We sit down with Tim Jensen, the bearded COO of the brash, patriotic company, to find out how grunt style is becoming America’s t-shirt company.
you’re actively following the gun community, you’ve no doubt heard of Grunt Style and seen its T-shirts. With a U.S. flag on one sleeve and the crossed rifles of the infantry on the other, Grunt Style’s shirts have blazed a path into the hearts and minds of military veterans and
are now moving into civilian America.
I’ve been a big fan since I found my first GS shirt: It was a bright, Marine Corps red with yellow print and adorned with the U.S.M.C. grunt version of the Marine Corps motto that is often used among buddies: the acronym “SFMF.”
I had the opportunity to sit down with Tim Jensen, chief operating officer of Grunt Style, LLC. We took some time to talk about the company’s structure, beliefs and future endeavors while also getting to know Tim’s background and where his love for long-range shooting developed. In addition, Tim thoroughly explained why Grunt Style is an outstanding place to work: It thrives on a sense of community to give employees numerous benefits and also continues to give back to the community.
Robb Manning: Tim, I hear you are a partner in a shirt company. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
Tim Jensen: Sure. Just recently, I’ve been made partner at Grunt Style. I’m the chief operating officer of business— colloquially known as the “company first sergeant.” You might have seen some of the videos we have up [at gruntstyle.com] called “Violent But True: Bedtime Stories.” I’ve been with the company since 2013 and am one of the early members of a team of five employees. Now, we’re at 520. I got to see a lot of the growth of the company from its beginnings to its current state, and I’m heavily involved with the strategy moving forward and what the company is going to look like in five years.
How did it all get started? When and what was the first seed that got planted to become Grunt Style today? And how did that first seed come to fruition?
The company started in 2009; it is a very interesting story.
The founder, Daniel Alarik, was on the drill field at the time in the United States Army, training new recruits. That time was coming to an end, because he was married with a child. They were living back in Chicago, and his wife asked him to hang up his drill hat and come back home.
So, he started the transition out, and that’s where the idea of Grunt Style began. Daniel was trying to figure out: How do I take the pride that I have in myself, in my country and in the military and bring that to private industry or the civilian market? And what other better way than by wearing it? So, the idea of Grunt Style really came to fruition from that sense of self-pride, military pride and country pride. And that’s really the ethos of the brand right now.
Many patriots in the gun community are tired of the notion of being apologetic for being American and are tired of being on the “down-low” that we own and love guns. Why do you think this segment has connected so well with Grunt Style?
Well, that’s an interesting question. Grunt Style is a very apolitical company. However, because of what we are as a business and who we are as people who manage and lead the business, I think there’s a lot of what we’ve taken in the pride in military and country and brought it to the masses, because America is an exceptional country. We could look through the annals of history and the relatively short period of time of the United States’ existence to see what we’ve been able to accomplish—more than any other civilization in the history of mankind. We’ve brought more people out of poverty than any other civilization in history. And we’ve allowed freedoms to the people of this country that have never been given to the people before. Those freedoms are protected by the Second Amendment.
What really makes this country unique is that we have the freedom to say whatever we want, in some regard, and we also have the freedom to protect what the founders of the country have really delivered to us, and that’s through the Second Amendment.
So, why does that tie in so neatly with Grunt Style? Once again, Grunt Style is a patriotic brand. We’re moving in the direction of becoming the American brand. Does that fall into all things political? I don’t think so, because I think being an American is neither left, right nor center. I think having a love for your country is outside of all things political, and I think people are naturally attracted to us because our company has that fervent pride in our country. I think that really attracted the people who have great pride in their gun rights and in the Second Amendment.
Speaking of freedom of speech: As you mentioned, Grunt Style has some pretty “in-your-face” designs on your T-shirts—some things people would consider vulgar, while others really connect with that. Who comes up with these ideas? Are they more late-night drink-fest inspired or more of a boardroom collaboration?
Well, I think it’s a lot of everything—and some more. Anybody in the company can submit a design or an idea. We have a team of eight graphic designers who are responsible for the majority of everything you see in the product line. Myself, Daniel and Mike Birt, the CMO, have some influence with the designs, as well. We have a wide variety of different products, from something very basic, like a flag and logo on the sleeve, to something a little bit grittier for those people who would like to wear a little bit more pride on their shirts. Some of it may be a little off color, but that’s the unique side of the company. We take a lot of liberties in the things that we do, and I think our consumer base, and our fans more importantly, really enjoy that.
When touring your facility, we talked about the hierarchy of your company. I found it to be interesting how you have taken the leadership of the military and infused that into a civilian company. Could you talk a little about that for our readers?
What we’ve done with the company is this: The majority of our employees and our family are previous active-duty reserves or veterans. We still have a lot of people who are in some capacities of active service. What better way than to walk into an organization and understand exactly how it [operates] by replicating something that we’ve all done for a period of time. So, anybody with previous military experience walking into the company can understand clearly: rank, structure, organization, what my missions are, my task organization, What are my left and right lateral limits? and How am I being measured? What does “success” look like to me?
We’ve done an extremely awesome job at building these teams and building these “companies” within the business. These companies look like our headquarters element to Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, Delta—all of our line units. And those line units have a different task and purpose. Alpha Company, for example, would be considered our sales force. Bravo, Charlie and Delta companies would be our supporting elements through manufacturing, production and fulfillment.
We have some intragroup rivalries that happen, just like any other military operation. There’s a lot of fun that comes with it, as well as the organizational infrastructure. Having a rank is something that is a very clear for people. For example, as the “company first sergeant”—the senior leader of Grunt Style just under the owner—my responsibility is to make sure the operation is running all the time, much like the duties and responsibilities of a first sergeant of any line company.
We have PFCs; we have sergeants. Our NCO core inside of the company—much like the military—is the strongest core leadership and has the ability to make critical decisions at its discretion. We have a faith and confidence that through good training and mentorship, they can make those decisions and do them in the best interest of the company and the objectives in front of them.
Tell us, who buys Grunt Style shirts? The obvious people would be veterans, but I know there’s probably a lot of other people who buy them as well.
Not only do we sell in e-commerce, but we have a very outstanding wholesale outfit. We’re in thousands of stores across the United States. When the company first started, we were doing very well with the veteran and active-duty community, but as the company has continued to grow with the partnerships that we have made, [such as the] NHL, NFL, NASCAR, UFC, we’re starting to see that we’re attracting people who are far beyond the first degree of our demographic. And we’re seeing [interest from] people who don’t even have military family members or are from areas of the country that typically would not align with what our company stands for and the products we produce.
What is unique about our company is that we’re able to transcend all those spectrums and really deliver a good-quality American brand, business and product that exemplify the pride we have in ourselves, our military and our country.
Do you have anything else you’d like to share about the company?
Well, I think the future of the company is going to be very exciting for all the fans out there. If you’re not buying from Grunt Style right now, I suggest that you do, because you’re missing out on some great stuff and great programs, like our club service.
The next couple of years ahead of us are going to be truly extraordinary. You’re going to see some new products that are being made right here, in the United States, through our cut-and-sew facilities. Help us grow, continue to support us and the brand, and put veterans and patriots to work, because ultimately, that is what we’re trying to do—expand the opportunities for people in business and train leaders. I do appreciate everybody supporting us so far.
One of the comments made when we were touring your facility was about your initiative to bring more and more of your production to the United States, including buying foreign machines and bringing them here. Could you explain that rationale to our viewers?
This is something that we encountered early this year—a pervasive problem for decades, if not longer. A lot of businesses off-shore their production to maximize profit. But is that really helping the American economic system? We talk about this a lot inside Grunt Style, and earlier this year, we saw a target of opportunity to move this PVC process online. We’ve noticed there aren’t many companies in the United States that are doing this. So, we got the ingenious idea to go out and buy a Chinese machine, bring it into the United States and start stealing work away from China. We’ve been running that process very efficiently for about six months now.
The next initiative Grunt Style is working toward is that American brand. We’re going to open a cut-and-sew facility in San Antonio, where we’re going to manufacture our own garments. What that is going to do is provide more opportunity, bring more of the labor back to the United States, provide more opportunities for some of these economically depressed areas where I’ve seen jobs just vanish because they’re going overseas.
From a company perspective, we’re going to double down and commit to American manufacturing by using our citizens— the people of our great country—to support that mission and expand this across the United States to provide extraordinary opportunities for Americans.
Let’s talk a little bit about you, Tim, because you are the face—the bearded face—of your company. Tell us what motivates you to get out of bed each morning?
Getting up and doing this job every day is very difficult, because there are a lot of moving pieces; there’s chaos. The company is continuing to expand, and the burden of making sure we’re doing business the appropriate and accurate way to support the well-over-500 employees we have here is an incredible burden. But for me, this is a passion. It’s not a passion for creating T-shirts or these things that we’re selling. The passion is in building teams.
I get up every day because there’s a new opportunity every day to make an improvement somewhere in this business. Something could be done better through a process, through training, through a mentorship. There’s always something that can be done. I get to come in every day and make changes. I get to say, “Let’s try this, and let’s measure the results to see if this is giving us more efficiency or if it’s reducing efficiency; is it adding value to the process or diminishing value to a process.”
Tell us what you were like as a kid. And what did you want to be when you grew up?
It seemed every five years or so, my family was moving, so I had a very different type of childhood. I got in trouble a lot and was involved with things that were probably bad decisions.
But my life took an extraordinary change when my mother took me to the Vietnam Memorial after I told her I wanted to join the Marine Corps. She showed me all of her friends who didn’t make it home from Vietnam. That life-changing moment was when I knew this was the best decision for myself.
So, I committed to joining the Marine Corps, and I learned all the things that I didn’t really grasp as a young man: honor, character, integrity. That really put me on the path to be successful moving forward. Once you have accomplished something like boot camp and the trials and tribulations of active duty or reserve, there’s really no obstacle that will ever be something you can’t negotiate in the future. I really, truly believe the Marine Corps set me up for success in my personal life and got me to where I am today.
Tell us a little bit about your Marine Corps career.
In my active-duty days, I was in the Second Assault Amphibian Battalion, or Amtraks. It was a lot of fun. There’s nothing like taking a 15-ton vehicle and driving it off the back of a moving ship in the middle of the ocean! My enlistment ended there in May 2001.
After September 11, I started my reenlistment process into a reserve unit in Chicago, where I ended up deploying with the Second Battalion 24th Marines out of 4th Mar Div. That was an extraordinary accomplishment, as well—[getting] involved with a very prestigious unit; and we did some extraordinary things in Iraq. We were deployed to the Triangle of Death from 2004 to 2005 and were the first Marine reserve battalion to be given our own area of operations since Vietnam. The Marine Corps has been that love-hate relationship: You hate it when you’re in, but you love it when you’re out.
For our Gun World readers, tell us a little bit about your interest in guns.
When I got back from Iraq, it was about 12 years [before] I picked up a weapon. It was a strange period, and shooting wasn’t in the forefront of my mind. But just recently, I got back into shooting a few weapons. I’d like to get involved in long-range shooting.
I started Grunt Style Shooting Team, consisting of four members: myself, Joe Caley, Bryan Morgan and Spenser Berry. All [are] prestigious shooters and champions of their disciplines. They’ve been gracious enough to show me some of the more intrinsic details of long-range shooting. I’ve been doing a lot of long-range shooting, competition shooting with a precision rifle series, and I won second place in a shooting competition up in Washington [state].
Of all the guns and firearms that are out there, what is your all-time favorite?
For me, I have my go-to AR-15 that’s made by Tactical Edge. If you haven’t checked them out, you’ve got to. They make a wonderful AR-15. That is probably one of my favorite weapons. But I would say the one that I enjoy shooting the most—because it’s using math, and I have to think—is the long-range 6.5 Creedmoor. Man, I got to tell you, it is a joy to shoot!
What is your go-to carry?
I started out carrying a full-size Smith and Wesson .45, but I wasn’t carrying on my body; that was more in my messenger bag, which I always had on me. So, it got to the point where the thing was just a little bit too heavy, and I wanted to keep something on [my] person, because, clearly, we see things around us are getting a little more dangerous day by day. Right now, I prefer the Glock G19 with an appendix holster.
One of the things I noticed as we walked around your facility, from the comments you made and from your interactions with your employees, is that Grunt Style is very big on customer and employee welfare. The company seems to give back and looks out for the benefit of the community, as well as what it can do for them economically. Why does Grunt Style find importance in this?
We understood from the very early days that if we’re not taking care of our team, then we’re not going to get the best potential out of them. We identified that very early and set up a “battle buddy system.” What that did was provide an environment for a lot of our combat vets coming into our business of safety and security and providing an environment where they could have communication with the guy to the left who was also in a combat situation. They could have conversations that they couldn’t have with their spouses or loved ones. We are seeing people participate in self-therapy just through this open communication and sharing stories.
Then, we implemented the profit-sharing program. Every month, we produce goals. If the entire company hits the goals, then we cut out a percentage of the profits and split that across the company—from the bottom to the top. In most cases, that looks like an extra pay check for the employees. We have EAP systems that provide systems for the employees that go beyond the standard healthcare benefits. We have an aggressive 401K system, where we match up to a percent of their contribution. We are very, very focused on making sure that the employees here are taken care of from a benefits perspective, from a safety perspective and even their pay. If we don’t take care of the family, then our family is not going to take care of the business. It’s a hand-in-hand type of relationship.
Going beyond the employees, we are heavily invested in bettering the community. I do a lot of workshops with Rush Hospital here, in Chicago, speaking before its three-week outpatient PTSD clinic. We have done programs for the members of the Dallas Fallen Officer Foundation. We raised $204,000 to give to families.
Just recently, we organized rescue efforts for Hurricane Harvey down in Houston. CEO Daniel Alarik was on the ground, doing rescue operations and working with partners we’ve made in Texas. We ended up saving 500 people’s lives, shipping well over 10 tons of supplies and re-building a community center in Woodsboro, Texas—which will be the centerpiece of that town.
Those are things we are really proud of and are very important to us. Sure, we are a business, but at the end of the day, if we we’re not involved in things outside of the business and in the community, itself, then we aren’t doing a service for anyone.
Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared in the July 2018 print issue of Gun World Magazine.