A company’s story is everything. From a company’s story (Or History) you can predict its future, you can better understand why they make the decisions they do, and you can look at their marketing and see what lines up and what doesn’t. With that perspective in mind it becomes painfully easy to see that most companies end goal is to make money, not deliver quality products to end users with the purpose of bettering their customers lives and improving on their operational capabilities. In the 40’s and 50’s while we were fighting a World War and coming out of the Great Depression salesman were viewed with disdain as shady characters out to rob their poor unsuspecting victims. People were taught to ask questions, to be knowledgeable about the things they are seeking to buy, to “know better” out of necessity. They couldn’t afford to spend money on something that wasn’t going to do what it was supposed to do and that wasn’t built to last with proper care for years to come. They often had one shot at purchasing the right thing and couldn’t afford to just keep buying the same part, tool or appliance over and over again for their homes. Instead they chose to create relationships, sure they had to make a first purchase from a store, manufacturer, or individual to start that process, but they did enough homework before they purchased to know who they were about to talk to. They asked the people they knew and trusted about the person or company’s reputation beforehand. When they did make their purchase they would do it in person rather than on the phone even if that meant driving several towns or sometimes even states over. A large part of the selection process for most people then was a company’s story or history. People wanted to know that a company they bought something from that said they stand behind their product would be in business long enough to prove it.
Now I know what you’re thinking, “this is some high talk coming from a company that’s been around for just a few short years” and I completely understand. This brings me to my next point, there is an incredible trend with small businesses right now who are fed up with waiting for the “Big Box” manufacturers to make high quality gear that could be compared to the gear their grandparents would have been proud to use in the 40’s and 50’s. A lot of these companies are just getting started and the best way to decide which company to spend your hard earned money on is to find out what their story is and not to fall prey to the fancy marketing campaigns of everyone else. By learning about a company’s story or history you can find out what the “heart” is behind it. If you can find the “heart” then you can find what makes it beat and if that is something that you can get behind, then you might have just found a relationship with a company that can be passed down from you to your children and their children over time. I have to throw in a little side note here, because it drives me nuts . . . it’s about fancy marketing . . . when you see giant logo wrapped off road monstrosities and models with products wedged in their ass cheeks just to get your attention and money you should run, that should tell you everything you need to know about a company and the fact that they have stooped to the level of targeting your primal instinct rather than your higher thought pattern’s is a very bad sign. I am not speaking against women being depicted as powerful, I am however against the use of them as flesh billboards to sell some CNC’d gun component. The people who jump out of these wrapped mobile billboards at the trade shows high fiving their other sales buddies and “celebrity” shooters escorted by models wearing next to nothing are not the people I want to do business with and it should be a telltale sign to the discerning customer that something is amis if they have to resort to shock and awe campaigns to out sell their competitors.
I’ll offer a quick alternative example of a company that’s doing it right. As a one of the random ass things I do, I have the privilege of teaching some pretty cool nameless people how to do some nameless things in the outdoors. During one of those recent courses we wanted to talk a bit about gear selection so we reached out to a company that I have been personally using for over 18 years, Misty Mountain Threadworks. So guess who stopped by, not the salesperson for the region, but the guy who started the company and still owns it to this day. He started off by simply introducing himself and getting to know everyone in the room (he did not mention himself as the owner and founder) and then began telling the story of how the company came to be and about the passion he has for doing what he does. When he showed us the kits he brought with him he was just as interested in hearing the student’s feedback as he was telling them about each product. If you’ve been to a trade show or heard one of these “not to be named” companies sales pitches you’re more likely to be visited by a guy who has some military experience with a couple tours under his belt and a lot of tattoos who got brought up to speed on the gear he is about to try and sell you on the car ride from the company’s HQ to the airport. Don’t confuse ego with competence because the opposite is usually true. As an instructor of many years I know that the smartest guy in the room isn’t the one with “all the answers” it’s the guy sitting quietly in the back of the room observing each student’s behavior and soaking in the content, as well as the delivery and non-verbal’s of the instructors that tell them what is and isn’t important and what they need to be damn sure they never forget. Just like the smartest student in the room, the companies that will stand the test of time are rarely the ones who are barking the loudest or dumping their trust funds or life savings into fancy marketing campaigns.
So back to what started us on this rant. We are looking at ways to incorporate leather into our product lines, partly for form as well as function. We are torn between two companies that we are looking at to supply this leather at the moment and one thing we looked at first was their histories. One of those companies is Hermann Oaks. They have been in the leather business since 1881 and are one of the few remaining US based tanneries and still use US steer hides. It is fourth generation family owned and operated and they are some of the most knowledgeable people stateside when it comes to natural vegetable tanning methods which is a much slower laborious process than modern tanning methods and results in a more durable and longer lasting hide. They have been around to supply our troops with leather for both world wars and odds are they will be around for generations to come. These are the types of companies we want to work with and to form relationships with that we know will last us for generations to come as well.
Be wary of companies without a story that backs why they do what they do. Be wary of companies that lack the depth in their designs that are just using fancy marketing, cheap outsourced production and whose product lines follow the ebb and flow of the seemingly ever changing market. Will they be around in 1 year, 5 years, 10 years? Maybe, but I believe history will show they have a relatively short life expectancy. For us this isn’t a means to an end, a whim, or some capital venture, this is a mission, a calling, an obsession, a life work. It’s about legacy, about honoring those who have shaped us into who we are by ensuring that their DNA and their lessons learned through blood sweat and tears is woven into the very fibers of everything we make. We have a great sense of responsibility because of the people we chose to put first, they are the reason we are here. They willingly put their lives on the line on a daily basis and it’s our responsibility to ensure they get the very best designed and manufactured products.
– Modern Icon