By Massad Ayoob
Is your retail gun business located in a firearms-friendly state, perhaps even in a firearms-friendly community? Lucky you! Meet an entrepreneur who was not so fortunate, but used ingenuity to fight his (and his company’s) way to success in a state overtly hostile to the firearms industry.
Ed Newman is a founder and co-owner of Dark Storm Industries, in Oakdale, N.Y. Oakdale is on Long Island, which is not a whole lot less hostile to the industry than nearby New York City itself. Prior to starting this business in 2013, Newman spent about 20 years as a principal for a company that provided electronic security for utilities, hospitals and major government institutions in the New York metro area.Newman and his colleagues designed and installed multi-million dollar systems.
“Post 2008, government money stopped flowing from Federal sources, and we started looking for another opportunity,” Newman tells Shooting Industry. “A friend in Nevada turned me on to the business side of shooting, where I had previously been a firearms hobbyist. I started selling firearm parts and accessories on eBay, then went to an e-commerce platform and finally established the store fall 2013. Peter Morrissey, my business partner, has been a friend since high school.”
Newman was in his late 30s when he took the ambitious step of opening a gun store on Long Island. To that point, his interest in guns and shooting had been limited to plinking and informal target shooting — not competition or tactical training. Now, he was fully committed to being in the industry. He had even made a point of shooting handguns out of state since he didn’t have the license New York State requires to even own a handgun.
Finding A Niche
Gun owners are not the majority in Long Island’s vast population, but the population density is such there are certainly enough people to sustain a healthy gun shop like Dark Storm.
“We outgrew our initial facility within a year and started discussing plans for what we wanted to do,” Newman said. “We saw one weakness on Long Island, with its dense population, was the lack of good quality indoor shooting ranges. Nothing had been built in decades and the older ranges weren’t up to what we considered to be current standards.”
So, the Dark Storm team decided it wanted a larger store with a built-in range.
“No one thought it could happen on Long Island,” Newman recalled. “We took this as a challenge. We worked with local municipalities to find a good site, looking at environment, noise, etc. In 2015 we began the work, and our new retail establishment opened in January 2016. Then we started building the range, which opened a year later in January 2017.”
As you’d expect, developing in such a densely populated area wasn’t cheap.
“Space is very expensive here,” Newman confirmed. “Our indoor range is relatively small: six lanes, 50 feet. We designed it ourselves, with a 100% fresh air heated ventilation system, backstop of rubber chips, our own system for touch screen-controlled target carriers, bulletproof door and bulletproof glass dividers and rifle-rated for .308 full auto. For sound management we have rubber acoustic panels on most of the walls, spray foam on the inside of the top deck and acoustic ceiling tiles — which further absorb the sound.”
Dark Storm has 6,500 square feet of space, including the retail, range and warehouse components. Total investment added up to the better part of $2 million. The range and store are open seven days a week. Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday, Dark Storm is open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Tuesday and Thursday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Sunday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
The Next Step: Manufacturing
The range, being small, only accounts for 10% of Dark Storm’s income. Retail sales account for 45%. The other 45% comes from a step few retailers would be bold enough to take: Dark Storm manufactures AR-15 platform rifles and pistols.
Newman explained, “We have a big CNC shop where we actually make our rifles. Dark Storm brand is a big part of our retail as well. The manufacturing side of the business has seven employees, seven or eight in retail and a similar number work on the range. We also have some part-time personnel in retail.”
Why get into gun manufacturing? The business and gun climates of New York State itself provided the impetus.
“We started the company because of gun legislation,” he relayed. “Prior to 2013 it was a challenge to buy an AR in New York. It got worse after the NY SAFE Act restrictions of 2013. We have unique restrictions here. We’ve seen five or six different rifle configurations trying to be legal. Most big companies apparently found it wasn’t feasible for them to make NY-legal ARs, so we made it our mission to make NY-compliant rifles. It spread to states like California, Massachusetts and Connecticut that had their own unique restrictions. California had the bullet button, an easy change. Then more recently, after it was banned, came the fin grip, a pistol grip with fin attached so it can’t be grasped normally. They can just change one cheap part on the gun, so California is a more difficult market for us to crack. New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Massachusetts have regulations that make our product more dominant in those places.”
Shoe On The Other Foot
As a retailer and a manufacturer, Dark Storm is in a unique position to experience both sides of the buying process.
“Our own brand makes up a large part of our retail stock,” Newman shared. “Having the retail store has helped us tremendously to understand business on retail side as experienced by the dealers who buy the firearms we make. We have a number of different channels: direct consumer on website and retail store, and conventional distribution. Our firearms are MAP priced so everyone is buying at the same price. We will not undersell our retail firearms to industry customers.”
He elaborates on that last point: “We call it our dealer protection program. If a customer purchases a firearm direct from us and then it is sent to one of our dealers, the dealer gets a commission check from us so they make the same on the gun as if they sold it.”
Just as an indoor range at his location filled a niche, Newman and his team focused on the niche market of “rifles that fit strict rifle legislation in certain states.”
When asked how they did it, he replied: “The biggest piece that gives us an edge in those markets is our patented non-detachable mag lower receiver, specifically machined as a fixed magazine. Originally one had to break the rifle open; we used an extended takedown pin, loading through the top one at a time. Stripper clips didn’t work well. We were very excited when we found another company had developed an ejection port loader. We work with Bear Flag Defense in California with a system that loads through the ejection port with a rocking movement — kind of like an AK with a gripper on the side that forces rounds into fixed magazines. With a bit of practice you can reload as quickly as changing a magazine.”
It’s hard to explain, but in less than 10 seconds you can see the system in action here: https://bit.ly/33dEfTc.
All the Dark Storm firearms are currently on AR platforms. About 80% of them are sold in .223/5.56mm, and 10% each in pistol-caliber and larger-frame .308 Winchester format.
Dark Storm Industries shows American ingenuity in action. In first establishing a gun shop and range on Long Island, and then in building AR-type rifles that sidestep ridiculous draconian legislation, this company exemplifies the classic entrepreneurial principle of finding an empty niche and filling it with quality goods and services.
All images courtesy of Dark Storm Industries.
Dark Storm Industries
4166 Sunrise Hwy
Oakdale, NY 11769