Otis Technology’s Doreen Garrett: Youthful Insight and Success
K.J. Houtman 01.27.14
Thirty years ago an outdoorsy teenager was hunting with her dad and tripped forward into a snowbank. Debris clogged her gun’s barrel, but she didn’t want to miss out—she didn’t want to have to head back to the house to get the gun cleaning products she needed. But she did. That moment, and the skill and vision of the unique girl experiencing it, led to the launch of a successful company. Today, Otis Technology, based in Upstate New York, employs 120 people and manufactures many SKUs shipped worldwide. Meet the gal with the idea, the vision, and hard work behind it all: Doreen (née Williams) Garrett.
“In the early years I didn’t want to tell this story,” shared Doreen, as we chatted in the incredible Otis Technology booth at this year’s SHOT Show. “We made my dad the face of the company in those early years, when I was 16, 17, and 18, because no one would want to do business with a teenage girl.” In 1987 she secured her first booth at the SHOT Show. The simple 10×10 showcased their new portable gun-cleaning line: a kit in a small, pocket-sized tin. Perfect for use afield, the very thing Doreen wanted so she didn’t have to traipse back to the house and take a couple of hours out of time outdoors. The kit put safety first; she knew she needed to keep her firearm in proper firing condition, even when nature interfered with plans.
That’s why she created the original Kit and Caboodle, the gun cleaning kit that traveled afield.
In the beginning, no one would believe this was all her company. “I set up our booth and then walked out of the show, and the security guard wouldn’t let me back in,” said Doreen, remembering the days when she wasn’t even 18 yet, the cutoff age for SHOT Show attendance. “So my mom and I went back to the hotel room and teased up my hair. I put on more makeup than I would have normally worn, and when I walked past the security guard the second time he didn’t stop me.” All so she could work at her own booth.
Over the years, the company has grown tremendously, but there were also challenging days, even challenging years. “People see the company that it is today, and might not realize how I started out filling orders in our family’s living room. They don’t realize the times we struggled to borrow the money that we needed for growth.”
The growth came as the company built great products, but perhaps even more so, because their foundation was exemplary customer service. “Even today, we will make sure the customer is happy,” said Garrett.
Then the government contracts came in, because soldiers needed these kits in the field. “We started to do a lot with the military. It helped that our gun cleaning products were 100 percent made in the U.S.A.; that really made a difference,” said Garrett.
Today, when new employees start with the company, their tour includes a stop in Doreen’s office, where they hear about the humble beginnings and the dreams of a teenage girl. “I’m the oldest of four, and my two brothers and sister helped run this company all these years. But we’re transitioning out now. It is time for us to take on different roles.”
It doesn’t mean “no role,” it truly means a different role. “I’ll be stepping down as President/CEO this year,” said Doreen. “But like one brother and sister already, I will stay on the board of directors. I hope that will actually allow me to have more time to visit with employees and see the work from a different perspective. And I hope it will give me more time for fishing and hunting, too. I’m ready.”
After 30 years of building a company as strong and sustainable as Otis Technology, it is time for this still-young gal to have more time for herself and her family. “I enjoy the great hunting and fishing and outdoor life we have in New York. Sometimes I am fascinated to watch the big ships come through the river to the Great Lakes. It is always a treat to watch them. I’m looking forward to having more time for it all.”
Young people with a vision—and with opportunity—can accomplish great things. With ideas, and yes with capital, companies start, evolve, and grow. They add the first employee, then the second, and soon there might be 100 or more. That’s the American dream. And it started for Otis Technology with a bright and visionary teenager 30 years ago.
K.J. Houtman is the author of the award-winning Fish On Kids Books series, chapter books for eight- to 12-year-olds with adventures based around fishing, camping, and hunting. Her work is available at Amazon and local bookstores. Find out more at fishonkidsbooks.com.