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April 16th, 2020 – An excerpt from SHOT Business End Users Inform Armor Express Product Development article: Read more here

Glenn Wiener, the chief strategy officer for body armor manufacturer Armor Express, knows about high stakes. “The whole purpose of our business can be summed up in two words: saving lives.”

The company lives up to that mission statement. Products like the Lighthawk 3.0 XT vest and the AMP-1E helmet have saved many lives, as well as protecting wearers from debilitating injury. “Every day, you’re making an impact by bringing people home safe to their families. It’s meaningful,” says Wiener. “That really is what drives the mission of the company and everything we do—bringing home our protectors.”

It’s also the best feedback imaginable: Living proof of the difference you’ve made in this world.

Having such indelible moments of feedback helps explain why so much of the Armor Express culture is built around it, as end-user feedback helps drive the company’s product design and R&D initiatives.

“If you gather feedback from customers on how to design a product better, you can instantly innovate,” says Wiener. That’s a lesson that any business can take from Armor Express, whether or not lives are at stake.

Businesses should also note one of the primary ways Armor Express gets its feedback: by conducting teaching and training sessions for the end users of its equipment. Parents and teachers have known this for years: Whenever you teach someone, you can’t help learning something yourself. The feedback you can get from someone in a training session is much better—more reliable, and wider ranging—than what you can get from a comment card or an online poll.

“We are consistently out in the field training distribution,” says Wiener. (In the case of Armor Express, which equips organizations as diverse in size and mission as a county sheriff’s office to the DEA, distribution is often the customer organization itself, which then issues the gear to its officers, the end users.) “And we’re consistently out in the field training the end user on sizing, and how to properly put on and take off their vest, to make sure that they’re covered the right way.”

These interactions not only teach officers proper wear—which could save their lives—they also show trainers the mistakes people make while putting on the armor. The trainers then take that knowledge home, to guard against those mistakes in the next design, or with better training.

Armor Express holds on-site training symposiums for distributors and end users that can last anywhere from one to four days. “We walk through not only what we do in R&D and the factories and production, but also give a training course on ballistics, carrier designs, hard-armor designs, and the evolution of the industry,” says Wiener.

Similarly, you can learn a lot about your customer base by paying attention as you train them with the products you offer. As they ask their questions, you’ll learn about the features they value, which ones they take for granted, and which ones they can do without. These preferences might be unconscious, something they don’t recognize enough to articulate on a feedback card—but in the moment, it’s exactly what they want to know about.

That’s pure information on customer needs, which you can observe firsthand. It makes training sessions a two-way street. The student learns to use the product, and your business gets to know the student. Everybody wins.

“Armor Express is consistently out on the road meeting with the end users, gathering feedback so we can develop better products every quarter of every year,” Wiener says. “From a strategic point of view, our goal over time is really to ensure that we are providing solutions from head to toe.”

And those solutions are improved by feedback. For example, knowing how much weight officers carry on their duty belts led Armor Express to create the Traverse vest. Chest-level attachments for accessories save officers’ hips from a lot of punishment.

The more you talk to your customers, the more you know about their hardships and needs. Training is one way to start that conversation.

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