Years ago an older couple lived next door to us. Thankfully, they delighted in our children. That made the occasional apology for sports equipment on the lawn and cars parked across their driveway a little easier. We enjoyed their company as well and were almost always happy to hear from them. Almost.

The exception was not a call from them personally, but instead a call from a sales representative for Cutco Knife company. He said our neighbors had referred him to us.

The rep was a college kid working on a scholarship and simply wanted to demonstrate the company’s products to hone his craft.



My wife agreed to an appointment and then told me about it later.

Did we need knives? Not really. New ones are sharper, but we were muddling through our daily eating just fine. Before he arrived I suggested we set a spending limit of $200. My wife scoffed. Knives aren’t that expensive.


The young man came to the door and proceeded to go through his show. He used a knife to cut a penny and then cut a tomato. Cool. He talked the whole time about earning his way through college. He talked about warranties and lifetime sharpening for free. He explained that the company made the K-Bar knife for our military. Very cool… and very convincing. We found ourselves wanting knives.

Then he showed us all the different knives available – steak, filet, paring, butcher, etc. Finally – finally! – he showed the master set that could be had for a low, low price of $1,200. I think my wife fainted, or at least felt a little woozy.

Summing up our fortitude, we dutifully looked through the list of what he was offering and compared it against our predetermined list of knives in our kitchen that might need replacing. All the while we kept our spending limit in mind. The overlap was small.

What struck me about the entire engagement was the force of the persuasion and the completeness of the package. The young man called us due to a referral from our dear (darn them!) neighbors. He spoke about scholarship and working. He demonstrated the strength of the knives and their resilience, and then he touched on patriotism by connecting the company to the military.

At the conclusion he opened a notebook to a page with our names on the top and then turned the book toward us. The page had ten lines on it under the headings “Name,” “Address,” and “Phone Number.”

The young man proceeded to tell us that his success in earning his scholarship depended on his ability to see more people and that the company didn’t market. Instead, it relied on the references provided by the very clients that become part of the Cutco family, or the people who had graciously agreed to a demonstration.

So, if we would be so kind as to provide the names and contact information for ten of our friends and family in the area, he could continue on his quest for higher education and life fulfillment! The young man handed me a pen.

This was a fabulous sales pitch. It had everything. Every detail was covered, and at the end we as clients were being given a pen and a blank piece of paper that screamed out for action.

How do you decline to provide even one name? Who is so lame or so callous as to turn away bright young lads or ladies simply looking to further their education?

Apparently, I am.

I closed the book and turned it back around. I handed him his pen and told him simply that we did not know a single other person who could use such incredible cutlery. It was as if I dared him to question me.

He was very, very quiet. Then he lost.

There’s a saying in sales that he who speaks first after the gauntlet is thrown down loses. I don’t know if it’s true, but this young man spoke first. He thanked us and left. But he didn’t leave empty handed. The adventure cost us roughly $230, for which we received four knives. Given the situation, I saw this as a victory.

I told my wife that the company had spent 60 years perfecting a sales pitch. We had spent 90 minutes listening to it. Every phrase was crafted, every reference rehearsed. This is the stuff that works. The proof is in the pudding, just look around one day at the never-ending sales pitch intruding from all sides.

Billboards, radio, TV, magazines, storefronts, websites, etc. The notion of advertising to inform is dead. It’s to sell, and then to sell more. Buy because your friend said it was good. Buy because you want to support me. Buy because it’s patriotic. Buy to be sexy. Whatever you do, buy.

Given the number of ads we’re exposed to every day, it’s amazing that any of us have any savings at all! And yet, that is exactly what we need.

A common refrain is that we need to teach our children skills that allow them to be productive citizens. I get that, and I agree. But there’s more.

We need to teach them what to do with their economic power once they have it. Buying in response to advertising – or a very persuasive sales pitch – isn’t necessarily bad. The product or service can be the exact thing that a person needs or desires. The problem arises when we buy simply because of the ad or sales pitch, filling our days and our homes with redundant or useless things.

Teaching our kids how to budget, how to deal with finances, and how to resist the daily barrage of sales-oriented information they receive can help them achieve economic success well beyond our own.

By recognizing the difference between what others want to sell and what they want to purchase, our children can become discriminating consumers. This can help us turn away, just a little bit, from a culture of commerce and hopefully rebuild the bulwark of the middle class – savings.

I’ve had this conversation with my own children many a night at the dinner table. Often, with a Cutco knife close at hand.


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Rodney Johnson
Rodney works closely with Harry to study the purchasing power of people as they move through predictable stages of life, how that purchasing power drives our economy and how readers can use this information to invest successfully in the markets. Each month Rodney Johnson works with Harry Dent to uncover the next profitable investment based on demographic and cyclical trends in their flagship newsletter Boom & Bust. Rodney began his career in financial services on Wall Street in the 1980s with Thomson McKinnon and then Prudential Securities. He started working on projects with Harry in the mid-1990s. Along with Boom & Bust, Rodney is also the executive editor of our new service, Fortune Hunter and our Dent Cornerstone Portfolio.