GRAD SPEAK: Breaking New Ground in The Golden State with L&L Gunsmithing

  • Drew Poplin

If you were to drive through the San Joaquin Valley in California, chances are you might stumble across a town called Merced. Known as the “Gateway to Yosemite,” it is also home to the only gunsmith shop within 50 miles. L&L Gunsmithing, which was founded by two SDI graduates, has already seen measurable success. Within a year, owners Charles Lambert and Brandon Galatro have become financially independent by doing what they love: working on firearms.

Describing their first year as a company, Lambert says, “We set some realistic goals for the first year where we wanted to just be financially independent by the end of our first year and we managed to pull it off. Now we’re at the point where we’re paying all of our own bills and it’s not coming out of our pockets anymore. It’s now self-sustainable. So for such a short amount of time, and especially for where we are, we were able to just get in, hit the ground running, and keep going.”

From Fellow Marines To Friends

Prior to meeting each other, both Charles and Brandon served in the United States Marine Corps. However, the two wouldn’t meet each other until a stroke of fortune in the form of an airsoft game. As Lambert explains, “Our mutual friend, he was gonna go play Airsoft and they were looking for more people to go with him. So I went and met up with him and that’s how I met Brandon.”

The two of them quickly realized that they shared a lot in common. Not only were both men Marines, but they both desired a life where they could work for themselves. When Galatro went back to finish out his service, the two managed to keep in touch. It was during this time that one of Brandon’s fellow Marines told him about Sonoran Desert Institute. This intrigued Galatro, who had long desired to become a gunsmith after his time serving in the Marine Corps. Remembering his friendly acquaintance, Charles, the duo decided to start their gunsmithing journey together.

L&L’s SDI Experience

Enrolling in the Associate of Science in Firearms Technology at the end of 2017, Lambert, who had previously attended college, was excited to get his degree in an area of study that he was passionate about. As Lambert recalls, “It looked like it was going to be something that I was genuinely interested in. This isn’t like I’m going to a regular college where I have to take a bunch of classes that don’t pertain to what my end goal is with this education. SDI was the complete opposite of that. I had to take maybe two classes that were just purely academic, that weren’t necessarily gun related, but still relevant enough to the point where I understand why you needed them for a degree. But that alone was enough to entice me to want to go there more because I felt like, ‘Wow, I can actually get a degree!’”

Galatro, who had done research into gunsmithing prior to SDI, was initially more skeptical about how beneficial SDI would be for him. While he was already fairly confident in the firearms knowledge he had prior to school, SDI was able to teach him how to find answers more effectively in the event he wasn’t sure about something. He explains, “The school didn’t teach me how to look for things, but I learned how to look for things more efficiently. There is a solution for almost every problem out there, but you gotta know where to look. And the school taught me the right way to find the solution or ask the right questions.”


SDI gave L&L the skills to succeed in gunsmithing. Image owned by L&L Gunsmithing.


Even after graduating from SDI in 2019, the school still served as a great educational tool for the two of them. Speaking on the resources provided by the school, Charles says, “I think the resources we gained from SDI [were] invaluable. Even to this day, we still reference some of the gun digest books or even some of the other articles shared from individual classes. We saved all of it. And on top of that, SDI also showed us great resources in other places to look for that information. It’s not so much that we’re relying on them to show it to us, but they were really good about saying, ‘Hey, look at all of these options you have to actually get help’—from forums to individual websites to just calling another gun shop and asking them.”

Little did they know that it would be a call to a local gun shop that would end up getting L&L Gunsmithing off the ground.

The Birth of L&L Gunsmithing

Fresh out of school, the guys were met with immediate success—right?

Well, not quite.

However, both Lambert and Galatro decided to be intentional about starting up what would become L&L Gunsmithing. Considering that COVID would soon cause a massive effect on the global economy, their strategy would prove to be a wise long-term move. But in the meantime, the two still needed to find work. According to Charles, “I was like, ‘Hey, we have these degrees. We’re not really using them. Not right after we graduated. Let’s go to the gun shop in town and tell them that we’re gunsmiths and see if maybe they have some work for us.’”

He continues, “So we have three gun shops in town. We got a hold of two of them. We went into both of them and told ’em we were gunsmiths, that we went to SDI and we graduated, and if they ever had any work for us, here’s our phone number. It took three months before we had to start looking for our own property because we couldn’t handle doing it out of the garage anymore. We got swamped that quickly.”


L&L Gunsmithing participating in the Merced Veteran’s Day Parade. Image owned by L&L Gunsmithing.


When opening a new business, it is important that you and your business partner have a solid working relationship. It takes great communication and trust to make a business partnership flourish. Describing their roles at L&L, Charles says, “It truly is a partnership. It takes both of us to run this thing. I mean, if there’s something I can’t do, Brandon usually can, and vice versa…It’s an even split between us.”

While being buddies with your co-worker can certainly help when it comes to dealing with conflict, it has also been the two’s bond as Marines that has assisted them in working well together. As Brandon explains, “With us both being Marines, our formative years growing up, we were in a partnership with the Marine Corps, more or less to become professionals. And our professionalism from the Marine Corps has definitely imbued our personalities in such a way where we both not only see each other as friends but as Marines too.”

Charles adds, “We have a different kind of mutual respect for one another. It’s kind of the bond through blood.”

What’s Next For L&L Gunsmithing?

Having successfully navigated the various trials common to business owners during their first year, L&L looks to have made a mark on Merced. With the boys now getting customers from as far as San Francisco, I asked the pair what was next for L&L. Between getting the hang of Dura-Coating, upgrading their equipment, and making plans to eventually expand, they have certainly been keeping themselves busy. However, according to Charles, “I think our biggest goal is to just continue what we’ve been doing to maintain our self-sufficiency. We met our biggest goal from starting the business last month, so we’re still kind of coming off that high. Now we have to keep that going. So our goal was to meet the benchmark and now it’s to maintain that benchmark, if not increase from here. But if we have a year this year like we did last year, we will definitely meet or exceed it.”

Brandon added, “I just wanna make guns look nice and I wanna make the customer happy with their nice-looking gun. So I’m gonna do everything in my power to make sure that’s their end goal or the end solution.”

Finally, on whether they would consider their time at SDI to be worth it, Lambert said, “I would a hundred percent recommend it. I mean, it changed everything for us. If we wouldn’t have gone to SDI, we wouldn’t be business owners. We wouldn’t have the fulfilling lives that we have now by working for ourselves and doing something we enjoy.”

Further Reading

To keep up with all of Charles and Brandon’s progress, make sure to give them a follow on their Facebook page here.

For more stories about how SDI was able to help folks get their start in the Firearms Tech industry, be sure to click here for all of our Grad Features.

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