“Do what you love,” is often the credo one will hear when starting out in life. Advice that is easier said than done.
But seven years ago, Mick Thompson gave up a steady job as a teacher to pursue his hobby.
“We started off actually in the alley, two blocks down,” said Thompson, owner of Back Alley Metals in Red Lodge. “We had two garage doors and that was our whole shop. We were actually in the alley behind another business.”
“When we first got this building, my dad kind of did it - we were working in the alley, we were doing just fine, thought we were great and he's like, ‘OK, we're gonna move.’”
“Our rent tripled overnight,” said Thompson. “We're like, how are we gonna fill this up? I don't know how we're gonna make this work. And now we could use more space. It's amazing how fast it fills up.
A business that started in an alley - now ships custom metal work around the world.
“It started off just doing odd jobs, railings, and gates and now we have seven employees,” said Thompson.
“Everything from railings and gates to the signs on the wall,” said Thompson. “I mean if there's even a slight imperfection we're gonna pull them and start over.”
“You gotta have a little bit of everything,” said Thompson, explaining the wide variety of designs the company creates. “With metal work, the sky's the limit. You gotta have some fun with it.”
Dinosaurs, wine racks, fire pits, and furniture. They’ll design just about anything out of metal - including bear-proof trash cans. From Yellowstone and Glacier to Wisconsin, Idaho and British Columbia - the bread and butter for Back Alley Metals? Protecting your trash from the bears.
“It's absolutely amazing,” said Thompson. “You know, having them in Glacier is fantastic it's so much fun, I'll have friends come up from Wisconsin and they'll send me pictures of garbage cans in Glacier. It's awesome.”
Thompson said one of his favorite memories is when he went to Yellowstone Park and saw people taking pictures of Back Alley Metals’ garbage cans while Old Faithful erupted.
“That’s a big compliment,” he said.
Over the course of seven years, Mick and his wife Alanna have brought their business to the forefront of Red Lodge. Alanna takes care of the showroom, while mick and the crew take care of the back.
"These guys are pretty good at making stuff work though - they've been doing it for awhile now,” said Thompson. “It's an awesome crew, couldn't ask for a better group of guys to work with."
Together they’ve built something from the ground up and like everything Montana made, it’s rooted in hard work.