By Judd Spicer, California Business Journal.
TJ Scimone is a sharp guy. As the Founder of San Jose-based Slice, Scimone’s ever-growing niche business of safety blades is grabbing the attention of safety managers the world over, as more than half of the U.S. Fortune 1000 companies use Slice tools, which readily reduce workplace injuries.
It is estimated that, annually, over one million emergency department visits in the U.S. are due to hand injuries. Workplace hand lacerations across the country result in over $41,000 per injury in lost production and medical expenses for employers.
Upon founding Slice in 2008, however, Scimone didn’t realize his company would soon be on the cutting edge of safety across many of the nation’s most active warehouse and manufacturing workplaces. Rather, Scimone’s entrepreneurial spirit preceded Slice with a company that manufactured promotional items.
“I was always looking for things I could put logos on, and I saw this little cutter in Japan with a ceramic blade,” Scimone recalls. “We ended up making our own version of it for the promotion industry, and, in truth, it didn’t sell too well. But along the way, somebody who was a safety manager saw it and said, ‘This is a really nice blade for cutting instead of working with a knife.'”
In its early years, Slice’s endeavors cut more failure than success. Not that Scimone doesn’t find lessons learned in the company’s original aims to craft houseware products, such as graters, peelers and kitchen knives. “And we failed miserably with that,” he laughs. “But failure isn’t necessarily a bad thing. You start with a product and you don’t know exactly where the journey may lead you.”
In time, the journey led Scimone to professional safety managers, as Slice began selling a product Scimone refers to as its “iSlice,” a safety cutter. “Originally, other than this one product, we really didn’t have much in the safety realm,” he recalls.
With the success of the safety cutter, Slice found a burgeoning niche in both blade and design, while creating a catalog of cutting products that now include utility blades, scrapers, craft knives and a line of scissor products. Developing a proprietary edge applied to an advanced ceramic material – one that doesn’t spark or rust and lasts 11 times longer than a metal blade – Slice wedged further into the safety market.
“They’re not safer just because they’re ceramic; they’re longer-lasting because they are ceramic,” Scimone says. “The way we’ve angled the edge of the blade, we came up with a way with the thickness of the blade where we can do it where it’s sharp enough to cut corrugated and many other things, but it’s not so sharp where, if you graze yourself on it, you’ll have a laceration. So, among other factors, the Slice products are much safer because of the way we do the grind and the thickness of the blade.”
Amid the market’s competition, Slice has cut its own groove. “There are a few other safety cutting companies out there, but all the others concentrate on the handles,” Scimone says. “We’re the only ones who focus on and have created a truly safe blade. Ceramic blades have been around forever. Kitchen knives are ceramic, but they’re not safe because they’re super-sharp.”
Based on the buoyant results to-date of its business-to-business purview, Slice has its sights on expanding to the business-to-consumer market. “The safety industry is so interesting, and though it’s a serious business, we do try to have fun with it,” Scimone says. “And in terms of competing: Safety managers at one company don’t compete with safety managers at another company – they just want safety for their employees. So they share ideas. While there can be competition among the products, the safety people talk to each other to share ideas and concepts.”
The award-winning, ergonomically-friendly designs of Slice products (both the Manual Box Cutter and Auto-Retractable Box Cutter have won international “Red Dot Design” accolades) finds the founder deferring to his expert staff. “I can’t draw a stick figure, so I’m very fortunate to have very talented designers and our excellent engineering team,” Scimone quips.
Now offering about 40 unique cutting tools (with another 40 product handle designs under development), Slice’s success is a matter of expanding and incising with a personal touch tailored for each client’s needs. “We make specific tools for clients – and, for the most part, the clients do drive our design process. They ask us to manufacture and design something and we try to do that whenever we can,” Scimone says.
While Slice is still “a grassroots outfit,” the growing client list now includes a portfolio ranging from smaller companies to international workplace giants such as Tesla, Boeing, 3M, Ford, P&G, Gillette, Disney, Johnson & Johnson and Delta.
“We still consider ourselves a small company, but we’re growing and have experienced double-digit growth every year,” Scimone says. “It’s one safety manager at a time; change is always hard without a safety manager driving it. We learn the specific application for their unique industry. We work a lot with the aerospace industry, but their needs are a lot different from, say, customers like Harley Davidson or Whirlpool. We need to go in to their workspace and see what they’re cutting, how they’re cutting and with what tools.”
Noting that large amounts of sample giveaways have proven an effective way to garner interest, the cutting game is as much about safety and prevention loss savings as it is about education and bucking traditional tools.
“The people we communicate with, there are a lot of attempts to try and ban the traditional blades – the metal blades – in favor of our blades,” Scimone says. “We’ve been fortunate in that a lot of the companies we deal with will ban the traditional blades in their locations worldwide and see how our products solve about 85 percent of their cutting challenges in a given factory.”
As the Slice catalogue grows, the company’s founder maintains a philosophy that the most crucial cut in his business is crafting partnerships by way of listening to customer needs. “All of our tools in recent years have been driven by customer design requests and application request,” he says. “It’s a lot of very nice symbiotic relationships.”
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