CRKT’s Business Model Is Its Key to Success

Instead of an in-house design team, CRKT collaborates with world-class knife designers from around the country to create innovative products

Ed Halligan’s K.I.S.S. (Keep It Super Simple) knife from CRKT.
The knife that really put CRKT on the map was Ed Halligan’s K.I.S.S. (Keep It Super Simple). The uncomplicated, two-piece design definitely lived up to the knife’s name. It was also incredibly effective and immensely popular. Just as important, it was an innovative design by a custom knife maker that also could be manufactured on a large scale.CRKT

Sometimes the most successful ideas come when you aren’t afraid to admit your limitations. Columbia River Knife and Tool has become one of the most respected names in the knife industry by continually pushing the envelope on design. The company consistently brings innovations to market that have a tendency to elevate consumers’ expectations for one of the oldest tools known to man. What many people might not realize, however, is that the business model CRKT developed that led to this success has the potential to do more than just inspire other knife companies—it might also have the power to help revitalize manufacturers in every industry across the country.

“All of this came about because Rod Bremer started the business and realized fairly quickly that he wasn’t a knife designer,” says Doug Flagg, CRKT’s vice president of marketing and innovation. “And he knew that if this company was going to be successful, he had to find people who were.”

“That’s the knife that really put CRKT on the map”

Bremer and the CRKT team began traveling to knife shows across the country looking for innovative designs that also had the potential to be manufactured on a large scale. “Innovation is what defines CRKT, so that’s really what we were looking for,” Flagg says. “We had to make sure the design fit into our market, but we also had to ask ourselves if we could take that design and manufacture it. That’s not always as easy as it sounds.”

One of the first designs they found that had all of those critical elements was Ed Halligan’s K.I.S.S. (Keep It Super Simple) knife. The uncomplicated, two-piece design definitely lived up to the knife’s name. It was also incredibly effective and immensely popular.

“That’s the knife that really put CRKT on the map,” Flagg says. “Because it was so successful, Rod figured we could do the same thing again, so he started looking for other designers to collaborate with.”

Next, Bremer met up with legendary knife maker Kit Carson. The two hit it off immediately, and when Carson’s M-16 series launched, CRKT had much more than just another successful series of knives on its hands—it had a new way of doing business.

“That absolutely solidified the whole business model for CRKT,” Flagg says.

The model was simple. Instead of hiring a team of innohouse designers, CRKT would continue to seek out the most talented and passionate custom knife makers in the country and collaborate with them to manufacture their innovative designs.

“It’s a win-win for everyone involved,” Flagg says. “The consumer gets a knife designed by a custom knife maker, the knife maker gets royalties from the sales of the knife, and we get cutting-edge designs from some of the best designers in the business. There’s no downside.”

It’s a sentiment shared by the knife designers who collaborate with CRKT.

“It’s a perfect scenario because it’s a trifecta of positivity,” says Ken Onion, a leading knife designer who’s been working with CRKT for more than a decade. “Innovation comes with a certain mindset, and that’s hard to find. But when you have that purist thought, that person who only focuses on that one pursuit and is absolutely passionate about it, that’s where true innovation comes from.”

Knife designer Ken Onion has worked with CRKT for more than a decade.
Knife designer Ken Onion has worked with CRKT for more than a decade.CRKT

By collaborating with CRKT, those passionate purists have the opportunity to get their knife designs into the hands of people who might not otherwise ever have the chance to take advantage of that innovation.

“Custom designs have a very limited reach,” says Joe Caswell, designer of CRKT’s revolutionary Provoke knife. “But CRKT has the infrastructure in place to manufacture and distribute those designs so that people all over the world can have access to them. It’s really powerful.” Ultimately, though, the biggest

benefit of CRKT’s business model belongs to the people who use the knives day in and day out.

“A lot of the designers we work with are former big-game guides or ex-military and law enforcement, so the consumer is getting a knife that’s designed by people who know knives and have actually used them in the field,” Flagg says. “Or maybe they’re getting the benefit of owning a Ken Onion custom knife at a reasonable price. That’s a pretty cool thing to be able to say.”

Not only does CRKT’s business model increase the reach of those innovative designs by making them accessible to more people, it also has the potential to increase the scope of that innovation by making it available to the other designers with whom CRKT collaborates. And when multiple creative concepts are combined and designers have the opportunity to build off the ideas of their colleagues, the results can be profound.

“No matter how revolutionary a concept you come up with, if it’s relegated to just one model, it becomes nothing more than a footnote in the history of the industry,” Caswell says. “But if other designers can take that concept and do something unexpected with it, then all of a sudden, the concept you created becomes an evolution of the craft.”

When that happens, it isn’t just the company or the designers or even the consumers who benefit from the collaboration—it’s the entire industry.

“This concept can translate to so many industries,” Onion says. “The outdoor sports world could take this business model and explode with growth.”

Innovation has a tendency to breed more innovation. It’s the same premise that spurred America’s Industrial Revolution and helped shape our country into the nation it is today. It worked then, and there’s no reason it couldn’t work now.

“America needs to get back to innovating and creating, and this business model should absolutely inspire others because it’s working,” Onion says. “At the end of the day, we all need to ask ourselves what we can do to make a difference in this industry and in this country.”

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