We recently sat down with Jim Hodge of Hodge Defense Systems to discuss what he and his company have been up to since we last spoke. We learn about new partnerships, his approach to the commercial and non-commercial market, the ‘why’ behind his company’s “silent professional” approach, and his outlook on the firearms industry as we approach the new year.
Q: Jim, thank you for your time. Can you talk about what the growth with Hodge Defense Systems has been like for the past 18 months or so?
Jim Hodge, Hodge Defense Systems – Looking back at the last two years or so, I’d say I’ve made the best business decision I ever made, which was to team up with Ike Stephens and really focus on what I am good at while he focuses on what he is good at. It’s allowed us to get more product out, and has also been a help with forecasting, as far as what needs are, but still not trying to burden the market with too much stuff. We’re trying to be more reactive to commercial consumer needs, and Ike has been a God-send for that.
It was really a decision made out of necessity. I had been juggling a lot of this by myself. I am good at certain things, but not others. It was a decision I made a while back. I’ve been very guarded and careful about who I brought into the Hodge brand to help its growth. With Ike Stephens, there is a significant level of trust and respect that I have for him, not to mention the fact that he is so young and so well-read. He studies this stuff. I studied how to build a rail and how to build a gun.
Together, we have created what we pet call ‘Hodge Defense North’ in Conroe (Texas) now. We’ve expanded and carved out some space over there that’s strictly where the operations and forecasting happen. When we get product in, it’s also where the QA/QC and the building happen.
While San Antonio hasn’t been shut down, the only thing I am focused on there is product development and helping with business development. So, Ike has really, truly become my partner in this. I’ve decided to let go of many of the reins and give them to him, and it’s been the best business move I’ve ever made.
Q: The last time we spoke, we discussed how you were focusing a bit more on Hodge Defense Systems parts in addition to complete guns. Is that still the case?
Jim Hodge, Hodge Defense Systems – We’ve been fortunate in getting contracts. Based on the amount of sales we do to local, state, Federal, and DOD, we only have so much bandwidth in building guns. By virtue of that, we can only cover our contract work right now on complete builds. It creates an excellent little synergy where all the full guns that we do are for government use. It’s not us ignoring the commercial market; it’s just that it is all we can do.
What it allows, though, is for us to sell components. Yes, some guys may want full, complete Hodge Defense builds, but others may simply want a Hodge Defense barrel, a rail, or an upper combined with someone else’s product, which is fine. Many of our customers like certain specific items that we do, and they may prefer something else that someone else does, and that’s totally cool. That gives them the flexibility of “rolling their own gun,” in a way. It does work out for them and for us.
To answer your question, yes, we are still going down the path that, commercially, Hodge Defense Systems is a parts-based company, and the our full guns are on the non-commercial side. Will that change in the future? Who knows. Maybe. For now, it’s by design. We always want to stay very small, very agile, and very much “in the black.” We have no designs on getting “huge.”
Q: What is being looked at and adopted on the contract side? Is it mostly your Hodge Defense Mod 2s, or are the Mod 1s also getting a look?
Jim Hodge, Hodge Defense Systems- It’s a little of both, but it leans more towards our Hodge Defense Systems Mod 2. Our Mod 2 12.5” is the most popular non-commercial gun we do. I guess we got lucky with how that gun was designed and built and that it runs the way it does. That said, we have done contract Mod 1s. We have also done other barrel lengths, but it’s probably 60 percent Mod 2 12.5”.
Q: What’s the current build process like for these Hodge Defense Systems guns?
Jim Hodge, Hodge Defense Systems – When we have major runs, I will come in and check the process. Today, our guys (builders) are excellent. We have them to the point where we are extremely comfortable with them, as far as getting extra sets of eyes on everything, test firing, and ensuring accuracy before they go out the door. When we test fire, we’re not just shooting 3, 4, 5 rounds. We’re really running these guns. We put several magazines through them, both semi-auto or full-auto, if they are made that way. We also shoot them all for accuracy.
I enjoy coming in during a build and getting hands-on. It’s something that I just like doing. That said, I have absolute faith and confidence in the guys that ‘turn the wrenches’ over there. They’ve been to multiple schools and multiple classes. I also spent hours and hours with them, reviewing how I like doing things. They’ve also taught me a few things as well. I have mad respect for the guys who are putting these Hodge Defense guns together.
Q: Can you talk about the idea that you have a few different Hodge Defense Systems rails in circulation and that there seem to be runs of different ones that come up occasionally?
Jim Hodge, Hodge Defense Systems – I’m not selling the Hodge Defense Wedge Lock right now only because I cannot extrude it in the material I want. It wouldn’t be palatable to the customer. It would be costly, and it is tough to extrude the Wedge Lock in 7075. That was the intent and the way it was developed.
I had also backed off the Wedge Lock, as many people had adopted it. I get “lost in the sauce,” in a way. If these guys are running it and those guys are running it, the consumer may or may not know where it originally came from. To maintain a brand and a brand identity, I need to have something particular to my carbines.
To be clear, I’m not saying we won’t return to it at some point. Nonetheless, I’ve moved off of it. The Pinch Lock then was done. Then, on the heels of the Pinch Lock, I was already working on the S-Lock. The Pinch Lock is still a “Mod 1-type” of handguard. The S-Lock is a “Mod 2-type” of handguard.
So, to answer your question of ‘why three different rails,” well, one is not really happening, and the other two go on specific models. That said, you can put a Pinch on a Mod 2 and a S-Lock on a Mod 1. We’ve done it. We’ve done it under contract. That’s just kind of how we have our models set up.
Q: When did the decision come to offer a Hodge Defense Systems 16-inch barrel? Your guns are known to be very fine-tuned. I’m curious if the move to a 16″ impacts that balance at all?
Jim Hodge, Hodge Defense Systems – I had submitted prints for a 16” barrel way back. Apparently, I even built some, and I didn’t know (laughs). I got a hold of some, I shot them, and they shot well. We started pushing the 16” barrels out when the brace for the carbine started to become under threat. I thought that if they had a braced gun, some folks might want a longer barrel to get out of a short-barreled configuration. So, I wanted to offer that, and they have been popular.
I will say that for the 16”, and I have no idea why, they are taking a little while to settle in. What I mean by that is they take a couple hundred rounds, and they really start shrinking in size as far as velocities and group sizes, but they are shooting incredibly right now.
I was just on the phone with someone from AMU (Army Marksmanship Unit) who was giving me feedback on our 16” barrels, and I am going to be sending him some more. They can shoot whatever the hell they want, and they choose to shoot our 16” barrels. Personally, I don’t run a 16.” I plan to now (laughs), given all the feedback I have gotten on them.
Q: Following your work, I also noticed you’ve been working with Dave Wilson. Can you talk about that? We’re big fans of his work.
Jim Hodge, Hodge Defense – You answered your own question (laughs). He’s a brilliant guy with fantastic attention to detail. He has the right personality and chemistry compared to what we have. I like him as a human being.
I see people like Dave Wilson and Ike Stephens playing a significant role in the future of our industry. Time will tell, but that’s what my gut says. I will use Dave Wilson for as long as I can use him on special projects.
Dave Wilson helped us with government-centric projects, and Hodge Defense Systems will continue using him for that. I will also try to use him for some rapid prototyping.
If a customer comes to me and tells me they need a widget that can do A, B, C, and D, if I can create it, Dave and I will put our heads together and try to make it for that individual. That will be our relationship moving forward, as well as special projects stuff. Teaming up with folks who know what they’re doing just makes sense.
Q: That would also apply to companies like Badger Ordnance and Forward Controls Design, who you collaborate with…
Jim Hodge, Hodge Defense – Exactly. I like sharing ideas. It’s a two-fold thing. If I can make some money from it and someone else can make some money from it, and if it is a worthy idea that the consumer can appreciate, it relieves some of the burdens of outsourcing. This is undoubtedly the case with Forward Controls Design and Badger…
You could say I have Hodge Defense DNA in some of their items, and I use those items. I get to make money from it, and I get a kick-ass item at the same time. They do an excellent job at what they do. If I try to go so vertical that I am making everything from selectors, bolt catches, forward assists, and takedown pins, it is coming from me. I don’t know that I am the expert at that, where they are. If it makes sense, I’d rather throw some of my DNA at it.
I don’t think anyone makes a better bolt catch or selector than Badger. I don’t think there is anyone who makes a lot of accessories than Roger Wang at Forward Controls Design does. It makes sense to team up with folks who know what they are doing rather than be so vertically integrated.
Q: Can you explain the Hodge Defense Systems logo switch?
Jim Hodge, Hodge Defense Systems – Version 2 is done at a different place, with what I would say is a better anno. The company I went with is excellent and is a major military provider for things outside the gun business. Our lead times were cut by 2/3rds, and our customer service was enhanced. There is always a learning curve whenever you get a new vendor, so we had to tweak a few things here and there after our first and second runs. However, it worked out well.
The new Hodge Defense Systems logo was just me wanting a new twist on things. I don’t want to always be so stale in presenting the gun’s markings. I know it doesn’t matter to a lot of folks. It doesn’t matter to me that much, but it was time for a freshen-up. That’s why we did what we did.
Now, we do have a desire to do some small, limited runs of Hodge Defense Systems ‘things of the past.’ Stuff like that might happen a few times a year where something limited and collectible will drop onto the market for the consumer. It’s something we can have some fun with, collect, and build on. We’ll probably start dropping this kind of thing at the beginning of the year.
Q: I’d love your perspective on the state of the industry if you have the time before we wrap.
Jim Hodge, Hodge Defense Systems – Sure. The industry is a reflection of the economy to some degree. It’s stale today and is historically stale this time of the year every year (editor’s note: this article was conducted on October 6, 2023). Look at grocery prices, fuel prices, and student loans. Things are more expensive, and guys may or may not have or want to spend the extra money for something like a Hodge Defense rifle.
To fix the industry? Votes matter. That’s how we fix it – by getting the right people in office to maintain the 2nd Amendment. This must be done in a mature, methodical way. We’re in a slump. Almost everyone is in a slump, retail-wise, for the most part. We’ll come out of it, but I hope we don’t come out of it because of something tragic happening. We need to come out of it naturally. People have been high on the hog for the past few years; to some degree, there will be a new norm. I think Hodge Defense Systems is in a good position, as we haven’t grown so vertically in the way of integration. We’re a little bit more financially agile. We’ve been very prudish.
Q: Anything else you’d add that I didn’t ask you?
Jim Hodge, Hodge Defense – If I wanted your reader to know anything, it’s that we try to be professionals. We try really hard. We try to surround ourselves with and partner with good people that we trust and respect. We’ll never tell anyone that we ‘make the best’ this or that. We won’t get so vertically integrated to where we say our component here is better than that component over there. We will rely on those who do a better job than us or have more bandwidth to make great products.
Hodge Defense is not an island. We enjoy having a good reputation and relationships with other people we share this industry with. We’re surviving. We’re not in debt. We’re selling guns, and we’re selling guns to people who use them daily. We’re just not out there. We don’t have a social media presence. We don’t have a content creator. I haven’t hired anyone to run around and be a disciple for Hodge Defense. We try to keep everything we’re doing organic.
How I look at things, it’s “fast up, fast down.” I also look at it as if we build an excellent foundation, don’t strut, mind our own business, answer the mail, and get people the right equipment for their jobs; then we’re doing it the right way. We’re being a “silent professional.”
Jim Hodge, Hodge Defense – I hesitate to say it, at the risk of sounding silly, so I’ll leave it to you as to whether you want to include this or not in the article. I get that people are proud of what they buy, but I want my customers to be kind to others. I want them to help other people.
I want my customers to be professionals in the same way that I am trying to create a brand. Over the years, I have learned that it pays off to be quiet, kind, and honest. We’re not too big to pay attention to someone’s interests and desires and help answer questions. I want my customers to be the same way. I can’t control that, but I like the idea of cultivating a group of people who are just ‘good folks.’
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