The Pete Kershaw Story
“How in the world did you ever wind up in the knife business Pete”. That’s a question I’m still asked. Sometimes for the fun of it I joke that as a kid I was a knife fighter at county fairs and was losing a lot. In order to win I needed to design and make a really good knife. That usually ends any further conversation.
The real answer is that after graduating from college and a couple of uninteresting “big company” jobs later, I met Pete Gerber of Gerber Legendary Blades in Portland, Oregon. I was with them from 1967 until 1974 serving as National Sales Manager. Pete Gerber sometimes referred to me as the “Sales Mangler”. Whatever… it was a good training ground in the quality end of the cutlery business.
After those seven years I felt it was time to take a shot at starting our own business. So we did. It was fun, a challenge, and thankfully, successful. We had come to the conclusion that there was a market for a range of high quality hunting knives and pocketknives. I had designs in my mind and roughed out on paper napkins. Not being a draftsman or industrial designer that was about as far as I could go. We didn't have the resources to build a manufacturing plant, and when I looked around the existing American knife industry I didn't see a possibility to have our line made by anyone. In 1974 there were a few very good custom knife makers like Bo Randall and Bob Loveless, but there was no way they could meet the production level that we needed to make everything succeed.
In short, I needed to get the show on the road by the end of the year. Nearly an impossible fete now that I look back. Only ideas, no blueprints and only $100,000. of borrowed money, and a lovely wife and daughter who counted on me.
A primary cornerstone was to create a product that would come as closes as possible to "custom knife quality with production knife prices".
Over the previous years I had seen various Japanese knife manufactures showing their wares. Not too impressive, but almost right. The problem was that they cut corners to meet price demands required by high volume American and European retailers. Emerging at the time were such high quality brands as Nikon cameras, Sony electronics, and automotive companies. My reasoning was that a good pocketknife couldn’t be as difficult to make as top quality camera.
So...off Judy and I went to Japan in April 1974, with rough drawings for a line of four pocket knives and six non folding hunting knives.
In the end we chose Kai- we liked their stability. They were a sound and very large company specializing in a wide range of cutlery products. They liked our vision and we liked stability and manufacturing capacity. From the beginning they quizzed me on what our target price on a knife was. My answer always was, "here is the type of steel we want, here is the fit and finish we need, no cutting corners...now you figure what that will cost, take profit that is reasonable and we will go from there, and most important. Every Kershaw Knife must be shaving sharp when the customer opens the box. A business was born !!
Since I was a kid growing up on a pear orchard near Medford, Oregon I have enjoyed hunting, fishing and always working on equipment and all the various stuff that requires a good knife. So the seed was there to get into the knife business even though I didn’t have a clue at the time during the 1940’s and 50’s. (knives weren’t the only thing I didn’t have a clue about in those days)
What a great fit for me. I liked knives and enjoyed the excitement of setting up dealers and distributors while attending trade shows worldwide. Fortunately many of our customers and sales agents shared the same interest in the outdoors so in effect the knives became a ticket to “sporting adventures”. Shooting driven English pheasants or stalking red deer in Scotland are highly enjoyable activities brought about by the knife business. I still enjoy this and plan on many more years of it.
Regards, Pete Kershaw
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