Ownership: Privately held by Blackstone Investment Group
Mountainsmith first forged its mark on outdoor gear in 1979, when founder Patrick Smith introduced the world to the lumbar pack—not a fanny pack—but a lower backpack to carry gear, originally for backcountry skiing. By the mid-1990s the company had grown into a respected backpack manufacturer and multi-day pack maker.
In 1997 Smith sold the company. After changing hands a number of times and struggling, the brand was purchased by Blackstone Investment Group in 2007. Today, stable leadership and an expanding product line have the company looking forward.
“The mantras of the brand would be value and durability,” contends Mountainsmith president Jay Getzel. “We really focus on comfort of carry on the hip-belt and the overall durability of the build.
“I think the consumer these days is looking for a simpler, cleaner design. As the presence of more Euro brands make it over to this side of the pond, we’re definitely seeing this move towards backpacking packs that have a cleaner silhouette, a cleaner exterior. They’re trying to do away with a lot of multifunctional features and really focus on the task at hand,” says Getzel.
While the brand flagged in the early 2000s, Getzel says that’s changed with the more solid relationship with Blackstone as an owner. “The great thing about is it’s allowed us to maintain some consistency here and start to redevelop the relationships, redevelop the consistency in the product line that was so much a part of this brand in the 90s,” he says. “I think there’s a part of that DNA that we’re slowly recapturing every year that’s passed since we’ve come up with the new ownership here.”
Today about half of the company’s sales come from its line of backpacks and lumbar packs. But it’s also expanding—or moving back—into other product lines as well. “We’ve established ourselves as the third-largest trekking pole company in the United States,” Getzel says.
In 2011, Mountainsmith got back into tent and sleeping bag world. The new lines have been well received. “We’ve won a number of rewards from Backpacker and Outside,” he says.
Most of the company’s production is in Asia. “We’ve got a five-person team over in Dongguan, China and it’s their work to ensure that they’re consolidating and collaborating between the various designers of sister brands. The team makes us work, feel and function like a much larger company,” Getzel says. Tents, sleeping bags and trekking poles in made in China. The other half of Mountainsmith’s Asian product line is made in Vietnam.
But it’s increasing the amount it produces in the U.S. “We have a manufacturing facility in Minnesota,” Getzel says. “We do some small-batch runs of classic and retro styles there.” The company also recently partnered with Denver-based ski maker Icelantic. Under that partnership they’ll make a cobranded retro-styled pack daypack that is slated to hit the shelves this fall.
Getzel anticipates doing more domestic production with more U.S. made products coming out as soon as 2016. More technical manufacturing could come stateside too. “How quickly it will unfold remains to be seen.” He says increased labor costs in factories in Asia, the minimum order quantities and long wait times for manufactured goods will all make U.S. manufacturing more attractive.
Challenges: “Trying to recapture the clout that Mountainsmith once had as a premiere backpacking company in the late 90s,” Getzel says.
Opportunities: “USA manufacturing has a lot resonance in popular culture these days. A lot of people gravitating toward American-made classic products."