Ernest Emerson on his Kershaw Partnership

Emerson Kershaw CollaborationI am reprinting the following post by Ernest Emerson from Emerson Knives, Inc.  I think it provides great insight into how a knifemaker enters into a collaboration with a large(r) company, what with the many considerations of branding, business models, and motivations…


 “Well, I guess the cat is now well out of the bag. Most of you have now
become aware of the Emerson Kershaw Knives. Due to a family emergency
we (the Emerson family) were not able to attend the SHOT show or
participate in the pomp and circumstance of the debut of the
Emerson-Kershaw partnership. But it looks like everybody did our job
for us in lieu of our absence. Thank you.

“At the BLADE show in June 2013, we had a meeting with Craig and Thomas
of Kershaw knives. Over the last two decades the name Emerson has
grown from the simple name of a knife company into the most coveted of
categories, a “Lifestyle Brand.” As such, that put us into a category
alongside of names like Harley Davidson, Body Glove, Jack Daniels,
etc. where the name no longer represents just a product, but a much
broader category, a lifestyle that people identify with. When a
company brand achieves that status, the brand itself becomes a symbol
of status much as wearing a Rolex watch became the symbol of personal
success. When a brand gains such respect and value, many opportunities
manifest that are not available to the status quo. Over the years, as
the name Emerson developed this cache, we were approached by a number
of companies interested in purchasing our company outright. Some of
these came from within the Cutlery Industry, some from the Tactical
Industry and several from interests completely outside of “our world.”
The amounts have been tempting, in fact big on a scale that my Great
Grandchildren would never need to work. But, as a family we all felt
we were not done yet, so we kept our company.

“Another aspect we faced as the brand grew was the constant approach by
companies that wanted to co-brand, license or carry our product. Over
the years these have included, the Military Exchanges (AFEES),
Cabelas, Gander Mountain, Bass Pro, Costco, Amazon, all the “Big Box”
stores and even Home Depot. All the major firearms manufacturers and
all the top shelf names in the tactical industry have approached us to
either build product for them or co-brand product with them.
Unfortunately, we were hamstrung by our own success. Because of the
ever increasing demand for our product, we carried at all times, a two
year backlog of orders. No matter how much we grew the company or
increased our production, the orders increased in parity with our
growth. All of this with no advertising. The problem was that we could
never take advantage of the solicitations from those companies. We
knew that we would never be-able to supply enough knives to meet their
demands so we graciously declined. Rather than ever burn any bridges
we would simply say, “Sorry, not now, but perhaps in the future if you
would still be interested.” Well, they’re still interested, but we
also know that nothing lasts forever.

“Which brings us to Kershaw. Kershaw had been in contact with me for
several years and we had played with several designs but I had never
pulled the trigger on a collaboration, because I wasn’t after a
collaboration, I was after a partner. After several meetings at the
BLADE show, Kershaw was who we chose. They knew the power of our brand
and the Emerson name and they had the horsepower to make big things
happen. In fact Kershaw was more than eager to work with, “The father
of the tactical knife industry,” as they put it.

“Now, I knew a few things before we got started. One of the most
important was this, as well-known as we thought we might be, we knew
it was to a small school of fish in a great big ocean. There were
millions who had never even heard of Ernest Emerson or Emerson knives.
Secondly, we knew that even as well-known as we were in “our world,”
there were tens of thousands who knew of us and wanted an Emerson but
were unable to afford the substantial price for an Emerson original.
And Kershaw agreed. They saw the potential for expanding the Emerson
name into markets previously untouched. Kershaw also knew they had the
manufacturing capacity to address all of the opportunities that would
manifest as a result of our partnership. And the die was cast.

“After all the contracts and signatures were done, it was time to
decide where to start. Kershaw came down to my company to choose the
introductory models. How was that done? Well, over the last several
years I have designed a portfolio of approximately 150 knives. And, be
aware that those are not just sketches or drawings. These are fully
proven, prototype designs and actual working pieces. So when we sat
down we merely had to pick the knives we wanted from the portfolio. We
had also decided that we would introduce the budget priced knives at a
price which would make Emerson Knives available to all. And of course,
there had to be a Zero Tolerance model because, well there just had to
be. These are all my designs, 100% start to finish and the only
changes were to the mounting hardware so they would fit with the
Kershaw manufacturing process. So if any one questions whether I
approved of the designs, they are my designs, so I guess you could say
I approved them.

“Some may also ask, “Why did I approve of a partnership with Kershaw?”
First and foremost, because they are honest. Second, Kershaw makes a
tremendous product regardless of where they are manufactured and they
are big enough to handle the volumes we anticipate. Third, they showed
me the respect that I have earned. And, again, they are honest.

“This is not a collaboration, this is a partnership and the result of
this unique and first of its kind union promises to be one of the
landmark events in the history of the cutlery industry. Emerson Knives
will continue to thrive and grow just the same as it always has and
all Emerson Knives will be made the same as always right here in the
Emerson Knives factory. Ernest Emerson custom knives will also
continue on, handmade by me as they always have. Hell, I might even
make some custom versions of the Emerson Kershaw models.

“So there you have it, the story of the new alliance between Kershaw
and Emerson. I hope you like what we’ve started. If you do there’ll be
more to come.

“My Best Regards,

“Ernest Emerson”

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