Guest feature: The Wonderful World of Cutco

 

Why we’re all better off embracing tension-filled relationships.

 
Credit: Emily Reno

Credit: Emily Reno

 

Being a Sales Representative for Vector Marketing and showing Cutco is complicated business. It’s not just about selling knives. And it’s not just about making some extra cash. In fact, it’s not even about building relationships, which is what I was convinced would keep me in the game for the long haul. Cutco is a direct sales company that’s been around since 1949 and sells knives predominantly through multi-level marketing. Cutco acquired Vector Marketing Company in 1985 and is known for targeting high school and college students. Oddly enough, I’d never heard of it before stumbling across their ad on Craigslist in December of last year.

Having taken a few weeks off from performing demos, I can see with greater clarity that the real advantage in working for Vector--known by the old dogs as the ‘Vector Opportunity’--is the chance to spend time with people who don’t think like me. Most of my co-workers were high school or undergraduate students, many with backgrounds in finance or business, and often not a clue of what they wanted pursue in the future. One thing we all had in common, though, was a desire to see our checking accounts as a source of abundance rather than scarcity and to graduate from school without the immense debt that most of our classmates carry well into their thirties. That being said, money was not my motive for pursuing a career in food systems.

Recognizing that one of the biggest motivators for my colleagues was money, and that many of them resided in the affluent suburbs surrounding the Edina office, I soon realized that I would probably never see myself spending time with these people under normal circumstances. I asked myself who would work for a company that doesn’t pay for travel expenses and training when they are required components of the job--the only components, I would argue, that allow you to succeed. Surely not anyone with a sensical bone in their body, I mused. Yet I kept coming back. To the morning phoning sessions, the weekly team meetings...all of it. I was in the midst of serious cognitive dissonance. At the time I didn’t recognize this for what it was. I’m here for the money, too, I thought. What makes my desire for financial stability any different than the person sitting next to me? And why am I so attracted to this work environment?

Three weeks after my first day of training, I found myself invited to YEB, Vector’s infamous Year-End Banquet. The turning point, I would argue, in my Vector Career.  If I’m going to do this for real, I thought, I might as well go all in, right? I rationalized the time away for the weekend with learning skills that would pay for themselves soon after my return. Little did I know that I would come away feeling more confused about Vector’s strategy than assured that my job with them could be the variable that changed the way I thought about money.

While my judgements about the business are still deep within me, I cannot deny the personal growth I experienced in just four weeks as a result of my knife gig. Cutco helped me develop certain qualities that were absent from my repertoire prior to setting up Zoom calls and recording my videos of myself cutting up produce: Audacity. Strong cover letter writing.  Conversational skills with strangers. An above-average level of self-motivation. A renewed confidence in my own abilities and faith that my hard work, no matter what I pursue in life, will pay off in the end. I am a different person because of this job, largely because it forced me to take inventory of my own skills. Sometimes I wonder if, along the way, I picked up not so much a love for direct sales but a deeper appreciation for how being a good listener can open doors you didn’t even know existed.

 

I do this because I feel like I would betray my own set of beliefs about money and happiness by spending time with people who see them so differently than myself, or so I think.


 

Tension is a theme that unifies my role as a Sales Rep and Social Media Strategist for Voices for Rural Resilience. Tension wants to tear me apart from walking the line of making a fool of myself and entertaining the people who watch my videos. Tension wants me to close my laptop when I see racist comments on my Facebook feed about rural people. We navigate tension every day. Yet when do we take the time to become conscious of its role in our lives? Or intentionally put ourselves in tension-filled spaces? Must the tension we experience become known the one time a year we decide we treat ourselves to a massage?

I owe it to Vector for putting me in a place that I felt very uncomfortable, but also for teaching me how to come back to time and time again so that I could understand the other side of the equation--a different spectrum of values that I constantly try to shy away from. I do this because I feel like I would betray my own set of beliefs about money and happiness by spending time with people who see them so differently than myself, or so I think. Do we really see the world so differently from each other? Or is it just a wall we create in our heads to be in ‘safe spaces’ of like-minded people?

One of the best parts about my job for Voices for Rural Resilience is that I get to help people share stories about the complexities of their own identity and encourage them to get out of their comfort zone while at the same time testing out the same strategies on myself. It’s a constant process, removing yourself emotionally from a situation even just for a few seconds to see how you ended up there, how you could be doing a better job of listening, and evaluating the possibility of challenging yourself just a little bit more the next day. How this manifests itself in our lives will surely vary. For me, it might look like asking my Somalian classmate to share with me how he believes he is misperceived. For you it could be through my decision to shop at a new grocery store. Each day is not only a challenge but an opportunity to do better, and through my work with VRR I am reminded of just how lucky we are to act on that in ways that work for us and our imperfections.

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About the author

Emily Reno, joining the VFRR team as our social media strategist and thought partner, is a proud Kansan. She’s passionate about reconnecting with her Mexican-American roots, building a socially just community through people’s love for food and farming, and aims to leverage her networks to contribute to a brighter future for today’s young and beginning farmers. When not engrossed in her work for Voices for Rural Resilience or homework for school, you’ll find Emily whipping up delicious meals at home, pouring through seed catalogs, and applying for funding to entertain her ambitious travel goals.

 
Emily Reno