Cutco Knives, Vector Marketing and the Neighborhood Kid

A few days ago, my neighbor’s grandson, who recently graduated from high school, stopped by and asked to speak to my husband. He told us he had a new job, and wondered if we’d listen to his sales presentation, for which he would get paid whether or not we bought. I asked him “what’re you selling, kid?,” and when he told me it was Cutco knives, I was beyond delighted.

Way back, when I was his age, I, too, had been offered the opportunity to sell Cutco knives, so sharp they can slice through rope, and guaranteed to last a lifetime! But my mother nixed that when I told her the first thing I was required to do was buy a set of knives. But now I could get the demo myself, and find out if Cutco’s sales division works the same as it ever did. “I’m in kid, stop by on Friday,” I told him. He asked if Peter would be there, a question I found somewhat curious, and when we told him, no, he said it would be real swell if Peter could come, too.

Well, we had some miscommunication, because I thought he would come to my house where I could test the Cutco cutlery against my own, but instead he expected me to go over his grandmother’s. So I grabbed a handful of my favorite knives and went over there.

He was really disappointed Peter didn’t come along. There was a script, undoubtedly what he’d been told he had to follow, or somehow the customer would lose the plot and not understand all the excellent features of Cutco knives and the wide variety of knives and gift sets available for me to buy, though certainly I would want the top of the line full set. I know it was a script, because I kept knocking him off it, so he had to find his place again and again. Full tang, yadda yadda, sharp serrated edges which are super cool, made in America and a trusted best-selling brand since 1949. Been there, heard that. I just wanted to see the rope trick, compare them against my favorite Global knives, and find out how much a set of steak knives cost, because I could use more steak knives, and this is after all, the neighbor’s grandson, working a job when so many teens are utter slackers.

To my dismay, he’d lost the rope, and only the official demonstration rope would do. I so wanted to cut the rope with a Cutco knife. I did get to slice through some leather with a Cutco knife, and then with my Global paring knife, though. When it came to slicing a lemon, the Cutco knife could slice as thinly as my Global knife, which was nice. I told him the delicious marketing factoid that Global knives were made by the same craftsmen who made samurai swords. He tried my Global knife and opined that it was awfully heavy, and didn’t I get fatigued with such a heavy knife, and wouldn’t a lil’ lady like me prefer the lightweight Cutco counterpart instead? I gave him the stink eye. I like some heft in my kitchen implements, and when I no longer have the strength to wield my 9.5 ounce Global butcher knife, I’ll probably be living off pureed food at the assisted living facility.

There were some things about Cutco knives I never knew or perhaps had forgotten. Though they are so excellent and sharp, you don’t have to sharpen them, after 10 0r 15 years, you may want to sharpen them, in which case Cutco will do it for you for free, give or take an $8 shipping and handling fee. But I love sharpening my samurai swords, er, Global knives, and what’s up with the knife sharpener I see in the Cutco catalog? I eventually let that die.

The kid touted the Cutco guarantee which promises me a new knife should it break, a guarantee he guaranteed me was not offered by those other high-end knife manufacturers like W├╝sthof or Henckels. I looked at my Global chef’s knife which is so solidly constructed I’d have to be chopping wood with it for it to break, in which case, I don’t really deserve a new knife. Well, he pointed out, the handles are ergonomic, designed by an ergonomics scientist who tested his designs against hundreds of hands to make the perfect handle, only available on Cutco products. I asked how these dorky-looking plastic handles compared against the less-dorky -looking-but-also-touted-as-ideally -ergonomic Oxo brand handles. The kid didn’t know from Oxo, and anyway, my hands have never complained about the knives I use now, so I don’t care.

I still wanted to know what these Cutco knives cost, especially a set of steak knives, which were beginning to look less and less appealing. But, no, first I had to hear the rest of the spiel. Cutco makes a whole bunch of other kitchen tools, which have a lip so you can hang them on the edge of a pot without worrying that they might slip in when you step away. They also make hunting knives, which I’m sure has Cabela’s quaking. And an ice scream scooper that is always at room temperature, no matter how much ice cream you scoop. I have an ice cream scooper just like it, but I’d left it at home so we couldn’t do a whose-ice-cream-scooper-stays-at-room-temperature-the-longest test.

Finally, I got to see the price list. The Cutco chef’s knife cost $90, about $20 less than the Global equivalent. A set of steak knives cost $130. $130! I decided I no longer cared to get a new set of steak knives. My guests have never complained about the el cheapo steak knives I set them up with, and if I served up something so tough it required a Cutco knife (or a recently sharpened Global knife) to cut, they’d be complaining about a lot more than just inadequate cutlery.

But I still wanted to quiz the kid about the business. Had he had to buy the demo knives, as I would have had to? He said no, but if he sold $10,000 worth of Cutco goods in his first two weeks, he’d get a full set for free. $10,000?! He’d also get a ski trip, and a recommendation as an excellent salesperson from his manager. I bet he would. I don’t even think Sur La Table which sells a whole bunch of brands of high-end knives (including my Global knives) to foodies with lots of money sells $10,000 worth of knives each fortnight. What’s he getting in commission? 10%, he told me, but as soon as he sold his first $10,000 he’d be getting the same kind of commission other commission-based salespeople get when they’re just starting. Did they play the same game with him they did with me in the group “interview,” where you’re told only a few will be selected, and after a long wait, the manager pulls you aside and tells you you’re one of them? Yes, he was really excited he’d gotten the gig: with a 10% commission, unpaid training, no benefits, and having to produce each and every single one of his sales leads himself. Did he know it was a sales job when he went in for the “interview”? No.

I told him I still wanted to see the rope trick, and advised him to sell himself into a better gig. Things are tough out there in the job market, and he had no previous experience, he said. I told him with the same technique he was using to get leads for Cutco: calling on everyone he knew, and asking them to pass him on to yet more people, he could also announce he’s out of school and looking for entry-level work. Even in a tough job market like this, there’s a place for kid with moxie and gumption, not just in reading off lame scripts that were outdated 40 years ago.

He shook my hand, and made eye contact just like he’d been trained to do, and thanked me for coming. But, shucks, it was just too bad Peter couldn’t have made it, too. According to internet scuttlebutt, I soon discovered why. He wouldn’t even be paid the paltry $15 or $17 Cutco was now paying its representatives for giving a demo that didn’t result in a sale, because the demographic for such reimbursement is extremely narrow: homeowner over 30 years old, with kids and a full-time job. I find that horrendously insulting. I work part time, not full time. I am the primary culinary knife wielder and buyer of household stuff, and if Peter had been corralled into that demo, I’d still be the one deciding whether, what, and how much to buy. By Cutco’s standards, virtually none of the people on Master Chef, who are the foodiest of foodies, and thus certainly buyers of high-end knives, don’t qualify as a qualified demo.

In short, I hope the kid finds a better gig, the sooner the better.

1 Comment

  1. John Alden


    Sounds like you met a rep who was new as well as uninformed. I don’t blame him considering he was in his first week (called a “fast start”, where one can win prizes based on sales). However, I don’t believe you should bash the product, because your experience wasn’t based on the product itself, but rather the high school grad presenting it to you. He was forgetful, followed a monotonous script word for word, uninformed due to lack of experience, and based on your description, not confident in the product.

    Also, about the 10,000 dollar prize he was talking about. It happens. I bought a Signature set awhile back while it was just me and my wife, both working part time. The sale pushed the rep who sold it to me just over the 10k mark. With 3 days to spare. He was a little nervous, but believed in the product and made me believe in it too. By far a worthy investment that has helped prepare my family countless meals. The irony of it is I traded in some of my old Global knives to get a discount on the Cutco I bought!


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