THRIVING SMALL BUSINESSES IN WYOMING: ‘Precision’ Is This Gun Business’s Middle Name
Sheridan gunsmith Mike Miller founded Spartan operation following a career in the Navy
- Published In: Other News & Features
- Last Updated: Jul 10, 2023
Mike Miller founded Spartan Precision Gunsmithing LLC after a 20-year career in the Navy. This image shows Miller developing a custom handgun with a scope in his Sheridan shop. (Courtesy photo from Mike Miller)
By K.L. McQuaid
Special to the Wyoming Truth
A caption in this story has been updated with correct information on July 10, 2023 as of 11 a.m. MT.
When he retired from the U.S. Navy and moved to Sheridan from Washington State in 2017, Mike Miller followed a personal passion in the footsteps of his father, a master gunsmith for five decades, for his proverbial second act.
After completing a series of specialized courses in welding and machine operations, Miller received a degree in gunsmithing and founded Spartan Precision Gunsmithing LLC.
“Everything I do is done by hand,” said Miller, 46, who spent two decades in the Navy and retired from service aboard the USS John C. Stennis in Bremerton, Washington, after stints at the Pentagon, in Virginia and elsewhere. “As such, the work takes a lot of time. But that’s okay, because this is how I want to spend my time.”
He and his wife, Kristina, bought their house, in large part, because it included a workshop big enough to house Miller’s equipment and the business.
But Miller wasn’t finished with his schooling after obtaining his degree. In 2018, he became certified to apply Cerakote, a unique ceramic coating that prevents corrosion in firearms. He is the product’s only certified vendor in Sheridan and is featured on the company’s website.
Armed with his degree and a place to work, Miller invested about $50,000 in savings into machines, tools and equipment, but soon realized he lacked some of the specialized machines he’d need to scale up the business.
With help from the Veterans Business Outreach Center in Billings, Montana, and the Wyoming Small Business Development Center Network, Miller and Kristina developed a business plan and obtained a $100,000 loan to acquire a lathe, a mill, dies and additional tools.
Today, Spartan – Miller named the business after the famed army of the ancient Greek state – specializes in custom bolt-action rifles, firearm diagnostics and repairs, reconfiguring rifles, laser engraving, Cerakote coating and gun bluing.
“I chose the name Spartan because I’ve always liked studying history, and I’m particularly fascinated with the battle of Thermopylae,” Miller said. “It’s a story that’s always stuck with me. And the word precision fits because it’s a precision business, and because I believe that if you’re going to do something, you should do it right.”
Miller’s custom bolt-action rifles, with scopes, can run about $4,000 apiece – a cost that reflects the craftsmanship and time each gun requires to manufacture from scratch.
When cutting metal for the rifles, for instance, Miller has to stay within a tolerance that’s less than the thickness of a single sheet of paper.
“As I’m cutting the steel, I frequently have to stop and take precise measurements and make calculations,” Miller said. “Because with all the heat that’s involved, the metal can and often does expand.”
Miller has had to overcome a series of challenges, too.
The COVID-19 pandemic caused some of Miller’s gunsmithing classes to be postponed, stretching out the time it took for him to obtain his education and degree.
Miller also battled delays in receiving a metal band saw, a vital dust collector and some tools he’d ordered. They didn’t arrive until December 2021, which pushed back his ability to become fully operational.
He also had to send the first lathe he purchased – at a cost of $22,000 – back to its manufacturer when it didn’t work to his specifications.
Even now, as many supply-chain issues for U.S. manufacturers have largely been resolved, Miller sometimes struggles to get the parts he needs for custom builds and repairs.
But business has picked up, especially in the past year among hunters – the bulk of his business – law enforcement officers and gun collectors.
“We’ve had a steady flow, and we’ve been very fortunate in that we’ve been busy,” he said. “We’ve had several hunters and sheriff’s deputies make appointments and come in and buy things or order things. I began April with eight rifles to sell, and now I’m down to just three.”
Miller hunts himself, but so far, the business has prevented him from spending too much time afield.
Miller has customers from throughout Wyoming and as far away as Texas, Georgia and Florida, he said. Most of his clients have come his way through word-of-mouth referrals and from Spartan Precision’s website, Miller said.
“He’s a great guy,” Carlos Cruz, a Spartan client in Washington state, said of Miller.
“I had an old pistol that I had taken apart and couldn’t figure out how to properly put back together,” Cruz said. “It was literally rusting away in a box. So I sent it to Mike, and he reconfigured it, re-assembled it, put Cerakote on it to protect against future rusting and sent it back to me. Now, it’s terrific.
“Based on that experience, I’ve sent him a few other pistols to work on since. It’s nice having someone work on your things that you can trust and you know is going to do a top-notch job.”
Miller said that like many boutique businesses, Spartan’s success comes from providing specialized and personal service.
“A lot of this business depends on giving the customer what they want,” Miller said. “Many of my customers are well-educated about weapons, which helps.”
For now, Miller said he is focused on paying down the six-figure small business loan he took out to finance the nascent Spartan’s start.
“My loan is half paid off at this point, which is good,” Miller said. “I haven’t taken a paycheck as yet from the business, and I’m determined not to until that loan is completely paid off.”
A year from now, Miller hopes to have the debt retired so he can begin to reimburse himself for the initial money he invested in equipment.
He also plans to roll out new services and fully ramp up his rifle manufacturing.
“We’re just getting started, and I’m excited about the progress we’ve made,” Miller said.