When you think of gun holsters, what comes to mind? Cowboys with six-shooters on their hips? Maybe a law enforcement officer with his sidearm strapped on his leg? It’s a sure bet you didn’t picture this:
Your eyes are not deceiving you. That is a holster attached to a bra. It’s called the Flashbang, and since 2011, Lisa and Bart Looper have been making them in Oklahoma City.
When Lisa married Bart, she also married into the Looper family leather business. They mostly did repairs on police gear, and sold holsters and belts to local police officers. They bought the business from Bart’s father when they were only in their mid-20s, and Lisa admits that they were completely unprepared to run a company. They were also shocked that the bank was willing to actually give them a loan.
As with most start-ups, Lisa and Bart made many mistakes along the way.
“I often compare running a business to that circus act where they try to spin plates on little spindly sticks,” Lisa explained. “It seems like every time we would get a few plates spinning smoothly and move on to others, the first few would start to wobble and fall.”
The Loopers quickly noticed the seasonality of the industry. Christmas and the early part of each year were always the busiest. But learning to adapt to the seasonal cycles — hitting a stride in winter and hitting the brakes in summer — wasn’t easy. Even more difficult for the first-time business owners was the first time they had to lay off an employee.
Even though it is still a daily challenge, they work very hard in trying to plan ahead, so that they have enough production capacity for the busy times, without having to lay people off during the slow times. Considering that so many companies fire employees without batting an eye, it is refreshing to see a business like Flashbang work so hard for their consumers, as well as their staff.
Interacting with so many members of law enforcement on a daily basis, Lisa began to realize the importance of armed self-defense, especially as a woman. When she decided to buy a gun to protect herself and her family, Lisa tried some different concealed-carry products, and realized that she wasn’t going to be able to dress the way she wanted, and also carry a gun, so she ended up not purchasing any.
Lisa and Bart Looper | Photo: Flashbang
A wise man once said “necessity is the mother of invention.” Lisa, a new mother, needed an invention.
“Things changed drastically for me after I had my first child,” she said. “One day as I was putting gas in my car with my baby strapped in his car seat, a man approached the front of my vehicle. My first instinct was to step back, but as I did so, I was stepping away from the open door and giving this stranger access to my little son. I immediately stepped forward again, and the man wandered off. He probably didn’t have any ill intentions, but that moment of realization was a total game changer for me. It re-opened the question of how to carry a gun in my daily life.”
That is how Flashbang started.
As with so many other start-ups, it wasn’t a business idea so much as a way to meet a need. She never expected anyone else would want to use her “crazy little bra holster.” After she made her holster, her girlfriends started approaching her about the possibility of making the same holster for them. So in January 2011, the Loopers took the original Flashbang holster to the annual Shooting, Hunting, and Outdoor Trade (SHOT) Show held by the National Shooting Sports Foundation to discuss the idea with some industry experts. They were surprised by how much positive feedback their holster received. And once the media started talking about their revolutionary new holster idea, the Loopers knew they had a winner.
A few months after the SHOT Show, they took the Flashbang to the National Rifle Association’s Annual Meeting. “I was so excited because we sold 42 over the course of the entire show,” Lisa says, “That’s funny to me now, because an average week is more than 10 times that amount on just the Flashbang holster alone.”
Since its inception, demand for the Flashbang has grown exponentially, with orders exceeding 400 per week
One early challenge, however, had to do with simple demographics. Although women are making huge strides, the firearms industry remains a largely male-dominated field. While Lisa is the CEO and Bart is the president of the company, Lisa is the public face of Flashbang. She recalls the frustrations of not being taken seriously at first.
“When I first started working at trade shows and selling the Flashbang, more often than not, people thought I was just a spokesmodel hired to sell the product, who had no real knowledge about the industry, or even the business I represented. It was very common for buyers to try to blow me off, and wish to speak to someone who ‘knew what they were talking about,’” Lisa said.
“I know that I share the frustration of being treated like a ‘booth babe’ with many other ladies who have helped pave the way for women in the firearms industry,” she added. “We’ve had to fight that stereotype every step of the way and prove our knowledge before we could be taken seriously.”
The Loopers and Flashbang have the right products (they now have a full line of holsters for women and men), at the right time. Female consumers are an increasingly powerful force in the firearms and firearms accessories industries. Some statistics from the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF):
- One-third of women are new gun owners, reporting they obtained their first gun sometime in the past three years;
- The most commonly owned gun type by respondents is a semiautomatic pistol, with 56 percent of women reporting they own at least one;
- Women spent an average of $405 in past year on accessories.
The NSSF’s report on women gun owners also notes that “It is evident that a significant proportion of women do not respond well to guns in feminine colors and patterns. If retailers are interested in encouraging women to purchase guns, shops should stock a number of guns that are appropriate for women in terms of their size, weight and use that are more traditional in style and color.”
What’s more, the report recommends, “Manufacturers should begin understanding the needs of women gun owners, especially as it pertains to fit. Women come in all shapes and sizes and the choices in guns and apparel should reflect this. Manufacturers should be willing to learn more about the special needs of women and offer options that fit these needs.”
In an industry once-dominated by males, Lisa Looper (far left) is showing the impact women can have and the sizable marketshare among women for firearms products. | Photo: Flashbang
Lisa says this is a welcome change from the industry.
“When the firearms industry as a whole first realized that there were women out there who wanted to buy their products, a common solution was to take something that was made for a man, and slather it in pink as a viable option for women shooters. What a ridiculous concept,” she said.
She points out that while gender equality is well and good, there are bona fide physical differences between the average man and woman.
“My hands are much smaller and weaker than most men’s hands,” Lisa explained. “I struggle frequently with guns and knives because they are built to fit larger hands. The female customer base has spoken out loudly about what types of changes they’re looking for in specific products, and I’m proud to say that the industry as a whole has really taken the time to listen.”
Flashbang is very serious about being made in America.
“We make our holsters here, start to finish,” Lisa said. “I’ve been approached so many times about outsourcing to other states or even to other countries and my answer is always a resounding no. As a business owner, it’s always important to come up with cost-saving ideas, but when it comes to taking jobs away from other Americans — other Oklahomans — I absolutely cannot justify any savings I would get. Creating jobs in my home state is incredibly important for our company.” A wonderful sentiment that should be echoed and practiced by many more companies and industries here in the United States.
For more information about Flashbang, or to purchase their products, go to http://flashbangstore.com.
Cameron Gray is a contributor for Opportunity Lives. You can follow him on Twitter .