Will and Ben are two of the most hardworking and humble guys I have worked with. Their company, Forge Relations, puts relationships before business and cherishes the connections they’ve made over the years. If you don’t know about Forge Relations, they’re the team that puts on the annual Gundies Awards! The Gundies Awards are the firearm community’s Voter Choice Awards.
In this episode, Will and Ben talk about how they met, formed Forge Relations, and what’s next for them in the future.
0:00:00.5 Kenzie: Welcome to The Reticle Up Podcast, where I, 3GunKenzie, will be interviewing competitive shooters, hunters, fishermen, archers, entrepreneurs and outdoorsmen. Come learn with me as I interview people from all walks of life, in different disciplines, all across the world, from novices to professionals of all ages. No matter what, everyone has something they can teach you. So come join me on the journey. The Reticle Up Podcast is produced in partnership with AmericanFirearms.org. American Firearms’ mission is to recommend what works. We believe everyone deserves access to unbiased, helpful information about firearms. And our buying guides, product reviews, and learning resources are designed to help real people find the stuff that will work best for them. Check us out at www.americanfirearms.org.
0:00:53.3 Kenzie: Hey, everyone. Welcome back to The Reticle Up Podcast. I have Will Renke and Ben Stacy on today. They are the partners of Forge Relations, which we’re gonna get into and talk about. So guys, I really wanna know, first of all, how did you two even meet?
0:01:08.7 Will Renke: Well, first off, thank you for having us, appreciate it. And of course, the very famous meeting question. Well, it’s actually quite simple. We’re gonna thank Instagram for that one. So, Ben, at the time, he was running and he owned, still owns it, his page called Gunsdaily, and at the time, I owned a fitness center called Sky Fitness here in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina where we’re currently both located. And I was doing the fitness thing and running some businesses. I owned a tanning salon and all these crazy shenanigans. And I had guns as a hobby, love guns or firearms, going out and kinda let off some steam, and Ben had this big page on Instagram and it was kinda up and running. I was like, “Wow, this is the coolest thing ever to get a shout out by these big pages.” And lo and behold, he was right down the street in Myrtle Beach, and that’s how we initially met. I was like, “Man, this kid’s like 19 years old, this little [0:02:08.7] ____ And that’s it.
0:02:12.7 Ben Stacy: I’d like to bring a little more detail to the story. So first time, really, that we went out to the range, in the middle of nowhere. It isn’t even a range. This is like…
0:02:23.6 Kenzie: Is this a blind date, by the way? He DMed you?
0:02:26.8 Ben Stacy: Yeah, it was essentially a blind date, a hundred percent. Now, there were a couple of other friends with us, but this guy rolls up in a red Tahoe with this massive lettering of Sky Fitness all over it, gets out. “Hi, I’m Will.” I was like, “Holy crap, this is the biggest douchebag ever.”
0:02:49.8 Kenzie: I can see that. I can see that.
0:02:52.5 Ben Stacy: And that was my first impression of Will. But that kinda broke the ground for things. And as soon as we met, we were always back and forth and like, “Okay, well, what could we do together?” ‘Cause Will had the local community on lockdown and I was growing the whole social thing, and we kinda just hit it off and then we had a couple of crazy ideas. Will, you remember Armed and Average back in the day?
0:03:21.1 Will Renke: I do. Yeah, that was an interesting channel that we… I think we filmed only one video.
0:03:27.1 Ben Stacy: Yep, and then it spiraled into procurement for the local police departments and trying to mess around with the government, which sucked, and then we were like, “Holy crap, we have a lot of contacts in the gun industry, why don’t we try something on that front?” We’ve got this whole social media thing going on, and that’s really the culmination of when Forgers was born. It’s taken many shapes and forms since then, we’ve finally settled into what we’re good at, and it’s just been a wild race. It’s been actually five years this month.
0:04:03.9 Kenzie: Wow, congrats first of all. So when Will got out though, was he the biggest douche ever?
0:04:10.4 Ben Stacy: No, he wasn’t. No, no. One of the… He’ll never admit this but he’s a big teddy bear.
0:04:17.2 Kenzie: He is. He totally is.
0:04:18.7 Will Renke: Yeah, I can be. Yeah, it depends. There’s a lot of sides to Will. I’m like an onion, you just gotta keep peeling them back.
0:04:25.6 Kenzie: Well, I’ll say it’s really hard to get on your bad side, I’ll say that.
0:04:29.7 Ben Stacy: Yeah, but if you are, watch out.
0:04:30.7 Will Renke: Yeah. It’s true.
0:04:31.6 Ben Stacy: If you are, watch out. Will is take the shirt off your back for you type of deal, but if you piss him off, you do not wanna be in front of him.
0:04:38.2 Kenzie: No.
0:04:38.3 Will Renke: Don’t you mean take my own shirt off, Ben? [laughter] Let’s just that clarify how that works, let’s just… Hold on a minute.
0:04:44.0 Ben Stacy: Yeah. Thank you.
0:04:44.3 Will Renke: We just need to clarify this on the podcast. Let’s just make sure we’re saying this properly. Take my own shirt off.
0:04:51.0 Ben Stacy: Thank you.
0:04:51.5 Will Renke: I’m not taking off of their shirt. Okay, good. Just making sure we’re good.
0:04:55.4 Ben Stacy: It depends or [0:04:56.1] ____.
0:04:56.8 Will Renke: Yeah. That is true. But that’s true. But those days are over. So yeah.
0:05:00.3 Kenzie: This is digressed. Okay, so my question to Ben, maybe this is not true. I feel like you’re an introvert.
0:05:07.6 Ben Stacy: 100%. 100%. I hate people. I hate people. Which is really weird considering I am part owner in a marketing company.
0:05:16.3 Kenzie: Yeah, yeah, and then Will, you’re completely opposite. So yes, extremely extroverted. So how did that relationship work out?
0:05:25.4 Ben Stacy: I think that’s why it’s perfect, right?
0:05:26.4 Will Renke: Yeah, it’s the exact definition of Yin and yang. If you really think about it, I’ve been very… I don’t know if this is fortunate or not, but I’ve owned a lot of businesses. And I started my first company at 18 years old. And I’ve had quite a few business partners or people I’ve been associated with at a business level, doing things that we both had vested interest. And I’ve had a lot of partners that were, as I call, we were both driving the bus at the same time. And then there were people that kinda did their own role and had their own values to the table. So at the end of the day, me and Ben being so very different, it’s exactly what’s needed and exactly what has led us to the success of Forge Relations where we’re at right now because of that, ’cause we’re both not trying to take over a certain role. We both know who we are, and our strong points and our weak points.
0:06:21.9 Kenzie: Yeah, for sure. Now, Ben, what did you do before Forge Relations? Were you an employee? Were you even thinking of starting a business one day, where were you at?
0:06:33.3 Ben Stacy: So I was a kid. ‘Cause I started, I got on Instagram at like 17, 18. That’s when I started Gunsdaily had no clue what I was doing, if we want to go through that whole story hit 5000 followers. I still remember that like, my gosh, 5000 followers. And then the other, the like the next big one was a 100K and then I hit 300K and I was like, Holy crap, this is a thing. It was at like three or 400k, I was like, Okay, there’s money here. Companies started approaching being like, Hey, can we do some work together? And this is back in 2013, ’14 era. So right when Instagram was taken off, especially for the gun community. And I saw the business potential and right then and there, I was like, okay, I’m only gonna represent companies that I wholeheartedly believe in. I wanna be very cautious about who I work with. I wanna make sure this is a long term thing. ‘Cause there are a whole bunch… What we call… Gunsdaily now is like a repost page or like a curation of other people’s content. That genre has slipped a lot. Or maybe it’s evolved more so, but there’s, not many pages around that do that. And I’m not even extremely active.
0:07:42.8 Ben Stacy: I remember the days when I would post five times a day and I did that for at least like three or four years straight. Like didn’t miss a single day. And that’s, that was a big part of the growth. And back to the business side saw the value in it and, and started building those relationships. I lived up in Connecticut at the time I was going to school, trying to get my criminal justice degree. World incidents happens that involved police officers and I was like, maybe this is not the career I want to go down. And ultimately to be frank, I was earning more cash doing this Instagram thing than I could have as a police officer. So I was like, what am I, let’s pivot for a second here. Like what can I do? Had a friend that lived here in South Carolina, Myrtle Beach, moved down, visited him like twice was like, oh, this is a cool place. Move down at 19. Never looked back. Met Will probably couple years later I was probably, 21 if I had to estimate. And the rest is history.
0:08:53.4 Kenzie: That’s really cool. I mean, so you chose [0:08:55.4] ____ on a whim, like you didn’t have job lined up or recruit?
0:09:00.2 Ben Stacy: Yeah, no, I came down, I had, some cash saved up, which when you move, by the way you blow through really fast, like really fast. That was an eye opener.
0:09:08.0 Will Renke: Both great words of wisdom to all the viewers out there, Ben.
0:09:11.7 Ben Stacy: Yeah. That’s great.
0:09:13.6 Will Renke: Business 101.
0:09:15.5 Ben Stacy: Will, chuck-full them.
0:09:16.9 Will Renke: Yeah. No great. Yep.
0:09:19.6 Ben Stacy: Yeah. Best decision I ever made though, like I couldn’t do what I was doing up there, or continue to do what I’m doing now up there rather. And, it’s just a freer country down here in first state.
0:09:32.6 Kenzie: Well in the south, yeah. So, okay. And yeah. Will, like serial entrepreneur, like you said, kind of everywhere. Also like where did the bounty hunting come in? So you both had this criminal justice background. [laughter]
0:09:46.4 Will Renke: Yeah. So I’ll give you the, you know, the high end rundown of Will’s life story to this point. Graduated college with a psychology and business degree. And during college, the only job, the only person I really ever worked for was my dad who was a land developer, built houses. So I was always worked with my hands. I was that DIY guy. So when I graduated college, I didn’t really know exactly what I wanted to do. So me and my friend Drew Mauricy, we started a fence company. And the reason we started a fence company was because we installed a fence one weekend. So we were like, Hey, that’s a great idea. Let’s start a fence company. So it’s exactly what we did. We, bought all the equipment. We, got everything we needed. We rented a space from his dad that happened to be an exotic car collector. So it was the most strange thing in the world. There was a bunch of bags of cement in this little corner and dirty guys working and a multimillion dollar Ferrari is next to us. Bizarre.
0:10:48.8 Kenzie: Wow.
0:10:49.3 Will Renke: So we did that for a while. It was great. But then we learned a very tough lesson called the winter in New Jersey. Everything freezes ground frozen. You can’t dig holes, you can’t put up fences. So what did we do? I think we went to diner and we were sitting there drinking some coffee. We looked at a newspaper and it said, become bounty hunter. We’re like, this is a great idea. Bounty hunter, why not? Why would we not do this? And it was very simple. You go to Newark New Jersey and you take a weekend class and you become a US recovery agent. I believe.
0:11:19.6 Ben Stacy: Oh, my God, he has the badge.
0:11:22.2 Will Renke: In my desk I’m gonna do something fun because I love doing this. You gotta be careful watch out. So I have this, this is dated let’s see. And there’s photos on my Facebook page. This is date. Oh boy, I got this in 2008.
0:11:43.1 Kenzie: I was 16.
0:11:44.4 Ben Stacy: Actually. No, it expires in 2008. So anyhow, I was on a rooftop in Newark. I got pepper sprayed, I got batoned, handcuff and they gave me a badge and they said, Here you go, fella. Go get criminals. So I spent thousands of dollars. I had a bullet proof vest and, went to seaside. We trained, we got a Bronco. We called ourselves the, A Team. My code name was Bulldog. And we went around and we were bounty hunting people to this day. We got one person. He was at his home sitting on his couch in his underwear. So we decided, since we saw made contact with our target, we kicked in the door. Drew took out his double mag flashlights. I pepper sprayed him. We hog tied him in his underwear and brought him to the police station, which I’ll never forget. The cop looks at us and goes, what the F is wrong with you people like he was a wanted man. Like he had a misdemeanor, didn’t pay a bill or something. We’re like, it’s okay. You can’t break the law with us. And that was my bounty hunting days. So from there continued the construction aspect, did the fencing. I went into commercial remodeling, went to Mexico. My trip to Mexico ended up me moving to South Carolina, went to South Carolina, opened up another construction company, then opened up a gym, did that for 10 years and low and behold from the gym, it was a tanning salon to a restaurant, to a lot of security company, commercial flooring company. The list goes on.
0:13:14.5 Ben Stacy: I think you would have asked him what he haven’t done.
0:13:19.1 Will Renke: Yeah, I think I currently sit on about 12 LLCs, of various businesses and ventures, screen printing. I did custom embroidery to screen printing [0:13:29.0] ____ [laughter]
0:13:32.3 Will Renke: It’s been fun, it’s been a wild ride. Coatings. I built my own gym equipment. I was called Hudson Strength Equipment. I made dog bowls for a while. I made custom engrave dog bowls.
0:13:47.2 Ben Stacy: I didn’t know that.
0:13:47.4 Will Renke: Yeah.
0:13:47.4 Ben Stacy: That must have been short lived.
0:13:48.4 Will Renke: I was bored, and then all the odds and ends, I just… I had fun and then here we are Forge Relations.
0:13:55.0 Kenzie: But we skipped over Mexico [chuckle]
0:13:58.2 Will Renke: Oh, right. Yeah. I tried that. That was… I did that on purpose.
0:14:01.4 Kenzie: Yeah, no.
0:14:01.9 Will Renke: I gave context and I just kind of blew right over it.
0:14:04.8 Ben Stacy: [0:14:04.9] ____ deep on this one. This is…
0:14:07.4 Kenzie: [0:14:07.9] ____ story.
0:14:09.9 Will Renke: No problem. We can tag back into Mexico. So Mexico was a trip with me and my two friends and I was walking on the beach and I saw a girl with angel wings tattooed on her back. And I just so happened to have angel wings tattooed on my back. And I just tapped her on the shoulder as look at these tattoos. And that was it. She lived in South Carolina, Myrtle Beach. I ended up getting married, three years later to this person divorced seven months after that and stayed in Myrtle Beach. There we go.
0:14:36.0 Kenzie: All right. Cool. You’ve only worked for your dad. You’ve never actually been employee working for the man. None of that.
0:14:44.3 Will Renke: No, never.
0:14:46.0 Kenzie: What would that look like if you had to, right?
0:14:50.6 Will Renke: Which part? What are you asking me if I work for someone?
0:14:53.3 Kenzie: No. I mean, like I know me. So I’m asking you, like, if you had to work for someone else, what would that mean about your life like death?
0:15:01.8 Will Renke: No, not necessarily. I mean, I’ve contemplated that many times because it’s always… People always thinks the grass is greener on the other side, there’s pros to cons to everything.
0:15:12.2 Kenzie: Yeah.
0:15:14.2 Will Renke: I wouldn’t be opposed to anything like that at this point in my life. So I don’t know how to exactly answer that, but I still like the path that I can directly write my own paycheck, but I also like the opportunity because knowing who I am. It wouldn’t stop me. If I got a job as a position of X, the second I stepped foot in that building, I would’ve read the, in my mind be 10 steps ahead.
0:15:40.2 Kenzie: Yeah.
0:15:40.3 Will Renke: So then I would figure out, well, how am I gonna own this company? So I would just take that as another challenge or another stepping stone. And as the famous TV show, The Office, when they hired Robert California, he walked in, Robert California was hired for a position of manager. He instantly got into his Corvette, drove to Florida and within 24 hours was the CEO of the entire company. So, with that style being put into the space, into the air, that’s exactly how I would live if someone hired me.
0:16:11.2 Ben Stacy: We take all our business advice from The Office, you’ll realize that very fast. Like our entire business model is basically The Office, including their own awards called the Gundies. We just decided to do the Gundies, so.
0:16:22.9 Kenzie: Oh yeah.
0:16:23.4 Ben Stacy: There’s a lot of similarities.
0:16:25.5 Kenzie: Which we’re gonna about, at some point I’ve got that on my list but, but trying to just like chronologically here kind of, sort of.
0:16:33.9 Ben Stacy: We can try.
0:16:35.6 Kenzie: Yeah, we can try, but I was gonna ask you about why firearms, which you kind of answered that you had a lot of contacts and you’re like, Okay, why not doing it all over again, I guess in hindsight, right? You guys are really great at building relationships and doing marketing and ambassadorship for any business or industry. Why is firearms so challenging though and also so easy? Yeah.
0:16:58.5 Will Renke: Are you saying, why are we specifically dove into firearms?
0:17:01.9 Kenzie: Well, why firearms, but also like, what’s been the biggest struggle because you chose the firearms industry. ‘Cause that’s really hard to do paid advertising and certain things. But what’s been the reward from that too?
0:17:13.7 Will Renke: Well, so initially, when we started, remember when we started this, it was… Our biggest struggle was getting people into social media. We never had the struggle initially of dealing with the restrictions of social media at that particular time. ‘Cause it was so early into the stages of… This is way before influencers. This is before all of that, this is just straight up Facebook, Instagram ads. This is like the original concept of this. 90% of our space was they were still stuck in TV ads and magazines, magazines and everything else. So I would say the first year, year and a half of our business was actually spent not figuring out how to advertise on digital, was spent how to get them off of a dying breed of advertising. Dying platform to this. So after we spent all that time and did that, then we’re like, Oh-oh, now we’re in an industry that is completely restricted because of all the shenanigans that goes on. So we were kind of like, well we’re pot committed at this point.
0:18:23.5 Kenzie: Yeah.
0:18:23.8 Will Renke: It’s, let’s learn and understand how to do this. And then of course the age of influencers came around, which opened up another, completely another door for distribution, so that kind of gave us a huge edge and now we’re where we are now, which is just total craziness.
0:18:42.2 Ben Stacy: To bounce off of Will, you know in the early days, it was a battle to convince companies like, Hey, you should be investing time, money into social. Like they thought it was the most ludicrous thing. To Will’s point, that was where we spent the majority of our time. Like, Hey, this is a viable thing that you need to treat as a real part of your business. It would just get kind of thrown into the marketing bubble of someone’s responsibilities and they didn’t really pay attention to it. And now we’ve gotten to the point, if you’re not on social you’re… It’s too late. Like you’re five years behind, unless you can come up with something really creative to stand out. We very rarely even bother with a brand if they don’t already understand social media or the value of it. It’s not worth the time to try to convince a company now to invest into social if their head is stuck in that TV and magazine era. They’re just… They’re almost just too far gone. We’d prefer to work with the company that’s like excited and engaged and gets it.
0:19:51.3 Ben Stacy: And now we’re beginning to work with a lot more marketing directors that are younger, that like… They’re closer to my age where they’ve grown up with a phone in their hand almost their entire life and they get it. So it’s been very interesting to see that shift with the influencers too. We had this battle of… Influencers as a whole have gone through this whole thing. And the gun industry specifically is probably five-ish years behind the rest of the world. Like the makeup industry or entertainment, or food blogs or… I don’t care, whatever it is. They accepted influencers and content creators very quickly whereas in our industry, you are shunned for being a YouTuber. Like, Oh my God, you’re a shill because you did a video about this product and gave it a good review. Like we’re fighting this very weird uphill battle where both the brands and the consumer didn’t understand what this was and that there… Of course there were people that would sell their soul for a dollar but, yeah, obviously we try to avoid those people.
0:21:00.0 Kenzie: Yep.
0:21:01.0 Ben Stacy: But there’s such a bigger market. Like there’s… Coming back to current day, when we talk to a company, they don’t understand that you’re paying an influencer, like, “Oh, we’ll just send you a free product.” “Okay. Well, I’m doing this as a full-time job, this is my livelihood. I can’t pay my rent with a with a free gun as awesome as your $2000 or $3000 gun is. That’s amazing. There’s so many levels to this that we could peel that onion back for hours, but in the big picture, it’s a job. You’re oftentimes putting more time in than your 9-5 and it’s finally, in our industry, beginning to be seen that way.
0:21:40.8 Kenzie: Yeah. Yeah. Those are good thoughts. So for you guys with joining together, what were some of those first clients that you guys took on? Or can you talk about that?
0:21:52.0 Ben Stacy: Yeah, we did some work with Kimber, did some work with Gun Digest.
0:22:00.8 Will Renke: Those were the early… Early, early on.
0:22:02.0 Ben Stacy: Who else? We did a lot of work with…
0:22:05.8 Will Renke: I would say our first real big client was Kimber.
0:22:09.3 Ben Stacy: Henry Rifles. We did a lot of work.
0:22:11.0 Will Renke: Oh yeah. Henry Rifles. Yeah.
0:22:12.8 Ben Stacy: Crossbreed holsters. One of the first… So Forge started with events. We’ll come back to that in early or later point.
0:22:20.5 Will Renke: Well, actually, no. Forge actually started as a procurement company.
0:22:25.5 Ben Stacy: Oh yeah. Yeah. But the current form of it started with events.
0:22:28.0 Will Renke: Right. So, when we actually established Forge, it was to military procurement and LEO procurement for local police departments and government contracts. And within 25 minutes of diving down that rabbit hole, we decided to quickly avert.
0:22:47.3 Kenzie: Yeah. Riveting stuff there.
0:22:49.5 Will Renke: Yeah. Yeah.
0:22:49.8 Ben Stacy: Government just talks, no matter how big or small they’re.
0:22:52.5 Will Renke: But ironically, it’s always been a piece that I’ve kind of gone back and forth and dabbled with personally from the company.
0:22:58.3 Kenzie: You’re a bounty hunter, so you gotta…
0:23:01.5 Will Renke: Hundred percent. Yeah. Listen, when a robot gets loose, they call me and I go get it. So that’s the goal here. So yeah, it’s definitely, from that point, it was an events company.
0:23:17.0 Kenzie: Got it.
0:23:17.8 Will Renke: And then to this day, now we’re very well established to who we are and what our branches are as we call it and divisions, I really should say, of what makes up Forge.
0:23:29.3 Kenzie: Sure, sure. Okay. Well, let’s dive into the events then [chuckle] [0:23:35.1] ____ questions all the rest, but clients.
0:23:35.5 Ben Stacy: The first thing we ever did as a company, and I really wanna thank these companies, we still do work with them. We created something called a marketing retreat, which is essentially just three or four influencers and three… I think we had three sponsors. We used a friend’s Airbnb, ’cause we had no money. We charged these companies the tiniest amount of money to put their faith in us. ‘Cause we were… This was an Instagram kid and some douche from Myrtle Beach.
0:24:05.3 Kenzie: Bounty hunter.
0:24:06.3 Ben Stacy: Yeah. Bounty hunter. There was an uphill journey that had to be made and Cole-TAC, rugged suppressors, F4 firearms. Was there anyone else, Will? I’d feel really bad if there was. Actually I have a…
0:24:24.3 Will Renke: Echo six, F4 firearms.
0:24:26.4 Ben Stacy: And Nevada M, actually.
0:24:28.3 Will Renke: Oh yeah. Oh, this is cool. Look at this.
0:24:30.3 Kenzie: Nostalgia. Here we are.
0:24:34.8 Ben Stacy: We made this. There’s the first one of our first iterations of our logo, but we had this little thing drawn up by, I can’t remember. Pew Pew, something or other an artist on Instagram that has since blown up. But went out to the range with these guys, had this Airbnb, brought in a couple content creators and just filmed it all. Filmed, funny little kind… A lot of content that you would probably not see on the reels. We were taking a shot at back then before we review the thing. This was 2017. Cole-Tac is still a really good client, we consult with them every single month or every single week. So it’s been cool to see that growth but… Went out to the range, did our thing, came back, hung out by the pool. Brandon Herrera was there, Rachel B, couple others. So Brandon, Brandon had maybe 30,000 followers at the time that sort of deal. We borrowed at the time we was there…
0:25:38.5 Will Renke: Borrowed a humvee.
0:25:40.8 Ben Stacy: Borrowed a humvee and borrowed a 60…
0:25:44.3 Will Renke: Qt Yeti cooler.
0:25:45.5 Ben Stacy: Yeap.
0:25:47.3 Will Renke: Very important to know. The 60 qt Yeti cooler. Very, very important.
0:25:51.4 Ben Stacy: Remember that till this day, like $700 cooler, right?
0:25:57.4 Will Renke: And I borrowed it from the person that I ended up selling the gym to who then we also went back into the gym business and bought another gym together but…
0:26:04.8 Ben Stacy: Different story, different story. So we threw them in the back of Brandon’s truck ’cause our trucks had no more room. So…
0:26:11.8 Kenzie: Will’s had stickers on it. And you know and it’s too many…
0:26:18.3 Ben Stacy: We totally forgot about this thing. We thought we were so… Is boujee too strong a word?
0:26:23.8 Kenzie: No.
0:26:24.0 Ben Stacy: So we all… ‘Cause we had a friend bring in a private chef. It’s just that one of his friend’s and I think it is his cousin’s a chef.
0:26:33.5 Will Renke: There was one of the original…
0:26:34.8 Ben Stacy: What was that? The [0:26:36.3] ____.
0:26:36.5 Will Renke: That’s a [0:26:36.6] ____. Yeah, I’m bringing back the [0:26:37.1] ____. Oh, yeah.
0:26:41.8 Ben Stacy: So the cooler. Back to this cooler, though. It sits in the back of Brandon’s truck, we’re downtown Myrtle Beach lake right on the water.
0:26:49.7 Ben Stacy: For those that don’t know Myrtle Beach, we call it dirty Myrtle. There’s parts that are nice, there’s parts that are not so nice. Woke up in the morning after like on this high of a successful event and everything. No more cooler. Me and Will, I think it was $3000 total that we raised for the event.
0:27:12.8 Will Renke: That we raised for the event and our profit margin was an exact price of a cooler. So our profit margin went to buying a new cooler. So yeah, in the whole, our cooler. Nothing learned. Great job. Don’t lose… Don’t let the cooler go, but to this day, we still laugh about coolers. So yeah, that’s really where it came from, was the… That was the big first event and then we never looked back from there. So it’s funny. We look at events now that we run and there’s hundreds and hundreds of people and hundreds of thousands of dollars and just it’s insane from the level of the logistics to the flight to the hotel. It’s crazy to looking back, closing your eyes and going, we had four people, a cooler in an Airbnb and that’s exactly what it took.
0:28:00.7 Ben Stacy: And we were so…
0:28:01.7 Will Renke: Right. And that’s a very, very important part because those are the lessons along those years and along those trips that we scaled up a little bit. We were able to have trust in companies and spend so much money. We’re talking about like the Gundies, for example, is a very, very complex, very expensive event, and we… That trust comes back from day one just being able to do that many, many years ago to the point that we are today and…
0:28:32.1 Ben Stacy: And also, I mean, ultimately the relationship. Like that’s what we’ve built our brand on. When we were trying to figure out what we’re gonna call this thing, like we were sitting… I remember sitting at Will’s kitchen table. Like, “What are we gonna call this?” And my go-to is domain names. Like I love… My hobby is buy domain names. I don’t know why. They just sit there. I pay for them each year.
0:28:53.7 Kenzie: Hold on. You collect domain names?
0:28:56.0 Ben Stacy: Not like collect, but you…
0:28:57.2 Kenzie: You collect.
0:28:58.6 Ben Stacy: If people want them, I’ll sell them, right? Like it’s a little side… It’s a side hustle.
0:29:02.0 Kenzie: How many do you have?
0:29:03.9 Ben Stacy: Well, every time I have an idea for a new company, I buy the domain name [0:29:07.3] ____. So I don’t know.
0:29:10.7 Kenzie: Okay.
0:29:11.1 Ben Stacy: A couple dozen maybe. Definitely under… Less than 50, but that’s besides the point, that’s besides the point.
0:29:16.3 Kenzie: Okay.
0:29:16.5 Ben Stacy: So we were like, okay, Forge. ‘Cause we’re creating something, we wanna… Like we’re bringing stuff together. So that’s forging and then like relationships. Like what we do is connecting people and building relationships. So what about like forging relationships, Forge Relations. I’m like there’s no way that’s available, there’s no way that… ‘Cause it’s such… It seems like such a simple name. Lo and behold, obviously, it was and we jumped on it and have stuck with it ever since. Part of the philosophy there is like neither Will or I are super tactical. Like you’ll never… Very rarely… I don’t wanna say never, but very rarely see us like interact in that tactical space or we’ll never try to be tactical. We’re definitely more like the average consumer hence the Armed and Average thing, but with that mindset, we didn’t wanna turn off potential customers to working with us because we had forgetactical.com, right.
0:30:17.9 Kenzie: 100%, yeah.
0:30:19.4 Ben Stacy: Our marketplace is much bigger than just the gun industry. Like we started in the industry. It will always be our home. We have clients, local clients and other clients in other industries, and then what we love doing is trying to bring as much of that back to the firearms community. Like we…
0:30:37.7 Will Renke: Well, and the biggest part about the tactical side… I’m gonna jump in quick, Ben, was we didn’t… We did not wanna misrepresent ourselves.
0:30:44.3 Ben Stacy: Exactly.
0:30:45.8 Will Renke: Ben and I have no prior service, no military service. There was never anything of that nature. So I didn’t want to… We never wanted to dive deep into that range without being a very clear understanding of we respect it. I have many, many team guys that are really… That I consider very good friends that are dear friends. I’m very fortunate. I get to train with them, learn from them, but at the end of the day, I’m not gonna represent that by any way of me dressing up that, and if I do, it’s very specific training, CQB or I get to do a lot of training with my local SWAT team and it’s more of a respect thing.
0:31:25.8 Will Renke: So that’s kind of where we didn’t wanna say, hey, we’re these tactical cool guys and dressing up as commandos. Like that’s not what we want to do and that’s not really… We didn’t wanna pigeonhole ourselves in an already very, very, very small industry such as firearms. So we wanted to keep it as generic lifestyle. I compete. I’ve done 3-Gun, I’ve done IDPA, I’ve done steel magic. I’m by any… There is no one on this earth that can call me a pro shooter by any mean or any type of competitive shooter, because I’ve been DQ’ed more than I can’t even count.
0:31:58.5 Ben Stacy: I can second that.
0:32:00.6 Will Renke: ‘Cause when I get pissed off, mags get thrown at targets ’cause that’s all I’m gonna hit at that point. So I’ve had more quad loading mishaps than anyone on the face of the planet, but I love it. I respect it. I get to hang out with some of the best shooters in the world, JJ Racaza, Jerry Miculek. I get to shoot with all these people that are my friends. I’m not them, but I wanna be. I respect what they do and I get to enjoy it with them, but I don’t wanna showcase myself as one particular part of the industry. I get to incorporate it all.
0:32:33.0 Ben Stacy: Real quick, I just wanna hit on this. So Will mentioned his training with the SWAT team. What he really means is like he usually plays the bad guy for the training and gets hog-tied at the end of the match just…
0:32:44.2 Will Renke: And they shoot the all living shit out of me with the SIM rounds.
0:32:49.1 Kenzie: Like seriously?
0:32:50.0 Will Renke: I still hold scars all over my body. Oh yeah, I mean, I’ve been point-blank zapped, yeah, ’cause they get mad at me.
0:32:55.4 Kenzie: You go back every time.
0:32:57.2 Will Renke: Of course.
0:32:58.2 Kenzie: Why are you dumb?
0:33:00.6 Will Renke: What do you mean dumb? It’s awesome. I get to…
0:33:01.9 Ben Stacy: He can play Terrence.
0:33:03.6 Will Renke: Do you understand? Wait, this is real. Like we’re talking about we take over an entire mall and I get to be the bad guy and I get to yell at these cops about, I’m gonna order pizza for all you and like donuts and, I mean, it’s full on. Like I get to play. This is the ultimate fantasy of cops and robbers.
0:33:22.1 Ben Stacy: No, that’s like you’re gonna have shot up and scars. I would wanna be on the other side.
0:33:26.0 Will Renke: No, no. So I get to shoot them too now granted they’re in full kit and body armor, which is shenanigans, but so be it and then when I beat them, it’s amazing. It’s the best feeling ever when you get to take down a team of SWAT guys and it’s kind of fun now granted that’s never technically really happened, but…
0:33:45.6 Kenzie: No, no.
0:33:46.4 Ben Stacy: You can…
0:33:49.8 Will Renke: I have two, I have two things that I pulled out of that. So I wanna talk about the DQS. I feel that’s important. But I wanna go back though, and this is a serious question legit. I am a little bit not sick of, but everybody says something tactical. They have to be tactical, it’s tactical. In every business name I’ve ever seen, whether it is an actual tactical person or just someone building holsters or someone shooting. They’ve gotta be tactical, whatever. Do you guys find that just as painful to have a bajillion companies all with the…
0:34:18.0 Ben Stacy: Yeah. Both from just like… It’s an overplayed thing, but it it’s also the mindset. The average consumer, the non-gun owner, the regular American citizen, whether they’re completely against guns on the fence or they are indifferent. That term tactical already has a connotation with it. Where everything we do, we try to bring back to the industry. We’ve been lucky enough to work with some really cool companies outside of the industry that are pro gun, some really high end car companies or manufacturers and rental facilities and all those different things. And they’re more in the middle. They like to have fun going to the range is really cool. Typically you can spend $300,000 in the car. 10 grand on guns is nothing.
0:35:09.1 Ben Stacy: So they have all the cool stuff and they don’t care. They don’t dress up in full kit. Like they just want to go out and have a good time. And when you’re trying to bring new people into the community, into the industry, you’re not gonna achieve it by shutting politics down their throat or you need to train six days a week, or you need to wear this plate carrier this, that and the other. It’s like everyone has different passions. If you want to get and go into competitive shooting. Awesome. If you just wanna go to the range once a month. Awesome. If you conceal, carry and train every day, even better.
0:35:42.2 Ben Stacy: But there’s so many different levels with the industry in the community that I think it’s almost damaging for us when we overuse these terms and it can turn off a lot of these people in the… That are down the middle that are curious to it because it feels so foreign or nerve-wracking. As a first time gun buyer, for example, even going into a gun store. And they have their five 11 pants on nothing against five 11. But they have that look that we all know. And they’re like, “oh, you need to buy the pink 380 or you need to buy this, that and the other. That’s in my personal opinion, that is so damaging to the potential that we can bring to the community. So that’s my rant on tactical.
0:36:35.8 Kenzie: Oh. I’m there. Well, DQS, [laughter] why? How?
0:36:44.0 Will Renke: Let me just clarify by my DQS were very safe. DQS always showed clear, always had always had hammer down, always was properly stored. But then somehow magazine would come out, come in my hand and I would throw it to hit the target to make a point.
0:37:01.6 Ben Stacy: I probably still miss.
0:37:02.6 Will Renke: Yeah. And I more than likely miss. It’s just one of those things I’ve got to run some matches and with JJ Racaza for example. And I shadowed him and how he does it. And I’m like, “okay, this beyond my comprehension.” So I would try and emulate that. And essentially what would happen is this, “I’d have a game plan, I’d know my stage and have 3-Gun, blah do this da, da, blah, blah, blah this good stuff. And it was laser folk. I mean laser focused. I was so zoned in. I knew exactly what I was gonna do. I had my round count. Everything was beautiful. I watched it in my head. I watched it as Keanu Reeves was going through the hotel and just taken everybody out. That is exactly how and I threw in some matrix moves. I was so confident that I had this dialed in and I was backtracking slow motion my one hand perfect. And then I would hear this very, very common thing everyone hears shooter ready. Still at this point 100% dialed in.
0:38:05.7 Kenzie: I am just blazer. That is that beautiful draw, a zone, boom standby, still there. And then the dreaded beep. Holster would get stuck, magazine would fly out, shoot something that wasn’t supposed to be shot, bump into something, run magazines flying out, drop my gun in the wrong thing, pick this up, shoot that magazine, shotgun shells popping out everywhere. And of course along the way was this absolute beautiful symphony of curse words that were blaring in rhythm. As my round should have been going down range. It was more of this song of the F’s and the oh my God. And the F this and shit this and booed out It was perfect. So at the end the range everyone in the whole facility would say, “Sir, can you pack up your stuff and go home?”
0:39:09.1 Ben Stacy: Is Kids around?
0:39:10.8 Will Renke: So yeah, that is my problem.
0:39:12.6 Kenzie: That’s their problem.
0:39:13.8 Will Renke: Yeah. That’s my competition days.
0:39:16.2 Ben Stacy: It’s funny ’cause when I first moved down here once the end Instagram kid phase. I’d go to the range with a buddy of mine. [laughter] probably three to four times a week. I got pretty proficient with my firearm.
0:39:29.9 Will Renke: That’s also when rounds were 2 cents.
0:39:32.4 Ben Stacy: Yeah. Also stuff was super cheap. But my point being is, the more we got into the industry, it’s a lot more desk work than actually getting up there and shooting which really sucks. Because steel challenge was my jam. I love steel challenge. And now it’s probably been three years since I’ve been able to go to a match. But takeaway there, I think is try to… When we do go to the range now it’s all just filming. Me and Will more have recently been trying to be like, “Okay this Friday, this Saturday or whatever it is.” We’re just gonna go to the range. We’re gonna take everyone in the office out. We’re just gonna have fun. There’s no… We put the cameras down, we tried this whole flog thing for a little while that we’ll probably bring back, but let’s just go and have some fun with it. And there’s no pressure, no cameras, we’ll shoot some stuff and have some fun with it. But it’s hard as ironic as it is. It’s hard to find that time even though we live and breathe out.
0:40:35.9 Kenzie: Yeah. Well. Do You have videos from the symphony of cursing? [laughter] I just can’t.
0:40:44.1 Will Renke: And also I have videos of now I was shooting 3-Gun before 3-Gun was a thing. Okay, this is before I met…
0:40:54.3 Ben Stacy: We have photos His photos…
0:40:55.4 Will Renke: This is before I met Ben. This is before… This is like beginning, Instagram days. And I didn’t really know what 3-Gun was. So when I got prepared, I had a drop down mag pouches. I had a drop down holster. I had a fully tactical shotgun. Mossberg 500 pouches I had the Bandolier. ‘Cause I thought I had to carry thousands of rounds into these matches. And I’ll never forget stages I would run in my stupid uncle Mike’s drop down mag holster around my leg. They’d hold like… I think it holds like what, what? 630 round mags. They would all fly out. So by the time I got to the point where I needed my AR and I wouldn’t shoot the target once or twice, I would mag dump a complete mag into each, each target.
0:41:44.5 Will Renke: And I remember my gun was a XD 40 ported. [laughter] My first pistol I ever bought in New Jersey. And I just blared that thing. I bought [0:41:54.2] ____ and I was just, wilding out. And I was having a pump shotgun with a four grip pump laser. I called it man. And I would go out there ’cause I was a bodybuilder at the time I was competing. So I’d have a tank top. I honestly thought I was Van Damme, and Sylvester Stallone. That’s what I thought this was. And I ran around like a [0:42:14.0] ____.
0:42:15.6 Ben Stacy: Now you gotta find the photo.
0:42:17.5 Kenzie: I need photos, I need videos. But that got you into it, right? You had a blast, right?
0:42:25.0 Will Renke: Great time. Love it. Yeah, of Course. They didn’t judge me. They just politely said, let’s show you the way. And I was like, oh, there’s a way. Perfect. Let’s do it. And then, there it is just went from there.
0:42:38.4 Ben Stacy: He didn’t get any better even with the way.
0:42:42.1 Will Renke: No, no. Yeah. Didn’t get better at all. But here you go. Here’s a bounty hunting photo. [laughter] there you go.
0:42:46.1 Kenzie: I remember that…
0:42:49.2 Will Renke: Yeah. There’s Will the bounty hunter. Good times.
0:42:50.7 Kenzie: You shared that before.
0:42:52.0 Will Renke: I did. Yeah.
0:42:53.6 Kenzie: Oh like the stuff that we talk about in 3-Gun though, is for sure is wrong. What you got, bring what you got. My experience was not as tactical, but just as stupid. My shocking was not worked over. It was five round capacity load one at a time. Like my magazine pouches were my pockets. Like it was bad bad. And I had just my cool Glock my iron sights on the rifle by the way, there was no other sight. Just irons. Just flip up irons. So those targets at three 400 yards, they weren’t hit. [laughter]
0:43:23.4 Will Renke: I never hit anything. I would just go ding, because by the time I was running outta of ammo I would just look back and go, ding, you see that good, next target, hit.
0:43:38.2 Kenzie: For The Gundies I think when you do a fundraiser, where if we raise so much money, you have to shoot a 3-Gun stage that I set up.
0:43:45.2 Will Renke: Okay.
0:43:46.2 Kenzie: I would pay probably a $1000 dollars to watch that shit show. [laughter] I’m not joking.
0:43:53.8 Will Renke: Which…
0:43:54.7 Ben Stacy: Like, I will… Will, we can split that. Like, I mean, we’ll double it.
0:44:00.3 Kenzie: We’re videoing it, Will. I’m not kidding, I can’t…
0:44:02.9 Will Renke: I have to go back with the original swag, like the original gear.
0:44:06.9 Ben Stacy: Or you’re gonna do it with a [0:44:07.1] ____.
0:44:15.7 Kenzie: Original gear.
0:44:16.1 Will Renke: I believe I have…
0:44:17.4 Ben Stacy: [0:44:17.5] ____ Bandolier, [0:44:17.6] ____ hunting shotgun.
0:44:17.8 Kenzie: Bandolier, the forty cow.
0:44:17.9 Will Renke: That I don’t have anymore.
0:44:19.6 Ben Stacy: We have a high point you can use, it’s perfect.
0:44:21.2 Will Renke: Yeah. I’ll use a high point instead.
0:44:25.6 Kenzie: That’s [0:44:25.7] ____ that’s a fundraiser. I people to chip in too. Then you get to choose where donation goes. Even playing field there you go.
0:44:34.1 Ben Stacy: [0:44:34.2] ____ Zebra plain high point. Will that work?
0:44:34.3 Will Renke: Zebra high point. I like that. Oh yeah. That’s actually our gun. What am I saying? Why was I like that? We have that gun.
0:44:45.5 Ben Stacy: That’s what you need to compete with. It’s eight plus one or something.
0:44:49.9 Will Renke: Yeah.
0:44:51.9 Kenzie: So I digressed but again that is fantastic. That is the best story I’ve ever heard. So going back to the business too, I want to know a couple of things too. I am terrified of ever having employees [laughter] so how did you guys make that decision to scale, and have employees and what were those growing pains? Like figuring all that out.
0:45:11.5 Ben Stacy: Oh, okay. So, start off… Go for it, Will.
0:45:16.7 Will Renke: Let me jump in, ’cause this is a little bit easier for me. So Forge Relations wasn’t my first rodeo. So me personally, I’m not speaking for Ben, but me personally, which this answers a lot. I’ve had lots and lots and lots of employees over the years from construction employees to fitness, personal trainers to…
0:45:39.2 Kenzie: [0:45:39.3] ____ assistance.
0:45:42.2 Will Renke: So employees was never really… I was way over that pump or I’m sorry. I was way over that hump long, long, long ago. So for me it was just very simple workflow, opportunity. Essentially this is what the company was bringing in. This is the valuation of each employee. This is what they were gonna bring to put in. It was just very simple. Just numbers and business. That was it.
0:46:04.5 Kenzie: Yeah.
0:46:05.0 Will Renke: So there was no thought of management or how to do it or how to understand it. It was just simply, these are the contracts, this is the money coming in. Two people have to equate to this growth. We need another person specifically do this, increase our output. This is our cost factor valuation and that that’s it. So as far as Ben’s concerned, I have no idea. I dont know what Ben was thinking.
0:46:28.2 Ben Stacy: I had a lot to learn ’cause I came in it from the exact opposite. Like I didn’t have any of that. So managing people has been a learning experience. It’s I think it’s a very valuable skillset to have. And it’s one you’re always gonna hone.
0:46:43.0 Kenzie: Especially for an introvert that doesn’t like people to start off.
0:46:56.8 Ben Stacy: 100%. Exactly. And we really hit our growth phase going into COVID. Maybe like six months, eight months before COVID we hired our first full-time employee and then COVID hit, we had that two month slump, whatever. And then we were in our old office at the time and then everything just exploded. Like the demand went through the roof for everything digital. We were getting phone calls left and right on like, Hey, can you help us with this? Like, Hey, we’re scrambling.
0:47:21.6 Ben Stacy: Then all of a sudden the government started dropping cash and companies were like, “Hey, there’s people that are trying to spend money. We need help with this whole digital thing.” And we went from three of us and an intern to now we’re at… There’s seven of us in the Office and then three remote, so we’re at like 10 employees plus our web team, which we treat as kind of a separate entity, but it was just a very fast growth phase over the past 2 years. And scaling that side of the business to make sure, number one, we wanna make sure the client’s always taken care of. We’ll turn down work before we overload ourselves with bringing on a new client. We wanna make sure our current clients are taken care of. And then two, just finding good people. Good people that understand the industry, marketers are dime a dozen. Like they really aren’t but it’s easy to find someone in the marketing space, but finding someone that understands digital marketing, number one, Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, all that fun stuff and then someone who is cool with firearms, who knows the industry, knows how to talk the talk, walk the walk sorta deal, that’s nearly impossible.
0:48:43.7 Kenzie: That’s less than half percent of the whole world population. Let me ask you this too, with that, do you think that across the board in other industries, whether it’s food, beverage, hospitality, whatever, do you think that firearms is the one where you can’t just pull a marketing person or pull a marketing person, they have to know firearms?
0:49:00.5 Will Renke: Oh, yeah. Yeah. We talked about that yesterday. The client that we’re talking to in Canada actually, that’s what really separates Forge from other marketing firms. We were born in the firearms industry. So with that being said, it is very niche and with that, you have to truly understand your marketplace. You have to understand how to not only communicate, but also how to distribute that content properly. And when it comes to other marketing firms that are outside of the industries, that are… I’m talking about major marketing firms that are in New York, with a valuation of a billion dollars, half a million… Half a billion, massive companies. All these employees and stuff, very challenging because if you don’t understand the proper way you can’t do what is done for every other industry in the world…
0:49:55.0 Kenzie: Yep.
0:49:55.4 Will Renke: And that has been the biggest bonus to us because when we get into… ‘Cause we don’t just work in the firearm space.
0:50:04.4 Kenzie: Yeah.
0:50:04.9 Will Renke: When we work in other spaces, it’s amazing because we take the techniques that were used in the firearm space and we put them into a traditional company, and it helps tremendously, because that’s not really what’s done. It’s very traditional ad by this posting. They don’t do that because they don’t have to, because there is no restriction.
0:50:25.4 Kenzie: Yep.
0:50:25.8 Will Renke: We can literally just go poop, boom, boom, buy this boom, poop, boom and bada bing boom, there it is. We can’t do that, we can’t be like, “Hey, here’s my new Glock, negative, sir.” [laughter] Can’t do this, can’t do that, can’t hashtag this, can’t do this. It’s like holy smokes, by the time you’ve figured out what you can and done, what you can actually do…
0:50:50.3 Kenzie: You have Will’s resume once you… [laughter]
0:50:52.2 Will Renke: Yeah. Well, no you have two solo cups and a string and you’re putting it on a wall listening, that’s what you have. You have the most rudimentary form of advertising. You might as well go get a horse and write a hand letter, put a wax seal and fly, horseback it across the country and get your message to some lucky viewer. With all that being said, it’s very intriguing.
0:51:14.3 Ben Stacy: It forces you to be so much more creative.
0:51:18.1 Kenzie: Yes.
0:51:18.9 Ben Stacy: Like going… We do a lot of work with a couple of local dealerships and we’ve done some stuff nationally with GM, going from this to that, it’s such an easy… In the most ironic way, it’s the easiest transition because everything that we fight for in the gun industry, we have to fight for every single purchase. We have to fight for every single eyeball.
0:51:43.6 Kenzie: Yep.
0:51:43.8 Ben Stacy: When you get… When it gets… When that floodgate opens up and you’re like, “Oh shoot, I could just put a $100 behind this Facebook post.”
0:51:50.2 Kenzie: It’d be great.
0:51:51.3 Ben Stacy: It’s almost like cheating.
0:51:52.3 Kenzie: Yeah.
0:51:52.8 Ben Stacy: It’s weird feeling, it becomes a whole different ball game and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Like we’ve…
0:52:00.6 Kenzie: Yeah. Learned a lot more.
0:52:02.4 Ben Stacy: We have a variety of clients that have gone through different marketing firms and it’s almost always the same spiel when they come to us. It’s, “Hey, we were working with this firm in LA or we were doing this thing with this company in New York or whatever, and it’s this big conglomerate, very recognizable name if you’re in the industry.” And it never works out because they don’t understand the industry, everything that they’re very good at, and they are good at what they do, does not work in this space. Everything in this space is driven by the relationship, it’s who you know, it’s very connection driven. And then the content’s different, 90% of what you can do for a makeup brand type of content, you can’t do for the gun industry. You have to always be up on trends and thinking outside the box and it forces you to think different.
0:52:58.1 Kenzie: For sure. Okay. Let me ask you this. So we have a small industry and yet a ton of players in the industry. There’s two questions, kind of two part with this, is where do you think companies in our industry make mistakes or mess up? What are they lacking? And then where do you think the companies are really excelling, are doing right?
0:53:22.8 Will Renke: I mean, mess up. That’s a very broad, I don’t think really anyone… The only way there’s really. Okay. So with the firearms industry, once again, niche. Okay. Very, very niche. The focus of trying to hone in, in a very, very specific niche of that niche is not that easy in our space. The cowboy dualling shoot off thing. There’s only so many people. Yeah. There’s a lot of people doing that, but it’s still, it’s such a small piece. So there’s companies that make some certain parts or they advertise for that. It pops up once in a while, the people that shoot the red light and they shoot blanks and all those it’s cool. Super cool. But from the grand scheme of things, when companies are very pigeonholed with inside of our community, it’s much harder.
0:54:15.1 Will Renke: And then you see companies like Brownells is a great example. Brownells does it right, Brownells, they understand the industry, they understand the market, they understand the consumer, they understand how to reach all parts of the consumer. And not only that, most importantly, they understand the system, they understand how influencers are valuable. They know how to treat their influencers. They understand how to treat their distribution centers. They get it because that is what’s needed because as a community, the only way we work. So I guess to answer your question, let me just make it very simple. Companies that are making it are companies that are willing to work within the community and make everyone work together as a collaboration instead of separate. So the companies that are not are the companies that are trying to separate and divide through calling people out or doing something of the nature, that’s not bringing us together.
0:55:06.2 Will Renke: Maybe not everyone’s gonna do something right. Do something wrong. So be it, whatever, not everyone’s gonna be perfect. Not everyone is gonna be a 3-Gun master and not throw a magnet shit. It doesn’t mean you discourage them from doing something. So I think that’s really truly it. It’s just the marketing play of understanding the industry and using the industry to work together as a community instead of separating the community through division. So I think that’s really the only way. We can’t break it down to products, we can’t break it down to certain things. It’s just more of a messaging. So the ones doing it right. Work together, the ones doing it wrong are the ones trying to separate us. So.
0:55:42.5 Ben Stacy: No, I think at the highest level it’s companies that understand people versus companies that don’t. Brownells is being a great example as Will mentioned, they invest back both into their employees, but also the content creators they work with. Everyone’s on the same level from my understanding they hire from within a lot of times, I think that’s just healthy business across the board. That’s not exclusive to the gun industry and they invest into their people no matter what shape that takes, whether it’s doing their social summits, which are huge. Like they’ll… I had this conversation the other day, they bring out creators that are small and large and those creators stick with them for the… For eternity, like that’s where our, a big chunk of our affinity for them came from. One, they’ve always supported.
0:56:37.4 Ben Stacy: And this just turned into a massive call out for Brownells, but, one, they’ve always supported us. But, two, like I went to one of their social summits early on, we went deep sea fishing. We got to breach doors. We did all this cool stuff. There was no expectation whatsoever. We got to meet the people behind the brand, Josh Corbin, Roy Hill, Pete Brownell came out, Ryan Rap, we got to interact with the company. It wasn’t just like, Hey, here’s my product, go try. It’s like we were building a relationship with the people. And that’s I think where you’re gonna see the biggest divide between companies that are succeeding versus companies that are just trying to sell a product.
0:57:19.1 Kenzie: Yeah. Well, I mean, that goes back to, I think the consumers are the same way of like, okay, they see them being involved in shooting sports or people or influencers or whatever. Those are the companies that people are buying from. I mean.
0:57:30.2 Ben Stacy: Exactly.
0:57:31.0 Will Renke: Yeah.
0:57:31.5 Kenzie: Plug for Brownells. I love their stuff. I have some primers on order coming my way already.
0:57:35.6 Ben Stacy: I mean, that kinda answers question about companies that are doing it right too, it’s… I think it’s in the same answer. It’s people or companies that are being people focused.
0:57:47.2 Kenzie: Yeah. Yeah. 100%. Alright. Let’s talk about why The Gundies came around and how The Gundies came around. [laughter]
0:57:53.9 Ben Stacy: [0:57:53.9] ____.
0:57:56.7 Kenzie: How ridiculously awesome and absurd though The Gundies are. [laughter]
0:58:01.2 Will Renke: Yeah. So The Gundies was truly developed from understanding how to benefit from what we’ve created from an influencer stands and how do we really separate ourselves from the rest and get our name out there? And truly, truly, truly, truly, it was an opportunity to do something that’s never been done before in our community, but yet has been done so many times. So once again, The Gundies on a whole is nothing new. It’s new to our community. And that goes back to the original conversation. When we first started Forge was how we were always focusing on trying to show companies a new way of doing things and getting them to switch over what was actually happening. And The Gundies is no different. Every industry in pretty much all space has an award. You have one for gaming, you got one for Hollywood, you got one for pretty much every industry has an award ceremony.
0:59:00.9 Will Renke: Well, there wasn’t really anything for the gun community. So taking that into consideration, we knew in order to make this mainstream, in order to have a shop at real, at getting real sponsors at getting it really at a level that it wasn’t just very niche and in a basement somewhere, and it wasn’t gonna be able to reach the masses. We knew we had to make light of it. We knew we had to make it fun, light, humorous, but also serious.
0:59:31.9 Kenzie: And more than once they see ounce Yeti cooler. [laughter]
0:59:35.1 Will Renke: Exactly hundred percent, hundred percent. So I was completely obsessed with The Office. I think that’s pretty much all I watched for like two years straight, three years straight. It was on loop rotation in my house.
0:59:48.6 Kenzie: Who are you in The Office?
0:59:49.6 Will Renke: So this is background. I don’t really have a specific character just because I’ve… Through every season, I portrayed myself in different characters throughout the multiple seasons, throughout the multiple times I’ve watched it. So depending on the mood, could be Michael Scott, could be Dwight, could be Jim, sometimes a Creed. I was a big fan of Creed. He was that creepy guy in the corner. Didn’t really fit there very often, but he made those funny things. Never really fit into the Kevin Malone aspect, I didn’t, my belly wasn’t quite there yet. Sometimes…
1:00:20.0 Ben Stacy: [1:00:20.1] ____.
1:00:21.1 Will Renke: Meredith was funny, so there’re so many different… Definitely never hit the Oscar part. I think Ben took that role a little bit more. So essentially, that was a big part of it. So when the award came up, we just started focusing on the categories and then understanding the categories. It all just… It happened very organically. It was a very good fit, the Gundie Dundies, and then not only that, the opportunity for marketing, the first Gundies was by far the best Gundies. Yeah, just personally, because not only was it such a stretch, that first phone call, I’ll never forget. Once again, it was Brownells, the first phone call was to Josh from Brownells and said, “Hey, got this crazy idea, Will, do you have a minute?” Two minutes later, we’re on the phone, I said, “Here’s the deal. Chacho, we’re gonna host this award ceremony called The Gundies.” And he went, “Love it. I’m in.” I went, “Woohoo, that’s one out of 14 done.”
1:01:18.9 Kenzie: Nice.
1:01:20.8 Ben Stacy: There was only 10 back then.
1:01:22.0 Will Renke: Ten. And the rest of them were not as easy, by any means. The explanation, the jokes, the memes, we did podcasts, the community laughed, the community, not on the whole, I would say the first year it was very, it was very split.
1:01:38.0 Kenzie: Sure.
1:01:38.4 Will Renke: But the other half that was split, it was more of confusion. And it was like a one time thing, it would never last, it wouldn’t be a thing. So we had a lot… We had a huge uphill battle from an advertising point, we had an uphill battle from explanation, but then we also had to put on this event during the largest gun event of our community, which was SHOT Show. So we went in full steam ahead in saying, “Okay, if we’re gonna do this, we are not strong enough to do it as a standalone event. We need to use something that is already stationary, where everyone’s going to be, ’cause no one’s gonna travel for this.” So we had to pick SHOT Show and from SHOT Show, now we’re playing with the big boys. So now if we’re gonna take a, if we’re gonna take a day out of the calendar, which is a seven day calendar and it’s gonna be that Monday, we better put on one hell of a show, ’cause there’s big parties, Glock throws parties, everybody.
1:02:36.1 Will Renke: And yeah, it was a very interesting challenge that first one. So that’s where it developed. The vlog, it… Okay.
1:02:45.4 Ben Stacy: Real quick, Will, if I can jump in, just for those that don’t know what The Gundies is a bit. You might have caught on by this point, but it’s an award show and ceremony voted on by the people in the community. It’s a voter choice awards in simple terms. First year, we had 10 categories, we now have 15 and you get to vote for best outdoorsman or most likely to survive the apocalypse. Last year we added Most Dapper, which is gonna stay in there. Most Dapper Influencer to most influential male, female, influencer of the year. So to Will’s point, there’s this diversity of serious categories and more humorous categories, like most likely to survive the apocalypse. At the end of the day, we’re very aware it’s a popularity contest. The more followers you have, the more likely you are to win. That’s just the nature of a voter choice type deal.
1:03:41.3 Kenzie: Or if you pay off the announcer a 100 bucks to say 32.3.
1:03:45.8 Will Renke: A 100.
1:03:47.3 Kenzie: What was it?
1:03:47.4 Will Renke: Ohh, maybe year one, this year, there better be a whole pile of zeros.
1:03:53.6 Kenzie: Do you remember that though? 32.3. It’s like, the best influencer award we’re like…
1:03:58.4 Ben Stacy: We remember, we remember.
1:04:00.3 Kenzie: “What did we miss?” Yeah, that was funny.
1:04:01.1 Ben Stacy: That was unscripted at its finest.
1:04:03.1 Will Renke: Now, but remember, that’s The Gundies itself. The actual setup of The Gundies and the conception, it was just so intriguing from the business side. I think the best part truly was the advertising. And I was very fortunate that our first co-host, Thea, it was such a natural fit. She loved The Gundies, our chemistry together from a co-host, from hosting it was great and we got to film some of the, to this day, still some of the best filming.
1:04:35.4 Ben Stacy: Some of it’s never even made it to the internet. It was…
1:04:36.7 Will Renke: Yeah. Oh no, no, we don’t have, we released everything.
1:04:40.3 Ben Stacy: Oh, did we? Oh, that’s right. We released the whole video.
1:04:41.1 Will Renke: Yeah, and I got dress up. We essentially took some of the best episodes in The Office history and remade it towards our industry, like where I dressed up… Jim dressed up as Dwight, me and Thea did that, and we did a whole skit there. The skits were unbelievable. And those were some of the parts that no matter what happened with The Gundies after that night, ’cause at that point it was just a one night thing. The people voting, the setup, we didn’t really know what was happening. We already felt we won, because we got people to this website, we got a lot of people talking about it. So I’ll never forget. Our setup consisted of Ben, myself, our part-time event coordinator that we hired like a month out, who actually used to go to my gym, so I hired her there. Josh, I don’t even know who else. I mean, yeah, that was it. And we…
1:05:40.5 Ben Stacy: Josh was our videographer.
1:05:40.7 Will Renke: Yeah, videographer. And we rented, we went to… We rented a little like piece, like a little mic for karaoke. We rented out an entire bar, never saw the bar ever.
1:05:52.4 Ben Stacy: We caught this day before, saw it the day before.
1:05:54.8 Will Renke: The day before and Nacho Daddy was a great establishment. They loved it. They gave us everything, but granted, as we were hanging banners, people were still eating dinner [laughter] so we worked it down to the minutes. So we set up the Gundies hours before the event actually happened. I 3D printed all the trophies, everything was built out of pure just sweat, blood, and tears.
1:06:20.2 Kenzie: Yeah.
1:06:20.4 Will Renke: Probably a lot more tears than anything else. There were many times that we’re like, “I don’t wanna do this. This is just, this is just so dumb. It’ll be an epic failure,” but we never stopped. And after the night was over, I did about 400 scorpion shots, which is Nacho Daddy famous shots. And the next day I had to get two double bags of IV put into my arm for hydration. Cause I was so hung over and that was it never looked back since.
1:06:52.5 Kenzie: And you now got to shoot an RPG because of it.
1:06:54.5 Will Renke: I did. I did. I did. Yeah. I mean, well, RPG along with many, many others. Connections, relationships, tanks, adventures, I mean all stemming from the Gundies. I mean, now it’s, it’s very interesting when we talk to clients, like yeah, the Gundies like, oh yeah, I know the Gundies. Like to sit there and go you know the Gundies now it’s so unbelievably intriguing to hear how the level it’s gotten to…
1:07:16.2 Kenzie: This is year three, right. Three?
1:07:20.9 Ben Stacy: Four.
1:07:21.9 Kenzie: Four.
1:07:22.8 Will Renke: Yeah.
1:07:23.0 Ben Stacy: We’ve done four.
1:07:24.8 Will Renke: So and truly once again this may sound weird. I don’t wanna say the word thank COVID, but we would not be at the level that we are right now at this particular moment if COVID never happened. Because we were set up for year two at the exact same situation. Okay. We were taking Gundies year two with the exact same approach. We’re gonna rent down Nacho Daddy. I think we rented out the whole thing. We were just gonna go bigger, but it was still just an award ceremony. So when we were going back and forth, this whole COVID thing happened, nobody really knew what was going on with SHOT Show. When we finally got the phone call, I mean, me and Ben our offices we were right next to each other in our old office.
1:08:13.3 Ben Stacy: We didn’t have offices. We were just…
1:08:14.9 Will Renke: We didn’t have an office, it was just one office space and our desks were next to each other upstairs. Anyhow we got the phone call saying “Hey, SHOT Show has been canceled.” So we had two options at that point, it was either cancel the Gundies or say, let’s do the Gundies. And that was it. That was our green light. That was our moment in life and an award that was our moment in time to realize that we can do this without anything else. And we can also control our own destiny without having SHOT Show determine what this event was going to be. So instead of always tagging along the Gundies with something else and making it a…
1:08:51.0 Kenzie: On the top of SHOT Show…
1:08:53.3 Will Renke: This is now a standalone event. I’ll never forget within 12 hours we’re on the phone, I was like, where can we go? Like, where are we gonna do this thing? Well, it’s not gonna be Vegas. That’s like, people are that’s dumb. And then we just remember seeing all this cool content come out from DriveTanks with these tanks and this and that. And I was like, this is the coolest thing ever. Perfect. And we sent a DM, we got a phone number and now I’m very happy to say Spencer and Alicia and all the DriveTanks are family to us. I mean, what they’ve done, what we’ve done together. They believed in us. They literally said, okay, this sounds cool. And me and Ben were on a plane within 48 hours.
1:09:33.3 Kenzie: Geez.
1:09:33.5 Will Renke: We flew to Texas. We met everybody and they were just like, “Okay, let’s do it.” And we went, I mean, it was crazy. The first range was a piece of string. I mean, it was so crazy. The fact that we did that now we amplified it obviously more sponsors, but we had also rushed to get sponsors. Because now we had to add an award ceremony. I’m sorry, an expo a range day. So not only did we have this ceremony over here now we had to do this. So we had live streaming and every day that went on, we added another level of complexity to our already complex event that we were so out of our league. But you know what, I look back now. And we used to say that we used to say we were so out of our league and really, truly looking back, we weren’t out of our league. We were just taking the experiences that we had and just combining it in a really short period of time with zero option of failure.
1:10:28.7 Kenzie: Yeah.
1:10:29.3 Will Renke: We couldn’t fail, to fail at something like that. Would’ve been not only fail at an event, but fail at our company.
1:10:35.3 Kenzie: Right.
1:10:35.7 Will Renke: So it was unacceptable to have those turns. And then we came up with the Gundies and here we are.
1:10:41.2 Kenzie: Well, I don’t think anybody that went or had been to ’em would ever think that they’re a failure. You guys might have seen it right. Or parts that you could have done better. Whereas we’re like, this is epic. Nobody’s done this. Like how awesome is this right?
1:10:52.7 Ben Stacy: Well, It’s always that moment, like I remember at the first Gundies we’re setting up, I’m standing on a ladder hanging banners. Literally people are eating still. ‘Cause we didn’t get the whole thing shut down for the day. It was only for our little four hour whatever timeframe. And just like, holy crap he’s never gonna show up, he’s never gonna show up. We had like over 150 RSVPs or something like that, but that means nothing.
1:11:16.4 Kenzie: Yeah.
1:11:16.6 Ben Stacy: And then I remember this distinctly to this day, Tim from Military Arm Channel walks in a half hour early, I was like, “Oh my gosh.” And then Jon Patton from the Gun Collective shows up, Warrior Poet Society rolls in, Scott from Kentucky Ballistic shows and we’re like, holy crap, like we’re actually doing this. And then there is a full freaking house of over a 100 people. I don’t know what the exact number is. I don’t remember, but we flushed that place put.
1:11:43.4 Will Renke: Oh it was way over full. It was way over a 100 people.
1:11:45.8 Ben Stacy: We flushed that place out and there that was the moment we have something. And then like will was saying about year number two, went to cancellation of SHOT Show Will I think it was literally that night that we called Spencer and Alicia.
1:12:00.1 Will Renke: Yeah, it was, was that night.
1:12:02.9 Ben Stacy: And they’ve been so good to us and talking about the logistical headache of doing an event in the middle of nowhere, two hours outside of the closest major city, getting people to the town and then to DriveTanks and figuring out lodging and travel which…
1:12:21.7 Will Renke: In a town that has very little space for anything like that. There are 1234 hotels.
1:12:32.4 Kenzie: Oh, I know we drove an hour.
1:12:35.6 Will Renke: Yeah, but.
1:12:36.2 Ben Stacy: Probably three Airbnbs.
1:12:38.0 Will Renke: Very exciting news for this year. But anyhow, I’m not gonna go down that route.
1:12:41.4 Ben Stacy: Yeah. Well, let’s save that.
1:12:42.5 Kenzie: I remember hint I’m in so.
1:12:46.3 Ben Stacy: It was and even like, like at DriveTanks the first year, I think there were probably six of us. We got there a couple days early. We were running around with our heads cut off. That was probably the best thing that it could have happened. ‘Cause we learned so much. I remember standing there with Spencer just being like, okay, nothing bad, nothing bad has happened. Like everyone’s still alive. There’s no whole one. Holy smokes. Like one person drove down the wrong road, which they say could have been detrimental ’cause it’s like an active hunting property here…
1:13:21.6 Kenzie: Oh shit. Yeah, yeah, yeah.
1:13:22.4 Ben Stacy: Right. But nothing happened and to.
1:13:25.2 Will Renke: Wait, hold on. We’re allowed to swear you. You just said shit. I can say shit.
1:13:29.5 Will Renke: I’ve been holding back.
1:13:29.6 Kenzie: Yeah, well, you know me.
1:13:33.6 Will Renke: Well I’ve been holding back on curse words.
1:13:36.5 Kenzie: Why?
1:13:37.3 Will Renke: Okay, go ahead. Sorry Ben. Go ahead.
1:13:40.1 Ben Stacy: So anyways the a after, like after the ceremony ended just the biggest wave of relief I’ve ever felt like the biggest feeling of success. It was something you almost crave, right? Yeah. It’s the most, it’s the most stress you put six months into this thing is the most stressful time period. Month out it’s crunch time and then it it’s done.
1:14:07.8 Kenzie: It’s validated.
1:14:08.6 Ben Stacy: It’s like this it’s this two day thing and then it’s done. Yeah. And all that adrenaline just dumps and it’s over and…
1:14:17.8 Kenzie: How long did you sleep after?
1:14:21.5 Will Renke: Oh, well right after we didn’t, because once again, like I said, only six people we sent the other four home me and Will had to clean up everything. We forgot about that part. So we spent we…
1:14:33.0 Will Renke: And we forgot about that part again last year.
1:14:38.1 Ben Stacy: Not nearly as bad. We had a little help, but yeah. A little… We had… Instead of two people there were four of us.
1:14:45.2 Kenzie: Guys.
1:14:46.0 Will Renke: Yes. But only two of them were actually doing cleanup. And the other one person was still to this day, not knowing what they were doing. [laughter]
1:14:54.6 Kenzie: Is that Ben?
1:14:56.1 Will Renke: Oh, a 100%.
1:14:56.8 Ben Stacy: I don’t know who, I don’t know what he is talking about, but…
1:15:00.6 Will Renke: That’s a very sore subject.
1:15:01.3 Ben Stacy: Anyway. Yeah. Anyway long story short, it’s been a hell of a journey. Gundies year four last year was incredible blue one of my expectations. So we’re getting to that point where it’s like, okay, how do we keep upping it? How do we keep upping it? So we’ve got a couple incredible sponsors that are as crazy as we are and want to invest into some crazy stuff. So that that’ll be, we’ll save that for the event.
1:15:29.6 Kenzie: Feel like Dillon Precision has gotta be one of those. [laughter]
1:15:32.5 Ben Stacy: There’s a lot of things. There’s a lot of cool things in the works. And at the end of the day, one of the biggest things with the Gundies outside of like celebrating creators that put in all this effort, we could go on for hours about all the intricacies and stuff. The one of the coolest parts for me last year was seeing, we did this thing called Sponsor Appreciation Day. So it’s the setup day. It’s the Friday before last year was Friday before. So everyone’s setting up. But we also made the range hot in the afternoon. So sponsors could shoot other company’s guns. We had all the activities going. So sponsors got to do the tank ride, go on the safari shoot the tanks if they wanted stuff like that. And then we had a dinner in the evening and I had a good friend of ours.
1:16:21.8 Ben Stacy: You actually know we were on a call with him earlier today, come up to me and just gimme the biggest hug and say, I’ve never been to an event where someone invested the time into the companies that were attending. Yeah. Because it’s, they go stand behind their booth. They talk to the influencers, if no one comes up, like they feel like chipped, but they got to experience everything that the content creator got experience the next day. So for me that was probably like the biggest win, like getting to provide both entertainment to the sponsor but often also the marketing value that came with it. The B2B networking, the experience overall.
1:17:05.7 Kenzie: For sure. Ben, are you Gen Z or are you still millennial?
1:17:10.2 Ben Stacy: I’m a ’95 baby. So I think I’m millennial.
1:17:13.7 Kenzie: I don’t know. You’re my little brother’s age. I have no idea.
1:17:15.4 Ben Stacy: Oomph.
1:17:18.6 Kenzie: Oomph. I’m not far off you, but that’s fine. Well I just I was wondering about the cleanup thing. Okay. Okay. We’re gonna work on that then.
1:17:26.3 Ben Stacy: Well, Will’s old. So he’s got that going for him.
1:17:31.3 Will Renke: Yep. It took me a month to recover from the Gundies.
1:17:35.3 Kenzie: I’m sure. A 100%. I saw the glass eyes of Will. I was like, are you alive or a zombie right now for sure.
1:17:42.8 Will Renke: I was done.
1:17:44.6 Kenzie: Yeah.
1:17:45.4 Ben Stacy: Everyone hits that at some point.
1:17:47.2 Kenzie: Yeah. Okay. I had a question. If you can remember the one thing, what is the coolest thing that you’ve ever done in the firearms industry or because of the firearms industry? Like once in a lifetime opportunity that you’ve gotten to do, which will, that’s a huge list of.
1:18:04.1 Ben Stacy: So caveat, we started vlogging for that exact reason. ‘Cause we do so much cool stuff and we’re so blessed for it. I can’t be more grateful, but that’s why we started recording a lot of our adventures. ‘Cause it’s the coolest thing to look back. Will, do you have one I’ll let you go first.
1:18:21.3 Will Renke: Well, I mean first of all it’s such a hard question to answer because you know, we have to follow it up with saying so far.
1:18:28.6 Kenzie: So far.
1:18:29.2 Will Renke: It’s always so far.
1:18:30.2 Kenzie: Yep.
1:18:32.3 Will Renke: But I would truly say one of the best memories that really just stand out was one of our first real big trips. And I like it because if we talk about the start to the absolute finish of it, it was filled with massive, massive ups and downs.
1:18:53.5 Will Renke: And that was a trip we did for Gun Digest with Howa. So we were filming a TV show called Modern Shooter. So it was a, essentially a TV show. And we started our trip out in the park California. We flew into California, we rented… We had a budget for all this. This was all kind of allocated out through multiple companies. We had a brand new Denali XL SUV, beautiful truck. And from there our trip started from California and ended in…
1:19:27.1 Ben Stacy: But we went to Portland well.
1:19:28.8 Will Renke: What’s that?
1:19:29.6 Ben Stacy: Portland.
1:19:31.4 Will Renke: Different, different, different trip. Anyhow, so, starting…
1:19:35.6 Ben Stacy: [1:19:35.6] ____.
1:19:36.9 Will Renke: Yes, sir. So, wait, you’re telling me we went to Blade Show or what? [1:19:44.9] ____ Blade Show West?
1:19:45.5 Ben Stacy: I disagree. Blade Show, Howa [1:19:46.4] ____.
1:19:50.0 Will Renke: No, no, no, no. Those are two different trips, man.
1:19:53.7 Will Renke: Yeah.
1:19:54.5 Ben Stacy: Once again, this is why vlog because we get to do a lot of fun things anyways. Sorry, Will, go ahead. I think I’m right.
1:20:00.8 Will Renke: Oh my gosh. You’re right.
1:20:02.8 Kenzie: Oh, Will was blushing.
1:20:04.8 Will Renke: Yeah. Because now I remember. Oh, yeah. I do remember.
1:20:07.4 Ben Stacy: [1:20:07.6] ____.
1:20:07.7 Kenzie: Look at your face.
1:20:07.8 Will Renke: Yeah, I remember something very, very specific. Okay. So yeah, so it started off in Portland. We did the digital advertising for a brand new show, for Blade Show, which was Blade Show West.
1:20:23.6 Kenzie: Cool.
1:20:23.9 Will Renke: They’ve always done obviously Blade Show East, which was their big, massive show and person that bought it at the time wanted to start a new one Portland great awesome show. Got to meet a bunch of awesome people, still friends to this day. So that trip started there. We were there for like four days. And then from there we started the adventure for Howa. And that was filming, what we were calling the one mile shot with a six, five Creedmoor that we built a Howa Chassis, Sig optics. So it was a combination with multiple sponsors. So from there, after Portland, we drove this long beautiful road trip that Ben hates me because I have the tendency especially on the west coast when I’m driving. ‘Cause I won’t let anyone else drive. I love to Instagram while driving and story on cliffs and I’m taking my phone out and we’re going down cliffs and I’m like, this is the coolest thing ever. And then of course stopping every hour. ‘Cause I want climb mountains and get photos and all that.
1:21:18.3 Kenzie: Will, you’re [1:21:18.4] ____. We get nowhere fast. I’m like.
1:21:21.0 Will Renke: Yeah, no nowhere. And I had a sunglass company at the time sponsoring me sending me all these cool sunglasses. So I was like, Oh, I gonna take photos. I gotta do this. So we got there, we got to Reno filmed a bunch of stuff. I remember repelling out of a Conex counter, smashing into a truck, doing all these cool things. And then from there went to Vegas, love it. That’s where Ben goes into a clam shell. I open up, we filmed there for a little bit and then, you know just great time, great time. So my point about the story is from the ups and downs, we got home, we were home for like 20 minutes, got a phone call from a friend, Hey, we’re doing a charity. Do you want to come help with this charity event in this location? We’re like, yeah, absolutely packed up the truck. We literally weren’t even home for the night, packed the truck with guns and crazy stuff for this charity event. Long story short to the charity got robbed, got robbed of like $50,000. Pretty much everything we had, all of our camera, equipment, guns, everything.
1:22:19.9 Ben Stacy: Computer.
1:22:22.0 Will Renke: Yeah.
1:22:24.1 Ben Stacy: [1:22:24.2] ____ everything.
1:22:24.3 Will Renke: So that was one of my favorite trips because there was such a high point in such a low point and it kind of determined, you know, the future of everything from there making a decision. Well, we had a good time. We had a good run. Should we call it or keep going?
1:22:37.8 Ben Stacy: We almost, it was a conversation away from calling it ’cause it was…
1:22:42.3 Kenzie: Was that insured? Those items.
1:22:45.0 Will Renke: Uh-huh.
1:22:47.0 Will Renke: Everything is now. We’ve learned… We learned a very, very expensive lesson. I also got to drive home in the back of a truck with the broken window, with the wind blowing in my face while [1:22:57.5] ____.
1:23:00.0 Kenzie: Not funny.
1:23:00.4 Ben Stacy: Yeah. Not our, not, not the, not the funnest moment, but it’s well, if I can jump in, I think it’s made us more of who we are now as a company. Like you learn through experiences and all that fun mumbo jumbo. But it made… It was very, it was interesting cause we had just come off this two week high, like we were literally went from Portland all the way to Scottsdale. We were playing with McLarens in Scottsdale and…
1:23:26.0 Will Renke: Oh yeah. I forgot about Scottsdale.
1:23:27.6 Kenzie: What?
1:23:27.7 Ben Stacy: Right. Yeah. We got do a photo shoot for for two companies in Scottsdale, both involved in super cars.
1:23:35.2 Will Renke: Luxury auto collections and McLaren of Scottsdale.
1:23:37.3 Kenzie: That’s so fun.
1:23:38.9 Ben Stacy: Fly home, Myrtle Beach, settle in that phone call drive to Atlanta. I hate Atlanta. That’s why…
1:23:44.3 Kenzie: Climb [1:23:44.3] ____. [laughter]
1:23:45.1 Ben Stacy: And it was like you went from the top of the world to the very bottom. Like we were standing there. It’s in the Dave Buster’s parking lot.
1:23:55.7 Ben Stacy: And we’re just standing there at 1:00 in the morning. ‘Cause we were all celebrating, the charity event was great. Raised a ton of money. Charity money got stolen. Of course.
1:24:05.5 Kenzie: Yeah.
1:24:07.2 Ben Stacy: And that drive home. I just remember that drive like all I had left was my suitcase. ‘Cause my suitcase was at the, at the house, the Airbnb and that just had cloths in it like laptops. I just bought this… I decked out this, this MacBook $4000 MacBook that I was making payments on at the time, took me probably a year to pay it off or something. But, I think that that like makes the great moments better.
1:24:34.3 Kenzie: Sure.
1:24:34.9 Ben Stacy: In a weird way.
1:24:36.4 Kenzie: No. Yeah. Been there.
1:24:37.6 Kenzie: Been there.
1:24:39.2 Ben Stacy: But Will that was [1:24:41.7] ____ We’ve got a couple trips that are up there. We went to Colorado, did something Colorado, got to go to…
1:24:47.1 Will Renke: Yeah. But everything there is just, that’s where I say like the so far. I mean we’ve hung from helicopters, rappel…
1:24:52.5 Ben Stacy: That’s probably mine. So got a chance to do, it’s called a skyline.
1:24:58.3 Will Renke: Yeah.
1:24:58.7 Ben Stacy: Got to hang from a helicopter. It was a surprise. We were doing it for an event and the Greystone people putting it. They were like, Hey, Will, you and Ben are going up and we had no clue. And we got up there as the sun was setting it was the most incredible feeling. You’re hanging from a helicopter by a rope. You can’t see the ground because the sun’s gone down and you’re just… It’s like, Okay, Will, if this breaks like I’m done. You have no control. And it was the first and only time I’ve ever felt like completely at ease with it, completely at ease.
1:25:34.2 Will Renke: Graystone’s done some really cool things. I mean, I would say I got to fly a helicopter with… Well, not fly. I got to take over the controls and manipulate the helicopter in a left to right direction with very little but I still had control of the helicopter, got to jump out of a helicopter into water, that was cool. I learned how to…
1:25:58.3 Ben Stacy: You kinda actually back up really bad for a while?
1:26:00.2 Will Renke: Well, yeah, I also got an enema at the same time. So it was a wonderful opportunity to learn exactly how water operates in up-flow situations. So it was a great, great time. So lot of firsts there.
1:26:17.2 Kenzie: Oh my God.
1:26:18.7 Will Renke: Of course shot an RPG. That was really cool.
1:26:21.1 Kenzie: That was really cool.
1:26:22.8 Will Renke: Got to do like shape charges. That was really cool. I mean, so there’s just…
1:26:27.5 Kenzie: Yeah.
1:26:28.0 Will Renke: Very, very, very, very fortunate over the years on Instagram, just obviously the people that I met, the relationships that I met, the adventures, I mean, they’re just so unbelievably priceless and they’re so wild.
1:26:43.3 Kenzie: Yeah, they’re.
1:26:44.0 Will Renke: So unbelievably wild and I don’t wanna say desensitized to it by any means.
1:26:48.7 Kenzie: Yeah.
1:26:49.2 Will Renke: But I am more like, yeah.
1:26:51.3 Kenzie: Yeah.
1:26:51.9 Will Renke: Okay. Like, what’s next? Like I’m sure I want to go on… Get on a spaceship and go to the moon. Like why not? I feel like that, but that’s really, truly.
1:27:00.7 Kenzie: The only way to level up now is to go to the moon. [laughter]
1:27:02.0 Will Renke: It’s not even leveling up. It’s like, if that’s an option, [laughter] why not? Like that’s my whole point. Like everybody should be that’s something they want.
1:27:12.0 Kenzie: Yeah.
1:27:12.3 Will Renke: There should be nothing unattainable.
1:27:14.9 Kenzie: Yeah. There isn’t.
1:27:15.7 Will Renke: Within reason. There’s no reason to set yourself to say I can’t do something. I shouldn’t do something. That’s shenanigans.
1:27:21.8 Kenzie: Yep. So that’s actually one of my final questions for you guys is if there is a dreamer out there listening, or if there is someone that’s coming up and they wanna be in the firearms industry, or they want to start a business in it, like what would you say to them and give them advice from where you are now?
1:27:39.6 Will Renke: So you’re talking about specifically someone that wants to be in the firearms industry specifically?
1:27:45.6 Kenzie: Yeah.
1:27:47.7 Will Renke: Well, I mean, my advice is one, there’s no reason not to do that. You have, I think it’s a great opportunity, but I think with that game plan, depending on your financial situation and depending on how you want this business to be run, my only advice is make sure you have multiple outlets within inside of your firearm space that you can simultaneously focus on the firearm space, truly love to do it. But if you need to put food on your plate and provide, I would find other industries that you can simultaneously work with. So work on collaborations and work on doing industries that fit with the firearms, outdoor space, hunting, bows, knives, over landing, whatever that may be.
1:28:36.6 Kenzie: Yeah.
1:28:37.2 Will Renke: Work on that simultaneously. So you have multiple sources.
1:28:40.2 Kenzie: Yeah.
1:28:41.6 Ben Stacy: The fire arm industry is interesting. Because the majority of larger companies, they typically were started by or successful companies, they were typically started by people that made the money, not in the industry. They’re like, oh, guns are cool. I wanna make an AR, right? Like that, there’s a very big chunk of companies that… That’s how they’ve got started. The middle ground of many companies is it’s not gonna be this massive money maker. There’s so many ups and downs and it’s very politically driven based on who’s in office. Like there’s so many factors that… COVID, right? We had companies that scaled 10,000% and now they’re having to lay off workers, hundreds, sometimes hundreds of workers because we’re back in this stuff, so kind of being mindful that is very important. But if this is like something you’re hungry for, you’re set on doing, you wanna get into the industry, it’s your passion. The cliche thing is like you gotta put in the work, but probably the most important piece, and I think this goes for all business is connecting with the right people. We tell this to all our clients like go to every event you can afford, whether you’re exhibiting, whether you just going to attend, like be there, network connect with people, build the relationships, make a fool of yourself at the bar within reason. [laughter] Make friends and you’ll succeed. Like our entire business has been built on those relationships. And…
1:30:15.0 Will Renke: And most of the big deals have not been made at the event themselves. It’s typically always been made after the event at a dinner or at the bar or that’s the point where people really get to know each other and trust and build a level of trust.
1:30:31.7 Kenzie: Yeah.
1:30:31.9 Will Renke: So, that’s a big part of it. And if you’re not there, you can’t do that over the phone. You can’t do that via whatever crazy VR interaction. It’s gotta be in person.
1:30:47.5 Kenzie: Yeah.
1:30:47.8 Ben Stacy: The metaverse will never replace…
1:30:48.9 Kenzie: No.
1:30:49.3 Ben Stacy: That real connection around the bar.
1:30:52.6 Kenzie: It’s interesting you say that. I wanna say about a year ago, like, so when COVID hit, I was ramping up to do what I’m doing now. I was like, I’m on this path. This is what I’m gonna pursue. This is where I’m gonna get and COVID hit and it kind of destroyed mine because mine was the connections I needed the events I wanted to go to like all of that. So this time, like this year and the last year I’ve just said, yes. I’m like The Gundies, didn’t have it on my plate to go. But then you guys opened it up to anyone that was nominated. I was like, bye. Like, I’m gonna go, book plane, right?
1:31:20.3 Kenzie: Figure it out. And like, I got an invite recently for something else. I’m like, I’m gonna go. And it wasn’t something I had on my schedule or on my radar, but I can’t not go to these opportunities because every single time and I haven’t gone to it looking out what’s in it for me. I’ve gone to it. Like I can’t wait. I’m excited. And then something else happened along the way that I’m like, holy cow. Like, can you imagine if I didn’t go? So like, that’s that is the investment, right? Like don’t be dumb and spending, but like if you have the finances and you can do it, go, it’s worth it.
1:31:49.0 Ben Stacy: And you can figure how to do it on a budget. You can do the 17 hour drive. You can stay in the shitty hotel. Like there there’s ways to do it. And it’s the dividend return that you’re gonna get is so huge. Everything’s people is driven. I think that’s kinda my theme for this. Like everything is people.
1:32:09.3 Kenzie: Yeah. No, it it’s mind blowing. Like you guys said of what we get to do, what we’ve had been able to do. And the people that we met are just like chill, normal people that you’re just like, okay, no big deal. The founder of Brownells, like.
1:32:22.0 Ben Stacy: And they become friends And, you grow together. And probably the other piece to that the other half is, is like provide value. Like don’t ask for something like always be the first to be like, Hey, can I, what can I do for you? Or, buy their product, put some content out. There’s there’s so many directions you can go in the industry, but if you wanna be this influencer or whatever, you have to put the effort in up front or you’re gonna get passed by.
1:32:54.6 Kenzie: I have said that a million times, especially when people come and ask me how they get sponsors, I wrote a blog guys, go read that blog. [laughter] It’s byproduct. It’s getting on social media. It’s recommending and all of doing all that work before you even think to ask ’cause yeah, no.
1:33:11.6 Ben Stacy: Exactly. And believe in it, you have to, you to believe in it, you believe in yourself, you have believe in what you’re promoting. Perception. The internet is perception. And people can see right through it if you’re being fake. So don’t only go into something… Don’t well, don’t go into it just for the money. Like you have to have your heart in it. Yep. Just such the most cliche thing to say, but it’s also probably the most true.
1:33:33.6 Kenzie: That’s true. All right guys. Well, what is next for Forge Relations? Anything you can share?
1:33:41.5 Will Renke: Well of course, The Gundies, 2023. We have a couple other events on the horizon. We would definitely love to announce our event that we are doing, with collaboration with some great people. That event is called All American Machine Gun Shoot, and that is going to be open to the public. And that is going to be taking place at a range called Sawmill October 14th and 15th, I believe.
1:34:11.6 Ben Stacy: Yep.
1:34:13.1 Will Renke: And, so it’s a two day event. Once again, open to the public, it’s going to be a machine gun shoot. It’s going to be a swap meet for parts. It’s going to be open to the public. You can come in, shoot guns, check out all the vendors and of course buy things right there. So, it’s gonna be essentially a gun show mixed in with a range day that you can come and participate and do fun little activation such as I think one of them we are gonna do like train with a Navy SEAL where you get to have 20, 30 minutes as a group and understand how they operate, as they operate as a team, get to see that firsthand. We’re be raising quite a bit of money for charity. We’re going to be bringing battle buddies. Of course. They’ll be a part of it.
1:34:57.4 Kenzie: Out of 3-Gun. Yeah.
1:35:01.2 Will Renke: Hopefully we’re gonna be incorporating another charity called Special Operations, Wounded Warriors, so we’re looking forward to that. And then from there Gundies after that and then potentially in the spring, there could be a very fun event with another great collaborator that we’re doing that with. So in the meantime of all that, of course, we’re just gonna kind of go with the flow of the politics that are happening, obviously following along with gas prices and everything else, with inflation and policies that are being implemented every day. So it’s gonna be interesting, but one thing I do wanna leave you with, especially focusing on the Gundies, we have to give a tremendous, shout out to the town of Uvalde, because they’ve always supported. Yeah. The Gundies from not only supplying food for everyone, but housing and being very helpful.
1:36:00.4 Will Renke: And then taking it a step further. The last year, we even worked directly with the high school, with the ROTC program where they came out and they volunteered to help at the Gundies and they actually help with parking. They did a lot. It was amazing. So with that being said, this year’s Gundies we want to be able to give back to the town for multiple reasons. But also raise some money for that town in particular and see what we can do to help out for their gratitude of what they’ve done for us. And we’d like to support them as much as we can. So yeah, that’s kind of where we’re headed.
1:36:36.5 Kenzie: That’s Incredible. Ben, any final thoughts that you’ve got.
1:36:41.3 Ben Stacy: No I think to echo everything that will said, his sentiment, the… It only gets bigger. We’re big fans of growing together with the people around us and we’re looking forward to what the future holds. It’s an interesting time to be in the digital space, so we’re looking forward to what’s to come.
1:37:06.9 Kenzie: Awesome. Great. All right. Well guys, how can people find you on social media, both personally and business related and what’s your website as well?
1:37:16.2 Ben Stacy: So forgerelations.com, very straightforward Forge Relations on every piece of social, if you wanna dig back in some old content, we have a YouTube channel called Will and Ben, if you feel like wasting a couple hours, you can go on there.
1:37:34.6 Will Renke: Pretty Awesome. And that channel is going to be… I personally have to use the channel because I got a new truck and we have some collaborations and some DIY builds that I have to do, wanna do. So obviously they’re gonna be on the Will… What is it called? Will and Ben, I can’t remember what the channel’s called.
1:37:54.2 Ben Stacy: Will and Ben. Yeah.
1:37:55.9 Will Renke: Yeah. And there’s a podcast channel called The Forge floating out there with, I think five or six episodes on.
1:38:02.1 Ben Stacy: I don’t even know if we met it that far, Will. It might be like three.
1:38:04.6 Will Renke: Three. So they’re out there. There’s a lot cool things out there.
1:38:08.4 Ben Stacy: But we have a new… We moved into a new building beginning in ’21, I believe. If I remember correctly. We have a full podcast studio, full photo video studio. So a lot of that stuff will be coming back.
1:38:23.0 Kenzie: Awesome. Ben, how do we find you on Instagram? [laughter]
1:38:27.4 Ben Stacy: I mean, Gunsdaily is the start and finish of my social media existence. So that’s yeah. And then Will, is… Will, what’s the name?
1:38:38.9 Will Renke: Just my name.
1:38:39.5 Kenzie: Just wild dog, bounty hunter.
1:38:41.2 Will Renke: Wild dog, bounty hunter. TikTok, I hit almost a million on TikTok. That was fun.
1:38:48.2 Kenzie: Did you really?
1:38:49.4 Will Renke: Yeah.
1:38:49.6 Kenzie: For Sure. That’s a good thing.
1:38:50.5 Ben Stacy: And then they shut him down.
1:38:52.4 Will Renke: And then they shut it down and…
1:38:53.2 Kenzie: That Makes sense.
1:38:53.9 Will Renke: Totally shut me down. They’re like, yeah, no, you’re done now, sir. Just Will Renke on all platforms. LinkedIn. Let’s focus on the professional one, LinkedIn. Okay. I’m on LinkedIn as William Renke [1:39:08.1] ____ So if you wanna contact me, go to LinkedIn.
1:39:14.1 Kenzie: You don’t even check LinkedIn, do you?
1:39:16.1 Will Renke: I do actually. Quite a bit.
1:39:17.4 Ben Stacy: Wow. I don’t.
1:39:19.8 Will Renke: Yeah.
1:39:20.1 Kenzie: I changed my profile photo two days ago, so there you go.
1:39:22.5 Will Renke: Nice. There you go.
1:39:24.2 Ben Stacy: Your job for the year is done. Good.
1:39:26.2 Kenzie: Done, done. Guys, thanks for joining. Thanks for sharing industry insights and all the stories ’cause it’s really fun and I’m excited to see you guys grow. I’m impressed with everything that you guys do and honored to work alongside you as well. So thank you.
1:39:38.9 Ben Stacy: Thank you.
1:39:39.3 Will Renke: Awesome. Thank you so much you for having us.
1:39:41.3 Kenzie: Heck yeah. All right, listeners, stay tuned. Check out. Forge Relations and do not forget this fall to vote in The Gundies awards and stay tuned for more on that. ‘Cause I’m excited for what you’ve got in store. I already know it’s gonna be something. [laughter] All right, guys. Stay tuned. Thanks for listening.
1:39:56.7 Kenzie: Thanks for listening to the Reticle Up Podcast. Be sure to subscribe wherever you get your podcast and on YouTube, follow along on social media at Reticle Up or 3GunKenzie.
About Reticle Up
The Reticle Up Podcast is where our resident competitive shooting expert, 3 Gun Kenzie, interviews competitive shooters, hunters, fisherman, archers, entrepreneurs, and outdoorsmen.
Come learn as she interviews people from all walks of life, in different shooting disciplines, all across the world, from novices to professionals of all ages.
No matter what, everyone has something they can teach you, so join us on the journey.
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