February 01, 2023
By Joe Kurtenbach
If you told me that a pharmacist, an ATF agent and a posse of North Dakota ranchers walked into a gun show, I’d assume there must be a punchline coming. I certainly never guessed that this unlikely crew would be involved in simplifying and streamlining one of the most unnecessarily arduous processes any sportsman can undertake — purchasing a suppressor. And yet, that is exactly what happened. The pharmacist’s name is Brandon Maddox, and the punchline is a company with the most innovative purchasing process in the suppressor market. This is the story of Silencer Central.
In the beginning Maddox, the founder and CEO of Silencer Central, didn’t set out to rock the boat when he started in the silencer business 16 years ago, but he did bring a fresh perspective. A pharmacist by profession, Maddox studied medicine in North Carolina at UNC Chapel Hill and Duke University, then started practicing his trade in that state. Like many medical practitioners, Maddox found that sales and marketing were just as important as chemistry and biology for building a successful business in the field.
After moving to his wife’s home state of South Dakota, however, Maddox realized that he would need to pivot. The state’s population density simply wouldn’t support the same kinds of pharmaceutical practices he had experienced on the East Coast. To expand his reach and customer base, Maddox began operating a mail-order pharmacy, and soon found himself navigating the intricacies of delivering medicine to dozens of states. That experience proved invaluable.
How does this relate to silencers? Those familiar can attest to the natural beauty and opportunity for outdoor recreation that South Dakota and neighboring states have to offer. Maddox came to enjoy high-volume pest and varmint hunting — stalking prairie-dog towns in particular. It was during these trips that he realized the value of suppressing his firearms. As he related, “We might drive four or five hours for a prairie dog shoot, and there was nothing worse than seeing them all disappear after the first shot.” You can’t always count on the quarry being dumb or staying put. Whether it's prairie dogs, pigs or coyotes, a suppressor is an indispensable tool when it comes to varmint control.
Naturally, these pursuits led Maddox to purchase his own first suppressor, a process that was neither simple nor convenient.
“It’s nothing against typical gun shops, but they just aren’t set up to sell silencers,” Maddox said. “Their business is built around single interactions: The customers come in, find what they are looking for, and once the paperwork is approved they can walk out with their purchase.”
The traditional suppressor-buying process, on the other hand, includes multiple interactions: Choosing the right product, having it delivered to the shop, filling out paperwork with side trips for photos and fingerprints, and then the waiting for BATFE approval. Not to mention that the full purchase price plus the $200 tax stamp must usually had to be paid upfront. Then, during the 10 to 24 months needed for approval, the shop is stuck holding both cash and merchandise, a situation rife with tension and frustration. Maddox knew there had to be a better way.
Building Silencer Central
He didn’t have to start from scratch. Maddox’s father-in-law had an FFL and was in the business of selling guns. So, Maddox endeavored to get his own license to offer a local source for suppressors. Despite being already busy with the mail-order pharmacy, he was able to win his wife’s support by assuring her that, if nothing else, he’d be able to help her brothers get suppressors. (I’m sure she saw right through that “logic,” but chose to support him anyway.)
In 2005, with an FFL and Class 3 SOT license in hand, South Dakota Silencer was formed and Maddox began hitting the gun show circuit.
As with the pharmacy, the challenge of South Dakota was engaging a large-enough audience
to support a business, and in this case it meant going where the gun enthusiasts gathered. Maddox built trust with potential clients thanks to his professional background and his established local business. He also continuously sought to simplify the purchasing process, whether it was helping to ensure the paperwork was correct or shipping products to customers. Soon, South Dakota Silencers found an eager customer base, especially among ranchers needing to keep the coyotes in check. There was just one problem: Maddox was licensed in South Dakota, but many of his potential purchasers were from North Dakota.
This started Maddox on a now-16-year path that expanded his suppressor business first to both Dakotas, and then the surrounding states where, all the while, Maddox was building a reputation for professionalism, trustworthiness and good customer service. Compared to many dealers that would prefer a one-and-done sales process, Maddox offered a new experience.
“Given my background in the medical field,” Maddox said, “I compared selling silencers to being an OBGYN serving a pregnant patient. I’d tell them that this is going to be a nine- or 10-month journey, at least, and we’re in it together.”
Regular check-ins, flexible payment plans, and ensuring that when a customer calls someone picks up the phone were hallmarks of his business approach that continue today. Here, too, Maddox drew on his experience with mail-order pharmaceuticals. If medications could be shipped to patients in dozens of states, perhaps the same could be done with suppressors. He found that with proper licensing and a state-local agent, it could!
In August 2019, Silencer Central was officially born and licensed to sell suppressors in 21 states with 21 more FFL and Class 3 approvals pending with the ATF. Upon approval, Maddox’s company would be able to sell suppressors in all 42 states where their ownership is legal. It was right before this incredible milestone when, in November 2019, Maddox received an “invitation” to meet with the ATF at their offices in Washington D.C.
The meeting request was hardly surprising given the number of FFLs and applications attached to Silencer Central’s operation, and Maddox was already acquainted with many ATF personnel from these prior and ongoing dealings. Still, by his own admission, he hardly expected to walk into a room and be sat down in front of 40 to 50 federal agents and officials.
In short, Maddox told G&A, the ATF was actually very positive about his business model and keen to see it succeed. However, it was in their interest to work with him in the development of “guiderails” — rules agreed on by both parties to ensure its smooth and lawful operation. This also included developing official “variances” to established rules, granted to Maddox by the ATF, so that as new situations arose, operations could continue efficiently and decisions would not have to be made and remade as Silencer Central expanded.
The Buying Process
Maddox’s reason for entering the business of silencer sales was to make the process simpler, “as easy as 1-2-3” according to Silencer Central. The first step is the selection of a suppressor, which the company assists with information on their website and phone consultations. Next, Silencer Central takes ownership of the paperwork and its submission. All the customer needs to do is answer some questions and provide photos and fingerprints. (More on that soon.) Finally, after ATF approval comes through, the purchased suppressor is shipped directly to the customer's door.
While the selection, or shopping, process is pretty self-explanatory, the rest of the buying experience deserves closer inspection. To that end, I personally went through the Silencer Central pipeline in order to report with first-hand knowledge.
The paperwork preparation process was quick and painless. All I had to do was chat on the phone with the Silencer Central rep and provide the requested information; it could not have taken more than 15 or 20 minutes. Be prepared to offer some identifying details that you would not normally relay over the phone, but rest assured that your personal information is closely guarded and used only for the suppressor transaction. (On this point, the company has tens of thousands of positive reviews that attest to their professionalism and information security. Answering the questions allows Silencer Central to both generate the required paperwork for your purchase and establish a trust in your name under which the silencer will be held.) The primary benefit of using a trust is that members can be added after the purchase, making the transfer of the suppressor — whether for use, storage, or because of the purchaser’s passing — much simpler. Silencer Central offers this service free of charge with any suppressor purchase.
I’d offer one more note regarding the trusts: Silencer Central maintains the trust, and customers can add or remove members with a simple phone call. Also, the company’s legal team is continuously working with individual states and the ATF to ensure that the trusts meet the necessary legal standards. Maddox tells me this is an ongoing conversation and when clarifications or revisions to the paperwork are requested, Silencer Central gets it done.
The next hang-up in the purchasing process is often the passport-style photo and fingerprints required for the ATF packet. For these, Silencer Central offers instructions on how to take a selfie that will serve the purpose. As well, the company can send an at-home fingerprinting kit and detailed instructions that allow customers to create a usable set of prints and ship them back to Silencer Central for processing. I found both of these steps easy to complete thanks to the provided instructions and tutorial videos on the website. Once complete, I received confirmation emails from customer service letting me know the products I provided were submission-ready.
Another way Silencer Central has removed barriers to the suppressor buying process is in its flexible payment options. The company advertises a four-installment plan on the website, but it can develop personalized payment schedules.
Once all the paperwork is submitted, customers receive a copy of their trust, which includes the serial number of the suppressor being purchased. Then the wait begins.
At this writing, Silencer Central reported that approvals are coming in about eight to 10 months. During the wait (the point of the process I am currently in), customers receive monthly email check-ins from Silencer Central and reminders about upcoming payments. It’s nice to have that ongoing communication during your government-imposed hearing-protection purgatory. And, if a customer wants to reach Silencer Central, for any reason, the company’s phones are staffed during normal business hours, six days a week.
When the approval does come in, customers are notified by email. They then fill out a Form 4473 digitally, which is the same transfer paperwork used for firearm purchases. Once complete, the suppressor is shipped from Silencer Central’s South Dakota facility to the state-local company agent, and then on to the customer — right to their front door.
Silencer Central Today
To say Maddox’s simplified silencer solution has been successful would be an understatement. His company has grown to more than 180 direct employees, including a representative in each state served by Silencer Central. Their employment footprint is even larger if you include their contribution to the 25 manufacturing firms contracted to produce the Banish line of suppressors. (Silencer Central’s house brand, if you will.) The Banish family includes five silencer options: Banish 22 for rimfires; 223 for .223 Remington/5.56 NATO platforms; 45 for 9mm-, .40- and .45-caliber handguns; and two .30-caliber options, the Banish 30 and 30 Gold. The latter was my selection, and it is rated up to .300 Remington Ultra Magnum, and can bring a .300 Winchester Magnum down to a hearing-safe 140 decibels. It also includes two quick-detach muzzle devices and several accessories. (I look forward to conducting a full review soon.)
In addition to the Banish catalog, Silencer Central can assist with the purchase of any other make or model suppressor. The only limiting factor is the company’s ability to get a unit in their inventory. As well, the company will make mounting easy by threading the muzzle of the customer’s firearm. All in, those services are relatively affordable at about $140, a price that includes shipping the firearm both ways, a travel case that the customer keeps, the actual threading and a thread-protecting cap. It’s a heck of a deal, and another way that Silencer Central is simplifying suppression.
To sum up, Silencer Central is starting to flex within the market. It holds 43 FFLs (one extra for its machine shop), which is on par with Walmart. Maddox also reported that just prior to our interview, the ATF had completed an inspection of the more than 70,000 suppressors in Silencer Central’s inventory. Despite being an industry pro, I had no idea the suppressor market was so vast that one company would support that level of demand. Maddox’s constant pursuit of simplicity is not only benefitting his company and customers, but it also stands to help his competitors, as well. The new processes implemented by Silencer Central have prompted the ATF to change the way it’s doing business. For example, ATF is planning to go hard into digital submissions and staff up with the goal of achieving 90-day turnarounds for suppressor purchase approvals.
Silencer Central has pioneered a new purchase process that greatly eases the barrier to entry for new and returning customers, making it simple and easy to buy and own for any non-prohibited person. That’s a win for all of us.
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