Blade Show

What’s the deal with Gerber?

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What is the deal with Gerber these days?

We at TTAK have been critical of Gerber and the decline of a once great knife brand. Nathan has even gone as far as to say “Gerber Sucks!” in a post last year. This is a defensible position, given their run of recalls and marketing machine that seems to place more importance on celebrity endorsements than on the product itself.

This is one of the storylines that I wanted to investigate while I was at the Blade Show. The show is a fantastic opportunity to talk face to face with industry legends, independent knifemakers, and representatives of the larger production houses. And there is no one larger than Gerber. One problem though, Gerber wasn’t at Blade. It turns out that they haven’t attended in years.

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Couldn’t work out your schedule to make it to the worlds largest knife show? Something is rotten in the State of Finland.

I was so overwhelmed by my first Blade Show last year, that I hadn’t noticed. However, when David and I began to inquire about this year about Gerber’s absence it became obvious that people have noticed. Including people whose level of respect in the knife world is unquestioned.

Questions abounded on the show floor.

Does Gerber still consider itself a knife company? After all, they are a subsidiary of Finnish manufacturing giant Fiskars. The new president of Gerber, Rob Kass has a background in tool and durable goods manufacturing, not knives. They have been hit with large civil penalties over their recalls including most recently a $2.6 million judgement in January related to a failure associated with the Gator Combo Axe handle in 2010. Is Gerber in financial difficulty? If Colt could go belly-up this month, no company is safe, even one who has been around since 1939 and has decades of tradition and history behind it. Just what is happening at Gerber anyway?

On a whim, I sent a tweet to Gerber simply asking why they were not at Blade. To my surprise, I actually received a tweet response, saying that they were disappointed to have missed it, and plan on returning next year. I hadn’t yet realized that this had been an ongoing situation, and I sensed an opportunity to do some real investigative reporting and try to get exclusive, original content for the blog. I pressed on.

I decided to compose the following email and sent it to both Gerber’s Sales and Info addresses. I also sent a follow-up message to whomever was handling their social media giving them a heads up and hoping that since I had someone’s attention that there would be follow through and a response.

To the Representatives of Gerber Legendary Blades,

My name is Clay Aalders, Managing Editor of TheTruth About Knives.
I have been in contact with Gerber via Twitter (@knifetruth), and did receive a response, but I am looking for more by way of explanation than a tweet. Ideally, I would like to do a short phone interview with a someone from your PR Department or other applicable representative.
Primarily, I would like to discuss your absence from the Blade Show this past weekend. It was noticed by most, and discussed by many on the show floor. Our readers would like to know more about the situation, especially given the rough run that Gerber has had with regards to QC and recalls of certain tools of late.
I would appreciate the courtesy of a response to my inquiry. I am not looking to bash Gerber by any means, but I am noticing a distinct negative perception of Gerber that is metastasizing among makers, our readers, and the more savvy knife consumers out there. I would be shocked if you are unaware of this, and as someone who has used Gerber tools for years (I carried a multi-tool in my fire gear when I was on a department in college among others), I would be very disappointed if Gerber did not have a plan in place to reverse the trend.
I can be reached at xxx-xxx-xxxx, or would welcome an emailed response as well.
Thank you for your time and consideration.

Two days later I received a response from Andrew Gritzbaugh, Marketing Communications Manager for the Gerber Company. He agreed to do a phone interview with me which occurred this past Wednesday. I wasn’t sure what to expect. I am a bit jaded towards the company, in fact David and my original idea was to do a question of the day piece titled “Is Gerber still a knife company?”. I didn’t want to default to a hit-piece though without at least reaching out to the company for official comment. I didn’t expect quite the level of openness or frankness that I received however.

First a little bit of background on Mr. Gritzbaugh. He is an 8-year Army veteran who has been with Gerber for the past 4 years, 3 on the Tactical Marketing team, and the past year as Marketing Communications Manager. He has been a lifelong outdoorsman who does seem to know knives. If I had to formulate a judgement based on our correspondence and 20 minute phone call, I would say that Andrew “gets it”. Whether or not he is surrounded by people both above and below him that share in this is something I cannot yet say. But as they say, the first step on the road to recovery is admitting that you have a problem. And I was shocked with how Andrew opened the interview.

You are not wrong“, is how he started. He went on to explain that Gerber is well aware of the perception that I said “is metastasizing” in the knife world, and does have a grand plan to right the ship. In fact, he claims that a plan has been underway for a couple of years now and he has personally noticed a clear directional shift in the company.

Of course, Andrew is a PR guy, and some of his answers were kind of flacky. None more so than his response to the recall situation. In fairness, several of the recalls are on sheaths with stitching and other minor issues, but several are on knives themselves including the Bear Grylls parang which has a tendency to snap off at the neck, or the failure of the locking mechanisms on the Cohort and Instant.

When asked, Andrew says that QC is important to Gerber, and when you have production runs the size that Gerber does, the small percentages get larger in absolute terms, so while a dozen failures might trigger action for Gerber, similar percentages of failure might go unnoticed in the normal course of warranty transactions in a smaller company.

To a degree this makes sense, but is still a little weak. When Andrew says that the recalls and settlements are derived from products that were released several years ago, and that since then there have been many changes within the company that should prevent similar situations in the future, he backs it up with some examples.

Apparently, the last several years have seen expansion of Gerber’s USA production. American made knives have represented an increasing percentage of overall production each of the last couple of years. While many of their knives are made from solid but pedestrian 420HC, they are branching out into higer-end steels. The Edict is made from 154CM, the same as my Benchmade Mini-Grip. Their new Gator Premium fixed blade is made from S30V, a premium steel in any league.

The knife that Andrew is most excited about is the new StrongArm fixed blade. This 420HC blade is designed and made in Portland, OR. It is a robust piece of steel that comes with a modular sheath system for multiple carry and deployment options.

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I will be giving the Strong Arm the same treatment I showed the Wharny and Kraken. We will see if this blade can earn a place on my hip while guiding.

One perception problem that Gerber has had to contend with relates to the market saturation of their Bear Grylls line. As Andrew sates, this is a double-edged sword. On one hand, the prominence of the line has provided an entry point to the knife world for countless consumers. The whole industry “benefits from the mass introduction of people to blades”. Unfortunately, the QC problems and the ubiquitousness of the advertising and the BG knives’ presence in so many big-box retail outlets has made this a bit of the “face of Gerber”, and their reputation among exhisting knife enthusiasts has suffered.

Andrew wishes that the Bear Grylls line did not overshadow their other work so much.

“It is my hope that we are doing the right thing (as a company), and that we find a way to inform the public of the exciting things that are happening at Gerber”

He says that while the new President does not have a knife background, Mr. Kass has put his trust in the designers and craftsman, and is instead putting his experience to work at improving QC and “Brand Differentiation”.  As someone who has been with the company before the transition through to today, Andrew swears that there is a noticeable difference in both attitude and the production itself.

All of these words are meaningless unless the steel is up to par. Andrew has agreed to send us several of Gerber’s new offerings for testing and review. I am going to send Nathan the Gator Premium S30V, both because of his skepticism of Gerber and because he has a thing for the premium steel. If this knife manages to impress Nathan on its merits, it will really be saying something.

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I will be sending the Gator Premium to Nathan to see if this S30V drop point can convince him to give Gerber another try.

Andrew has said that he will be sending me 3 other knives as well. A Ghost Strike, a Propel auto (huzzah for Tennessee Knife Freedom), and Andrew’s favorite the StrongArm. I will be testing the latter 2 personally, and will be sending the GhostStrike to either David (if he can have something double edged in MD- I will have to look) otherwise I will likely pass it along to Jon Marshall who is a fellow resident of the free-State of Tennessee.

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I am excited to test my first automatic

We will provide as thorough of a review of these knives as we can.  Lots of testing and pictures. I won’t take a PR representative at his word necessarily, but as I said Mr. Gritzbaugh seems to get it. Trust but Verify. I am willing to give Gerber another chance, but will be frank and honest in my assessment. If these knives can stand up to what I put my Mora Bushcraft, Wood’s Kraken, or Wilmont Wharny through, I will recommend them enthusiastically. If they fail, I will be saddened to see that a company with the pedigree of Gerber still doesn’t get it.

One last thing that gives me hope is that Gerber still does produce some tools that are well made and have a devoted following. Their multi-tools have been on the Army’s list of issue kit (the RFI program). Andrew told me of how he receives handwritten testimonials from soldiers describing how they rely on their Gerber tools on a daily basis. He has even received pictures of soldiers who have gotten tattoos of the Gerber logo. While that is not a step I would consider taking for any company, it does show a level of devotion that is hard to match.

I myself carried a Gerber multitool in my fire gear back in the day, I particularly liked how the pliers were deployable without removing one’s gloves. It was a solidly built tool that served me well in a number of capacities. I still have the sheath floating around though the tool itself has long been lost.

I am reminded of Star Wars where Luke tells his father, “there is good in you yet, I can feel it”. That is how I feel about Gerber at this point. It takes years to build a reputation, and that can be brought down overnight. Gerber has a long road back, but they appear to be at least walking down that road.

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Discussion

24 responses to ‘What’s the deal with Gerber?

  1. I would attribute most of their problems to Chinese production. I bought a Gerber tool which I found inadequate except for the sheath. I would expect those made in Portland to be well made. I like the looks of the Gator Premium and the Strongarm.

    • CRKT and others do just fine in China. I am hoping that this is where Mr. Cass’s expertise pays dividends. Fiskars obviously has a large presence in China and hopefully he can straighten things out.

    • People love a scape goat, and it’s easy to point to the Chinese, but that’s pretty ignorant. Maybe its stupidity at this point. I don’t know.

      Nobody likes being generalized, especially when you don’t take into account surrounding context. Just ask black people. Lots of companies make really nice things with Chinese manufacturing. The basic concept of “pay for what you get” applies even overseas. If you pay a manufacturer good money, you’ll get a good product. Chinese manufacturers have an agreement where if you pay this much money, you get this much quality. Gerber opts to pay for the low tier money, and you get the low tier quality. That is an outcome made by a business decision, not manufacturing ability.

      You know what would be hilarious? Paying people like Sam L. the same they give Chinese manufacturers and test the end product. Have a good day everyone!

      • There are many quality knives (and other items) that come from China. I mentioned CRKT because I like how they take designs from big names and bring them to market at a price point that most people can afford. Spyderco won import of the year for a Chinese knife at Blade.

        Chinese manufacturing strength is in their ability replicate well and cost effectively. They lag slightly behind in innovating on their own, though this gap has narrowed considerably in recent years.

        I spent some time chatting with the folks from Kizer. Their knives are starting to make waves and they are Chinese owned and made from top to bottom. I handled some of their knives at the show, and they seem solid for the price.

        Likewise, not all Chinese steel is the same. There is a lot of mystery metal and low-end stuff, but some like 8Cr13MoV is excellent and finds its way into knives from Spyderco, Kershaw, and SOG.

        As you said, you get what you pay for. Do your homework, there is a review on pretty much anything whether it is from TTAK or another site. Google Fu will help you separate the wheat from the chaff.

        My reluctance to carry Chinese blades on a regular basis is more emotional. I don’t like the constant reminder of the decline of American manufacturing every time I draw my tool. It isn’t a knock on the Chinese, rather I chose to reward those companies that take the risk and invest in the USA as a proactive measure.

      • I’ve working in mfg in US and China for years. Yes you CAN get good quality gear out of the chicoms. BUT you have to install Western/Americans to oversee production (thru shipment). They will cheap/rob you blind at any/every stage of production for peanuts if think can get away with it. Its the chicoms/PLA vs the US. Can think it is a game but likely much more.

        All the Western designed/spec outdoors, firearms, tactical kit also provides the PLA with higher quality inexpensive kit. We may not be at war with them but they are at war with us.

  2. ill be honest with you, I had a really moment of “OH SHIT” when i read last years article about the recalls on several of Gerbers products, especially the BG parang…because i received one as a gift several years ago, and then i literally chopped a 10 inch tree in HALF with one a few years back. I dont even remember the reason why, but i did it. and then i read about how people were snapping them and i just thought to myself “im glad that didnt happen to me.” But regardless, i hope that Gerber does continue to step up their QC in production, and i would love to see them turn it around.

    But for now, while my friends are constantly asking me what knife they should buy, because they know im the knife guy, i will continue to not recommend Gerber knives until i have seen some products that really seem quality to me.

    take for example that “the edict” knife that you have a link to up there….for $80 bucks i can get an amazing quality CRKT knife, or spyderco that doesnt look so damn cheap. But, to each their own.

  3. Looking forward to the Propel review. My A6 Auto (s30v, made in the USA) has been and continues to be a solid performer.

  4. when i broke my leatherman squirt i tried a bear gryllis multi tool. the first task i asked of it was to squeeze shut the uppermost german speed lace hook (unused) on my redwing boots so as not to trip. the tool snapped immediately.
    as kids we always ogled the gerber displays at the sporting goods stores. they seemed oh so slightly more exotic than the buck products that we also could not afford.
    shame.

  5. Mentioning gun manufacturer Colt in Clay’s article about Gerber is telling in that both businesses have been plagued for years with poor management, occasional design snafus and quality control issues. Though I’d hate to see either company implode and go out of business, should that happen it will be their fault.

    By the way I live less than ten miles from Gerber’s Portland factory where apparently they still produce some of their knives.

    • Apparently more percentage wise than in a long time. We (TTAK staff) are probably goung to pick up up a couple of their Chinese folders and test those too Since they are only sending usa made stuff.

  6. Thanks for undertaking this evaluation Clay. I will be very interested to hear how the testing goes. My perception of Gerber took a nose dive when the Bear Grylls products were seemingly given priority. The final straw was when I read on their website that their Automatic models were restricted sales since they should only be handled by people with the proper training. That verbiage hasn’t been visible for over a year and hopefully the mentality that drove it has gone by the wayside as well.

    Having been a fan of many classic Gerber designs Since the early 80s – particularly the Mark I, I certainly hope there is room in their product suite for a higher end line that we won’t see in clamshell packaging at Walmart.

    A quick search on eBay is all the proof anyone needs that there is a market out there for fans of the old school Gerber Legendary Blades.

    • I think the auto restrictions were just laziness. It is hard to keep track of the myriad local restrictions and it is easier to just restrict what is a small portion of your overall sales rather than deal with it. Just a guess

  7. Thanks for the article. I had no idea things had gotten so bad w/ Gerber. I know some of their offerings had leaned towards hokie lately butt dang. I have been EDCing a fine edge magnum jr. for years and I do not know what I am going to do as they have stopped production on it.

  8. Clay,
    Thanks for the review. Here’s hoping that Gerber vets it’s QC control act together.
    They can make great stuff. I’ve carried this for 5+ years and love it:http://www.gerbergear.com/Essentials/Knives/Vallotton-Knife_22-4152

    Holds an edge incredibly well. Still solid. But friends who put based it on my recommendation got duds.

    Maybe they could also bring back some of their great knives of yesterday- the A400 drop point hunters for one. But no matter how innovative the design, QC on build and blades has to improve for every knife in every line.

    I hope your prodding contributes to the turn around.

  9. Used to love Gerbers. You can kind of tell which blades are good and not from reviews, though, and it’s been a while since I’ve been intrigued by anything. The multitool I have from them is pretty awesome, though.

  10. I cant wait to see the follow up review of the “Ghostrike”. I have been searching for the perfect edc knife forever now that will also work for concealment and defense in a pinch. Its between the Esee – “Izula 2”, the CRKT – “Obake” , or the afore mentioned “Ghostrike”. Over-all I like the measurements, the easy side draw set-up, and the one piece construction. But I’m skeptical of the steel being not solid enough to retain an edge with daily use. Cant wait to see how she does!

  11. This is way late for a comment. However, I have very recently purchased a Gerber ‘Moment’ field cleaning kit, consisting of a small boner and a skinner with guthook. 5CR15MOV steel with grippy rubber handles. I am yet to use these knives of course, as they only arrived yesterday. They come with a double knife nylon sheath and out of the plastic pack are shaving sharp. I just gave them a quick strop to smooth off the edge. These mass produced kits are designed and ‘engineered’ in Oregon, but are made in China. I’ll be posting my thoughts on these knives when I get time to go out bush and snare a roo or a pig (but probably a hare). I’m glad I have belatedly found your blog.

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