Ten years ago Sandy and I were on a drive to the Bay Area to pick up our daughter from a “summer camp”. Chaney (as had her sister, Carolyn, before her) had been identified by Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Talented Youth as… well… a “talented youth”. They offer a summer academic program for these kids that gets into some pretty high-level stuff. Carolyn had participated in this program a couple of times during middle school and high school, and found it extremely rewarding, so when Chaney was also identified, we had no hesitancy sending her away for the same program.
This particular summer camp was being held at Stanford University. It was a two-week gig, and she was studying physics. (I believe it was physics… but honestly, I have forgotten exactly what the subject matter was.)
What I do remember was the absence. When Carolyn went to her Johns Hopkins program I missed her deeply and that same gnawing feeling of absence also manifested during Chaney’s sojourn to camp.
So, as Sandy and I headed back up Interstate 5 I was, to say the least, excited to reunite with our daughter.
I was also irritated, seriously irritated, and it had nothing to do with the drive.
A few months earlier a multinational corporation had made an offer to buy our family-owned plastics business from us. The generation above me (my folks and my uncle) were ready to let it go… and, to be frank, the corporation wanted to pay us more for the keys than it was really worth. So the deal made sense. They also wanted me to stay on for a contractual period of time to help with the transition.
I was in that contract period, and I was miserable.
The new owners had absolutely no idea how to run the business, but they were adamant that they wanted it run differently than the way I had been running it. Process for them was paramount, product was secondary, and, as a result, our sales were dropping… we were losing customers. They were far more focused on the look of business cards than on accounts receivables and I was losing my mind.
I told Sandy that, in my opinion, the business was now unsustainable… either they were going to run it into the ground, or they were going to eventually fire me for being an irritant to them. I could not predict what was going to come first. Regardless… we had to figure out something else to do.
So, as we crested over the Grapevine, Sandy and I started brainstorming ideas.
I knew I wanted to get back into firearms “something” full time. I was also not married to the idea of staying in Southern California. Maybe we could move to the mountains somewhere and either buy or open up a small firearms store? I would sit behind the counter all day and talk shop with our customers! Yeah… that would be a cool life!
Sandy was appalled.
No… we were not moving, and no… she had absolutely no interest in running a mom and pop gun store with me.
What she was interested in though… and it has always been her passion… was training.
She wanted to explore the idea of developing a training venue. She also thought that technology had developed to the level that a facility focused on simulation-based training was ready to be accepted by the marketplace.
I was not so sure.
That moment, somewhere about 50 miles north of Teton Ranch, was where the Artemis Defense Institute was born.
Now… today if you wanted to open up a burger joint, and had no real knowledge of how the underlying of a burger joint works, you have options. At a most basic level you can get yourself a job at a burger joint and pay attention to the way things are done. Self-educate, then strike out on your own. Alternatively, you could always go visit several burger joints and pay attention to what they are doing and take notes. The ability to self-educate in an existing market space is fairly easy (if not time consuming).
The problem for us is that this market space of simulation-based weapons training did not exist.
So… Sandy, being Sandy…. created a market from whole cloth.
To say the inception was not easy would be an understatement of biblical proportions. Not only did she have to create a market, a business, and a brand, but she had to do it with literally no guidance. She also had a major stumbling block she had to overcome at virtually every turn: me.
I was… shall we say… not the easiest of partners.
I was (still am to an extent) highly resistant to policies and procedures… I am far more focused on triage of a problem and then moving onto the next fire. Sandy is more interested in making sure a problem doesn’t occur in the first place.
She, of course, has always had the better policy… but yeah… I resisted.
During the course of our business she also had the vision to move us into VR-based tech, and more specifically, a leasing program to assist other instructors around the country to bring to the public the finest training platforms (and pedagogy) available.
A week ago we had our tenth anniversary party. Even numbers seem to have some underlying substantive value, and ten years of operation speaks to a degree of longevity, I suppose. It is interesting though… while we have been “open” for ten years, the business as it exists today is very different from the business that opened its doors back in 2013. Sandy has always pushed us forward… challenging the way we do things and incorporating new concepts and new technology in our offerings. I can’t even imagine what next year, let alone ten years from now, will look like.
But as Sandy and I socialized with our members during our party, we both regrouped for a moment to check on each other. During that conversation we both commented on a component that has made Artemis so unique, so successful, and for us, so rewarding… and, ironically, it’s something we had very little control over: you.
Our clients and our members have literally made us who we are. There has been an organic nature to our clients. Members have literally become our marketing wing, dragging in new clients to Artemis… many of which become members themselves, who, in turn, become our evangelists as well.
Relationships have blossomed at Artemis, a couple of marriages have resulted from those relationships… business deals between members have been conducted in our conference room, and friendships… deep friendships… have been formed.
Most importantly, though, are the real-world results of the training we provide. Gunfights that have been won, gunfights that have been avoided, and even lives saved from the Tac Med training our clients have received from us.
Each of those stories gives us pause, and reminds us why we are so passionately committed to the idea of training… constantly, consistently, repetitively, and with purpose.
Thank you… all of you… for helping turn a vision not just into a business… but into an industry.