Knork Flatware expands Bed Bath & Beyond presence to 650 stores

WICHITA — Newton-based Knork Flatware has landed a deal to sell its products in 650 Bed Bath & Beyond stores.

“It’s obviously going to impact sales substantially for us,” Knork president Tom Carson says. “It’s probably our largest retail account for a box store.”

The company began working with the chain in 2008.

“Bed Bath & Beyond started as a test,” says Knork vice president of marketing Lacy Simon.

Initially, the flatware that features its signature knife and fork in one utensil — a Knork — was in only the Wichita Bed Bath & Beyond stores.

“It’s just built from there,” Simon says. “The product sold very well.”

The number grew to 200 before jumping to 650, though Carson notes there are many more Bed Bath & Beyond stores than that, and he’d like to be in all of them. Knork is on the chain’s bridal registry as well.

“That’s done very well for us, too,” Carson says.

“I like to get Knork anywhere there’s heavy bridal,” Simon says.

There are 200 Dillard’s stores that sell Knork.

“Right now, Dillard’s is exploring the opportunities to expand, and that might be a possibility for spring 2013,” Simon says. “Macy’s is looking at a test for next fall.”

Target and Kohl’s also carry Knork online but not in their stores. Simon says Knork’s extensive manufacturing process makes it more expensive than other flatware lines sold in those stores.

There are now about 50 Knork products and $2 million in annual sales for the company, which started in 2004 with one product that Wichita resident Mike Miller created.

“It was kind of gadgetry,” Carson says. “A fork that cuts like a knife.”

The issue was “just overcoming some of the consumer skeptics of the new kind of unfamiliar product,” Simon says.

“It was quite a struggle at the beginning.”

It sometimes still is.

“It is truly such an experiential product,” Simon says. She says the goal is always to put the product into someone’s hands.

“You’ve really got to put it in your hands to experience the functionality of it,” Carson says.

Starting out, Carson says the company sold direct to other businesses.

“The Scotch was our first restaurant locally,” he says.

“We got quite a few accounts doing that, but we didn’t want to become a distributor.”

The company made deals with some food distributors

“That’s also helped spread awareness,” Carson says.

He says everyone “liked the fork so much that we expanded the line into a full set of silverware.”

“We just continued to expand and sell to restaurants and cafeterias, schools. We attended a lot of trade shows nationwide. Again, to get it in their hands and promote the brand.”

There’s an annual Wolfgang Puck food and wine festival in Los Angeles where Knork markets to more than 50 chefs and 70 vendors.

“We tried to create the brand through doing things like that and doing shows,” Carson says.

“One of the biggest marketing pluses for us is probably ‘Top Chef,’” he says. “They’ve got quite a following, and they use our product in their show.”

Miller is still involved in design work for the company.

“He’s very creative, obviously, coming up with the product,” Carson says.

There are several new Knork products in the works, including spatulas, ladles and a knife set that has a utility knife, paring knife and chef’s knife.

“We’re very, very proud of the unique design of it,” Carson says. “It’s going to be a very nice kitchen utensil.”

The company also is expanding its line of plastic flatware, which Simon says could help it expand its in-store reach to places such as Target and Walmart.

Knork’s headquarters, which has 10 employees, is in a more than 50,000-square-foot building in Newton where products are finished and distributed. The flatware is manufactured in China.

“We have quite a bit of product on hand,” Simon says. “Our forecasting is pretty on point, so we should be able to hold up pretty well.”

Production likely will have to increase as Simon finds more places along the lines of Bed Bath & Beyond in which to sell the flatware.

“Lacy has some dreams of getting in some other box stores to enhance awareness,” Carson says.

“It’s been a process.”