Two years ago, an idea for an April Fools' Day joke by the folks at 5:11 Tactical snowballed into a unique product in the marketplace that only continues to gain momentum.
CEO Tom Davin was approached by lead designer Cory Nykoluk in early 2012 with the concept for the prank involving a phony product launch centered on a kilt. From there, they developed a prototype, coined the phrase "Tactical Duty Kilt" and had their team shoot a short product video.
"When I saw the video I said 'Are you kidding me? This is one of the best product launch videos we've ever done,' " Davin told Officer.com. "The risk was that people would take it seriously and think that we had the product."
The company had pre-filmed a "reveal" video, slated to be posted a day or two after April Fools' Day. As it turned out though, the hoax launch video was so popular after it was posted midnight on April 1 that there were numerous requests about how the product could be purchased.
"That's when I realized that the joke was on me and we had to make a kilt," Davin recalled with a laugh. "We figured it would just be a one-off. We said 'Alright, we'll make some kilts,' and lo and behold, we sold several thousand kilts that first year in 2012. Once they were, people kept saying 'When's the kilt coming back.' "
Last year, 5:11 took it a step further, getting Scruffy Wallace from the band The Dropkick Murphys involved and donating $10 from every order split between to his charity called the We Salute You Veterans Foundation and the FBI National Academy Associates Charitable Foundation. Two checks for over $12,000 were presented to the groups last summer.
"Then people said, 'Great, when are the kilts coming back?' Davin said. "Again, I shake my head and think 'My goodness, what have I started here.' "
On April 1 this year, the company released a teaser "challenge" video pitting 5:11's Dave Rhoden and Wallace at a tactical training facility in Texas showing off their skills while wearing the Tactical Duty Kilt.
On April 15, the full video was released and orders for the kilts begin. The main difference this year is that the kilts will be shipped immediately. For the last two years, the kilts have been available for pre-order in April with the shipment being made in September. This year, there are around 3,000 in inventory ready to be shipped.
"If you want it now, you can order it and we'll ship it to you as quickly as you want to get it," Davin said. "People can get the kilts and have fun with them without waiting. The downside is that when we're out, we're out."
Again this year, $10 from every order will be split between the We Salute You Veterans Foundation and the FBI National Academy Associates Charitable Foundation and Davin said that the company hopes to raise close to $30,000.
He said that the challenge has that their dealers -- who generally service law enforcement, firefighters and EMS -- would most likely not carry the kilts in inventory, but 5:11 knew it was a fun product that was in demand.
People who purchase the kilts have used them for tactical training, CrossFit workouts and some law enforcement and firefighter marching and pipe and drum bands have even purchased them.
"People are really having a lot of fun with the kilts," Davin said. "I'm Irish and I never wore a kilt in public until a couple years ago, and what I discovered was that you never really want to be the only person in a kilt, but if I call you up and say 'Tomorrow, let's put our kilts on,' then all of the sudden you really start to get some positive feedback.
"Two or three gentlemen show up in kilts and everybody else looks at them and says 'Wow, those guys are confident, those guys are bad asses! Look, they're wearing kilts!' I think it's really that kind of positive feedback that has kept this thing going."