Rocky Mountain Hardware: Founder’s Journey of Creating Artisan Decorative Hardware

Rocky Mountain Hardware: Founder’s Journey of Creating Artisan Decorative Hardware

Constructing Brands Podcast

Episode #5

What You Will Learn:

  • The origins and early days of Rocky Mountain Hardware, founded by Christian Nickum’s parents
  • How Christian transitioned from the family's window and door business to focus on decorative hardware
  • Strategies for creating unique, high-end artisan hardware pieces for designers and architects
  • The importance of trade shows, distribution networks, and innovative marketing tactics like the "road show"
  • Insights into product design, material selection (bronze), and collaborations with designers
  • Maintaining a balance between artistic vision and business scalability

Christian Nickum, the CEO and owner of Rocky Mountain Hardware, shares the captivating story of how his family’s business evolved from a humble window and door company to a renowned manufacturer of artisanal decorative hardware. In this riveting interview, he takes us on a journey through the company’s origins, the challenges they faced, and the innovative strategies that propelled their success.

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 Christian Nickham, CEO and owner of Rocky mountain hardware, welcome to constructing brand. So happy to have you here.

Yeah. Thank you very much. Excited to be here.

 I’d love to start at the very beginning, it was your mother and your father who founded this company. Am I right?

That’s correct. Yeah. Yeah. So the story goes is back, we live in a resort community in the Northwest and and tailored to a lot of high end building and what have you. And way back in the day Or, which got to remember the dates, but not to take this the grain of salt, but my grandfather, uncle, and my dad opened up a the local lumber yard here in our town.

And and that thing, muddled along for a while, building trusses and all that sort of stuff for the houses and so on and so forth. And then over the years, my, my, my dad was was the son in law, so to speak. So he stepped out of the door and exited that business and literally moved across the road and and began a business called, time it was posy windows of Idaho is so we’re an official, posey windows of window manufacturer, and we’re distributing their windows and. Along with that buying door slabs from a guy up in Montana, and then, we would come in and build the jam extensions, all that kind of stuff, and spruce the package up a little bit, so to speak, to its specific use in a house, and. So anyway, so that, fantastic business for years and primarily, servicing the Sun Valley, Idaho market, which is where we’re living in our headquarters. And then also other communities like Jackson hole, Wyoming, and some spots up in Montana and that kind of a zone, so servicing those sorts of projects. And then along with that, we had our manufacturing located in a town called Haley, which is just south of Sun Valley. And my dad had a showroom up in in the catchment Sun Valley area. And through that showroom, we also distributed some architectural hardware, brands such as Baldwin hardware and

some of those that you’ve probably heard of, 


and yeah one thing led to another and A gal was in town and building her second home and we’re supplying the the doors and windows to her place.

And my dad knew her. She came to my dad and said, Hey, gosh, Mark, there’s just, what do you know about hardware? Whatever’s out there is just there, and da. And so she was the inspiration of the thought behind the whole thing and light bulb went off my dad’s head and here in our town, there’s a local guy that does a little bit of art casting bronze stuff, and so my dad went to him and said, Hey, what do you think here, Wayne?

What can we what can we put together? And Wayne’s Oh, just let me know. Come, and anyway, long story short, designed up a lever in a back plate. And that’s where the idea was was born to start casting our own hardware. So a lady came up to your father, said, I want, in effect, you to invent a decorative hardware piece for me. And your father said, there might be a business here.

yeah, totally. So that kind of, yeah, was the first seedling, so to speak, and then and that was in about 93, 94 is when that happened and that kind of, that little job happened and then, Maybe it picked up another job a year or so later. And, so things were slow going, right out of the gate.

And I’d always worked for my old man in the in the summer times and when I wasn’t at school and that sort of stuff as a delivery guy or building windows and doors and jam extensions and whatever, sweeping the floor, whatever needed to happen as we all know.

I get it. I get it. I actually have one. One of my sons is in our business. So I

Oh, cool. 

and he started by, Cleaning the floors and doing some research. And now it seems like I cleaned the floor. So I don’t know what went wrong.

don’t think that ever changes, right?

Yeah, I guess so. I guess so. So so here’s the question. You’re in effect.

You had Your parents had two companies, right? At the beginning, they had the decorative hardware, which was Hey, this is something interesting, but that wasn’t, they didn’t go all in on that. I’m assuming they said, okay, this is interesting, but our bread and butter is the lumberyard

yep. That was aside from the Lumberyard at the point at the time windows and doors.

windows and doors, excuse me, the window company. 

So then but yeah, so then the hardware thing, just, there was a touch of traction that started to happen, with it. And over the next couple of years from like 93, 94, maybe another half dozen jobs at best, and just real small stuff.

And then And then I had come Right when I had come to work full time for my dad after, after college, which is 96, 97 I had stepped in and it was, just a few of us at that point in time. And my dad and some of his friends were obviously running the business and my mom was involved in the business.

And and then my dad had given me the opportunity to run the production side of the business. So I stepped in on the ground floor, running the production and at the time it was Just a handful of guys and 


So you were focused on the production of the decorative hardware side of it.


Oh, wow, so that is so that’s neat. So you You saw it from well, obviously from its inception being that it was your mom and dad and as a family business and you knew what was going on around the dinner table and you knew but at the point at which you jumped in at around 96 97 Was it like more than 50 percent Yeah.

Was it on the hard deck of hardware side or was it on the 

it was still Yeah, boy, 10 percent on the decorative hardware side, it was just starting off, and so right at that time, we were real fortunate and had the opportunity to go to a few trade shows, one of which is our kitchen and the national kitchen bash show, which is our industry trade show, and We had attended the first one of those and off the top of my head, I can’t exactly remember where it was either Atlanta, Vegas or Orlando, probably, 

but we hit a whole series of those over a bunch of years, and at that point in time, we picked up a distributor, one down in Arizona, and then also a couple of reps, one in Colorado and and then that’s really where the ball started to roll a little bit and then at the same time we had hired Salesman that was in house locally and we would shoot him out and obviously covering our local zone here in Sun Valley, but also Jackson and out through Montana and wherever else.

And just looking for holes in the ground, as a, as the story goes. And yeah, so between so then over the next, gosh, four or five years, things really started to gain some momentum and skyrocket, and

 Rocky Mountain Hardware, you do it’s really artisan work, it’s real it’s cast, it’s right, it’s

it sure is. 

tech, it’s techniques it’s, we’re talking about things that aren’t like manufactured Overseas with a stamp machine.


so with that said you’re selling jobs on the one hand, right? You’re creating interest in a new category that, that you’re inventing. And then you have to have the people on the back. Do you know how to do this stuff? Are, were you rolling up your sleeves and learning the lost German art of casting bronze and

yeah, absolutely. And so to a certain extent, I’ll give you the course of action there. But so yeah, so really at the time at those early days, we were we were not doing our own casting. So we’re like, and that was part of my main job is I’m out trying to find. Guys that cast our product for us.

And then we would bring it in and do all the machining and the finishing and the patina work and final assembly and all that kind of stuff, and truly in house, so to speak at that time. But I was yeah, I run into Salt Lake city and there’s all sorts of little foundries around Salt Lake city area.

And so we’re using a bunch of those sorts of characters to cast our product. But at the time we’re the total redheaded stepchildren, right? Hey, we need. Two of these and six of those and all these different little parts. And I’m like, yeah, we’ll get to it next week or

you know how that goes. 

And it’s not, it’s at that time, it’s not you’re finding them and having them do work and you’re responsible for the end product at the end of the day. Okay.

own pattern boards and everything. And so we would just take our pattern boards to these guys 

So there’s a lot of back and forth and so on. And so

 who’s doing the design upfront? Who’s creating this? 

 the design community. A lot of these houses are very high end, so they’ve got a design team working on them. And so the interior designer and or architect would send us an inspiration or a drawing or whatever it might be.

A lot of those designs were coming from them, and we’re just producing the product at that point.

Amazing. So you, there you are. Out of school, you’re heading up a kind of a new division for the family business and finding,

And I would, and I don’t take this wrong. My. Obviously, folks are 100 percent involved and I’m not heading it up. I’m just part of the team, so to speak, 

I appreciate that. And is that the way, is that the way kind of the company always has worked? It was that team up and environment. What was the hierarchy and how did it had your father probably set the tone? 

 my father, 100 percent and set the tone and then had, he had a few long term employees that were with him, in the window and door business that had and again, we’re very small company.

So yeah, they took this hat off through this one on, okay, here, let’s jump into this and some more of that sort of a story, and so a lot of collaboration going back and forth and just industry know how a lot of the guys that had been in the window door business for a long time, which is obviously the mainstay of the hardware business to a certain extent, a lot of crossover and collaboration and but yeah, as we’d continued to roll with the snowball a little bit, the man, things kept on jamming. And then finally three, I’d say about 97 or 98, we happened to run into a guy and. In a little town in Idaho here called Blackfoot and he was a retired foundry man randomly enough

And had a little artistic foundry in his garage and literally making belt buckles for a couple of things and just super random stuff.

And some, his name was John. So we’re like, Hey, John you want to pour some parts? And, oh yeah. And so right out of the gate, we just started feeding him business and and He was already retired at that point in time. So he’s Hey, I don’t want to do this for long, but Hey, I’ll teach you guys what I know and get you up and rolling and off to the races.

And so at that point in time, that was my main focus was to learn that side of the business more cause the other side of the kind of had down on the machining side and all that in terms of the production.

So big shout out to John who passed it forward a little bit to what 


a little bit and that’s awesome. That’s great, right? It’s

he’s just an extremely intelligent guy, and so yeah, totally taught us the ropes and the whole bit. and and then yeah so we would just feed him, all of our business, which was literally 99 percent of his overall business. And he was stoked at the time cause he was retired, but maybe needed to make an extra buck.


one of these guys that will just work till he’s in the grave type, and so he was full in and and so we build new buildings and this and that and get the foundry up and rolling and totally set up and dialed and and then, things were jamming at this point, we’re doubling tripling in business every year and whatnot, but still relatively small potatoes, ’cause it’s we’re just starting off.

And then in 2002, my, my father had a pretty random accident and had to exit the business overnight in oh two.

and and I was in the fortunate position to take it over at that point in time, for the family. So since 02, yeah, I’ve jumped into the hot seat, hired, had a guy that was with me in the production and kind of push that over to him.

And again, we all wear a million hats but generally kept everything rocking and rolling and had a fantastic team in place already to, to help things, Continue forward with the absence of my dad and my mom. I keep forgetting to bring my mom into this, but my mom has been in the business forever, obviously and dealt a lot in the marketing side over the years.


your mom what your mom handled the marketing side your father handled the managing the people the Finances the operations side at the early days.

Is that how they handled that? Yeah, and then you came in and you were doing kind of what some of the sales 

Yeah sales and more production

Sales and production and then and growing that other division 2002 comes now all of a sudden you’re on the hot seat and how many employees do you have ballpark? Before then and then Tell me about that growth, you know from We have this division and we feel comfortable with it too. Wow. People are ordering a lot and now we have to it’s a different mindset, right?

Yeah you know at the time and no to we may have had, 20 employees perhaps something like that and then Yeah, boy, then things, you know continue and started to grow and grow and come somewhere in the neighborhood of I would say Boy, oh four, oh five. I’d decided at that time we’re going to get out of the window and door business and really focus only on hardware and that’s where we’d made more of that transition.

 what was it that made you feel so comfortable that there was a business here in the decorative hardware side? That the kind of the cash cow which you’d have been riding for those years prior to that You want you needed to double down on this other side?

What like was do you remember the impetus or the minute where you were like, you know what? This isn’t going away. This is not a fluke and this is going to really work well

Honestly, most of it was the we had more competition, so to speak, coming town on the window and door business side and it just and with my father not being in the business any longer and some of the other guys that were still in the business that had been with my dad right out of the gate, we were shifting everybody’s focus to hardware because It’s where things were heading and so on and it was had much more of a broader audience and from a sales perspective than than the windows and doors in our local markets.

was there a different target audience you were focusing on? more architect 

really the design community. Yeah. The

architecture and design community primarily,


Locally, Okay. 

the case when you were doing when you were doing windows and doors was it

No, mostly builders at that point in time. Yeah. So yeah, I know really shifted to the design community and obviously getting our names on the specs out front of the front and then that follow up business kind of rolls on through, 

 a really good family friend and a friend of my dad’s was is an architect here in town and in Sun Valley and specifically works a lot on the Sun Valley company projects, so all of our ski lodges and all that sort of stuff around here.

And so Nick Latham would, hand us the ball anytime he could here, let’s make this, and this for these projects. And, so we were always, just an always can do attitude, like whatever needed to be done, we would jump on it and make these unique products.

So right out of the gate, we really carved ourself a nice little niche of being able to do anything and really never saying no, quite frankly, people couldn’t go anywhere else to get these sort of products, so they could dream up, whatever harebrained idea they had and know, yeah, we’ll make it for you, and off and rolling and over the years, really, that’s how a lot of our.

Our designs have come true in our product line, because as we’re seeing things come through if it’s a product that, that number one, like number two, I think we can produce in an efficient manner, talk to the architect, designer, Susie homeowner, whomever it is right up front saying, Hey, would you mind if we add this into our line?

And, and if so, there’s maybe a negotiation that happens there too. Hey, we’ll, cut you a break and all the pieces. Special mold charges or however need to skin that cat, But over the years, that’s how a lot of our products were born.

 how do you create scale while keeping that can do attitude and that kind of artisan, like we’re going to create unique, interesting things for the high end kind of community or the dreamers, the part of it is that kind of You know artisan dreamer, designer who’s imagining something incredible Yeah, we can get that done, but i’m running a business and it’s about scale So there’s almost these it’s it They almost work against each other, right?

Yeah. But funny enough though, that’s just how we grew up as a company, so starting on the custom side, so we really have always focused on that and never lost sight of what put us on the map in the first place. And again, that’s to bring products to people who have whatever the idea is, obviously it’s all primarily wrapped around architectural hardware, but beyond hardware, man, we’ve produced all, all sorts of different.

Stuff for folks, whether it’s unique little artistic pieces to, plaques and you name it everything, 

has there ever been a job that you’ve just passed on that you’ve been like, you know What this is too nuts. We’re not going to do it

There’s a few here and there, but they come along very seldomly, 

yeah, I read somewhere you did you did the Capitol in Wisconsin, in, in Madison.

Yep, I think we did at one point. Yeah, for sure. So back to that, a lot of these, a lot of these state capitals or church projects, things like that, you will have products on them from who knows when, right? And those manufacturers that have produced those products in the past are Generally don’t exist any longer.

So any of that sort of stuff will come to us and we can replicate molds or whatever it takes to get the customer, what they’re looking for, whether that’s reproduction of the hardware that’s there or whatever, 

we do a lot of LDS temples, they’re very.

Intricate and fancy. Each one of them has their own design theme to it. So constantly have those sort of projects going. And then along with kind of some larger hospitality stuff, whether it’s like when hotels or, four seasons resorts and those kind of projects, but still our mainstay by far in a way is is residential and that’s certainly what we focus on.

Do you separate your company with a commercial side and a residential side, or is it different people working on different things and it’s just the projects they’re on?

Just pretty much the projects they’re on, so majority how we go to market is sell through distribution, so have a, approximately say 350 distributors across the globe. Most of them focused in the states that are doing the business, and so we’ll set them up, get them a super fancy display, all that sort of stuff.

And they’re either. Talking to, the Susie homeowners or the design community in their local areas and getting our products back and pushing it through. We also, in terms of focusing on hospitality work, we do a number of different conferences and the trade shows that are specifically hospitality oriented, that that’ll allow us pick off enough of those sorts of projects to keep us more than busy, so that works pretty well.

 it sounds like trade shows are definitely The tool that you guys use what tell me about how that got started and I know you were saying kbiz I guess was the You had mentioned that earlier kitchen and bath 

Yeah. Yeah. Primarily. Yeah. So the kitchen and bath show, That show specifically really helped us get our name and our brand out there, and because all of our customers these intermediate dealers I’m talking about are generally going to these shows to see what products are there.

And then in addition to that factory reps. So we’ve got, aside from our employee base, we’ve got about 150 folks at the moment aside from that hundred and 50, we’ve got about another 50 to 75 so called independent reps that are out there canvassing the regions and doing a number of things.

Number one, managing the territories and the players that are in the territories from the dealer network. And then also out, calling on the design community within those territories and then ultimately driving that business back to our dealers that we have. which in turn, they obviously send us the orders and we produce them to order and go from there.

 so KBiz was really successful in the early years for establishing that network, whether it’s the dealers and the reps, and then, pulled out of that years ago, I think in about 06 kind of decided to quit attending the K Biz show specifically and we would start hitting a number of others, and like there’s the Pacific Coast Builders show we hit for quite a long time.

That was really good for us. Gosh, nowadays has been hitting ICFF and BDNY and and also HD expo hit that one for a long time. And but anymore now just focused on a few kind of boutique shows along with specific conferences that are more hospitality driven, as I had mentioned however, a lot of the design community, they work in both arenas, so

if they’re not if you’re not capturing their attention on a on a large commercial project, they’ll be like, Oh, yeah, I’ve got this excellent residential project going that we can, so it so that helps out quite a bit, 

so so what tactics and strategies from a marketing perspective have you guys taken on that? Have helped you most with your, either with your distributors or, I know I see your website. You actually have prices on your website and you have a build on you. I could build, I could, I, a visualizer and what tactics, strategies, and things that you feel are working best right now for you.

Right now, certainly, updating our website to the stuff you just spoken about there, but beyond that, and I’d say the most effective that kind of peeled away from some of the trade shows and have put together what we call a road show, basically it’s a traveling showroom in a nutshell. We’ve got version three actually hitting the road here in about another week which will be, cruising around the States for the next two to three years. But I’ve had two previous versions to this, those are really helpful because number one, there’s We’re able to go into the different territories and go right to our dealers, give them some PK, let them see our latest and greatest stuff that we’re doing today, because a lot of, how easy it is to get out of touch with what people are doing.

and and that’s the perfect case with a lot of our distributors, cause they have maybe had purchased displays 10 years ago or 20 years ago. And what they have on display is nothing close to what we’re actually producing today in terms of. Quality styles, all the above, right? Different finishes and so on.

So these over the last six years had this this road show out. And, as soon as we’re pulling up to our dealers Oh God, I gotta get buy new display, so we’ve, that gave us the opportunity to get people excited and refresh our whole display presence and all the showrooms everywhere, 

So it’s a, is it like a Scooby Doo van that has pull out the sides and you have all these displays of different products? What’s this look like? Give me the visual.

Yeah the first deal actually. This idea had sparked there’s been other companies that have done in the past, but man, my kids were young and my wife and I looked at each other one day gosh, we got, let’s get out and do something fun just cause we’re working quite a bit, keeping things afloat and so rented this motor home. Did a quick lap around the States and stuck to the coast. Most of the time, having a good time with my kids were young at the time, and, but anyway, I packed up a bunch of display too. And along the way I stopped and saw, anybody I could, who are our customers and

thrilled and yeah, this is fantastic.

And so they so that was a pretty cool deal. So as soon as I got back, end up buying a a large toy hauler motor home.

Yeah, How to do living in the front of the thing. And then the back of it’s like a little, 10 foot box, basically it was some that we put some displays in and that was version one and it worked out killer.

These guys were, he was, he can talk a fish out of the water type guides, and most of our customers knew him cause they’d been our national sales manager for years prior to that.

And he was on the tail 

So this guy’s living the the traveling Rocky mountain design. Experience.

Yeah. Yeah. Fully.

tie it into the greatest food in the area that he’s in.

Oh, there you go. Yeah.

That sounds good.

Oh, I’m following you, man.


Give me the link. I’m in

It’ll be on our site for sure. Sure.

for sure. Yeah. No, that, that’d be awesome. I love it. And you already have it going on, right? So when’s the the new show take off?

It’s peeling here literally next week.

Very cool. Where’s it heading to 

right out of the gate, going to run down to Southern Cal and hit that zone. And then then across, I think Arizona, New Mexico, and then hitting the warm weather spots while the spring is going. And then then it’ll make a full lap around the States, by the end of the year.

 then second version, we did a different basically like an, like a Ford F five 50 giant box van, the typically like a limo rig that runs around the airports and whatnot.

Converted one of those and then that thing was on the road just until two years ago And then yeah version three here’s coming out and but the other super important piece of this pie that I didn’t mention was the fact that we’re able to take this right into The territories and beyond going to our dealers go straight to the design community.

So a lot of the architects and designers, we may only get a chance to speak to them a time or two at a trade show or our reps that are in their territories, have to, may not have as much opportunity to get in front of them as they would like, so this. Provides a fantastic excuse for that. So we’re able to pull up outside their door with this thing, and they’re stoked. Hey, come on out and take a peek. And so instead of getting the top one or two designers in the firm, or whatever it might be, you get the whole team. And so anyway, it’s been quite effective from that standpoint.


 I love it. So as you’re on the road show, architects, designers in the area who, even if it’s not stopping in front of my place, I could probably find where you are and get a taste and see what is new and interesting and what my customer might be interested in without me even knowing it.

That’s awesome. That’s great. That’s great. Any other crazy, awesome, clever ideas that you got brewing for for Rocky Mountain Design?

boy, nothing out of the ordinary. I don’t think no, just continuing to keep our heads down and doing the best job we can for our customers.

Very nice. I don’t know why I keep calling it Rocky Mountain Design. It’s Rocky Mountain Hardware. But design seems like it’s such an important part of it, so I 


renaming you and I don’t mean to, so I apologize. Yeah.

No worries. No worries.

 So how are you driving innovation? And driving your offerings? Like what? How, is it you? Is it a team of people? Are you in a back CSI room with kind of Vogue magazine and hardware? And is there A strategy and a process to think of what are bold, new, interesting designs that we might want to show the market, or is it more reactive to these are things that we think are really cool that we want to mold and offer to the public.

Yeah, boy, a lot of different ways to answer that question but in a nutshell what we do and pride ourselves on is again, we’re. We’re using a very unique organic material. So bronze, right? Bronze is one of the most unique materials you can use in a lot of stuff because it’s, number one, it’s a hundred percent recycled all the material we’re using. And it’s it’s an eco friendly product from the standpoint that it’s, it has a copper is the number one element in a bronze alloy, so there’s a lot of benefits of copper out there, and so a lot of those are health related, which is pretty darn handy, so aside from that, being able to take and utilize this material and give it a different character than what a lot of people might think of it in the first place. So as we grew up as a company, people are like, Oh, Rocky mountain. And right out of the gate, we called the company Rocky mountain rustic, which completely pigeonholed us in this little, nest off in the corner.

So we’ve been trying to break that persona for forever. And, eventually renamed a Rocky mountain hardware, But still, that rustic connotation is always there, and may be for a period of time, but the reality is that we have Introduce product lines over the years and again, a lot of them were have been born because of the architect design community that we’re working with. And certainly we’re doing a lot of design work in house. There’s no question about that. But so a team effort to bring new, more contemporary designs to life in this more traditional medium, being bronze. And then, in addition to that, over the years, we’ve also worked with specific designers and done collections with designers, and that’s always a fantastic way to get out and utilize their presence in the market and their followers to jump on the bandwagon, so to speak, as we’ve been doing.

Work with those those very talented designers. So that’s been, really the key to our success, I think over the years and and have gotten pulled in a lot of different directions and have done it many times over the years where Oh boy, here, let’s step back, not go this direction because either number one, we can’t be everything to everybody, number two, we need to stick with our core capabilities and make sure we focus on what’s put us on the map in the first place, 

So did you start off with a Vision Mission Value Statement and do you keep looking back at that or what keeps you on your trajectory in your course and keeps you honest to what you who you are and what you do?

Gosh, I must say, no, don’t really look too much back at stuff, but just, being intimately involved in the day to day business all the time and just. Seeing us get off track or seeing, lead time slip and all these sort of things you’re like, okay, really, why is this happening? And oh, because of these projects that everybody likes to rip their eyeballs out over, and so over time, we’ve learned to, steer clear of some of those and just make sure that we’re, we’re doing what we know how to do and know how to do well. And then, and, we’ve also over the years have grown our product line to really be able to outfit any space within a project, so obviously if it’s a, if it’s your house, we’ve got plumbing to lighting to, all the architectural hardware you could imagine to accessories and so on, so you can really tie a, an entire space together just based on finishes or materials or what have you, 

my friend. I appreciate your time here. I really do. I thank you. You

Oh, you bet, man. I appreciate you having me on the show and thank you very much.

My pleasure. Thank you for listening to another episode of Constructing Brands. Your feedback is how we thrive. So please leave us a rating and review on your favorite platform. And if you want access to even more great information, go to ConstructingBrands. com.