The cutting edge

John Howe’s ’07 first sales pitch as an employee of Vector Marketing selling Cutco knives did not go as planned. The potential customer, a friend’s mother, cut herself while Howe was giving her a demonstration. Not helpful for someone who said he was “nervous” when starting the job.
“It was not the best start, but it was pretty funny,” Howe said.

Howe was one of nine students who worked for Vector Marketing, the sole distributor of Cutco products, last summer. In the past couple of years, the company has begun to focus more on recruiting through high schools, said Cady Barr, campus relations manager for Vector Marketing. Assistant Division Manager for Vector Marketing Rick Leahy said that they usually advertise to Harvard-Westlake students by placing an ad in the Chronicle.

Adam Sieff ’07, who was named the top seller in the Los Angeles region second only to Alex Valner ’07, heard of Cutco while working as Chief Financial Officer of the Chronicle.
Vector Marketing has a history of working with Harvard-Westlake students. Zach Lutsky ’93, who is now an emergency room doctor, worked with Vector Marketing 11 years ago and eventually ran a branch office, Leahy said. Lutsky could not be reached for comment.

To apply, students have to be either 17 or 18 and have graduated from high school. Once they apply they are asked to come in for what Leahy calls a “professional interview,” and if they are well received they are asked to stay for an “informational interview.”

“Students by and large are a lot more fun and a lot more low key than a lot of professionals,” Leahy said.

Leahy also said that they do not like to hire “pushy sales people.”

Recruits go through what Howe called an “intense” training process where they are trained to give presentations on the product. Barr said that presentations usually last 35 minutes to an hour.

After his rough start, Howe got the hang of selling and made what he called “a sizeable amount” of money. Howe also did not work for as long as others and initially looked into the job because he could work it around a trip he had planned to take during July.

Valner said he  does not remember how much money he made to become the top seller in the region but suspects he made over $9,000.

“The more and more you sell the more free stuff you get,” he said. Valner said he received free dinners at restaurants and free products from the Cutco catalogue.

Howe said he learned “people skills” from the job.

“Working one-on-one with someone and having to try and sell a product to them is not a very easy thing to do,” he said.

Sieff compared the job to working on a political campaign.
“It’s really just a conversation,” he said.

Leahy said client lists are based primarily on personal relationships. Both Howe and Sieff began by selling to family friends and friends’ parents. Through that, Sieff said, it expands by referrals. Students receive guaranteed pay of $16  per sales pitch even if they do not make a sale or a percent of their commission if they do, Barr said.

Leahy said they receive whichever is higher. Howe said as time went on, commissions got higher as a form of promotion. Each of the nine students who worked with Cutco last summer received at least two promotions, Leahy said.

Vector Marketing also hires people through referrals, which is how Trevor Abbott ’08 ended up working for them. Leahy said half of the Harvard-Westlake students working for them, including Valner, were hired through referrals. Leahy said Ethan Mantel ’07 was the student who recommended the most. Howe recommended Abbott, not realizing that Abbott, who was 17 at the time and a rising senior, was not eligible to work for the company.

Abbott said his boss “let it slip” and allowed him to work. Abbott, who said he worked less than most, said he liked the flexibility of the program.

“It’s more up to you,” he said.