When I said that on a livestream several weeks ago, I knew it sounded crazy enough to require a much more straightforward explanation than I gave at the time. If you’re reading this, you probably already have some idea of how different our products are, and how different our approach is. Those differences are the result of how we’ve come to think about our goals and our mission over the past 12 years.
A Holster Company makes things to put guns in. And, because there are a lot of different guns, they make holsters for as many guns as possible. A ton of Holster Companies make great products. The drive to make things better, offer popular solutions at higher quality, lower price points, and options for the widest variety of guns possible brings a lot of benefits to the customer. The typical model for growth in this sector is increasing fit variety. And Holster Companies focus on staying relevant by being first, or early-to-market when a new gun or rail-mounted accessory becomes available.
While the customer benefits by being able to find a safe and reliable holster for nearly any gun they could possibly carry, from a brand perspective, this market segment is highly commodified. Even as an experienced professional, it’s often hard to tell the difference between a dozen different brands of holster, or identify the unique value propositions of the product. For us, this isn’t an exciting or interesting landscape to traverse. It’s a well-traveled road along which very few new discoveries will be encountered.
PHLster focuses on concealment, the ergonomic interface between the gun and the body, and how these things work together. Making plastic parts to fit a gun is easy. Making the gun fit the human body is not. When we arrive at a solution, we offer that solution for a short list of the most popular and reliable pistols: for the guns you aren’t going to grow out of as your experience and skill progress. Instead of growing by offering an ever-expanding list of holster fits, we grow by educating people on how to conceal a pistol and all of the information they need to use the tools we provide. Our products work like magic because we turn our customers into wizards. Instead of maintaining relevance by keeping up with new things happening externally, we do it with self-directed innovation. These solutions look like holsters, but we’re not a Holster Company. PHLster is a concealment technology company.
The next obvious question is, “Why doesn’t variety fit into this different approach?”
For a given model of holster, every fit costs the same to develop. They take the same amount of time, the molds cost the same, and the inventory costs the same to sit on the shelf. They don’t, however, all sell at the same rate. During the height of the pandemic, when no gun-related products could stay in stock, anywhere, and our average inventory age was less than 10 days, we had a few SKUs which people would guess to be “popular” guns just sitting on the shelf for more than 180 days. In fact, we were tracking that shoppers would search for these gun models by name, arrive at our website, and then buy something else! At that time, we thought we had a narrow range of fit offerings. This discovery signaled to us that it could be cut back even further.
We want to make amazing new inventions that reset expectations about what’s possible. We want to bring those inventions to market frequently. In order to do that, we have to keep our offerings lean and nimble. Otherwise, the single biggest obstacle to releasing new inventions won’t be whether or not it’s technically possible, whether or not the market is ready for it, or whether or not it’s the best it can possibly be. Instead, the biggest obstacles will be the enormous sunk cost of all the molds and tooling for the previous model, and rolling out support for a huge variety of fits when we launch something new.
This is an unrecognized problem for Holster Companies. You can see them struggling with this because nothing ever seems to be obsolete or discontinued. It’s not unusual to see a Holster Company offering an expansive range of fits and options, while also offering several holster models with overlapping features and identities. Instead of discontinuing one model and starting fresh with something obviously new and better, they HAVE to keep the old model around because its existence is anchored by how many different pistols they offer it for. They wind up having three or four models of holsters which are only distinguished by a single feature difference and a name change, all of which cannibalize sales from each other and create customer confusion and choice paralysis. We don’t think that snowballing SKUs and choice complexity are the same as “growing.” And we don’t think this model is how we’re going to bring the best possible value and experience to our customers.
While we might not offer a product for everyone, our educational resources and learning content realize our commitment to bringing value to the whole market, whether or not they’re ultimately our customers. You can still be a wizard, even if you get your tools elsewhere. In fact, for everything we teach, we encourage you to try it out with the gear you already have. There’s no better way to avoid trial and error than by finding out exactly how your current tools do or don’t support the results you’re trying to achieve. We’re here to help you get great concealment and great ergonomics, with or without our products.