INCubator Grad Spotlight: RMJ USA Chops to the Top

By Renata Scarpelli

RMJ USA is an American manufacturer of high quality tomahawks based right here in Chttanooga. They produce impressive and highly technical designs regularly used by military and first responders. RMJ has been a TSBDC client since 2008 as well as a participant in the TSBDC Solution Scholars program, and recently moved into a new space off Amnicola Highway.

I sat down with RMJ’s COO Richard Carmack to discuss the process of production, reaching new market segments and their time at the INCubator in the Hamilton County Business Development Center.

Carmack gave me a pair of safety glasses and took me on a tour of the entire facility, allowing me to handle all of the tools being made and photograph their processes. I was blown away by the level of detail and care that goes into each item they create, custom or not. I observed the various stations each item goes through, the Chattanooga Leather Works station where the leather scabbards are crafted, as well as the traditional hand-forging area where Carmack’s youngest son, Reid, creates unique custom pieces and ceramics for the company.

New Projects for RMJ

A podcast! Carmack explained to me what this podcast will likely cover: “History of the area, history of the tools, the future of the tools, all kinds of things. Ryan, who is the ‘RMJ’ of RMJ Tactical, has an incredible amount of knowledge. He is self-admitted high-functioning autistic. But he tells a story very well and because of what he has done, he has developed all of these amazing, larger than life friends and acquaintances. So, we've got some pretty neat people we will invite into the podcasts.”

He says some of these friends are Jack Ryan-esqe, people with stories that you can't imagine. They've just uploaded their first episode covering the beginning of their business story; you can take a listen here. Sharing their story and the stories of others has been a goal for RMJ for over 10 years, and now they're giving us a glimpse into their world.

New Market Segments

"We have grown as big as we can organically—we've never really advertised," Carmack says. "But now the market has shifted. About five years ago we would have professional customers, now it's a more casual customer. And the comment is: 'Why in the world would I need a tomahawk?' Well, do you hike? Do you camp? Are you ever in a situation where you would need to help someone out of a wrecked car? Now we have to get into education mode. We are shifting from being manufacturer first to being a marketing company that makes really good tools."

Shifting Marketing Strategies

RMJ recognizes they'll have to market differently to a new target market. They plan to focus heavily on the use of story—a powerful marketing tool. Carmack refers to the book "Building Your Story Brand," teaching readers that the center of any story your brand creates should be the customer. Where do they fit in? You must make the customer the hero. Carmack explained with this analogy: "The customer is James Bond and we are Q." Perfectly said. A compelling and relevant story is crucial, but the first step is reorienting the skewed perception many people hold of tomahawks as weapons of death rather than a historical multipurpose tool.

Most Popular Product

"The Shrike Tomahawks are most popular; we are getting into knives in the past two years—the knife market is huge. In 2014, the blade industry was $11 billion, knives are most of that, and tomahawks are very small in comparison," Carmack says. RMJ has been adding knive offerings to appeal to their new target market and to offer products at a lower price point than their tomahawks. People collect high-end knives. Tomahawks? Not so much.

Current Technologies and Materials

"We have been using a drop forging technique because it makes the grains in the steel tighter. However, in the past five or 10 years, there have been some new steels developed that are just as strong and durable ... we can produce the same thing over and over again much more easily. We still use some old technologies – we're just repurposing. Jonathan, my eldest son, and I do a lot of computer programming, modeling — using a very high-tech tool to make a very low-tech tool."

Accidents in the Shop?

He laughs when I ask this. His reply? "We usually say a three Band-Aid week is a good week".

INCubator Benefits

"Being around like-minded people. The comraderie. The continuing education. All of the help from the TSBDC office," Carmack says. "I've been in business a long time, but sometimes I don't remember some of the things I know. And they help me focus and keep circling round the important things to keep working on. The crew that's down there right now is operating at a level that I haven't seen before. It's great. I've worked with Lynn and Josh, and previously Ivette Rios. We moved into the INCubator in 2010, we would like to have stayed there forever, but we ran out of room."


Find out more about the RMJ story and their products at rmjtactical.com.