Issue 14 Preview – Zeroed In – Marty Daniel Mike Landers Photos By Jorge Nuñez Bet the Farm Daniel Defense Founder Marty Daniel Went From Living in a Trailer to Becoming CEO of a Multi-Million-Dollar Industry Leader In Just One Decade. What’s the Secret to His Success? Let’s Just Say It’ll Take More Than a Banned Super Bowl Ad to Keep This Good Man Down. The whirr and buzz of manufacturing machines provide a stark contrast to an otherwise quiet and misty Georgia morning. The drab surroundings lend a sleepy comfort to the area, a rural hamlet of scattered industry and small farms adjacent to historic Savannah. What the exterior weather lacks in thunderous precipitation is more than made up for by the pounding of a hammer forge on the Daniel Defense manufacturing floor, one of two such machines within the company’s Pooler plant. These beasts are capable of pummeling out 70 tons of pressure to hammer-forged barrels at a rate of 4,000 strikes per four-minute cycle. While this indoor thunder continually permeates the plant, the man who captured firearms lightning in a bottle strides somewhere in the middle of it all. But don’t say he’s lucky — he’s more about faith, risk-taking, and good old-fashioned hard work. “I don’t call it luck,” says Marty Daniel, a God-fearing man of tall frame and Georgia drawl. “I just know we’ve been blessed to do what’s reasonable at the time.” Is it within Marty’s definition of “reasonable” that a man who lived in a trailer and hung garage doors for a living would succeed in an industry in which he had no prior experience? For Marty, it is. Is it reasonable that a company that did $32,000 in sales in 2002 would do $32 million just 10 years later? For Marty, it is. Is it reasonable that a man would mortgage a fourth-generation family farm to pay for a $250,000 machine in hopes of soliciting for a U.S. Special Operations Command contract? Again, for Marty it is more than reasonable, and his gamble paid off. Winning the contract was just the tip of the iceberg in the incredible saga of Marty Daniel and Daniel Defense, considered by many to be one of the top firearms manufacturers in the world today. “I’ve had people ask me, ‘Are you surprised to be where you are?’ I’m amazed to be where we are, but I’m also not surprised,” Daniel says. “We’ve done a lot of hard work, and we’ve got a track record of being blessed. After a while you tell yourself, ‘This is what I’m supposed to be doing.’ There’s a reason for all of this.’” The “we” he’s referring to starts and nearly ends with his better half, Cindy. A taskmaster and meticulous organizer, the COO of Daniel Defense runs a tight ship, just like she did as a spunky 10-year-old meter reader. “When I was 10 years old, I worked for the plumbing company in Pooler and would go cut peoples’ water off if they didn’t pay their bills,” Cindy says, chuckling as she recalls her first job. “Because I could drive any vehicle — stick, three-on-a-tree, column, or whatever — the City of Pooler would call the company and say, ‘Can you please keep her home? She’s not old enough to drive.’” That roll-up-your-sleeves attitude has only informed the team-building mentality at Daniel Defense. “If we’re behind on a deadline, it means all of us,” Cindy explains. “I remember going out on the manufacturing floor myself and cutting parts because we needed all the able bodies we could find.” Taking inspiration from football coaching great Tony Dungy, Marty expands: “It’s about teamwork and finding key people. My director of marketing, Jordan Hunter, and I talk. He gets a budget and, other than that, he does what he wants to do. We bounce ideas off of each other, but I want my people to do what I pay them to do without having me over their shoulder all day. If they ask my opinion, I’ll give them one; but if I don’t, things will still get done and done well.” RECOIL: What gave you the initial drive to start your own business? Marty Daniel: I grew up working. My family owned windmill-powered sawmills, and I have ledgers from my grandfather dating back to the ’20s and ’30s. I started picking tobacco in the summers when I was in sixth or seventh grade. It was very hard work and I worked with a family of people. It was interesting because those people made everybody feel like family. Whenever I was out there, hot and sticky with tobacco all over me, so was everybody else. I think that shaped the way I’ve grown my businesses to be right beside my employees. Was the garage door company your first foray into business? M.D.: Yes. I had failed out of college twice and during the third time I had gotten a job cleaning up around a construction site. It gave me the know-how on all aspects of construction. I also worked at a sawmill for a while. When I started the garage door business, I was living in a trailer on someone else’s land, and my initial customers were churches that needed general construction help. I was spending about as much time working on these church buildings as I was working and trying to make a living, but I was doing it because I went to one of the churches, so there was a need and I wanted to help. I just thought it was the right thing to do, and I believe that when you make sacrifices, God rewards you for it. Cindy was instrumental in the business’ success as well, keeping things organized and drumming up business during the lean times. What lessons did you learn and how did it prepare you to build Daniel Defense? M.D.: I learned that when you make a product, you make the best one that you can, and offer any support the customer needs. Sounds simple, but many companies cut corners in this area, and it kills them. The garage door service also made me realize the importance of being prudent with your orders. When somebody wants help, they want it now, either because they can’t get into their house, or they can’t leave it securely. I had a customer call in the middle of a road trip. With no one else available on my staff but me, I made a U-turn and fixed it myself. I’ve transferred that mentality to Daniel Defense. That garage door business prepared me for so many things over the 20 years I ran it. I went through cash-flow emergencies when the Gulf War started, because about half of my business was near Fort Stewart and the builders literally came out and picked the lumber up off the slabs, cutting half my business overnight. I learned some hard lessons then. Luckily, I had Cindy picking up our slack by doing outside sales in addition to all of the other things she was already doing. I don’t really do things differently now than I did in the garage door business in principle. The manufacturing is a bigger challenge, but I’ve surrounded myself with people who have helped me make things happen. What made you get into the gun industry? M.D.: A crucial part of our story is that I was a customer in this industry first. I wanted things that nobody made, and after making some calls to a few companies, I was discouraged at the lack of customer service I was receiving. I felt there was a huge void in both of those areas. It’s a lot different now. You can get just about anything you want to go on a gun these days. 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