A Cut Above
From Mason jars to the Michelin Man, if you can dream it, Rutland, Vermont-based Promo Cookie Cutters can mold it. The supplier’s parent, Ann Clark Cookie Cutters, launched in 1989 and entered the promotional products business with Promo Cookie Cutters (PPAI 179701) in 1991. CEO Ben Clark, Ann Clark’s son, joined the family venture in 1998.
The company’s first cutter was a pig designed by the parent company’s namesake, an artist, and was offered along with Christmas ornaments, a cutting board and coasters. The ornaments, cutting board and coasters went by the wayside as the cutters received more attention. Cow and sheep shapes soon followed, and today the company offers several hundred unique, seasonal and custom shape cutters.
“Our business was initially wholesale, but what we soon learned was that we could do custom shapes and combine them with recipe cards,” says Clark. “We are making millions of cookie cutters—we have approximately 2,350 dies and are adding three to four a week.”
Popular shapes include the “#1” shape, a mermaid tail, unicorn head, dog bone and shapes for major holidays, weddings and graduations.
As the popularity of cutters grew, the company was able to buy out its original supplier and has reportedly grown to become the largest cookie cutter manufacturer in the world. “We recently created 70,000 pieces in a week and a half for one client, and we built a second die for that program to handle the volume,” he says. “Because we make everything, our ability to respond quickly is there.”
Word of mouth brings new and returning business to the promo division, says Clark, and that word often begins with the potential client. “Most of what we sell is the result of an end user seeing our products and asking their distributor [to contact us]. So, we dramatically increased the content we put on our website,” he says.
The promotional business is strong—the company runs between 300 and 400 programs a year—but Clark says many distributors struggle to see cookie cutters as an item worth pitching to a client.
“But a good promo item is simply something that the recipient will use, and every time you eat a cookie or make a cookie, you remember the company [that gave you the cookie cutter]. We’ve done thousands of custom programs, and the people who have done them and liked them will say so,” he says.
“Often, we will have a distributor asking for a specific product, but we always ask them first about the program and the client,” says Clark, explaining that this ensures the right product ends up in the hands of the client and the client’s target audience.
The Right Stuff
Ben Clark explains how his company hires and trains its employees to ensure the long-term success of Promo Cookie Cutters.
Vermont is known as a place where residents aren’t afraid of hard work. Even large companies such as GE and IBM take advantage of the local workforce by establishing operations there. “The work ethic here is phenomenal, so it’s not difficult to find good employees,” says Clark.
Promo Cookie Cutters employs lean manufacturing processes, and many of the team members have been through the training. “We talk about process here a lot—to be able to build a program, do it right and get it out on time. We work hard at our process and we’re always looking to improve.”
Employees who have a direct hand in producing the cookie cutters are trained on-site “because there is no cookie cutter manufacturer training,” he says. Candidate interviews include hands-on demonstrations, and new hires are trained in “production cells” alongside tenured employees. They also participate in offsite training, online training in software skills, and lean manufacturing practices.
More than this, says Clark, it’s important that his company’s employees exhibit good character. “Our biggest non-negotiable is that we hire people with character. I want to be able to introduce my family to our people.”
About Promo Cookie Cutters
Principals: Ann Clark, president; Ben Clark, CEO; Kevin Coleman, CFO; Elizabeth Clark Craib, owner; John Romano, promotional sales manager
Number of orders filled per year: 300-400 custom programs per year; capable of producing as many as 70,000 pieces in less than two weeks
Notable accomplishments: The company was featured in a #MadeInAmerica segment on ABC Nightly News in December, which can be viewed at http://abcn.ws/2kmwJAE
Size of production facility: 17,000 square-foot factory
Number of employees: 48
Types of specialized equipment: Custom dies, custom roll formers and proprietary forming tables, welders and assembly equipment
Jen Alexander is associate editor of PPB.