Tony Armstrong was getting tired of losing $30 pocketknives after cutting twine or net-wrap from bales fed to his 100-head beef herd near Kaycee, WY, just an hour north of Casper.
So the hay grower and rancher built a cheap alternative called the Kaycee Cutter. He and his wife, Milisa, have made a thriving second business selling the product nationwide.
The cutter consists of a heavy-duty razor blade encased in a plastic handle. It beats out a pocketknife because the blade doesn't need to be unfolded. That, in turn, means gloves can stay on, says Milisa Armstrong.
“It gets really cold here, so you always have on coveralls and gloves. A lot of times, when you go to stick your pocketknife back in your pocket, it slips between your pants and your coveralls and you never find it again,” says Armstong. “So my husband came up with this. It slips in and out of your pocket and if you lose it, you've just lost $5.”
It's safer than the alternatives many people use to cut bales or net, she says. “A lot of people have told us things like, ‘I'm going to buy one for my wife because we use an old sicklebar.’ Or, ‘This is so much safer than the hatchet my kids have been using.’ ”
After getting the cutter manufactured at a Riverton, WY, plastic injection molding company, the couple started selling it locally and through a Western catalog. Then Armstrong explored the Internet and found that Tractor Supply Co., which calls itself the “largest retail farm and ranch store chain in the United States,” has two meetings a year to review products.
“You can call them and set up an appointment and they'll review your product,” she says. “So I said, ‘Let's go to Tractor Supply.’ ” The problem was that the December meeting was in Tennessee, and Tony was skeptical that it was worth the drive and time away from the ranch.
At first, it appeared that disbelief was justified. They battled a snowstorm to get there and were given to the wrong type of buyer. “The gal was nonchalant and said, ‘I'll see if somebody else wants to look at it,’ ” Armstrong recalls.
“But I didn't drive all the way to Tennessee to hear that. I told them, you guys gave us the wrong buyer. We need to see somebody else. We ended up with the vice president of the company and he loved it. He said, ‘This is money in the bank for Tractor Supply.’
“So there we started,” says Armstrong, who's in charge of the marketing and shipping. In the last six years they've sold more than 34,000 of the cutters.
Her marketing efforts aren't stopping with Tractor Supply. She has proposals in to other store chains and is also marketing the product to paper mills and other commercial industries with materials that are bound with plastic or mesh wrap.
Their marketing success was gained through experience. Although they've been ranching for 10 years, the couple has also owned several businesses. They used to construct houses, build and sell iron furniture and Armstrong even had a sideline business of making and marketing barbecue sauce. As their family and career aims shifted, they sold the iron furniture and barbecue businesses.
But Armstrong says she's learned a couple of key marketing strategies: The squeaky wheel gets the grease and the worst thing someone can say is “No.” The Internet, she adds, is a great resource.
“It's amazing. I've had such good luck in finding places on the Internet to market it to. I'll send them emails and say, ‘Look at our Web site.’ I've gotten quite a bit of response from that.”
For information on or to buy the Kaycee Cutter, visit www.kayceecutter.com or call 877-738-2423.