Robert Cain, founder and president of Auction Armory, never intended to own and operate one of the largest independent firearm marketplaces in the country. While working as an Account Manager at Google, Cain, who was considered an expert of On-Page and Off-Page SEO, connected with the owner of a gun shop retailer facing a challenging situation.
"She had 10 locations, a $30,000 monthly advertising budget, but she had a problem," Cain said. "Because of rules and regulations surrounding the firearm industry, she couldn't advertise her gun shops or products on Facebook, Google, YouTube and other well known advertising outlets. She didn't want to just do signs or billboards. After a four hour conversation discussing several options, I called up some friends at Facebook, Google and YouTube and they all said, 'No, sorry we can't it’s our policy now!'. A few months went by, but I couldn't let it go. Eventually the idea came to me to build my own social network and marketplace where people, customers as well as those selling firearms, could go to shop, connect with other owners and become part of a larger community. Auction Armory basically started as a project for a client."
Cain developed the first version of Auction Armory on the side, while still working for Google. He shared that the original version of Auction Armory wasn't the greatest, but that the general idea was there. As an Account Manager with Google, Cain was responsible for a number of large accounts that took most of his time. This left him with just the weekends to work on auction armory. Between the travel and wanting to spend more time with his family, Cain finally made the decision to quit Google. He continued to build out Auction Armory, but also became involved with two other companies. He was brought on board by a commercial drain cleaning company and a marine contractor company, both of which are owned by the same people, to run their websites, generate leads and basically fine tune the online side of the businesses. Shortly after that, Cain introduced the idea of Auction Armory to the other partners and after eight months of development, it finally went live.
Since 2016, Cain has focused the majority of his efforts on building out Auction Armory. He put together a team of 18 employees including web developers, server admins, app developers, optimization managers, content managers and support staff. Growing the Auction Armory membership to 50,000, one of the first big milestones, and now to nearly 3 Million members, is the result of determination, hard work, overcoming challenges and believing in the value proposition of Auction Armory.
"We did come close to shutting down at one point," Cain said. "In the beginning, we couldn't get any traction. We couldn't get exposure, case studies from vendors or anything from advertisers. Facebook deleted our original page and groups and said it was against community standards. Our email campaign company changed their policy on guns. Reddit updated their campaign policy, kicking us as well. As we sat in the office with this awesome website, we realized that we couldn't get the brand recognition we thought we were going to get. Print advertising, which didn't allow for an optimal way to tract things, and expensive expos/shows were our only options. We had to somehow convince vendors to list their guns and for users to get on the site and use it. Easier said than done and It seem to be taking forever, but we stuck with it."
Looking ahead, Cain is focused on the 'Digital Atmosphere' for firearms and outdoor equipment. There are plans to add another website, ArmoryAds.com, where users can submit their websites and, if approved, are paid for allowing Auction Armory to show their advertisers on their websites. The goal being to establish and allow their advertisers to be seen in more places. This strategy also allows the owners of those websites to be paid and allows them to focus on the content, not selling ads.
Cain offers up some great advice for aspiring entrepreneurs. "The risks are not the same across the board" he said. "Whether you're new to business or not, evaluate the reason, pros, cons, etc. Review the basics of your business model. Don’t do it for the money! I can’t tell you how many entrepreneurs I personal know that have giving up on their businesses because they are not making $15,000+ a week. For a new entrepreneur that wants to minimize the risk of failing, get involved with an experienced and active partner. Active is the key here, it’s also important to start super small. Build up that idea over time. Once you're established it's important to step back and look at your business from a customer's point of view. Ask yourself, 'What are my customers looking for?'. Do this on a weekly basis. Yes, weekly!"