TFB Interview with Jeff Selvig of Apex Gun Parts

We recently received an excellent opportunity to tour Apex Gun Parts, which you can read about on a recent TFB post here. During the tour we got a chance to sit down with Jeff Salvig and really ask him some in-depth questions about the surplus industry and how he got into it himself, eventually starting his company, Apex Arms. I think Jeff serves as an example to the rest of us, that he started out just as a very passionate collector and through hard work and determination, brought together one of the better companies in the industry when it comes to surplus inventories.

TFB- Could you tell us some of your background and how you got into the surplus industry?

Jeff- Well, I was a gun collector and I really liked military surplus. The first rifle I ever bought was a Lee Enfield. The first semiautomatic was a Maadi AK. I’ve always liked military firearms, it became my passion. I’d go to sleep reading Shotgun News, and reading books about historical firearms. I wanted to get an FFL but I didn’t see an opportunity in my mid-twenties.

TFB- So up until you had your job at Century you never had any formal firearms industry experience?

Jeff- No, not at all. I had a really good foundation of knowledge about firearms and what they were worth. I was convinced I wanted to get an FFL and be able to do business at gun shows. Initially, I got a job at Century Arms as a part time gig, really only lasting two months. That turned into four years while I was in Vermont with my family consisting of a wife and a young child. I ended up really wanting to continue work there, thinking “We need to stay here”. We were just there for the winter. At the time, the warehouse was huge, 100,000 square feet. Guns came in one door on pallets and left through another door.

TFB- What were your takeaways at Century?

Jeff- Well I started in the shipping department as an entry point. I supervised their bonded warehouse, so I dealt with Customs and worked the shipments as they arrived. I learned how things were de-milled, what the requirements were, what the cutting diagrams were, the variances, etc… That gave me a Customs background on the industry but then I started traveling overseas for Century. The first trip I did was right after 9/11, into Turkey. They already had the deals set up, so I wasn’t negotiating anything, just loading up Stens and Turkish Mausers to be sent back to the United States.

TFB- The guns are live, coming into the U.S. and here is where the cutting occurs?

Jeff- Yes…

TFB- Noooo! The cutting happens here?

Jeff- Unfortunately, but really it is much better because we get to cut them to specifications that allow the building of parts kits and such, we’ve got control over here. So if we need a variance to cut something a little differently, that puts us in that position as opposed to it happening overseas. Certainly, an advantageous position to be in.

TFB- How did the transition from Century to Apex happen?

Jeff- I knew I wanted to live in Colorado. Vermont was not where I wanted to spend the rest of my career. But I liked the industry. I had intended to be a firearms importer, but in order to do that, I needed a location. I had just left, so I had some money from selling my house. So I figured why not just buy parts until I could get an FFL and import license. I could just buy parts and sell them on Ebay. The revenue from that could support an FFL in the future. Over time I gradually became successful just selling parts. So I figured if I could just keep buying parts, there’d be no reason to work the FFL portion. Century had imported 100,000 Romanian “G” kits and as fast as I could sell those, I could get more. The goal isn’t to make as much money on each unit, but to buy as many as possible.

TFB- What are some of the intricacies of dealing in surplus because it is a very different market than new parts being sold?

Jeff- Yes, it is a very different market. It is being able to see value and opportunity. When something is cheap, it is cheap because of one or two reasons. There isn’t a lot of demand for it and there isn’t a lot of it. As an example, who wants G3 magazines when they are so cheap and there are 800,000 G3 magazines available. Thus, buying G3 magazines wouldn’t look like a good deal. Just like when Romanian kits were cheap, people knew they were a good deal but now that same kit would be 400, 500 dollars. You didn’t have to wait ten years for that price increase to happen, instead just waiting three years to gain that value. So when you see the right opportunity, buying that opportunity is what makes the difference. Because those opportunities don’t last. Things change and suddenly pallets of what you bought for cheap are now worth much more. That is the position you want to be in. It is hard to buy the deal when it is there, and make good money at that time.

TFB- How do you figure out what to buy then?

Jeff- For me, I use myself as the gauge. Do I want it? Does it excite me? Or does it appear to not be as interesting as I thought it would be? I’ve made mistakes as well along the way. We have Czech 26 kits as an example. There were like 16,000 available at the time, we bought 3500, and we made a commitment for another 3500 so we took 7000. What we bought them for, they just weren’t selling well and that was during the Sandy Hook craze. I think we sold 50 of them, which would normally be okay, but during that period you could have sold anything. So the fact that we only sold 50 meant that when the market became more rational, they weren’t going to sell and now we have the problem that we have entire pallets of them. You always remember the ones that don’t do well, because every time I go back there I see them. The good sellers you never see because they are gone so quickly, you forget you even had them in stock. In the end, there really isn’t a set formula, it is much more going off of instinct. I also represent a certain amount of my customer base. It’s not a perfect representation but if I’m enthusiastic then other gun owners probably will be as well.

Josh (Head of Marketing)- That is the great thing about being in this company because the employees are just as passionate about surplus as the customers are. Employees will recommend stuff because they’ll be buying it just as well.

TFB- How have events such as Sandy Hook, Obama’s election, affected the business?

Jeff- Obviously the panic that Obama started, kicked off a number of spikes in sales. But for me, the real question is not was that just a bubble, but what is reality? You can compare it to the housing market for example. There was this irrational exuberance that people were buying houses based on assumptions that the future is going to look like the past. Therefore it created a bubble. But once that popped, prices went to an irrational low. Those low prices aren’t going to last either though. So what is reality? Right now all of my good sense says that this is the time to buy, this is the time to make a move, but we’re not seeing it in surplus. The prices are continuing to go up because I believe of the demand for surplus military product in Syria. Groups in Syria are illegally importing or otherwise buying all the material that would have been coming into the United States in kits. It is taking away from our supply. We’d have to pay much more than normal just to get the regular supply we were getting before.

Josh- It is akin to balancing the world market, and then bringing in the U.S. market. Even with ARs and U.S. made stuff, the prices are so low here but much more overseas. So how do we buy low outside the U.S. and then bring it in here.

Jeff- U.S. commercial production is dictated by the U.S. commercial market demand. The surplus market is not dictated by the U.S. commercial market. It is just one venue. Similar to how when the U.S. market will buy a Mosin Nagant, and they can import them while no one else in the world wants them. Thus you can get a Nagant for a really good price. Also, the suppliers that are selling to the U.S., the brokers, they now know what the U.S. commercial market will pay for stuff. The good deals just aren’t out there right now. I’d like to be in a position where I can buy as much as I can to be in that position.

TFB- What would you say constitutes your customer base?

Jeff- Largely it is collectors and home builders. A new surplus owner who puts together an old rifle, he wants some magazines, a sling, etc… Over time we’ve really built that side up. I started out as a collector and we really owe a lot to collectors for the initial success that we had. They are still our base, but we’ve been able to transition to a fair portion of the rest of the shooting market. I want every one of them to be a potential customer, not just the collector. We do a fair amount with manufacturers as well. That’s not the front side of the business that you would see on our website.

TFB- How would you say the popular collector market has changed?

Jeff- I’ve had a lot of discussions about this sort of thing and I want to frame it correctly. In the early 2000s, if you wanted an AK, you could buy a Romanian SAR, you could buy an Egyptian Maadi, there were your Hungarian or Bulgarian options. But it was just an AK. It wasn’t like this is a Romanian AK74. No one called it by its designation. Today there are numerous AK models you can get when back then you were very limited. Right around 2000, when Americans started going overseas for OIF/OEF, the increase of video games. You had these high school age kids playing all these games, picking up on all these cool new guns. You’re creating an awareness that the AK wasn’t just an AK, you didn’t just have a Hungarian AK, you had an AMD65, an AMD63, there are a lot of different models that people weren’t aware of. That awareness happened with kits because the commercial manufacturers were just building AKs. It created a collectors market. You had people exposed to it overseas in person, and people exposed to it in video games as well. It was an upward movement and I don’t see that anymore. But that doesn’t mean that there is a downward movement either. With the higher prices, that is going to have downward pressure. Similar with everything, comic books, stamps, etc… When it gets to such a high price, you can only buy so many. I would really like to see a return of lower prices.

TFB- We noticed that you have a number of new products on the shelves, Glock magazines, etc…

Jeff- We have the new stuff because we need to sustain ourselves while waiting for the next big opportunity when it comes to surplus deals. That is like running a whole separate company. Because in surplus we try to buy as much as possible when the opportunity arises. With new product, there is no reason to buy 500 Glock NiB firing pins for example. You just need to buy enough to meet your needs for 30 days. But in order to do that you have to have inventory management. Every three weeks we’ll restock, and in order to do that you have to have some level of automation systems in place. In surplus when it is gone, it’s just gone! A one shot deal. We don’t make good money on new product but you can keep it moving. You don’t have depth of inventory, you have breath. Whereas with surplus it is all about depth.

TFB- Say everything you have right now dries up. What is the next big move in surplus supply? Where is it going to come from, what is it going to be?

Jeff- The key on this is change. Change in supply but also change in politics. For example, Libya had all sorts of Second World War surplus during the revolution. We’d love to import it, but not from Libya. Maybe within 10-20 years if Libya can become develop trade relations, we could get our hands on it. Suddenly, that surplus would be available. In the 1980s, Eastern Europe wasn’t open but there were thousands of British rifles coming in. Nothing is static in politics. Cuba is completely forbidden, just like Syria, like North Korea. Maybe something happens in the far future and we could see North Korean parts kits for sale in the United States. Also keep in mind that everything that is made today, is going to be surplus in the next several decades.





Miles

Infantry Marine, based in the Midwest. Specifically interested in small arms history, development, and usage within the MENA region and Central Asia. To that end, I run Silah Report, a website dedicated to analyzing small arms history and news out of MENA and Central Asia.

Please feel free to get in touch with me about something I can add to a post, an error I’ve made, or if you just want to talk guns. I can be reached at miles@tfb.tv


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  • PK

    Why does it always seem that no one knows how “parts” are imported? We bring in intact guns and demil them here, before they can leave the bonded storage/customs… how else would post-68 import samples be a thing? Same goes for MGs, sure, but some are from after 86 so not for civilians, and after 68 so dealer-only.

    It confuses me that anyone would think cut up guns were truly being imported already cut up. How would you even keep track of all of that?

    • randomswede

      I always figured labor is generally cheaper outside of the US, it made sense to me that it was leveraged.

  • .45

    OK, I have to admit I have been prejudiced toward Apex Parts simply because when I originally saw their ads popping up, they were next to ads for other companies I knew to be expensive with poor customer service and so I subconsciously figured they weren’t worth investigating.

    But, what is this about having oodles of probably cheap AK kits nobody wants? I usually want stuff nobody wants just to buck the trend and go against the grain. Must Google Apex now…

  • Rogertc1

    NICE

  • Swarf

    So, what do you do with a “parts kit”?

    If the receiver is torched, how does it ever become a gun again?

    Is this some secret society gun stuff I’m not privy to because I grew up with Democrats?

    • Random Disabled Person

      This is about the USA , around the world is different.

      You basically take the parts kits that have been cut up and salvage the parts not cut up( they now destroy barrels, which if pipes are so dangerous and ready made machine guns , then somebody needs to stop all those freighters bringing in all those plumbing pipes, because they can be made into a gun very easily, but I digress..) and buy USA parts to assemble a complete gun.

      You’ll make or buy a receiver, the serial number part. It is not illegal to not have a serial number on a gun you made for yourself but if every sold the name of the maker and serial most be on it. Most just do it to avoid hassles from police who do not know gun laws and even gun range nazi’s who don’t know the firearm laws.. Plus if it is stolen it has unique identifier to help the police fond it hopefully.

      Then you add(some kits have a barrel) a barrel (usually the second or hardest part)and assemble a functional firearm from the parts. Most of the parts kits are more advance than building an AR-15 from a parts kit. Which is about like legos. Seriously, almost anyone can put together an Ar-15 on their first try by watching a youtube video or reading a single “how to” post many the forums.

      The whole “”80%” unfinished receivers was way to buy and own firearms that you didn’t have to report to big brother and is very large hobby. That also meant it was unfinished enough to not be a”receiver as decided by the whims of BATFE” . Which needs an FFL to be transferred to, and then to you. So saving fees.

      The Ar-15 is 80% lower(which often costs more then one already made ironic huh?) completed with a (listed from slowest and worst outcome to best method) a dremel (rotary tool), a drill press, router and/or you have access to a real mill machine.

      There are jigs use to bend metal (H&K and Aks are common)to form receivers from pre cut shaped but not enough to be classified as a receiver yet. 80 is a number made up to roughly describe a pipe or piece of steel partially formed , often the hardest parts, and still needing work done to form it into a real receiver.

      The specialized tools and neat assisting devices, are shared across communities and shipped out on loan to forum members. So you don’t buy all the tools for one to a few builds. Local people who will let you use their tool(s) for some small charge of a gift back, if anything be polite if you know commonsense.. Otherwise that is an expensive outlay to be able to build a gun and have it look as good if not better than when it was new. Once you buy the tools the price only decreases the more you build. that is why ten’s of thousands of parts kits get sold by several companies.

      These part kits(Ak being the most popular and the most supported beyone the AR-15 lego level of building), stens have passed their big day in surplus kits sadly) require usually welding and riveting, along with changing the design so it would no longer be a machine gun.

      Also we have a very stupid “sporter law” which says gun can only be brought in to the USA only in certain ways. So when they get here they take off the “thumbhole stocks, Replace with a collasping stocking or better quality. Cut off the muzzle thread protector nut and add a flash hider or brake depending to the barrel end. Suppressor mounts may be used, if going that route. They throwaway parts and replace them with parts made in the USA to get around a another stupid law. That yes that flat piece of steel on the bottom of the magazine in intricate to mass murder of all the babies in the world…..So it counts on banned import items that can’t be use, change out the trigger, and a few other parts and that same floor plate of magazine is magically now safe and billions of babies won’t die from that magazine per second every day as anti-gun people claim.

      The scene and builders demographic has gone way beyond the one off special build and select group of people making one for the experience. Its like potato chips, you just aren’t satisfied for long with the first one and so begins the second build.

      Since links get moderated just search for weaponsguild or the ak forums for many build it yourself guides. Almost every gun forum has a “build” section to discuss builds, show off builds and get helps with “how do I….”.

      That is the speed version of it. The detailed option is several hours of typing and multiple walls of text that are about a novel’s worth. Plenty of how to build gun videos on youtube. Watch a few and you’ll see it is very common and not that hard if you have access to metal tools. Even if you don’t, hand tools can be use, look up the Ak built from a shovel posted by TFB a few years back. Instead of welds and rivets there ones built up with screws from drilling tapping the holes.That doesn’t even get you into the 3-d printed options.

      As far as why build guns to only be cut up and sold as parts? Blame stupid import laws. It is a pain in the you know where, to even import a wooden stock for a firearm and it is chunk of tree for all things considered. It easier to bring the stocks in on guns to be removed and replaced.

  • Klaus Von Schmitto

    Great article! I’m a long time kit builder and a big fan of Apex (and Sarco – good guys too) so of real interest here.

  • Swarf

    Thanks for the links.

  • marcus J

    Very interesting , I have ordered a couple of items from Apex ,I get E-mails from them , I`m sure the good People at Apex and Magpul where not happy about John Chickenpooper being elected as Governor