They’re doing their part to help the country’s police officers and military—all from Central Lake. The tiny Antrim County village with less than a thousand residents is the home of one of the country’s best-kept secrets—unless you’re in law enforcement, in which case you probably know all about this company that makes bulletproof vests and ancillary equipment designed and manufactured to keep people safe. Meet Armor Express.
“My family has a history and legacy (in the field),” company CEO Matt Davis says. Indeed it does. Davis’s father Richard started Second Chance Body Armor in Central Lake in 1970. The company became known worldwide, but its use of a product in its armor that turned out to be less effective than promised forced a recall, which led to the company declaring bankruptcy in 2004. “When I decided (to start a new body armor company), I had three primary objectives: To bring jobs back, to make a living and to restore my family name in the industry,” Davis says.
Check, check and check. Just over a decade since its inception—or reincarnation, if you prefer—Armor Express is one of the country’s largest producers of body armor. The company employs 160 people, and Davis hopes to increase that to 200 by the end of next year. The challenge is not expanding its business, but increasing its workforce. “We have work available. The challenge is finding employees.”
So he’s obviously making a living at it. And as to restoring his company’s name and its legacy? “I feel we reached that point a few years back. We have a phenomenal reputation within the industry,” Davis says. All from Central Lake, and in fact, from the same facility in which he worked with Second Chance.
The company services federal law enforcement, the U.S. military and municipal law enforcement agencies across the country, and increasingly across the globe. Davis sees the business continuing to increase. “Domestic law enforcement (business) is growing by double digits each year,” he says. Just last month the company was awarded a seven-year contract worth up to $93 million from Homeland Security. Davis says the company is also expanding its international business as well.
Part of its unique approach is that the company does not create sizes for its equipment. “We make custom body armor.” That includes both concealable body armor that patrol officers wear under their shirts and external tactical armor such as that worn by SWAT and military personnel. In both cases, Davis says the company’s goal is to make sure the products are as flexible, lightweight and comfortable as possible, in addition to being effective.
The variety and number of products the company makes is immense, from armor to pads to accessories such as holsters and boots. “We have thousands of SKUs,” Davis says. Independent labs rigorously test the company’s products. Davis says 70 percent of law enforcement officers in the state wear the company’s products. The company’s business is expanding overseas as well—because the company’s products save lives. “I had a phone call from an international customer,” recalls Davis, “who had an officer whose life was saved by our body armor. You can’t put a price on that.”
To celebrate those survivors—saves, in the Armor Express vernacular—the company sponsored a retreat this summer on Torch Lake. They brought in several people who had used their products and had subsequently survived attacks. They and their families came to the factory, and Davis shut down production so the entire company could gather and hear their stories. “They shared how body armor saved them and their families. They thanked the employees. It was extremely gratifying. There were very few dry eyes,” Davis says.