The SB Tactical “story” is one of our favorite types to tell. There’s a case to be made that it’s even a uniquely American tale, for our nation isn’t just a place where innovations come to the marketplace, and doesn’t only create jobs and opportunities. It also finds a way to pay back, if only in small measure, those who’ve made that magic possible—guys like veterans Rick Cicero and Alex Bosco. Without their sacrifice … well, game over.
AW: Alex, we know there was a particular circumstance around the startup of SB Tactical, an epiphany if you will. What was that? Who were the players?
AB: It’s a compelling story. In October of 2012, I was shooting at a range in Florida with a couple of friends—the head of prosthetics at the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs Hospital in Florida and also my fraternity brother, Gabriel Hurst; and another friend of ours, veteran Rick Cicero.
Rick, a double amputee, was firing an AR-15 pistol when the range master approached to request that he stop shooting because he was unable to demonstrate safe control of the weapon. He told us that he would feel more comfortable if Rick “benched the gun,” or shot it at a rested position. We, of course, abided by his request and Rick benched the gun, but I left feeling overwhelmed with wanting to help my friend. That night I created a product that would enable Rick and others to safely shoot AR-type pistols. By the time I went to sleep, the first prototype for the SB Stabilizing Brace was created.
AW: What was that timeframe? (Between the emergence of Rick’s need, your plan to do something about it, and the actual genesis of SBT and the brace.)
AB: Literally overnight. The exact date was Oct. 2, 2012. When I arrived at home from the range, I went to work thinking about possible solutions. I started by carving out a piece of foam from a gun case and fastening it to the buffer tube of an AR pistol using glue and tape. Very high tech. (Laughing) Later that night I went to a local hobby shop and purchased a rubber kit and created a negative of the product in a hardened foam material. My dad was a dentist so I had a general idea of how casting like this was done.
I took two sides of the mold and filled them with rubber, and that was the first Stabilizing Brace. I immediately wrote to the ATF for approval. I had sent them a photo of the brace on an airsoft gun because I couldn’t afford a real AR-15. The letter was mailed on Nov. 17, 2012, and on Nov. 27 I received a letter back saying my design was approved. ...I went online to AR15.com and posted information on the Stabilizing Brace and a link to where people could find it. It received 50,000 hits, and within 48 hours the website crashed because of traffic and email inquiries asking how to purchase one.
In early December I went online to AR15.com and posted information on the Stabilizing Brace and a link to where people could find it. It received 50,000 hits, and within 48 hours the website crashed because of traffic and email inquiries asking how to purchase one. SB Tactical was off and running.
AW: Did you have to roll out the product with “no visible means of support,” or …?
AB: In those first couple of months, it was just my wife and me. We had to borrow as much money as we could to push this concept forward and patent the device. I was able to find a local craftsman in the hobby world to help further develop the design, and to construct a prototype that was polished in appearance for the Jan. 2013 SHOT Show.
While this was happening in the background, I met Grant Shaw at the gun range in December. I was testing the product and he commented, “Whoa, that is awesome.” Grant possessed the skills and background to help me pitch the product and attended SHOT with me a few weeks later.
At the convention, several different companies expressed interest in carrying the Stabilizing Brace, but SIG Sauer was committed to it. They truly understood how we wanted to empower disabled shooters, wounded veterans and others in need, and restore their ability to shoot. We signed an initial three-year contract for delivery of about 140,000 units. They sold them all in the first year.
There was never a traditional product rollout for the public. We elected to pursue exclusive distribution agreements, first with SIG and then with Century Firearms (for the AK pistol platform). The rest is history. The Stabilizing Brace became an accessory that reinvented the AR pistol for SIG Sauer. In 2013 the Stabilizing Brace was named the “Firearm Accessory of the Year,” and has since revolutionized shooting sports for those in need of assistive accessories. That was SB Tactical 1.0.
So what is SB Tactical 2.0? In Q2 of 2015, SB Tactical will begin distributing and selling our own product via www.sb-tactical.com. To complement our current product offerings, we will introduce four newly designed accessories at the same time. We will be filling custom orders and custom braces. SB Tactical previously existed as a manufacturing entity for distributors. That is all about to change as we approach the firearms consumer head on.
AW: What’s the relationship with SIG and Ron Cohen now that the SIG ‘exclusive’ era is over?
AB: Working with SIG has been an honor, privilege and pleasure. They play an integral role in our accomplishments to date, and we fully expect them to play a leading role moving forward. The evolution of SB Tactical is not an ending to our relationship with SIG, but the beginning of a long-term relationship with the number-one AR pistol manufacturer in the world.
AW: What are your thoughts on the ATF confusion: Yes, it’s legal. No, it isn’t. Yes … etc.?
AB: The ATF has issued a number of letters surrounding “stabilizing braces” but their position has never wavered. The SB Tactical Stabilizing Brace is “legal to own, legal to purchase and legal to install on a pistol.” The ATF has consistently stated that a pistol with a Stabilizing Brace attached remains a pistol under the Gun Control Act when used as designed.
AW: Any marketplace issue because of this?
AB: The firearms community is extremely in tune with regulation. When ATF issues an opinion letter, it sets off a flurry of discussion in the marketplace surrounding policy. The Stabilizing Brace is not immune to this activity, and as such, we spend a tremendous amount of time educating consumers on fact versus fiction. While the ATF has been clear in their opinions, it has created problems for our ability to effectively communicate with owners and prospective buyers of our product.
Letters issued by the ATF contradict the National Firearms Act’s definition of pistols, rifles and short-barrel rifles, and it centers around the term “redesign” as they have used it. The word “redesign” got contorted: improper use of the Stabilizing Brace was considered—wrongly—to “redesign” an AR pistol into a rifle. That logic is wrong in my opinion: Using a screwdriver as a hammer is certainly possible, but such a screwdriver does not then become a hammer. I simply employed the screwdriver inappropriately. I did not “redesign” it.
The marketplace for our product has never been better. Have opinion letters from the ATF impacted sales? The marketplace is complex, and we still do not know what the effect is on our sales. However, our sales projections remain consistent and our growth trajectory is impressive.
AW: Where does Rick (Cicero) fit in these days?
AB: Rick is our unofficial product tester! He is a huge proponent of everything we do. He was at SHOT Show with us this year, meeting with distributors and continuing to carry the SB Tactical message. He is still very much the inspiration behind the product, and as the company grows, we will remember the core reason for our founding, embodied in Rick Cicero. He is as integral today as he was that day on the range in Florida in October of 2012.
Most importantly, he is a close friend who is passionate about what we do. He has dedicated his life to working with wounded vets and people with limited mobility. He works closely with the 82nd Airborne and other programs he promotes himself.
AW: What do the next six months look like for SB?
AB: From an operational perspective, SB Tactical will be a completely different company by the end of the year. For the first time in our short history, we will begin direct selling to the consumer. We will also be introducing new product lines for new platforms. Hundreds of thousands of gun enthusiasts across the country are familiar with the “SIG Brace,” but it’s important for them to understand that it’s actually the SB Tactical Stabilizing Brace.
AW: And new products? Focus (helping more guys like Rick C. more, or general applicability to the AR) or other markets?
AB: In the coming weeks we will be introducing four to five new Stabilizing Brace products focused on enabling shooters. We envision assistive products for thousands of firearms platforms around the world. We are excited about the evolution of our product lines, but our mission remains the same. We develop the Stabilizing Brace and the function of our product will remain the same.