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20. Local Business Gone Global

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Mississippi Auto Arms Owner Nathan Yow / Photo By HottyTody.com

Oxford’s Mississippi Auto Arms rapidly expanding its exports to countries throughout the world

When Nathan A. Yow grew bored with law school one day as a student at Ole Miss, the now Oxford attorney took a page from his father’s occupational history and bought a hundred gun magazines online for resale.

After selling all 100 on eBay within 24 hours, Yow upped the ante and purchased 300 more, which he proceeded to sell in three days.

On a roll, the Missouri-born, Bay Saint Louis bred Yow next bought the entire run of gun magazines, and that, says Yow, was the beginning of Mississippi Auto Arms (MAA).

The date was March 22, 2007, and today, six years later, the business is much more than just the reincarnation of the Missouri Auto Arms business that his attorney father began as a hobby and then closed down when he moved the family to the Gulf Coast so that he could attend law school. From 2011 to 2012, sales increased by 75 percent and doubled again last year. With a brisk local trade and online sales growing in quantum leaps, Mississippi Auto Arms–– the only firm of its kind in Mississippi to Yow’s knowledge –– is now a highly successful local business gone global.

“After I sold out of magazines, I was going to close the business and begin practicing law, but people kept asking me if I had stocks and other things,” says Yow.

Along with tactical shotguns and rifles, handguns, suppressors and short-barrel rifles and shotguns, Yow now offers more than 10,000 “other things” in the merchandise he sells for home defense on his website and at his store located on the ground floor of Oxford’s High Cotton building downtown.

“We sell quite a few short-barrel shotguns for home defense, because if you have a twenty-eight-inch barrel on your hunting shotgun it is easier for a burglar to see if you are coming around a corner.”

It takes about eight months to buy a short-barrel rifle, short-barrel shotgun or suppressor,” Yow says, what with the FBI background checks, the NFA tax of $200 that must be processed and other paperwork as well.

With more than 100,000 customers and 20,000 newsletter subscribers, Yow’s burgeoning online sales via his MississippiAutoArms.com website now account for 70 percent of his total business, with some 30 percent of his receipts coming from outside the United States in trade with consumers and distributors in Canada, Finland, South Africa, New Zealand, Namibia, Italy, the Philippines, the United Kingdom and a growing number of other countries.

Nathan Yow, second from left, with members of the Mississippi Development Authority in Dubai / Photo Courtesy of Mississippi Development Authority

If there is a business lesson to be gleaned from the phenomenal growth of Mississippi Auto Arms, Yow says it’s the opposite of the mindset that he encounters in many Mississippi and American companies.

“Most companies do not export,” says the Ole Miss alum, who received his undergraduate degree in insurance and risk management before starting law school at Loyola in New Orleans. “People are afraid to export.”

Yet in his own experience, there is still tremendous value vested in the Made in America label.

“Last year, our sales internationally were less than one percent. This year, in May, they grew to 13 percent, and now they are at 30 percent.”

While he credits his own aggressive marketing strategy with some of this export growth, Yow, who also practices law locally, says MAA has gotten quite a boost in growing business beyond Mississippi and U.S. shores from the Mississippi Development Authority.

In January of 2012, Yow took part in a U.S. Commerce Department/Mississippi Development Authority trade mission to Dubai.

“We got a lot of military appointments out of it,” Yow recalls. “Mississippi was the only state in the U.S. that was represented.”

In just over a week, from Sept. 7 through the 13th, Yow, his attorney brother, Charles Yow II, a graduate of the Croft Institute for International Studies whom Nathan recently hired to help build exports, and his mother, a former missionary in Brazil who speaks fluent Portuguese, will take part in another MDA trade mission to Brazil that is being led by Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant.

“I think the trip to Brazil is going to be a great opportunity that will result in quite a bit of business,” says Yow.

Along with adding to his company’s bottom line, Yow says his global business strategy also is in line with President Barack Obama’s National Export Initiative goal of increasing exports 20 percent by the year 2020. “The balance of trade has been working against us and exports through companies such as Mississippi Auto Arms can help to reverse that trend.”

Most recently, as part of a major expansion of the company, Yow has been scouting various locations in Oxford, Lafayette County and other cities in Mississippi for a new manufacturing facility for the rapidly expanding business.

“We are going to make 80 percent of the parts in house,” says Yow, adding that the new manufacturing facility will create 43 new jobs for the state and region.

Nathan Yow, second from right, makes a presentation of his company to a customer at a trade mission in Dubai last year / Photo Courtesy of Mississippi Development Authority

Although exports add additional layers of regulations and red tape to the process of doing business in an already highly regulated field, Yow says the increased volume of sales outside the United States is good for his domestic customers as well.

“The more we sell outside the United States, the lower our prices in the U.S. are, because our buying power is greater and the cost to purchase items goes down.”

Yow’s phenomenal success in business did not come about without adversity at the beginning of his career. “In 2006, while living on the Gulf Coast, I lost everything except what I was wearing to Katrina.”

The disaster is what brought him to Oxford and back to Ole Miss, where he finished his law degree.

Says Yow: “I consider myself lucky. When I lost everything I owned, it made me refocus every aspect of my life. I quit valuing personal possessions and focused instead on things that were important.” –– Michael Harrelson, editor, HottyToddy.com

Email Michael Harrelson at michael.harrelson@hottytoddy.com

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