From Military Surplus to Big Business
Ever since he was a young boy, Doug Ingalls was fascinated with trench art.
Trench art? Think cups, ash trays and decorative odds and ends, all crafted by American soldiers from seemingly worth- less shell casings and other by-products of battle.
“We typically think of soldiers being rough and tough and shooting each other up, but here’s this side of them that’s so intricate and artful,” Ingalls said. “It’s a part of history that always captivated me.”
Ingalls loved it all (and collected heaps of it), but one of his favorite pieces was a rudimentary bottle opener fashioned from a 50 caliber BMG bullet cartridge. Decades later, that same cartridge would serve as the foundation for what would become a multi-million dollar bullet novelty business, Central Florida’s Lucky Shot USA.
A Resume of Entrepreneurship
To understand how Ingalls hit the cottage industry bullseye, we have to turn the clock back past the first bullet product. Long before the launch of Lucky Shot USA, Ingalls honed his business skills in a much different realm: jewelry design.
Working alongside his wife Lynne in a small office, Ingalls headed up Preco, an accessories manufacturing and distribution operation. The company became known for—of all things—its toe rings, which were a smash hit at resort destinations nationwide. “It was a lot of trial and error, and we learned a lot,” Ingalls remembered with a laugh. “We had a great deal of fun with that project.”
“Hiring veterans has always been a priority for us, and even more so as we grow,” Ingalls said. “Their military experience complements our work to a tee.”
Preco would grow to 75 employees and more than $5 million in sales before the Ingalls sold it in 2001. The businessman bug had bitten hard, and he was hooked. By 2007, Ingalls had hit his vocational stride. He launched 2 Monkey Trading, a manufacturing and distribution company specializing in shooting sports and related products.
Under Ingalls’ leadership, 2 Monkey’s manufacturing and wholesale network grew to include hundreds of retail distribution channels. It also spawned several offshoot companies, one of which would become Lucky Shot USA.
High Caliber, Handcrafted
In 2011, the Lucky Shot brand was born. Originally dubbed Real Bullet USA, the company began a small online sales operation with just one hero item—that same bullet bottle opener that had captured Ingalls’ imagination years earlier.
Though still fashioned from a genuine 50 caliber bullet, this iteration was machine-tooled, polished to a shiny finish and engraved with whatever clever catchphrase the buyer could fit into 25 characters.
Word began to spread, starting primarily with the military community. The bottle opener became a cult favorite. “To be honest, I think we were all a little surprised by how fast the bottle opener took off,” Ingalls said. “People would come to us saying ‘my friend or brother or cousin has one of your openers. I want one too, but can you do it in red? Can you put my company’s logo on it?’”
Ingalls ran with the idea. By now his wife Lynne and children Ray and Brooke had joined the team, answering phones, packing orders and generally trying to help keep up with demand. In 2013 Lucky Shot released versions of the bottle opener in a new set of colors and finishes. A keychain version fashioned from the smaller .308 bullet became a keyring staple for shooting enthusiasts.
The product line would grow from there, fueled chiefly by Ingalls’ seemingly inexhaustible creativity: shot glasses made from A-10 warthog rounds, earrings made from the butts of spent bullets, even a gargantuan artillery seat, a la Game of Thrones.
“Anybody can dream up crazy ideas, but Doug has this natural ability to actually make them happen,” said his wife, Lynne, who’s been by his side as the company has quadrupled in size. “I don’t think people realize how much goes into making this stuff. First you have to get the materials. You can’t just buy a few bullets. You have to buy them by the ton in these massive quantities. You have to jump through all sorts of hoops to make sure they’re safe to sell to people. Then you have to build the infrastructure to support a business of this size.”
So far, Ingalls has risen to the challenge. The 2 Monkey/ Lucky Shot family of products has doubled in business each of the last five years, is on track to hit $3.5 million in sales in 2016 and employs 22 people. “Hiring veterans has always been a priority for us, and even more so as we grow,” Ingalls said. “Their military experience complements our work to a tee.”
This month Lucky Shot doubled down on its Orlando home base, opening a new 15,000 square foot facility and a 1,500-square foot showroom for welcoming vendors and guests. The company also expanded on its product offerings, venturing into the lifestyle realm with a new t-shirt line and upcoming home décor additions.
“A big goal of mine is to fully take the trench art niche main- stream,” Ingalls said. “We make some awesome custom furniture out of some of the larger memorabilia like inert bombs and aircraft seats. Right now, those are done on a small scale, but I’d love to make them available to more people.”
“I’ve got more ideas than I have hands to make them happen at the moment,” Ingalls said. “Which, I suppose, is a great problem for a business to have.”