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josh smith of montana knife company, making knives

Montana Knife Company’s Josh Smith aims to keep the American dream intact.

Drive into Montana Knife Company (MKC), and immediately you note the barn to the right, a few cattle and horses in a field, the house in the corner, and steep tamarack-thick hills to the north and south that lock Frenchtown, Montana, into a narrow river corridor. It feels like you’re pulling into someone’s home. That’s because, in fact, you are.

That’s the thing about the company. It’s the kind of place that was literally built in a garage, and the garage still sits across from the main building, where nearly three dozen people now work. Josh Smith is the magnate behind this steel-forged realm, and his black lab is the first one to greet you, with a stuffy in mouth, ready to play fetch. 

Josh Smith Is No Stranger to the Spotlight

Smith is a long-time personality in the outdoors and knife-making worlds. He’s received media coverage since he was a teenage wunderkind. Talk to Smith, and you’ll find he sees the whole situation as somewhat surreal. There’s a charm to his thoughtful way of being, and the road might be a couple decades in the making, but he’s completely transparent in knowing where his master skillset meets a growth perspective.

“When I was 19, I registered the name Montana Knife Company, and I knew I wanted to start a production company someday,” Smith says. “But I also knew I needed to build my name, and I had no idea about manufacturing knives at that age. Frankly, I didn’t know what was needed when I started this in 2019.”

Montana Knife Company laid a stake in the realm of commercial knives since then. And, Smith plays by his own rules. Make no mistake, MKC knives are top notch. And they’re American-made, through and through. Smith believes in the importance of small family-run businesses being the true backbone of U.S. commerce. 

Building Montana Knife Company and Its Community, Simultaneously

archery at montana knife company

Smith talked specifically about what it meant to bring so many new employees into the fold and give them a place to thrive. He mentions now-partner Brandon Horoho who came on initially to help with marketing and website development.

“Everything I asked him to do, I’d get it back so fast. And his vision matched mine,” Smith says. “We couldn’t afford to pay him what he was worth back then, so I decided to ask him to be a partner in the company.” 

It was a smart move. With a direct-to-consumer model, Horoho and Smith decided to send gifts to their loyal customers as a way to say thank you for helping them build the business.  For some, MKC-branded YETI coolers are showing up full of Colorado-ranch-raised beef. For others, Leupold binoculars are on their way in Marsupial bino harnesses. A range of other gifts are being shipped to celebrate MKC’s rise to prominence, funded by fans.

When I walked into MKC, Smith initially apologized for the mess. The mess in question was a room full of brand-new CNC metalworking machines that will ultimately help MKC amplify and better its knife-making process. So why send out tens of thousands of dollars in gifts when the company is still growing and quickly?

“The point is that those customers are why we’re here today buying CNC machines. Their support from day one over the last three years is the reason,” Smith says. “What if we had 2,000 similar businesses spread all over this country and small towns, and they were hiring people, paying well, and treating customers with respect?”

The American Dream Still Attainable? Smith Thinks So

cnc machines at montana knife company

The question hangs in the air like a lightbulb switched on.

Smith continues, “That’s how you fix this country and how you save this country from within. It’s not the $500-million company. It’s the company making a few million a year that takes care of 30 to 100 people. “Talking with Smith is almost too easy. Beyond talking about MKC, Smith’s passion for hunting and sharing that passion with anyone who’ll give ear time is apparent.

Hunting is such a core part of MKC that employees’ bows line the break room, and 3-D targets sit outside for breaks and lunch. He’s hunted with the likes of Joe Rogan, Natalie Eva Marie, and many others in the public eye. But the hunters he cares most about are the ones in his family. Smith’s four kids are all hunters, and he regales me with stories of their successes, including a stellar story of his son Hank filling his black bear tag while on the phone with Smith.

“He’d gone into the backyard to hunt deer, and he calls me a couple hours after light. He’s whispering and he says, ‘Dad, can I shoot a bear?’ I was like, well, if it doesn’t have cubs, how far away is it? He tells me ‘10 yards. ’I was like, geez, you better. He sets his phone down on speaker, and I just hear thwhack. And he starts yelling ‘OH MY GOD.’ I go to the living room window, and he has the bear down about 400 yards from the house.”

Family is the Foundation

montana knife company

You have to get excited along with Smith. It’s required. And it’s easy to see how MKC flourishes under his thoughtful and passionate leadership. It’s a leadership built out of both a master’s skillset and a lifetime of experience. It’s also a true family business. I met Smith’s wife, mother-in-law, and daughter busy on the floor.

What does it mean to build a business like MKC in a landscape where it’s harder and harder to make it without selling to a larger company? For Smith, that’s all beside the point. He explained that if he did sell Montana Knife Company, the owners would be looking at the bottom line rather than the function of the business within a small community like Frenchtown, Montana. They’d likely ship some parts of the business overseas, undercutting the ethics he’d so carefully built into the company. He left me with a thought that hit like an American-made battle axe stuck into hardwood.

“I’d rather be the number-eight knife company in the world operating by my own values than the number-one company in the world, doing things the wrong way.” 

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