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9/25/2003

To protect and sell

By Tony Kindelspire
The Daily Times-Call

LONGMONT — It’s one of the more unusual retail stories in the area and also one you’ve probably never heard of.

They don’t advertise, and you have to go out of your way to find the place. And that’s just fine with the owners.

“This location actually works pretty well for us,” said Eric Bagdikian, who co-owns Kinsco LLC with his wife. “For the most part, everything is word of mouth, and I’m quite comfortable with that.”

Kinsco, which opened in May 2002, sells public safety equipment and uniforms. With the exception of a single line in the Yellow Pages under “uniforms” and a presence on the Internet, the company does virtually no advertising. That’s because much of what they sell cannot be bought by the average consumer.

“We’re all in this game and we all know the players — so that in itself allows us to be diplomatic in turning people down,” Bagdikian said.

In other words, the average Joe Schmoe walking in to buy a roll of police “crime scene” tape won’t be getting what he came for.

The 4,000-square-foot showroom is stocked with gear used by police officers, firefighters and emergency medical personnel. What’s available for purchase to the everyday citizen, however, depends entirely on the judgement of Bagdikian and his staff — all of whom were or are involved in the public safety business.

For example, they would have no problem selling a headlamp — useful to a firefighter — to the average citizen. The same goes for selling a holster or a knife to a sportsman. But forget about the body armor or a Springfield handgun. If you’re not law enforcement, they’re not for sale to you.

And Bagdikian — himself an officer for 13 years and now a reservist with the Boulder County Sheriff’s Department — knows virtually everyone in local law enforcement.

“I had a guy come in last week that wanted to buy (a baseball hat) that had “police on it,” Bagdikian said. “I had to ask a few questions.

“We’ve had a number of police impersonations in Boulder County and surrounding areas, so we’re very sensitive to that,” he said.

Bagdikian said that he thinks most stores of his type employ the same type of judgement.

“So much of this stuff is available on the Internet any more,” said customer Ron Bonney, a retired 28-year veteran of the Longmont Fire Department who stops into Kinsco “frequently.”

While that’s true, Bagdikian said, it’s still up to him and his staff to decide who they will let get their hands on some of the merchandise.

“It’s going into the community in which we also live,” he said. “I guess the point that I’d like to make is we want to be responsible without being paranoid.”

Bagdikian and his wife, Nan Stuart, founded the store with Steve and Sue Cullen. A couple of weeks ago, Bagdikian and his wife bought out the Cullens, but Eric is quick to give the former partners a lot of credit, particularly for establishing what he called one of the most comprehensive selections of wildland firefighting equipment in the region.

“Without their involvement in this store we wouldn’t be where we are now,” Bagdikian said. “They both had a wealth of experience in not only law enforcement but also emergency medical equipment and fire, and that’s a big part of why we are as diverse as we are.”

Bagdikian says he knows of two competitors in the area, but Bonney said he’s glad he doesn’t have to make the drive south anymore.

“Before, I had to go to Denver,” said Bonney, who serves with Bagdikian in the sheriff’s reserves, where both are firearms instructors. “And this is nicer than any of the Denver stores. Much, much nicer.”

Kinsco is proof that word of mouth can be a businesses’ best form of advertising.

“We’ve got one account in Texas that says I get better service calling up to Colorado than I do from the local uniform supplier in my area,” said Bagdikian.

He said that besides being a retailer, Kinsco acts as a wholesaler and distributor for certain merchandise, selling to other, similar stores elsewhere. He added that the store’s revenues are split fairly evenly between sales to individuals and agencies, such as fire or police departments.

“I’d say the sales are probably higher on an individual basis — but I’d say that the majority of our sales are agency sales,” Bagdikian said.

Kinsco’s metal, 13,000-square-foot building east of Longmont also features a training room available for rent to public safety agencies — yet another way Kinsco manages to carve out a retail niche by serving that very tightly-knit community.

“I have a very deep sense of appreciation for our customers, because without them we wouldn’t be here,” said Bagdikian.

Tony Kindelspire can be reached at 303-776-2244, Ext. 291, or by e-mail at tkindelspire@times-call.com.