Not too long ago, I was invited along with a few others to visit C2R at their Hereford headquarters. Not only was I able to get a sneak peek at upcoming products, I also gained insight into how they operate and had first hand account of what’s changed from their early, almost secretive days as a business that exclusively sold to the kind of guys that books are written about.
It was also a great opportunity to meet up and chat with various other people connected to C2R, a community that includes everything from media professionals and content creators, to coffee shop barons, entrepreneurs and a multitude of people who’ve forged a friendship with the Hereford based company.
I won’t mention anyone by name, as some understandably wish to remain anonymous, but I was very much humbled by the company I was keeping that day. I think you’d have to be a sociopath to not feel some degree of imposter syndrome when surrounded with such a talented group of people, but talking with everyone there, we were all just incredibly aware of the trust put in us by the team at C2R and that each of us was asked to visit for a good reason.
So what did I learn whilst there? C2R at it’s core is a specialist in the design and creation of load bearing and armour carriage systems. The small, close knit team at C2R are able to bring a product from it’s initial concept to reality within a fast timeframe. Bureaucratic red tape or traditional leadership structures are not a hinderance to the process, with each and every person involved in a product having the ability to influence it’s creation.
A key point I took away from the visit was that C2R’s customer really is at the heart of their business. Whilst this might seem a little cliche and/or blindingly obvious, it’s only because many companies regurgitate this message that we’ve become somewhat immune to it’s meaning.
C2R genuinely use customer input within their designs, If a pocket or pouch doesn’t work for the customer, it doesn’t end up on the finished product. If it works great for the military but doesn’t meet the needs of a law enforcement unit, they go back to the drawing board and make something fresh.
There are no “one size fits all” approaches to C2R’s kit development; Each requirement or need is met with an eagerness to make a tool specifically FOR the job, not just a tool that COULD do the job.
Without giving away any business secrets, we were shown a number of designs that were currently in development. Some customers simply choosing to send C2R an item and their list of requirements, asking C2R to come up with a product without significant input. Other designs being subject to progressive refinement and customer led field-testing to finely tune a product until it’s perfected.
One of the unique things about C2R’s structure is that they’re not only geared up for ongoing runs of core product lines, they’re also flexible enough to turn around one-off and bespoke items from initial concept to reality, with initial CAD designs being sent to their in-house laser cutter at the touch of a button, allowing a prototype to be stitched together much faster than relying on outside contractors/partners.
Speaking with one of the owners, the question came up about how long a product takes from initial brief to first prototype. Obviously this can vary from item to item, but some items can be designed, laser-cut and stitched in a matter of a few hours. Yes, some might take a week or two, but in the majority of cases, an initial model can be made in the first couple of days to see where improvements and revisions are required in the final product.
This type of flexibility is something you might expect to see in a purely bespoke tailoring environment, but for a business that handles high volume contracts, it’s rather cool to see that they’re able to balance the needs of the many versus the needs of the few.
Manufacturing is handled in-house. For a modestly sized premises, there’s a lot of stuff going on. Laser cutting tables dominate certain areas of the factory floor, with reams upon reams of fabric, webbing, elastic, thread, Velcro, other specialist materials such as Tegris thermoplastic and spacer mesh. That’s not even mentioning the endless boxes of buckles, G-hooks, snaps and closures that provide C2R with an array of ways to design their products.
Another area of the factory is an Aladdin’s Cave, with endless amounts of prototypes and ongoing projects on desks and benches. It might seem like chaos to an outsider, but the guys knew exactly where everything was and could grab anything they needed to show off without endless digging whilst talking about the type of work they do.
My own history with C2R is probably quite typical for most of their non-military/law enforcement customers. My first exposure to them was back in 2012/13, starting to look at buying better kit, I fell in love with one of their earlier high speed, low drag carriers that belonged to a friend… A C2R-Mor in Multicam if I remember correctly. But availability, colour-ways and sizes were limited to; second-hand, Multicam and plate size medium, leading me to look elsewhere.
To now see that same business publicly engage and start offering their products directly, it’s ushering in a new era for C2R. One that’s sure to see historically non-traditional customers looking at their products as an option.
Visibility might not have been a massive priority for C2R at the beginning of their journey, but as they open up their business to the masses, you’ll undoubtedly start to see their products not only being worn in candid shots of men with blurred out faces, but increasingly within press, aid and journalist organisations as well as film and TV.
As for what comes next? Well I don’t want to steal C2R’s thunder regarding any upcoming products, but I will say that there are multiple new designs and revisions of existing products at a very late stage in their development. Some hopefully available to buy later this year.
We were also given a taste of future concept product ideas that generated a great deal of excitement in the room, but were so early in development that the only proof of their existence was a few fabric swatches and discussions about potential applications.
I’m genuinely looking forward to seeing what the future holds for C2R. It was an eye opening experience to talk to the team there, each of whom bring something very valuable to the table. One particular and unexpected highlight of the visit, was a talk on a new plate carrier design given by a pair of young product designers whose combined age probably stacked up close to the average age of the attending visitors.
Far from being in over their heads, they actively engaged with their audience, kept our attention and displayed a level of product and marketplace knowledge you’d expect from directors, not designers. Showing once again that everyone within the business was focussed and working together for the greater good.
I’d like to take this opportunity to thank the whole team at C2R for the opportunity to visit and ask lots of questions, point at stuff, ask more questions and take pictures. It’s given me an incredible insight into product development and design, it’s also given me a few industry phrases I can try and shoe-horn into future reviews. Thank you.
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