Profile of Success: Sharp Management
Background: After his favorite whetstone was lost in a move from California to Arkansas in 1964, A.G. Russell struggled to find another stone like it in local hardware stores. He ended up ordering a number of the stones direct from the manufacturer. Assuming other knife enthusiasts would be interested in buying them, he sought to sell them via space ads in outdoor magazines. Soon he acquired a stock of knives and found himself in the mail order knife business, as well.
Following nearly 25 years of ups and downs, Russell asked Goldie, his second wife and a former art teacher, to join the company. She spearheaded the relaunch of the catalog the following year.
Biggest Career Challenges:
Educating service providers: The Russells have had difficulty explaining their business model to northwest Arkansas accountants, bankers and lawyers. A.G. says that, among other things, they didn’t understand why it would take awhile to provide ROI in mail order.
Competing for qualified employees: “For 15 years, the economy in this area has been so hot that it’s just really difficult to find good people,” A.G. says.
How They Dealt With These Challenges:
Grew the business: The company has grown 1,500 percent since Goldie took over day-to-day operations. “As you become more successful,” she says, “[service providers] become more comfortable dealing with you.”
Recruited nationally: A.G. and Goldie last year began recruiting efforts outside their immediate geographic area. For instance, last August they hired an engineer from New York to assist in producing knife designs.
Biggest Mistake and Recovery:
“We started over-mailing without doing enough research,” Goldie admits. Sales reached an all-time high; profits dropped. But recovery took less than a year. “We’ve recovered by doing a lot of statistical work to discover what our mistakes were. We adjusted appropriately,” she says.