At 12 years old, Ryan Johnson began a lifelong passion for blacksmithing to feed his passion for all things sharp, from knives to ninja weapons to axes. When he was 15, his dad – wary, yet supportive – gave him a boy scout craft book that included a section on how to make tomahawks. He started hand forging these tools and selling them, eventually paying his way to an engineering degree at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. By the time he enlisted his friend Richard Carmack’s sons for help filling a last-minute order of 20 tomahawks for a marine battalion, Johnson had an international reputation for authentic historical tomahawk and knife reproductions. Carmack was an experienced businessman, and upon hearing how great the demand was for these tools, the two combined forces: RMJ Tactical started in 2005, making tomahawks for troops deploying to Afghanistan and Iraq.
More Than Customer Satisfaction
RMJ’s tomahawks are especially sought after by special forces deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq looking for a tool they know will not fail them. The stories Johnson and Carmack hear from clients are beyond your average customer review: in one case, they received a call from a father who recounted how his son, trapped by enemy fire in a concrete building, had used one of RMJ’s tomahawks to chop a hole in the wall that allowed him and his team to escape – and ultimately, to come home alive.
Breaking Out of the Garage
Clearly, RMJ’s products are more than fancy tools, and when a spot opened up in Chattanooga’s INCubator in 2010, it gave them the chance to expand operations. Johnson and Carmack found themselves in a likeminded community that encouraged them to brainstorm and think differently, surrounded by the kind of energy you can’t get from a book. Carmack, RMJ’s president and COO, had been in business for a while, but the program’s education and consultation helped keep the company on track and problem-solve as they grew. The INCubator team also stepped in to help when the technicalities got complicated, like in securing funding from financial institutions even though RMJ doesn’t fit neatly into any of the business categories that big banks look for.
On the Battlefield, Into the Woods and Everything In Between
Since graduating from the INCubator and moving to a larger space in 2016, one of RMJ’s goals has been tomahawk education – helping people understand their versatility as great all-around tools, not just weapons. Their home base in Chattanooga is an ideal testing ground for this concept: home to a huge outdoor community and ardent adventurers who take tomahawks with them into the woods, whether that be for a camping trip or a hunting excursion. With more people looking to get outside for socially-distant activities, the company’s sales are booming. It’s a spike in demand that no one saw coming, but one RMJ was positioned to meet: one of Carmack’s core tenets in running the business is having a strong roadmap, while remaining flexible and ready to adapt to what customers want. So, it’s safe to say that RMJ has its tactics ready to go.
Think INC is a series of success stories from INCubator companies past and present. Chattanooga’s INCubator — the largest business incubator in the state of Tennessee and the third largest in the United States, with 127,000 square feet of space for entrepreneurs — is located in the Hamilton County Business Development Center (BDC) in downtown Chattanooga, Tennessee.