AN INTERVIEW WITH CLS OWNER MARK LAINE
American Survival Guide: What is your professional background prior to running CLS?
Mark Laine: I served for 20 years in the U.S. Army (infantry), both active duty and reserves, and the better part of a decade as an operations officer in the Central Intelligence Agency.
What inspired you to start a company such as CLS?
ML: It wasn’t planned or inspired. I was lucky that in both the Army and the agency, I was around units/elements for which we were able to customize gear and the like. When I left the agency, I moved back home to northern Minnesota and immediately got back into hiking, camping, bow hunting and fishing—pretty much spending all my time in the outdoors I’ve loved since I was a kid.
It didn’t take long to realize that the big-box stores did not have the type of equipment I needed. Or, it was poorly made junk that wouldn’t stand up to real-world punishment. So, I took some of my downrange gear and started making modifications for hunting. In addition, I created an item specific to a task (the Gear Roll was born this way). Then, a friend would see it and ask, “Where did you get that?” or “Can you make me one of those?” Next thing you know, I am making gear—which sure as hell beats going back overseas as a contractor or taking a consulting job in the Beltway!
In three sentences, how would you sell us on supporting your business?
ML: As a small business, we take great pride in the quality and craftsmanship of each piece of gear we make, hand-crafting products using only American-made/mil-spec/berry-compliant materials. I design the gear based on my real-life experiences— me, not some guy sitting in an office who doesn’t know the first thing about hunting, survival or tactical applications. And finally, customer service: Call, and it is me, the owner, who answers your question or hand writes the thank-you note on each invoice.
People are going to ask, “Why are your products “expensive”? ML: Quality products consist of quality craftsmanship and quality material. That is not to say you cannot find a great piece of gear for a low cost. Take a P-38 can opener: I still have the one my father gave me about 40 years ago, and it has seen plenty of use. But that original one was made of metal. Today’s versions are of some cheap/flimsy aluminum, and I have broken two of those. [They are] cheap and easily replaced, and I can buy them in quantities, so I have at least one or two in each piece of kit. If buying cheap is your thing, go right ahead; you get what you pay for. Just be prepared to pay for it again and again and again.
We use the best plastics, webbing, Cordura, etc., and we take our time to make sure it is solidly constructed. Simply put, this costs money, which impacts the cost of goods and price of a product. If I pay a seamstress $10 an hour, you will get sewing commensurate with $10 an hour: The seams/stitching will come apart after the first hard use.
If I used a cheap material, you will get a product consisting of cheap material, which will then fail when you need it most. And if you don’t die during that “Oh, crap!” moment, you will have to buy a second or a third of the same cheap product. Quality material and superior craftsmanship produce that piece of gear your kids are using 20 years later; or that piece of gear which, after five years of just getting the snot kicked out of it, finally breaks and you look at it and say, “Hell, yeah, that was worth every penny!” because you know you abused the living crap out of it.
The author’s Mother Canteen Carrier is well traveled. He has taken it to the Arctic, the jungle, the desert and many points in between. After pocket equipment, it is his next-line-of-emergency equipment, which he carries religiously.