Body Armor Manufacturer Sets Up Operations in Louisville KY
October 1, 2019
Recent transplants Kevin Strnatka and Michelle Pandow from Tucson, Arizona have opened up shop manufacturing body armor inserts here in Louisville. Caliber Armor started operations in January and are scheduled to launch retail and e-commerce sales later this month.
I recently caught up with them to ask a few questions about their latest endeavor.
Kevin, how did you get into the body armor business?
In early 2012, when I was operating my industrial and protective coatings business, I was approached by a Border Patrol agent running a side business out of his garage called The Target Man/Spartan Armor Systems. He was making steel shooting targets and body armor plates. He was looking for a solution to contain fragmentation. We worked together and tried several processes landing on a coating that was extremely successful at containing fragments. When he decided to sell his business in 2015, he came to me and my wife Michelle to purchase it because at this point, we had a good understanding of the product and room to operate in our facility.
So, you purchased The Target Man/Spartan Armor Systems?
Not on my own. I brought my long-term friend, Todd Meeks and his wife Temple to help fund the business purchase. Todd was looking for a new business venture and I had the practical knowledge. I put a lot of trust into this partnership. I gave up my successful Rhino Linings franchise and industrial contracts through my other business, Wildcat Industrial to make Spartan Armor Systems a success.
Well, from my research Spartan Armor is a success. What happened?
It is a success; Michelle and I are very proud of the success that Spartan Armor has achieved. We know that it was our hard work, sacrifice and dedication that made that happen. Todd really lucked out.
What do you mean?
Well, he was lucky to be handed a business lead and then to be able to scale that business in my existing warehouse and retail space. Michelle jumped right in and helped out with almost every aspect of getting Spartan Armor up off the ground and moving it from a business run out of a garage to a reputable business. While I was busy in the back warehouse, training employees, updating target designs and coming up with the new products, Michelle was redesigning the website, developing a dealer network, managing customer service, streamlining product production and getting vendor relationships established. Like I said, we are really proud of what we accomplished.
Why did you leave then?
Partnerships are a hard thing. We had different ideas about the direction and image of the company. That created a lot of friction, unfortunately. Todd and I mutually decided to take different roads. We can’t say enough good things about the employees at Spartan, we had a family there. It’s a shame, but you live, and you learn.
Okay so enough about the past… Tell me about Caliber Armor. Why Louisville?
After Spartan, we needed a fresh start. We have family here and extended family in the Chicago area. After our first exploratory tip here, we fell in love with the city. The people are so friendly, and we were happy to find so much industry and development happening here. We are very proud to call Louisville home.
We established Caliber Armor because we really loved what we did at Spartan. We wanted to continue to do this work. So, we decided to create an armor company that aligned with our personal convictions and quality standards. We will never jeopardize our integrity or the safety of our customers in order to gain higher profit margins. We don’t need to make millions. We just want to make good products to help protect people and give them individualized attention that they might not get elsewhere.
What experience to you two bring to the table? Why do you feel that your business will be successful?
I have been working in complicated project solutions with polymers for over 25 years. I am very well respected in the industry. When I stared working with body armor applications all of the chemistry and metallurgy made sense to me. But since I have been working with polymers in a different way, I have different ideas on how they can be used. These ideas can drastically improve current body armor technologies. I have two patents in the works that I am excited to put into place.
Michelle has a multifaceted background in operations, sales, finance, marketing and education. She worked for years in the powersports industry and managed negotiating the Law Enforcement motor units contract for our local PD. She has worked in sales most of her adult life.
Michelle, Kevin has done most of the talking. Can you tell us a little something about your path and how it brought you to where you are now?
I have always wanted to serve my community and I have always been good at sales, customer service and management, but I was not fulfilled with my career. In 2007 after spending time volunteering at a youth art program, I decided to go back to school to get my teaching credentials. I received a master’s degree with honors and taught for about a year at a school in the south side of Tucson. I loved the kids, but I felt like I needed to have more flexibility to be with my young children. I started helping Kevin with his business which gave me the work/life balance I was looking for. When we were presented with the opportunity to be a part of the body armor company, I’ll admit I was nervous.
It was all new to me. Firearms, protection products, metal, projectiles… I felt overwhelmed that there was so much to learn. I did not want to come across like a phony.
How did you overcome that?
It’s one of the many times I’ve looked to God to lead me where I should be. If this was meant to happen, I would learn all I could. I asked questions from the experts, I traveled to ballistic labs, talked with metallurgists, went to seminars, read non-stop about the industry and product developments. I purchased my first firearm and learned how to use it. I really felt like I needed to be a part of the industry in order to be authentic. I’ve always wanted to help people. This was my chance to make a difference. Talking to the first responders, helping them find what they need to stay protected, is so rewarding to me. Then when we left Spartan, I knew that I wanted that to continue.
Okay. Thank you for getting so personal with me. I think it makes a difference to know who the people are behind the business. Especially when you are selling such an important, lifesaving product.
Who is your target audience?
Caliber Armor exists to provide quality body armor to Law Enforcement and First Responders. In our country it is perfectly legal for law abiding citizens to purchase and own body armor. With proper vetting we will also sell to the public. Our world has dangers that ordinary citizens are worried about. We want them to have the ability to protect themselves.
What are you bringing to the Kentucky community?
We are using Kentuckiana small businesses whenever we can in our manufacturing process. We partner with metal workers, textile factories, box manufacturers and marketing firms all in our area. We want to make sure we are utilizing our talented community whenever possible. We also will be creating up to 10 new jobs next year.
Thank you for meeting with me today. I look forward to following up after you have fully launched with more updates on product development.
Steven Rockwell, Publisher