Cutco Cutlery, located in Olean, NY, recently celebrated their 70th anniversary and will be showcasing at Made In America 2019.
In 1982, the company was purchased from ALCOA in a management buyout led by its president Erick Laine. Among that management group was James E. Stitt, who has led the company since Mr. Laine’s retirement in 2008. Mr. Stitt recently passed down the role of president and CEO to his son, James M. Stitt.
We got the opportunity to speak with Jim about the process of knife manufacturing and marketing.
Jason Blount: Congratulations on your recent celebration of the company’s anniversary. Share with me about your background with Cutco.
Jim Stitt: I started with the company in 1997 as a quality assurance engineer, and I became president and CEO in November of 2016.
Jason: That sounds like an exciting transition. Can you tell me about the process of making a knife? Has it changed much since 1949?
Jim: Technology has certainly changed the process over the years. The core steps to making a knife hasn’t changed, but the process within each of the steps has changed, and some have stayed the same. The process we use to hone a straight-edge knife is the same process we used 70 years ago. The grinding equipment we use to grind knives has changed tremendously. There was a time when hand-craftsmanship was everything in knife making, but now we say it’s hand craftsmanship blended with innovative technology in today’s world. Technology helps us tremendously with productivity, consistency and safety.
Jason: Technology has definitely made manufacturing more efficient. Where do you source your steel from?
Jim: The majority of our steel comes from the U.S., mostly Pennsylvania.
Jason: It’s great that your manufacturing is focused in the U.S. How many employees do you have?
Jim: About 850 total employees and about 400 are tied to our manufacturing operations. The other 450 are for marketing, sales and administration. We have a sales team that does direct sales. We do in-home sales demonstrations, home shows, state fairs and other events to promote our products and that’s how we get 90 percent of our sales.
Jason: That’s awesome. Successful marketing is an essential key for increasing sales. When did Cutco obtain its name?
Jim: We came to the name in 2009. The original name of the company when it was created in 1949 was Alcas. It was a joint venture between ALCOA and Case Cutlery. They kind of combined the two names to come up with Alcas. The original name of the product was Cutco in 1949, but we changed the corporate name of the company to Cutco in 2009 because it had better brand consistency with the product. ALCOA was one of the first companies to utilize the direct sales model, and we’re still doing it today.
Jason: The name is short and catchy, and brand consistency is important. Are you involved in e-commerce at all?
Jim: Yes. We’ve had a site for decades, but for a while, we only let current owners buy the products online and everyone else could only view the knives. In 2014, we opened the site up so that anyone could buy Cutco.com, but it still mainly targets our customers who are familiar with the brand and own the product already. We’re just trying to re-engage them to see if we can provide them with products to help with other needs.
Jason: I can see from online engagement that people love the product.
Jim: That’s one thing we’re so fortunate with is that we do have a great quality product. We back it with a forever guarantee and great service. We make sure that they have an outstanding experience with their product.