Buck Knives officially opens manufacturing facility in Idaho

Although mountain life has the allure of being simple and quiet to many, life has been anything but simple and quiet for Buck Knives. The night before the grand opening ceremony for the new Buck Knives headquarters in Post Falls, Idaho, CEO CJ Buck told a private gathering of 600 employees, family members and SNEWS®, "Buck moved here to slow down and we discovered we didn't have a slow time."
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Although mountain life has the allure of being simple and quiet to many, life has been anything but simple and quiet for Buck Knives. The night before the grand opening ceremony for the new Buck Knives headquarters in Post Falls, Idaho, CEO CJ Buck told a private gathering of 600 employees, family members and SNEWS®, "Buck moved here to slow down and we discovered we didn't have a slow time."

Since announcing the company would be moving from El Cajon, Calif., in early 2003 (See SNEWS® story, Jan. 15, 2003, "Buck Knives formalizes the inevitable -- a move"), it has been full steam ahead for the 103-year-old, family-owned knife business.  

The company broke ground on the North Idaho manufacturing facility in June 2004. By February of 2005, the production line began running. And, since new employee training has been progressing ahead of expectations, the company told us it is already producing 6,000 knives a day, with the ultimate goal of 7,500 units -- each blade now carrying an outline of the state of Idaho engraved on it.

CJ Buck said the demise of competitor Imperial Schrade has been the single biggest influence on current growth for the company. Buck reported sales for 2004 at $35 million.

Although it was founded in Kansas City, Mo., Buck had been manufacturing knives in California since the end of World War II, but mounting costs and the need for a smaller facility prompted it to consider a move. In addition to Idaho, the company had looked at Bend, Ore., and Spokane, Wash., for its new home. Chairman Chuck Buck made the final decision for Idaho, saying the company has returned to its roots. His grandfather and company founder, Hoyt Buck, who made his first knife at age 13, had settled in the state in the 1920s.

From the El Cajon facility, 60 employees were asked to make the move and 50 took Buck up on the offer. The sales and marketing team -- about 18 people -- remain in the San Diego area still working in the same building that used to house Buck. More than 150 people were hired in the Post Falls area -- skilled labor that were under employed by other businesses before Buck arrived.

Phil Duckett, the company's executive vice president, said the move has been a substantial savings to the company's operating costs -- lower workman's compensation, lower energy bills, etc.

He added, "As far as the local community, it has really embraced us. We really feel important to the community and wanted."

In addition to being a major force in the company's move, Duckett also spearheaded Buck's switch from batch manufacturing to a lean manufacturing model a few years ago. Where it once took weeks to produce a knife, now employees working in what Buck terms production cells (groups) can create a knife in under an hour. Since knives could be made more quickly, large amounts of warehouse space were no longer needed. The conversion reduced the company's space requirements by more than 30 percent, prompting it to consider a move out of its 180,000-square-foot facility in El Cajon.  

"When we switched to lean manufacturing, we started questioning why we were in such a big facility," said Veronica Cox, Buck's vice president of marketing. "Then if we were going to make the switch, why not look outside of California."

Duckett said there were also a lot of obstacles with Buck's old facility in California that were hard to work around. "It wasn't flexible because it was three separate buildings with lots of different walls. So we were able to design this building to accommodate our lean flow. It has maximum flexibility and it's a brand new design. It's actually 50,000 square feet smaller, but more efficient."

Buck was also able to incorporate some creature comforts into the new 128,000-square-foot facility, including air conditioning in the manufacturing area. "One of the big driving factors is the cost of electricity. It's so much less up here it makes it feasible to air condition your factory, whereas in California it would bankrupt you," Duckett said.
 
The move has been a boon to the 50 employees who moved to Idaho, increasing their quality of life dramatically. In California many rented apartments and trailers and now own homes in north Idaho for less than they were renting, he said.

One employee was quoted in a San Diego Union article published in December of 2003 noting that his rental in Santee was $1,450 per month, while his mortgage on his house in Idaho is only $720.

According to that same San Diego Union report, employees who made the move from California to Idaho were also paid $4,000 to cover moving costs. Those who elected not to move but continued to work for the company in California until the facility closed received bonuses ranging from $4,000 to $5,000.

To celebrate the move -- which came in under budget and before deadline -- Buck invited its new community to a ribbon-cutting ceremony on May 21. After a welcome letter from Governor Dirk Kempthorne and a speech from Idaho Sen. Larry Craig, hundreds looked on as CJ and Chuck Buck were all smiles while Clay Larkin, the mayor of Post Falls, cut the ribbon using -- what else? -- a 3-foot Buck scimitar specially made for the event.

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What a party! Post Falls has really rolled out the red carpet, making not only Buck execs feel welcome, but every Buck employee too. The local bus company added a stop to accommodate visitors to northern Idaho who want to take a factory tour. The Coeur d'Alene and Post Falls Press newspaper published a special 16-page insert on the Buck grand opening with numerous ads from local businesses welcoming the company to the area. The state also opened its arms too, providing training funds for employees, as well as tax breaks for the new company.

It's been quite the turnaround for CEO CJ Buck, who took over as CEO of the company in 1999 when it was really beginning to struggle. From the first company losses in as long as anyone could remember to solid sales growth and a glint of profits in 2002, Buck is looking as sharp as the blades the company produces each day. Though the company is still a far cry from the heady sales it experienced in the early '90s (just shy of $50 million in 1994), being able to realize $35 million in 2004, with sales increases expected again this year AND annual expenses trimmed by $3 million thanks to an Idaho move has everyone smiling we're sure.
 

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