Mike Pfeiffer never planned on being an ecommerce merchant. A web developer, he hoped to grow his YouTube channel, Last Line of Defense, reviewing firearms and accessories. On the side, in 2015, he made a few holsters and mentioned them in his videos.
He told me, “I would talk about them in the context of other reviews. My followers started asking if they could buy one.”
Fast forward to 2022, and Last Line of Defense is more than a YouTube channel. It’s a Drupal-powered direct-to-consumer ecommerce business selling firearm holsters, with annual revenue of $500,000.
I recently sat down with Pfieffer, discussing his journey. The audio of our entire conversation is embedded below. The transcript is edited for length and clarity.
Eric Bandholz: Tell us about yourself.
Mike Pfeiffer: I am the founder and owner of Last Line of Defense, a small online operation that makes and sells gun holsters. I’m mostly known for my YouTube channel, where I review outdoor and adventure gear.
When I started the channel in 2015, I was looking to buy a holster for my concealed carry, but there was nothing suitable on the market. I figured out how to make holsters and started producing them for myself at home differently from what anybody else was selling.
I used a material called Kydex, a type of plastic sold in thin sheets that you heat and vacuum-form. Initially, I used a foam pressure form — a do-it-yourself hobbyist version. I bought the materials and made a couple of holsters for my own use.
Then I mentioned them a few times on my YouTube videos. I would talk about them in the context of other reviews. My followers started asking if they could buy one. My initial response was, “No, this is just something I made for myself.” I never had the intention of selling them.
Bandholz: Almost a distraction.
Pfeiffer: Yes, it was. My background is in back-end development. I was a web developer. I was not trying to launch an ecommerce business. I had the mentality of doing it on the side until it went away. But it didn’t go away.
I worked full-time as a developer while trying to start my YouTube channel and selling holsters through emails and PayPal. Eventually I decided to make an ecommerce site.
I was familiar with Drupal and its ecommerce component, Drupal Commerce. So I made my website on that platform, but it was clunky.
It required a bunch of attributes. A customer could select the firearm, choose a color, and designate right-hand or left — a lot of details. Shopify and BigCommerce might have been easier. My goal was to get a website up so I wouldn’t be emailing customers back and forth.
So I launched the site. I was marketing holsters organically through my YouTube channel. To this day, I have not advertised. I haven’t sent holsters out for reviews or bought ads. Plus, advertising firearms-related products is difficult.
Bandholz: Why is it difficult?
Pfeiffer: Much of the difficulty relates to the images. I have to show guns with my holsters. If I’m selling a Glock holster, I need to say it’s a Glock holster. But “Glock” could be a flagged image or word that blocks the ad from going live. It becomes tricky.
Plus, ecommerce platforms have restrictions. I didn’t build on Shopify, and my product doesn’t go against that company’s terms, but it does fall into a gray area.
Regardless, the company went from grossing $50,000 in the first year to $500,000 now. It just kept growing organically.
This year is the first year that my revenue will be lower. The content I create on YouTube is distant from what it was. I used to discuss my holsters because the videos were related. But I’ve shifted the channel’s focus to outdoor gear broadly.
Customers nowadays are mostly recurring businesses and folks coming from organic search on Google.
Bandholz: What’s your competitive advantage?
Pfeiffer: We have to be relevant. The Glock 19 has been the main concealed-carry gun for years. I’ve stocked holsters for the most popular models. But many new guns have appeared in the last couple of years. I haven’t kept up with producing holsters for them.
I’ve let the company become a little stagnant. The YouTube channel is my main business — reviewing gear and beta-testing products for manufacturers. Plus I’m not making holsters anymore myself. I outsource that task.
Bandholz: Have you considered selling to focus on YouTube?
Pfeiffer: It’s an option. I’ve considered it. But I don’t want to let the business go. I enjoy the manufacturing process. I want to expand beyond holsters into preparedness gear. I might design a medical kit or pouch that works perfectly in a Tacoma pickup, for example. I’d like to make more products for myself that others want to buy.
The issue is time. I’m the general contractor for our house that’s under construction. I run the YouTube channel. I have a baby coming in January. I will keep the holster company going but probably won’t make new stuff until next year. My brother, a CAD designer, wants to help. He told me, “Hey, let’s make this holster empire a thing.”
Bandholz: Where can people reach out and support you?