Branding in the Firearms Training Industry, Revisited: Rob Pincus’s Combat Focus Shooting

Seemingly a lifetime ago now, but really just a few weeks, I traveled to south central Minnesota to attend the 10th Annual Combat Focus Shooting Instructor Conference conducted by Rob Pincus and his I.C.E. Training Company.

In previous years, the conference combined instructor development sessions for Combat Focus Shooting (CFS) instructors and instructor candidates as well as end user courses taught by CFS instructors. These end user classes gave instructor candidates the opportunity to practice their teaching and work toward full certification as CFS instructors.

This year, the end user classes were dropped, so all four days of the conference were dedicated to instructor development. 16 CFS instructors and 2 instructor candidates joined Pincus and his three person core leadership team (Barret Kendrick, Jamie Onion, and Deryck Poole). All told, 14 different states were represented among the 22 conference participants.

Attendees at 10th Annual Combat Focus Shooting Instructor Conference, September 2017, Medford, MN. Photo by David Yamane

According to Rob Pincus, Combat Focus Shooting is not one thing but many. It is an ethos, a methodology, a program, a class, and a brand. Here let me just consider the brand.

In late July, I finished my series of posts on the rise and organization of the firearms training industry by talking about branding, and whether branding could be successfully achieved in firearms training.

As I tried to argue, branding is not just a way for a company to extend its reach and make money. It is a way of achieving quality assurance for consumers. In is similar to professionalization, licensing, and certification in this sense.

As such, a key challenge in branding is ensuring consistent quality across products. If a trainer is selling a Combat Focus Shooting course, then end users should have a reasonable set of expectations about what they will get. From Pincus’s perspective, the reputation of the CFS brand is on the line every time someone takes a CFS course, especially if he is not the instructor.

The CFS Instructor Conference provides a vehicle for maintaining the integrity of the courses being taught under the CFS brand. A large part of the first day – which ran from 9am until just after midnight – was given over to what amounts to continuing education. This included review and reinforcement of the CFS curriculum, discussion of its evolution over time, and introduction of changes going forward (about which I will have more to say in a future post).

Rob Pincus leading discussion at Combat Focus Shooting Instructor Conference, Baymont Inn & Suites, Owatonna, MN. Photo by David Yamane

Especially on this first day, but also throughout the conference, instructors had the opportunity to talk about what they are doing in their classes and to ask questions about aspects of the curriculum that need clarification.

This is significant as there is no requirement that CFS instructors only teach CFS-branded courses. But if they do teach CFS-branded courses, they need to embody the CFS methodology as Pincus intends it.

Bottle opener “coin” provided to attendees. Photo by David Yamane

The CFS Instructor Conference also provides a vehicle for the development of the attendees’ own businesses through co-branding. For example, Pincus is constantly encouraging attendees to post to social media both to build awareness of their own training companies along with Combat Focus Shooting. Pincus himself posts photo collages to his own social media accounts showing the logos of the CFS instructors’ companies. CFS instructors teach branded courses but don’t actually work for I.C.E. Training Company directly.

I saw another example of co-branding on the last day of the conference. Pincus had a crew on hand to shoot videos for the Personal Defense Network website. He gave any of the instructors who wanted to shoot a video the opportunity to do so. Several did, including Barret Kendrick, one of the CFS Instructor Conference’s core leaders. Kendrick was representing his own Bearco Training company while talking about negotiating the aftermath of a public shooting.

I have not taken a Combat Focus Shooting course from Rob Pincus or any of his instructors, so I cannot say how similar the (co-)branded courses are to the original. But I can say, based on my observation at the instructor conference, that a great deal of effort is put into making that happen.



  1. Mr.Pincus absolutely has quality-controls in place to ensure his instructors represent the brand as he wishes. The requirements to be an instructor (franchisee?) are stringent and arduous: written tests and grading of the candidate’s instruction to fellow candidate is graded fairly strictly.
    It isn’t cheap, either.
    I give a lot of credit for assuring not just any schmoe can slap on a CFS accreditation and hang out a shingle.

    He has found his niche (although his ‘unique selling proposition’ has its detractors amongst the “2.0 community”) and is certainly keeping himself visible in the gun community at large.

    Liked by 1 person

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