Sunday, September 09, 2001

BladEater cutting through competition

Holster combines utility blade snapper, refiller

By By Jenny Callison
Enquirer contributor

        Mary Kay Hansen is proof that success is 10 percent inspiration and 90 percent perspiration.

        Her invention, the BladEater holster, has received national attention this summer, and sales are climbing. But for every marketing triumph she scores, there have been many exhausting hours of trial-and-error in developing her product. The project has required four-and-a-half long and expensive years.

        The process of taking a product from concept to reality has paralleled a journey of self-discovery for the Loveland resident. When her marriage broke up, she was crushed and wondered how she could support herself. Soon, however, her natural optimism asserted itself, and she took stock of her talents and assets.

[photo] Mary Kay Hansen invented the BladEater after noticing how much time she wasted replacing blades in her utility knife while hanging wallpaper.
(Tony Jones photo)
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        An inveterate crafter and self-taught decorator, she decided her future lay in selling her wares and skills. She opened a small craft shop, then a wallpapering and painting business. She took any jobs that came along.

        “I was wallpapering by myself late one night,” she recalled. “It was about 2:30 a.m. and I was so tired. I became very frustrated as I tried to snap off the end of my utility knife blade every time it got dull, and thought, "There has got to be a better way.' Then it came to me: I could invent a better way.

        “Some knife directions tell you to use the narrow slit in the end cap of the knife to snap blade segments,” she explained. “Other knife directions tell you to use pliers. These methods require the use of two hands and are not only time-consuming but also very dangerous, especially while hanging from a ladder or scaffold.”

        In her wallpapering work, Ms. Hansen estimates she would break off 40 to 60 scored-knife segments a day. If each became a major interruption, her productivity plunged.

        There were other inconveniences associated with knife use. Blade changing meant locating a fresh blade and safely disposing of the old one. Sometimes just keeping track of the knife amid rolls of wallpaper was a challenge.

    The Bladeater holster is a soft plastic pouch that clips onto the user's belt and contains a pocket for a utility knife and three rigid plastic compartments. One compartment features an angled slit. A knife user simply inserts the blade into the slit, snaps, and the blade breaks along the score line and the spent segment drops into the compartment. A second compartment holds fresh blades, and a third is used to store the blade ends when they are ready to be discarded. When that space is full, it can be thrown away safely in accordance with OSHA and NIOSH regulations.
        The holster, which contains 10 knife blades, retails for about $12. A holster package complete with utility knife and 13 blades costs about $15, and a refill package of 10 blades costs about $6.
        Information can be found at
        “I thought, "Wait a minute — there are organizers for everything on the planet! Why is using a utility knife so chaotic?'”

        Ms. Hansen had long dreamed of inventing a useful item, something that would satisfy her creative instincts as well as providing needed income. Once she identified the need to be met, she devoted her considerable energies to the project.

        Initial research showed the entrepreneur that there were various kinds of holsters on the market and several blade cutters, but no product combined the two. And the need was almost certainly there.

        “People all over the world use this (knife) as their main tool,” Ms. Hansen said. “Fifty percent of the knives are used in the automotive detailing industry.”

        Working first with plastic storage containers from her kitchen, then a lump of modeling clay, the inventor created a prototype blade cutter and holster.

        But getting her product to market was no snap. After producing a model, she took it to a prototyper. Her search for an affordable manufacturer led her to China, where she traveled to make arrangements for the production of her invention. She read a do-it-yourself patent book and filed applications for three patents. She received two and the third is pending.

        “I have done all the leg work and the (public relations) work on this. I have worked 14 to 16 hours a day this past year, designing the packaging, taking the photos, setting up a Web site and preparing displays. I have spent about $140,000 on developing this product. My whole finances hinged on getting it out there.”

        In May, Ms. Hansen's first shipment of BladEaters arrived from China and she convinced a few Cincinnati stores to stock it. Orders trickled in from her Web site.

        But Ms. Hansen's boldest marketing gambit was taking her product to the Aug. 12-14 International Hardware Show in Chicago. She spent between $10,000 and $15,000 to ensure that her product got a professional launch there. Those efforts paid off.

        “In Chicago, 1,700 new products were introduced. Channel Five picked their top seven products. Channel Nine picked their top five,” Ms. Hansen said. “I was on both, and also on a syndicated radio show. QVC wants me on. The Home Shopping Network called. Stanley (Tools) wants to talk with me. I met a man who wants to distribute the BladEater throughout the United Kingdom; he has the wholesale market there.”

        Now that her invention is catching on, she has plans to manufacture a version for larger utility knives. She wants to explore the potential of several other product ideas too. She's excited about her success, and doesn't regret the effort she expended to achieve it.

        “Everything I've done in the last 25 years has led up to this point. I'm glad it went slowly, because that allowed me to get my business organized.”



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