From 1998 to 2012, the number of American knife makers dropped by nearly 30 percent. This is just one aspect of a declining American manufacturing industry, but it is no small loss. For example, according to Businessweek, one Massachusetts knife maker employed 500 workers consuming 200 tons of steel annually. This was way back in 1864, though, and today, things are very different. That company recently filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy. And they are not alone. Today there are only 188 knife makers in the States. That’s a tiny number when you consider how many knives are bought and sold in the U.S. each year.
Consider the sheer number of steak knives used at restaurants across the nation. Then, think about every carved turkey or family dinner or wedding reception. Every butcher, meat cutter, caterer, event facility, or breakfast bistro. Relatively few of them are buying American anymore.
Ronn Torossian admits that these companies have more than an image issue. They are facing the same challenges all American low tech manufacturers are. Rising prices for raw materials, lagging technology, and expensive labor costs are forcing many companies overseas. Sure, product quality sometimes suffers, but it’s better than closing their doors.
Still, is there something these American companies can do from a public relations standpoint? Well, first, most of these manufacturers are far too anonymous with regard to the general consumer market. Sure, chefs and meat cutters might have a favorite brand, but the average American consumer really has no clue what brand means quality. They buy on price and try not to go home with junk.
Knife manufacturers have only themselves to blame for this. American consumers love to be loyal both to American made products and to quality merchandise. Yes, they will buy the cheap junk when they have to, but only because they don’t know any better.
For the beleaguered blade industry, step one should be to build brand recognition, and create a story for their brand. Consumers want to know what they are buying … it’s up to the brand to tell them.