K.C. Walsh became a die-hard fly fisherman at 9-years old. As an adult, he began looking to acquire a company in the Rocky Mountain West. Specifically, he wanted to make Montana home.
“The reason I wanted to live in Montana was pretty simple,” he said. “When I was 12 years old, I came up here with my grandfather on a fishing trip on the Bitterroot River. It was one of the best experiences of my youth, and after that trip I wanted to live in Montana someday.”
Walsh’s wishes came true when in 1993 he acquired a fly fishing manufacturing company called Simms Fishing Products.
SIMMS Fishing Products
Today, SIMMS is a fishing equipment, accessories, and apparel manufacturer in Bozeman. The company manufactures a wide range of men’s and women’s waders, boots, outerwear, and travel accessories. SIMMS sells its products nationally and distributes to 52 countries. SIMMS was founded in 1980 by John Simms, an angler and longtime river guide. During his years of guiding and fishing, Simms realized the waders at that time were not as sturdy or durable for all the time he spent on the water. So like all entrepreneurs, Simms decided to solve his problem.
The solution Simms crafted was one of the first neoprene waders. This allowed users to stay in the water longer and stay warm in rivers during the early spring and late fall. They also allowed users to move through the water easier.
In the 1990s, Walsh was a consultant with Deloitte in Southern California and specialized in turnaround and reorganizing companies. When Walsh stumbled across SIMMS, he saw a company with great potential. According to Walsh, it was a “perfect blending of my recreational passion with my professional interest in helping to fix companies.”
When Walsh acquired SIMMS in 1993, he moved the headquarters to Bozeman, where the company is currently headquartered. In 1993, one of the first products that SIMMS introduced was a line of waders that were made with GORE-TEX® — the first waterproof/breathable wader in the world. Simms is the only certified GORE-TEX® wader manufacturer in the U.S. and is one of two GORE-TEX® wader manufacturers with this license internationally.
“We have found that if you layer properly under our GORE-TEX® waders they’re warmer than neoprene,” he said. “The problem with neoprene is that they don’t breathe. Initially, you are warmer, but you get cold and clammy because all of your clothing is getting wet from your sweat.”
The design and quality of Simms products give me an advantage on the water and makes me a better angler
Another addition with Walsh jumping on board was offering more products. The company expanded into rain gear, base layer products, and everything else you could think of to go fishing. Walsh said the company’s goal has always been to get people in the water earlier and longer as a result of having better apparel to go fishing. During the first five years under Walsh, he said the company saw plenty of growth.
The company doubled the first year and the second year. Walsh said the market responded well to the products the Montana based company offered. From 1993 and forward, Walsh said the company’s compound average growth rate has been approximately 15 percent.
SIMMS products are used by casual fishermen and fisherwomen in Montana and professionals across the globe. One Pro Tournament Angler who uses SIMMS products is Brett Hite of Arizona.
“All that I ever wanted to do was to be a professional angler and I have been living that dream,” Hite said on the company’s website. “I have been a long-time user of Simms products even before they were popular in the bass fishing market. I believe the design and quality of Simms products give me an advantage on the water and makes me a better angler.”
Made in Montana
In Montana, manufacturing has become one of the state’s fastest growing sectors. According to the 2018 Montana Economic Report from the Bureau of Business and Economic Research, manufacturing employment increased 20.4 percent in Montana. In 2016, there were 1, 479 manufacturing establishments with employees operating in Montana.
For a company that manufacturers fishing products such as SIMMS, Bozeman and the Gallatin Valley is the perfect backdrop.
“Our workforce here in Bozeman has been fantastic,” Walsh said. “We have a great team and it’s a fun environment. People love to fish and we organize fishing outings and fishing-related activities. In the summer months from June to October, we have what we call ‘Fishing Flex Fridays.’ During that time our employees are allowed to take a half day off on Fridays if they have
plans to go fishing.”
SIMMS employs 200 workers, mainly in Bozeman and with some remote workers. The company manufactures all of the premium GORE-TEX® waders in-house. He said about 25 percent of the company’s total production is made in the U.S.
Montana Manufacturer of the Year
In March, the Montana Manufacturing Association named SIMMS its 2018 Montana Manufacturer of the Year. SIMMS earned the highest marks in community impact, innovation of their products, and workplace benefits. SIMMS was recognized on March 18 at Manufacturing and International Trade Day in Helena.
“We are honored to receive this award and represent our manufacturing community – in Montana and nationally,” said Casey Sheahan, CEO of Simms Fishing Products in a press release. “While premium materials and closely guarded construction methods play a large role in the creation of our waders, it’s the people behind them that make them the best waders in the world. Because of our wader makers and our Montana manufacturing facility, we are able to champion careers in manufacturing and be a strong partner in our community.”
As the company continues to grow, SIMMS continues to put out new products. Last year, it released for the first time a camouflage wader, which Walsh said has been a big hit. They also continued to make products for their women’s line.
For Walsh, Bozeman offers many amenities that make it a great town for SIMMS to call home.
“This is such a great place to raise kids. We have superior schools, wonderful open space, easy access to our rivers and lakes, and we have great opportunities to fish, hike, ski, hunt, and all of the other myriad of outdoor activities. It attracts the kind of employees we want – these are the type of people that are passionate about the products we make.”
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