Black Creek Labs Owner Rob MacIntyre Q&A: Business, NEA, PX19
Exclusive Q&A with Rob MacIntyre in his first major interview.
15 August 2020
7 min read
TheGunBlog.ca — Rob MacIntyre, the owner and CEO of Black Creek Labs Inc., comments below in his first interview about the Canadian gun maker’s new PX19 pistol, the mass confiscations underway, and his history with Northeastern Arms.
TheGunBlog.ca spoke with MacIntyre, 47, by phone and e-mail this week.
Black Creek Labs Snapshot
- Based in Peterborough, Ontario
- 30 employees
MacIntyre on BCL’s Instagram
Q&A With Black Creek Labs Owner Rob MacIntyre
New PX19 and PX17 Pistols
You announced the PX19 pistol last week. Will it be available to Canadian recreational and sport shooters (PAL holders), and what can you say about price?
Yes, it will be made available to all Canadian PAL holders.
Pricing is a tough one. We do not want it to come in more than Glock, but it’s going to be tough as we don’t even come close to the volume of pistols that Glock manufactures and sells each year, so their costs of making a pistol will be much lower.
Also, our frame is aluminum, so it will cost substantially more to make by anybody’s standard.
Regardless of the make or model, we will always do our best to ensure that our retail prices are reasonable.
Confiscations 1: Business
Can you talk about your decision to exit the Canadian semi-auto rifle market, after the Liberals ordered mass confiscation?
Shortly after the ban, we said that we won’t be making any more semi-automatic rifles for the commercial market unless there’s a change.
Unfortunately, we still stand behind that statement as it is almost impossible to determine how a semi-automatic is going to be classified and the classification process can take well over a year.
We can’t invest that much time and resources into a rifle that may or may not get a “Non-restricted” classification over a year later.
To do it, we would have to design, prototype, test, manufacture and commercialize a product, which takes over a year, in the hope — the hope — that whoever is working in the [RCMP classification] lab, after another year of waiting, gives it the classification we were hoping for.
There are specific guidelines for receiving a “Non-restricted” classification, but it has become too subjective and biased, so we just can take the chance.
We have rifles that are specifically designed to fall into a Canadian, “Non-restricted” classification, but they have now been deemed “Prohibited” due to the way they look.
Until we receive new guidelines that tell us what makes a rifle look “Non-Restricted” or look “Prohibited,” we have to stick with what makes sense for us as it relates to receiving classifications.
To date, the answer is bolt-action rifles and semi-auto pistols.
There are a small number of companies who are selling rifles without an FRT which I suppose solves some of these issues, but I believe it will create other issues in the future and that isn’t our approach.
All that being said, I am working on a collaboration with a company that owns a semi-automatic rifle design with a current “Non-restricted” FRT, so there may be an interesting “Non-restricted” semi-auto coming from us in the near future.
That’s exciting. So you’re focusing mostly on different products?
We know if we make a proper bolt-action rifle with a barreled action that drops into a chassis with a standard minimum overall length, it’s going to be “Non-restricted.”
We know that if we make a pistol with a specific minimum barrel length, we know it’s going to be “Restricted.”
The system works for these products.
There’s a non-subjective, definitive system to make sure these firearms are classified quickly and without surprise and we’re happy with how the Lab handles these.
There’s good people working there who support our industry.
Is the regulatory uncertainty the main thing hurting you?
Yes. It is extremely difficult to plan product development and have any kind of financial success when the government can make all of your products illegal overnight.
That being said, I always knew that to run a successful firearms-manufacturing facility in Canada, we would have to de-risk our business, meaning that well before the ban, we had already started developing bolt-action rifles, handguns and some other interesting products that are sellable both outside of Canada and to other markets such as military and law enforcement.
What would help in terms of regulation?
As a gun manufacturer, we love rules.
The more you put in place, the less subjective the classification system becomes.
We can work within any system. It just can’t be arbitrary, biassed or subjective.
Basically, I need to know that if I want to design a rifle for hunting: what exact specifications does that firearm have to meet to get a “Non-restricted” status?
I can’t design something and cross my fingers that after a year or so, I’m allowed to build it.
This not only restricts what we can do, what we’re willing to do, but it actually hurts innovation in the Canadian firearms industry.
How about Covid, how has that affected your operations?
Covid hit us pretty hard.
Although firearms sales were going through the roof, we took precautions that limited human interaction.
We brought our factory down to less than half staff, shut down non-essential CNC [Computer Numerical Control] machines and we created an additional midnight shift so we could spread our staff even thinner.
At times, we only had 3 people in a 25,000 square-foot building.
Along with our own precautions, we had supply-chain issues as companies that supported our manufacturing process also shut down. It was not easy.
Then on top of that, we had to deal with the Liberal government gun ban, which actually prohibited the sale to Canadians of absolutely every product we had an FRT for and were currently manufacturing.
Why we made it through these two crises and are now stronger than we were before is a testament to our dedicated staff, our dedication to our mission and some good, solid decisions that were made quickly and decisively.
Industrial History: From NEA to BCL
Let’s talk about the backstory. Black Creek Labs of today emerged from NEA, Northeastern Arms. How did that happen?
I took over BCL officially in January 2019.
Previous to that, I had some involvement with the organization, but it was as an investor with no operational control.
How did you get involved?
Let me tell you a little bit about myself. I’ll try to make it quick and I promise I will get to your point.
I was a soldier in the Canadian Armed Forces and when I left, I initially started working for Alan Bell, a former SAS member who was tasked with facilitating the start of Canada’s armed nuclear-response teams.
Iraq, Triple Canopy
From there, (I’m in late 2003 now), I went to Iraq for four years working for the Coalition Provisional Authority and Triple Canopy running a PSD team on Route Irish.
When the CPA turned over control of Iraq to the U.S. State Department, I was one of a very few Canadians that remained working throughout Iraq and Kurdistan on that program, and eventually found myself in Jordan, running the training program for the U.S. embassy guards in Baghdad.
That job led me to Afghanistan and Nigeria and shortly after that, I started Tundra Strategies, which by 2012, had almost 2,000 people working across Afghanistan, Iraq, Jordan, Tunisia, Nigeria, UAE and Sri Lanka.
Photo From MacIntyre’s Personal Instagram Account
We had a very robust anti-piracy division and I’m not sure what year it was, but at one point, I purchased 300 rifles from Northeastern Arms that were shipped to Sri Lanka for anti-piracy operations.
I sold Tundra quite a while back to a U.S. firm and then a couple of years ago, the owner of Northeastern Arms approached me about investing in his business … and I did.
NEA to BCL
Back to January 2019, Northeastern Arms had already started using the name Black Creek Labs and due to a number of issues, the business could no longer financially sustain itself.
I had also already learned that the company had product-quality issues and a reputation that some people say was beyond repair.
I had to make a decision on whether I was going to cut my losses or step in and take control of the organization.
Knowing it was going to be a huge challenge, due to both the past reputation of the company and current state of affairs, I decided to put a 10-year plan together to get the company and the products we make to the level that Canadian firearms enthusiasts and consumers can be proud of, and as our mission and vision specifically point out, we are also hungry for a piece of the International military and law-enforcement market.
What’s it like to talk about that period?
I sometimes worry that I come across as sounding like I’m whining a little especially when talking about when I started with the organization.
I don’t want it to sound like I am not taking responsibility for the past as it was my choice to take on this challenge fully understanding the state the company was in, but at one point we are all going to have to get over it and move on letting the new company and products speak for themselves.
I also know we’re not perfect and it takes time to turn a company around.
I wish I had a magical switch to flick, but I do not.
I have a 10-year plan and it’s going to take 10 years.
That all being said, I have no problem talking about the issues and problems of the past and the issues and problems that we’re still currently facing.
The truth will set you free.
Did you have previous experience with turnarounds?
Yes. I have purchased some smaller companies in the safety and security fields.
How have you changed things at Black Creek Labs?
Prior to me taking over, the company was a small assembly shop.
All of the parts for every product was outsourced and made somewhere else. They came into a little shop, were assembled and sent out to customers.
In our first 18 months, we have already hit a product ban and Covid-19, but have pushed through it and we are no longer recognizable as the same company.
We are in a 25,000 square-foot building with over 20 modern CNC machines and other manufacturing equipment, including a cerakote paint facility, CMMs [coordinate-measuring machines], R&D necessities such as 3D printers and testing equipment.
More importantly, I have brought in a number of subject-matter experts from big manufacturing, firearms design, engineering, quality and special forces as companies are built from their expertise.
Focus on the Future
You haven’t spoken much about this before, have you?
This the first time I’ve ever really spoken with the media or publicly about our company and about the connection with Northeastern Arms.
There are some bits and pieces out there that I have said or written, and sometimes I get misquoted or even ramble on a little with not much context, but I have typically stayed away from exposing too much information about the company or its past.
I’m just trying to focus on the future.
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