In the late 1960s, a new physician named Phil Dater had a hobby of playing with machine guns. As most gun guys would, he became interested in suppressors. In his hometown of Albuquerque, NM he purchased a silenced .22 pistol from Military Armament Corporation. After about 500 rounds, he noticed there wasn’t much actual noise suppression anymore. A call to customer service led him to believe that nothing from the manufacturer would help fix it.
“It’s only meant to handle about 50 rounds a year for qualifications!” said the customer service team.
With an inquisitive mind, weekend shifts as a diagnostic radiologist, and access to the machine shop in the basement of the hospital, Dater began to develop his own suppressor. As a teenager, Dater had worked in machine shops in Wichita, Kansas so he was familiar with the Monarch lathe and Bridgeport milling machines at the hospital. Using that experience and a newly purchased Ruger pistol, Dater built his first silenced gun under the license of a friend who was a Class 2 manufacturer.
Fast forward a few years to 1976. Dater obtains his own manufacturer’s license and a lathe, commandeers some floor space in his garage and starts Automatic Weapons Company.
As business increased, Dater and his small crew moved from Albuquerque to northern New Mexico, and later to Boise, Idaho. Growing frustrated with Medicare regulations, Dater decided to pull the plug (so to speak) on practicing medicine in order to pursue his passion. In 1993 he started GEMTECH. The company that started in his garage grew from a few thousand dollars per year to a few hundred thousand, to now millions per year. Dr. Dater is rightly proud of his humble beginning that has, through dedication and hard work, become the leading silencer company in the world.
Dater’s fingerprints are seen throughout the world of suppressors to this day. In the 1980s, Dater performed quite a bit of machining with one of his customers, Lynn McWilliams. McWilliams went on to head up AWC Silencers in Texas.
“…And the fella that started Advanced Armament was one of our dealers,” says Dater. That ‘fella’ was Kevin Brittingham, who eventually sold AAC to Remington.
As GEMTECH continued to expand, Dater realized that the company needed a different level of leadership. Accordingly, GEMTECH hired Tom Collins as CEO. That was four years ago.
“The three of us who were owners really realized that we had exceeded our level of incompetence in managing a company,” Dater says with a smile and a chuckle. “We brought Tom in to help with growth, especially with his military contacts.”
Collins was a longtime member of the Army Special Forces. He was the man GEMTECH then needed to provide additional structure and guide them into a market expansion, especially in the international markets.
GEMTECH prides itself on having a deep-rooted history in the industry, roots bolstered by strategic partnerships with similarly longstanding companies. For example, they are the OEM for Arsenal Firearms Worldwide, a company that started in 1878.
“A partnership like this is like marrying a Porsche and a Ferrari,” says new CEO Ron Martinez. “Two good quality companies with great innovation moving on together. It’s wonderful.”
Passion for the history of suppressors is also evident in Dater’s conversations. Says Dater,
“Hiram Percy Maxim was true ADD. He was into everything, invented lots of things and was well known in multiple industries.”
As you may already know, it just so happens that Hiram Stevens Maxim (the elder) invented the Maxim machine gun, and his son Hiram Percy invented the ‘Maxim Silencer’, patented in 1908. In 1934 with the passage of the National Firearms Act came the introduction of suppressor regulation. Through World War II and beyond “there was very little civilian usage [of silencers]” due to the $200 transfer tax “…up until Nixon’s reign when it was equivalent to about seven ounces of gold.”
“In the early 70’s, Reid Knight was doing some work with the Navy SEALs in a little, almost small garage operation. Mickey Finn was doing R&D and selling designs…and a fellow named Jonathan Arthur Ciener in Florida was taking out little one inch ads in Popular Science…and he was the one that really promoted it in the civilian marketplace.“
It was clear that Dater has a storied past in this industry and has been a vital part of it every step of the way.
Dater, Collins, and Martinez all spoke to us at length about GEMTECH’s focus on the technical aspects of sound suppression and the lengths they go through to scientifically test and validate their products in order to protect their users.
“Facts and data and analytics – it’s what we do,” says Martinez.
Former CEO and now GEMTECH President Collins says, “One of the advantages we do have is that we have Dr. Dater with us. What he lends is all the technical pieces – everything from measuring sound, to understanding how sound affects the weapon, to how sound affects the shooter – because it’s really all about the shooter’s ear.”
“I believe that hearing protection is one of the most important aspects of suppressing weapons,” says Dater. “You can always put on earmuffs, but the ideal thing is to suppress it at the source.”
Martinez adds, ”I don’t think people realize at VA hospitals, the number one claim – they spend 1.8 billion dollars on these claims – the number one claim is hearing loss – and it can be prevented.”
Collins continues, “It’s a system. If you look at the weapon, and then you start throwing things on it – lights, lasers, suppressors – it becomes a system. Each one of those pieces affects that system, but the suppressor affects it the most. Without the testing from Dr. Dater, we would be blind as to what’s really going on inside that weapon. I feel like that gives us a leg up over everyone else”
With Collins’ deep military history, he wanted to make sure to focus on the civilian markets as well, stressing the fact that silencers are legal and can be owned. Over the course of several years, he realized there is no survival in one market alone. There was a need to excel in civilian, military, and international markets if GEMTECH was going to outlast their competitors. Says Collins,
“International business was a focus for me, along with military. What we’ve tried to do is basically grow the organization and put some foundational pieces in. I feel we’ve been very successful. We’ve been able to double the company since I’ve been here. I couldn’t have done it without Dr Dater’s help. If you look at the progression of the silencer and the silencer industry, if you don’t innovate, you’re done. And I think we’ve innovated and are continuing to innovate.“
Part of what struck us is GEMTECH’s constant dedication to growth. Not marketing lip-service about big, visionary plans, but meticulous, almost hyper-focus on expansion and more importantly, the execution of those plans.
Through strategic partnerships and projects with companies like Sig Sauer, GEMTECH was able to help develop next-generation suppressors. That technology was further developed with Caracal over the last 18 months and has been commercialized into the new Tracker offering for civilians. GEMTECH is determined to bring as much of this technology to folks on the civilian ranges as possible.
If you take all of the locations of McDonald’s, Burger King, and Starbucks combined, there are still more independent gun dealerships in the country.
“Every project that we’ve been working on,” says Collins, “whether in the military or internationally…can you move that to civilian usage, and does it make sense? We don’t like to spend R&D money more than once, and we don’t believe in hiding good product. We also knew we had to build on the commercial side. The best way to do that is to move to more distributors, but we didn’t want to leave our dealers behind. Our dealers have always been our core. We know how important they are. There is no plan to leave them behind.”
Martinez then drops a stat to underline the importance of dealers to GEMTECH. “If you take all of the locations of McDonald’s, Burger King, and Starbucks combined,” he says, “there are still more independent gun dealerships in the country than that. People don’t realize that.”
It’s that specific attention to markets that really garnered the attention of GEMTECH when looking for the next generation of leadership.
“This year,” Dater continues, “we wanted to grow more and we ran across Ron who brought an awful lot to the table, including a lot of manufacturing experience and marketing experience. These were capabilities we didn’t realize we didn’t have until Ron came along.”
Collins agrees. “As we grew the company we got to this level and all of us said we need a cash influx and we need this next level, and that’s when Ron came onboard.”
With the polished speech of a seasoned executive, Martinez’s resume reads like a playbook for corporate growth and personal perfection. Years of rocket-like ascension through the ranks at Milliken & Co. in textile and chemical manufacturing helped Martinez refine his expertise in “just in time” manufacturing, Six Sigma, and lean management. Moving into the banking industry, Martinez spent several years at Bank of America running regional and national business units overseeing thousands of employees. Prior to joining GEMTECH, he ran Crossfire Elite, a maker of shooting gear and holsters sold in national retail chains. It was through these channels that Martinez met Tom Collins.
“[GEMTECH] has been the professional’s choice for decades,” says Martinez, with obvious pride in his voice. “We emphasize quality products with ISO 9001 practices.” With a strict manufacturing background behind him, and an obvious expertise in the practices of Sun Tzu, Martinez seems to be exactly the right person to help bring GEMTECH exactly where they need to be.
It was interesting how the three company leads spoke and worked in a harmony during our discussion, feeding off each other, completing each others’ sentences; their shared passion for their company shines through.
It’s a formidable gestalt.
They continued to talk about how some of their associates and employees had been with GEMTECH for decades, emphasizing the positive work environment and the collective pride that everyone in the company’s products.
Our obvious question was whether or not the addition of Martinez would signal the symbolic end of Tom Collins. “You would think that, but it is entirely different,” Collins clarified. “The team is so excited to have Ron on board. I’m an old guy but I can still be taught new tricks. Ron brings the motivation, he brings the knowledge.”
“A competitor said ‘any monkey can shove washers into a piece of pipe and call it a silencer, but it doesn’t work that well’,” Dater laughs.
Closing out the interview, Martinez said, “We are the world’s leading silencer company. People need to understand the history, how we got there, the innovation we have, and the quality we have. Watch out for the future. It’s very exciting.”
If this year’s Tracker silencer is any indication, there are certainly exciting things ahead for GEMTECH. We’ll be watching.
Check out the Gemtech website.
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