A Cut Above
Alpert asked the French manufacturer if it could produce these with U.S. versions of the electrical parts. “They assured me that they could and that they had experience doing so,” she recalls. “I needed to prepay for the samples, but when they arrived, they were a total disaster: electrical fixtures were not UL approved; the cord which had been a subtle clear was an ugly black; and the lampshade didn’t even fit on this alternative light bulb socket. After all this expense, I didn’t even have something I could legally sell in our outlet store.”
Topping notes that the company’s had to migrate away from certain vendors “because they couldn’t handle the handcrafted volume we were giving them.”
For Alpert and her companies, handling such matters with myriad artisan vendors is a far cry from how she launched the business. In the beginning, she and her husband Bruce were on a quest to find a good chef’s knife. “We would go looking on the weekends,” she recalls, “and when we were done, I knew more about knives than anyone.”
Alpert left her Wall Street job at Morgan Stanley on maternity leave and eventually founded Professional Cutlery Direct. “I knew about high-end financial products and derivatives and could build technology around that,” she says. “I wanted to see if I could create a real company from $10,000 or less. That was the goal originally. But basically, I wanted to learn things on the cheap. I’d put those learnings into whatever I’d end up doing next.”
As a business model, however, “I wanted to create my own business, but [initially] didn’t believe Professional Cutlery Direct would work,” she says. “I mean, how many knives did people need?”
Freelance writer Mark Del Franco has covered the catalog/multichannel business for the past decade. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.