Family-Owned Brands: Otis Technology & MKS Supply


Kara Brown-Boesenberg, fourth generation owner of MKS Supply, has praised the
trend of women joining firearms companies as executives in recent years.

There was a time when woman-owned businesses in the shooting, hunting and outdoor industry were few and far between. The pendulum has swung significantly in recent history with more women-led brands — mirroring present trends in firearms ownership, as more women are ardent, passionate firearms owners today than ever before. 

In this month’s column, we’re going to look at two family-owned brands: Otis Technology and MKS Supply.

Doreen Williams Garrett: Otis Technology

ith boys and partying. But not Doreen Williams Garrett. In 1985, at age 17, she was building a brand-new company, Otis Technology — an enterprise that changed the way the industry thinks about gun-cleaning equipment.

The previous hunting season, when she was 16, her grandfather trusted her to go deer hunting with his Winchester Model 94. While pursuing a buck into a swamp with her father, Garrett tripped on a root and tumbled into the mud, plugging up the rifle barrel and ending her hunt for the day. 

Back in camp, she decided there had to be an efficient way for hunters to take cleaning supplies with them into the woods. The result of this thought was The Whole Kit and Caboodle, the first pocket-sized full cleaning kit.

“The company became a family affair,” noted Heather Pleskach, director of marketing for Otis. “Doreen, her parents and her three siblings all put their hearts and souls into it. They did a lot of grassroots efforts and attended a lot of shows and events.”

For five years, the family assembled the kits on their dining table. Then in 1990, the company moved into a renovated horse barn in Boonville, N.Y. The following year they introduced the Tactical Cleaning System, and in 1992 introduced the Otis Elite Cleaning System. The company moved again in 1997 to its current location in Lyons Falls, N.Y., and has continued to grow. 

Today, Otis is known more for its defense and tactical cleaning kits than for the original kit Garrett developed for hunters to take to the woods.

“Doreen had trouble breaking into the tactical side for a while,” Pleskach said. “She was young and a female, and it was difficult for her to talk to people like 50-year-old four-star generals. Their attitude was ‘What can I learn from this girl?’” 

To overcome this, Garrett’s father, Jerry Williams, stepped in as the face of Otis on the tactical side for many years and helped Garrett build the segment.

Once their military contracts were in place, the company built the facility they have today.

“They were able to reinvest in the company and build state-of-the-art infrastructure and vertically integrate the company to control supply chain and quality,” Pleskach said. “Like many other companies, we’ve had opportunities to relocate, but we have a strong commitment to this area and to our employees, so we have kept our headquarters and operations here in New York and have invested in growth here.”

For many years, Garrett was the CEO and CFO of Otis. 

“Her sister, Denise, was the VP of sales and marketing, and her brother, Nick, was VP of engineering,” Pleskach said. “Nick was 2 when Doreen started Otis, so he grew up at Otis. He loved the engineering and the machines, so he went to school for it and came back when he graduated. Her other brother, Larry, was VP of operations.”

Around 2010, the company brought in a management team so the entire family could transition into more of an advisory role for Otis. Garrett became chair of the board, a position she continues to occupy. 

“Doreen has maintained a close relationship with each person who has filled the role of CEO, and we see her regularly,” Pleskach shared, “but she maintains an advisory status. She and the rest of the family have always fostered a culture of commitment to employees, integrity and family first, and it continues to be the culture of the company.”

Kara Brown-Boesenberg: MKS Supply

Several states away, in Dayton, Ohio, Kara Brown-Boesenberg is the fourth generation of her family to have an ownership interest in MKS Supply.

“Growing up, I was always around the shooting sports traditions, as well as hunting,” Brown-Boesenberg said. She started shooting when she was 8 years old, and accompanied her father, company president Charles Brown, to the range and on hunting trips when she was just a little older.

“Shooting has always been one of my passions,” she noted. “It’s an American tradition, and it’s always been a tradition in my family as well.”

Brown-Boesenberg was interested in joining MKS Supply, but her father had a rule: “It’s hard to be the SOB (son of the boss) or DOB (daughter of the boss). If you’re interested in finding out if working for this company is for you, you have to complete a college degree in whatever you want to study. Then you need to work for someone for five years. If you still want to explore the opportunities at MKS, come to me after you do that, and we’ll talk.”

Accordingly, Brown-Boesenberg went to the University of Dayton and earned a degree in education. 

“I became a teacher, and taught for six years,” she recalled. “One year I taught in the inner city, and the other five years I taught in the suburb where I lived. Even though I loved teaching, I knew my path was going to be something in this industry.”

One of the things that made her hesitate about joining MKS Supply, Brown-Boesenberg shared, was the amount of travel involved.

“My dad traveled a lot, and we all know the first quarter of the calendar year is filled with a lot of industry shows and travel in general, and I didn’t know how it would work with being a mother,” she said. “So, one summer I went to MKS and said, ‘I know being the daughter of the boss is a difficult task, but I’m willing to put in the extra work and the extra hours and see if this is something for me.’”

She worked the entire summer in the warehouse at MKS without pay to try it out.

“I absolutely loved it,” she said. “I love working in this industry and I love working with family.”

Brown-Boesenberg thinks the best way to be a good leader in a company is to do every job.

“It helps you understand the complexities of whatever that job might be,” she added. “When I was working in the warehouse, I learned about our inventory system and ATF regulations. Then when I decided to come here full-time instead of teaching, I started working in the office on a small scale with buying group customers, and worked up to wholesale distributor customers.”

In 2019, she entered into a minority ownership agreement with her father. Since then, she has continued to work closely with MKS Supply’s manufacturing partners, as well as managing accounts and maintaining oversight of company marketing strategies. 

Brown-Boesenberg said the culture at MKS Supply reflects the overall atmosphere of the firearms industry.

“This is a large industry, but it’s like family,” she stated. “Here at MKS Supply, everyone cares about each other, and we’re passionate about what we do. It’s a tight-knit community and everyone’s happy to be here.”

This is especially true for women in the industry, Brown-Boesenberg noted.

“It’s fun to be a part of this industry, especially being a woman,” she said. “It hasn’t always been this way, but we’re seeing more women in executive positions in this industry. Here at MKS Supply, four of our 12 employees are women. Our controller through the years has always been a woman. I think the industry welcomes it now, where it used to be an old boys’ club.”

Two women at two companies with different backgrounds have one thing in common: an unyielding passion for this industry and what it represents. 

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