WALNUT RIDGE -- A brand known by several generations because of clever television marketing is one of the best-kept secrets in northeast Arkansas.
Despite the worldwide fame of Ginsu knives and their lasting impact on the concept of infomercials, many don't realize that the knives, along with American Angler knives and ReadiVac vacuum cleaners, are packaged and shipped from Walnut Ridge.
Douglas Quikut is the parent company of the brands, formed in 1964 by the merger of Douglas, an automotive product company, and Quikut, a knife manufacturer. In 1972, the Walnut Ridge plant was built. President and general manager Jeffrey Griffin said a group was scouting locations and happened to become fond of northeast Arkansas.
"It ended up with one guy liking the area and deciding this was the place to put the business," Griffin said.
The plant that now employs about 40 once boasted close to 120 employees, with another 120 working in a separate blade plant. When the infomercials began their run in 1975, Griffin said that between 6 million to 8 million units sold in an eight-year period. All of those knives were made in Walnut Ridge.
The products coming out of Lawrence County came with a guarantee, too. A 50-year warranty accompanied each knife set, and Griffin said the Walnut Ridge plant still supports that promise.
"We still get knives, like I said, some of them are from the 1980s and early 1990s," Griffin said. "Obviously, some of our employees weren't even born yet, and so when you think about that, we're still taking care of and replacing knives that old, it's quite something.
"I can't tell you how many people who have found out I'm the president of this company and say, 'Hey, I've still got my Ginsu,'" he said.
The Ginsu ads were among the first TV commercials to include such phrases as "Now how much would you pay?" and "Call now! Operators are standing by." Younger readers may think of the late OxiClean pitchman Billy Mays when they hear the phrase, "But wait, there's more!" But that line was a fixture of the Ginsu knives commercials of the 1970s. The ads took elements of 1960s-era commercials by Ronco founder Ron Popeil and helped create the advertising combination of bonus offers and sale prices that television viewers have become accustomed to seeing.
Syracuse University media scholar Robert Thompson has called Ginsu's ads "the pitch of all pitches."
In 2006, most of the blade manufacturing moved overseas, Griffin said, but the company retained a significant presence in Walnut Ridge.
In the facility, not only are Ginsu, American Angler and ReadiVac products packaged and shipped around the world, but the company makes products for other organizations, too. Pampered Chef paring knives are manufactured entirely at the Walnut Ridge facility, in addition to the Oreck Ironman vacuum cleaner and accessories for Kirby vacuum cleaners.
As the story goes, another famous moment in infomercial history originated at the Douglas Quikut factory, when David Oreck demonstrated the power of his vacuum cleaner by holding up a bowling ball with the vacuum cleaner's suction.
"We have had a stream of engineers through this facility, really kind of shocking if you go to the amount of products and concepts that were formulated," Griffin said. "Supposedly, the Oreck bowling ball test came from our engineers here who said, 'Look, this is how strong of suction this thing has,' and of course, Mr. Oreck used it as a tool to wow in the commercial."
While the company has operated in Lawrence County since the early 1970s, its most difficult years came from the recession of the late 2000s. Griffin said the company is now working to reinvigorate itself.
The company's sales are almost 100 percent online, with some sales coming from American Angler's presence in Wal-Mart stores. The company is hopeful that the Ginsu brand, which it says is second only to Farberware in name recognition among knife manufacturers, gets picked up by Wal-Mart, too.
Griffin said that would create more jobs in Walnut Ridge overnight. He said that for every $300,000 in sales, a new full-time position is needed.
The company also plans a series of television advertisements for this year that have a familiar touch, national sales manager Sarah Thielemier said.
"We're featuring our 'As Seen on TV' commercial with our stainless steel set," Thielemier said. "They'll cut back and forth between the original video and the new, updated millennial version."
Thielemier said the new commercial will include a bonus offer that is announced with the famous line, "But wait, there's more!"
Metro on 06/25/2016