San Diego to help them grow the business for my summer internship following my first year of school then I returned on a full-time basis after graduating in 2013.

At that time, we were focused primarily on the military/veteran audience for our branding and marketing efforts, gradually increasing our reach within the veteran charity space while also adding officially licensed products for each military branch to our lineup. However, we’ve since found more success by shifting to the broader market for personalized gifts — and more specifically, the groomsman gift market. The unique nature of our products and our ability to do customization quickly and at reasonable prices — and our ability to advertise effectively to our target audience — has helped us gain a solid foothold within that market.

Within the last three years Erik and Cole have both moved on to other primary jobs — they’re still involved in ownership-type decisions and in some of our broader marketing strategies, but I’m currently running the company on a day to day basis.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
Definitely hasn’t been smooth — we’ve faced some expensive legal disputes over IP-related matters, we’ve struggled with unreliable suppliers and manufacturers, we’ve lost a few major wholesale customers, we’ve had a few instances where our site traffic and sales plummeted almost overnight due to SEO factors or difficulties with our Facebook or Google ad accounts, and probably a dozen other obstacles that I’ve ever forgotten about or blocked out of my memory.

Bullets2Bandages – what should we know? What do you guys do best? What sets you apart from the competition?
We’re pretty proud to be 100% veteran-owned and to have maintained partnerships with a dozen or so veteran charities, a handful of which we’ve worked with for 5+ years. As I mentioned earlier we’ve donated at least 15% of our annual profits to those charities for each of our 6 years in business, and in a few of those years our donations exceeded 50% of our profits. It’s been great to see the work those organizations have been able to do with the money that we (and others) have raised on their behalf — most of our partners are on the smaller side, so funds they raise will have a direct impact on the lives of people who can really use the assistance. And the groups we’ve worked with are truly focused on the right things in terms of their missions: no one is getting rich off of them.

In terms of our products, I think we offer a handful of really cool products that are great fits for any occasion that calls for a unique personalized gift. Additionally, our website features a platform for customization that you won’t see with anyone else who sells similar products — it does a great job of ensuring that customers are able to get the layout, font, and sizing for their custom engraving exactly how they want it to look.

We stock officially licensed products for the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, USNA, West Point, and VMI, and offer free shipping on all orders in the USA. Our turnaround time on custom orders is extremely fast — generally 2-3 business days plus shipping, which comes in handy for customers who contact us in a panic because their wedding is 6 days away and they’ve forgotten to get gifts for their groomsmen.

We’re proud of the fact that (with 3 or 4 exceptions) our products are 100% made and sourced in the USA and a majority of our manufacturing processes occur within about 10 miles of our office. We’re pretty obsessive about providing great customer service and great quality products, and about making things right with our customers when we fall short. If our products get damaged during shipping or otherwise don’t meet a customer’s expectations we generally ship replacements with no questions asked, and I personally follow up with every customer who gives us anything less than a 4 or 5-star review to see what the issue was.

What is “success” or “successful” for you?
I went to business school thinking that I wanted to be a management consultant for a firm like McKinsey or Bain, make a lot of money doing that, then take a C-level position at a Fortune 500 type company. Pretty shortly into my MBA studies I learned that (a) I wasn’t anywhere near as smart as my classmates who would go on to do those kinds of jobs and (b) that kind of life didn’t really appeal to me.

I wasn’t interested in devoting 80-100 hours a week to a bureaucracy, I didn’t want to have 7 bosses, I couldn’t see myself having to wear a suit every day while poring over spreadsheets and PowerPoint decks in an office, and I didn’t want to have to travel Monday through Thursday every week advising clients on strategies that I’d never get to actually implement or execute.

I joined Bullets2Bandages because I wanted to work in a small company with people I liked being around and where I could see a nearly linear relationship between my efforts and the company’s bottom line — but where we were also doing socially conscious work in an area that means a lot to me. And getting to move back to San Diego following two years of business school on the east coast wasn’t a bad perk either.

With us being as small as we are I end up having my hands in just about every aspect of our company’s operations on a daily and weekly basis so I don’t run much of a risk of getting bored from doing the same thing all the time.

I’ve got freedom to try pretty much any angle I want in pursuit of growing our company, and if it fails I’ve got no one to blame but myself.

Success for me is a company that grows a little bit more every year and allows everyone who’s along for the ride to keep learning and doing work they enjoy, while making enough extra money to keep things on the right track from a quality of life perspective.

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