Primary Arms is a relatively new player in the market of affordable optics for firearms, but one that’s been impressing just about everyone who’s used them. Given the track record of cheap optics, I had expected them to eventually disintegrate on my gun, but in reality they have often proven themselves to be just as good as the competition — and at a fraction of the price. I made my way out to the Primary Arms HQ in Houston last week to interview their CEO, Marshall Lerner, to see what makes them tick . . .

[Marshall Lerner] So yeah, we’re just trying to keep up with today’s orders and get the supply of the Primary Arms product more solid for next year, so that we can have a steady supply.

[Foghorn] So, can you walk me through how this got started? What was the genesis of this?

[ML] It literally started up… I also own a chain of barber shops, and I literally started this in the back of one of the barber shops. The history was, I was on the forums, it was Glock Talk probably six years ago, where the guys were buying the counterfeits off eBay, and I said man, don’t buy the counterfeits. You’re not helping the industry, they’re going to get re-sold as the real thing. And the guys came back and said there’s no alternative if you want a red dot and you can’t afford the higher priced ones. One of the guys said that if you give us an alternative, we’ll buy them.

So that’s literally the germ of how we started, and my brother (who is my partner) who at the time was sourcing electronics out of China for the gaming industry. Now, in his case they weren’t going there because it was cheaper, they were going there because that’s where all the factories were. And so he started making some connections there and we kinda went from there.

We imported our first red dots, and I remember the back warehouse of the barber shop was where we set up and that’s where we started. That was probably, what, five years ago now?…

[F] And those are still your biggest sellers? Are those red dots?

[ML] When we can get enough!

So, obviously we’ve branched out from there, with our entry level red dot, so now we have — still have the entry level red dots (most of them are on the third or fourth or higher generation of improvements), we try and do a lot more work with the factories now on how to make them our own versus just something off the shelf with smaller improvements. And we’ve branched into a lot of the name brand products. I mean, the majority of what we sell is made in USA product. So, we carry Aimpoint and EOTech, we just became a Schmidt and Bender dealer, made in Germany but the point is we now carry low to high. But the red dots are still a big part of our business, and will continue to be as long as we get enough of them.

We’ve added some new products recently — flashlights, a few new scopes, there’s already some pictures on the forums of a patent pending reticle that we’ve done, that we’ve partnered with someone to design, and you’ll see that hopefully by the end of the year in the first scope. So, its come a long way and its been fun.

[F] So, I know that you’ve just come out with that riflescope, the 4-14X44 Mil Dot FFP, I know you just came out with that, I’ve been testing it, I love it. What’s the genesis for something like that?

[ML] That’s a new factory for us, so a lot of it what happens now is finding the right factory. That’s really where it all starts. You’ll see a lot of the guys post “well yeah, you can buy those from anyplace, there’s hundreds of factories.” And there are. But its finding a factory that… And you gotta go visit them, and say if they’re real. You know, you can look online, and it looks like a factory, and they’ve got a clean room, but you go over there and its in the back of someone’s garage.

This factory, and we won’t say who else they make for, is very large — probably the largest scope manufacturer in China — and we went to them and took a body they already had. And the reason being its not a real high volume piece like a red dot, so it saves a lot of money not having to make a new design. We had them upgrade the turrets, and upgrade the glass, and that was the result of it. And we had them make it a MIL – MIL scope. So the body is one they’ve made before for some other people, but the turrets are much improved.

So when the guys ask me online, BSA makes one similar (they don’t make the BSA — it looks similar, but they don’t make the BSA) that’s probably the closest one to it. The biggest difference is the turrets.

[F] So, is that how most of the products work? You have a factory, they have an existing product line, and you tell them you want X Y and Z improvements and they go off and make it?

[ML] Typically, the newest products… The new small weapon light was one we designed from the ground up. We’ve had lights for a while, but this was another new factory that makes flashlights — higher quality flashlights — and we worked with them from the ground up to make their first weapon lights. So, they’ve made some really nice handhelds — that’s what caught our attention — and them we worked with them to say this is what needs to be different about a weapon light. Ensure that the batteries don’t bang against the head, the click switch is going to take some more abuse… And that’s ground up design for us.

So, a little bit of both. We are starting to do a new red dot (that I won’t talk a lot about) but its a ground up design that we’re working with another company. And its another new factory. So yeah, its exciting. And then we have what happened right now and we’re just trying to keep up with the current orders.

[F] So, can you talk a little bit about the trends you’re seeing post-Tuesday [presidential re-election]?

[ML] We really haven’t had time to breathe. Obviously, magazines. I mean, magazines went crazy. Some of the big wholesale suppliers, they’ll keep twenty or thirty thousand of a particular Magpul SKU in stock, and they’re gone. So, magazines, ARs… Lowers have been a little tight anyway, you can’t get any lowers right now. I don’t know beyond ARs if everything has picked up, but certainly anything that people think might be part of a ban. Magazines in particular.

[F] So where do you see your product lines going? You’ve got great red dots, you’ve got some great mid-range scopes, you’ve got some great longer range scopes coming online… Do you see yourself focusing on a specific variety of optic?

[ML] We’ve got to fix the supply problem with the red dots. That’s first and foremost. We can have a great red dot, but if they’re never in stock it doesn’t help. So that’s the first priority. Beyond that, there are some new products that I won’t talk about that we’re working on, but a lot of it revolves around scopes.

Scopes are a little more challenging because there are so many different varieties. You can have the same scope with four different reticles. So as we’ve grown and we’re doing more business we’re able to do more scopes. So you’ll probably see more new scopes and red dots because we’re big enough now to justify buying the same scope, putting a couple different reticles in.

I mentioned the new patent pending reticle, that’s an AR bullet drop reticle. It makes sense to have an AK version of that come out next year. You’ll probably see some different variations of that reticle, probably see a .308 version of it.

Most of the new products will be in scopes, like I said red dots there’s no reason to do anything new if we can’t keep the ones we got in stock.

[F] I was about to say, I’ve got a version 2 of your red dot that I’ve been using for years and its fantastic.

[ML] And we want to improve them, you know we want to keep improving them, but we gotta fix the supply problem, and that means bringing a couple other factories online. Its finding the right factories.

[F] So that’s the hardest part, you’re finding? Is finding the legitimate, proper factories in China? Because there’s a lot of FUD out there about Chinese products being terrible and all that stuff, but you’re actually going out and finding the quality ones?

[ML] Yeah, and there’s not as many of them, so that’s a big part of the challenge. It would be easy to get more red dots, but we want to get some that are at least as good and then eventually better than what we’ve got. So that’s the challenge.

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20 Responses to An Interview with Primary Arms CEO Marshall Lerner

  1. I was just there today!!! I picked up my Black Friday purchase and added a little something to the shopping cart getting ready for a hunting trip.

    These guys are great. Whether via email or in person they are always helpful and responsive. The red dot I have on my current AR from there and, so far, it’s been rock solid.

    -sbaker

  2. The reason I never got scopes mounted to any of my rifles is because the price of a good scope, mount, and gunsmith to set it up properly more often than not costs more than the rifle itself. I’m a thrifty bastard anyway so take my opinion with a grain of salt. Nice to see someone breaking the chain with more modern optics though.

  3. Price dose NOT determine if its a good piece. A 4x Bushnell out last $1000+ Leopold on some hunting rifles. So price doesnt matter hope me makes affordable scopes for us AR shooters. Shows us what they look like Foghorn.

  4. I found these guys while searching for some Tapco AK 47 magazines. They had them the cheapest I could find at the time, and what a pleasant surprise that they are located right in my town so I could go pick them up and save on shipping! It’s a hole in the wall, even harder to find because their sign says just “PA Optics,” and there’s not much of a store inside, just a stock room, but I can’t argue with their prices and friendly service.

  5. At this point, the only Primary Arms coverage I want to see on TTAG is this:
    “Primary Arms Addresses Inventory Issues, All Items Now In Stock”.

    Until they’re able to actually sell products to people who want them, any further pimping of Primary Arms or their allegedly awesome products is just pointless. As far as I can tell, you can’t even back-order or request an item-now-in-stock email message, forcing prospective buyers to hope they happen to check the website the day new stock shows up. Ain’t nobody got time for that!

    • +1
      I’ve purchased from them long ago, but I’ve been waiting forever for them to have PA red dot stock so that I can buy one for my AK. Of the 10 such listed on their site, 8 are out of stock and have been for months…ridiculous.
      If you want to buy what’s available, it will likely be Burris…their stock of Aimpoint, EOTech, etc is nebulous also and better prices for those can be found elsewhere. Pretty sad excuse for a store.

    • i’m gonna have to call bs on that. You still can set it to email you when it is in stock, when the last batch of red dots came in they sent an email to those who had asked as well as posted it on their facebook page.

    • On each product page is a email when back in stock button. It would be easy to find factories to get plenty of product if we lower the quality requirements. We have found two new ones and the new products from those factories are starting to arrive. The 3X long eye relief magnifier and front focal plane scope are two examples. We have a new CR2032 powered red dot that was supposed to be here by now but there is still too much parallax error in the samples. With the long time red dot factory we fight for production time and will continue to take what we can get as the quality is there. No one wants to be in stock all the time more than me.

      Marshall Lerner
      Primary Arms, LLC

      • Marshall,

        You’re right, there is an “email me when back in stock” button, which I had not previously noticed. I’d like to offer some friendly feedback on this aspect of your website, as someone who’s done quite a bit of user interface design.

        Best location for this type of control is to place it prominently near the price & stock-status fields, anywhere an out-of-stock message appears on your product listings. Note that it’s missing altogether on the item list pages, which is where many people will stop without bothering to click through to the item detail page:

        https://www.primaryarms.com/Primary_Arms_s/586.htm

        On the page linked above, I’d put it beneath “Out of stock” and above the star rating for the items.

        When you click through to the item detail page, the “Email me” control is ridiculously far away from the price/stock-status fields. As with the example above, I would put it below the price but above the stock-status field. Example page:

        https://www.primaryarms.com/Primary_Arms_MultiReticle_Red_Dot_Sight_PAM3M_p/pam3m.htm

        It’s pretty amazing what a positive effect proper placement of elements like the email-me button can have on usability.

        Finally, I wasn’t faulting your team for the product availability issues. I understand that you’re production constrained and doing the best you can, and I absolutely appreciate your dedication to only shipping quality products. My annoyance was directed towards TTAG’s editorial staff for running another positive Primary Arms piece when we can’t actually buy many of your most desirable products.

        PS: Why won’t you ship Stag Arms lowers to CA? Since they’re marked STAG-15, not AR-15, I’m reasonably sure they’re “off-list lowers” and therefore perfectly legal here. There are no Stag Arms products on the list of named & banned “assault rifles”…

        • Great suggestion on the placement of the email when back in stock button. Our web person is working on the changes now and should be up next week.

          Our understanding is a weapon has to be on the approved list to be sold in CA. I will ask our Stag rep to clarify.

          Thanks
          Marshall

  6. From what I’ve read that reticle in the pic is from an Optisan based 1-6x featuring a PA custom reticle. The last word I had read was it was going to hit the store in mid-December. I’m really looking forward to that scope and think it will be an awesome addition to the PA line.

    I currently have two of the micro red dots on my AR and 15-22 and they are excellent sights.

  7. A few follow up comments.

    The deal to put our patented reticle in the Optisan 1-6X is still in the works. We won’t see it until the second qtr of next year, The reticle will be in two PA scopes from the same factory as the 4-14X FFP that will arrive in January.

    For Houston locals the store is really meant to be a will call counter for web orders but we do have optics for demo including Nighthforce, Schmidt and Bender, Trijicon , Aimpoint and Premier.

    Unlike many web sites it is easy to see what is and what is not in stock. Everything ships from our Pearland warehouse. No drop shipments that we can’t control.
    Primary Arms Branded product aside, right now thing are coming and going pretty quick but incoming shipments arrive daily. A good example is 100 Stag lowers arrived today. How long do you think they will last. When we programed out orders for the year 4 months ago that would have been a 30 days supply. Probably 2-3 hours now.

    I get the red dot frustration!!! I am on it!!

    Thanks
    Marshall

    • I hate to hear that about the 1-6x. Time to rethink at least one Christmas gift.

      Will you be getting in any more of the stock Optisan 1-6x’s at the previous price?

    • I am totally psyched for the new BDC scopes, and am happy to hear they will be here early next year. I have an AK and an AR that are totally waiting for 1-X scopes.

      Are there any plans for a follow-on to the FFP scope with one of these reticles? I’d nominally like a 4-16x or 5-20x, although I can live with the current 4-14x. The idea is to mount it to my Mossberg MVP.

  8. I have been buying products from PA for about 6 to 8 months now and they are my “go to site” when I am ready to order anything. I live in WV and they get everything I order to me within 2 to 3 days. Much faster than other co’s like MidwayUSA and Brownells. I think they have a great selection and their named parts are just as good as the big companies. I have a 5x magnifier that was supposed to be a scratch and dent item, but I couldn’t find a single problem with it and it works great, but only paid half of what a new one cost. I will definitely keep buying from the gentlemen from PA!!!!

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