Photos provided by Thread Cutterz
“Why didn’t I think of that?” and “You should be on Shark Tank!”
These are just some of the things people say to Vance Zahorski of Thread Cutterz when they meet him at a trade show. His clever invention is a wearable ring with recessed blades for quickly and safely cutting thread or fishing line. The ring has both utility and design patents and comes in two brands: Line Cutterz, for fishing, and Thread Cutterz, for sewing, needlework, knitting, beading, and just about any craft or task that uses thread, string, or yarn.
Vance, who has been fishing since he was four years old, came up with the idea after almost cutting off a toe while fishing. The fillet knife he was looking for, to cut his fishing line, was on the ground. He found the knife — with his foot. Coming home from that fishing trip, he had a 7-hour drive to think about the problem. There has to be a better way, he thought.
“Where could I put a cutting tool so that it would be on my body and always close at hand? Why a ring? I just literally went through my whole body. Where could I put this? Starting with my head and working my way down. Gosh, why not just put it right on your finger? And that’s how it started.”
Making it a ring just made sense. The product started as something for fishermen, but since the prototypes were all over the house, his wife, a crafter, naturally started picking them up and using them herself.
The biggest challenge in growing the business has been the financial challenge of investing so much. “To do it right, it just takes so much time and money,” said Zahorski. They sold their home, fishing boat, and smoker to fund the business. “We literally had just finished remodeling, tearing everything apart. We had our dream home with all the latest and greatest stuff inside and we were going to be there for a long time.” Even so, his wife was on board with selling the house. She said, “You’ve come up with a lot of ideas, and I think you have a winner.”
The other hurdle he’s faced in building the business is stress. He supports his wife and two young daughters with the business and notes that at one point, he had gone “from a six figure job to shopping at Goodwill. I mean, it definitely challenged me. Whenever there’s financial stress it can be tough on a relationship, but we just stuck together.”
The company launched a Kickstarter campaign in late 2014, with the first products shipping in 2015. The Kickstarter was successful, raising almost $15,000 which covered the initial production run. The Kickstarter page mentioned just once that the cutting tool was also useful for those who sew, and it took off in that category as well.
Then in November 2016, Zahorski was on the TV show Shark Tank, where contestants pitch their product to real investors. Zahorski’s pitch was successful, and he secured an investment of $130,000 in exchange for a 30% stake in the company. Seven million people watched the episode of Shark Tank and now they’re getting orders and emails from people all over the world letting them know how they use the rings, including a builder of bagpipes.
What kept Zahorski going was that he just knew that Line Cutterz needed to be in the fishing industry, from professional fishermen down to kids. “We think we’ve got a great opportunity to get heavily into the professional fishing industry. My vision of Line Cutterz is to be: ‘If you’re not using Line Cutterz products, then you’re not using the best fishing line cutter in the industry.’ That’s my dream and vision and that’s what we want to do.”
To get the word out about the rings, the company attends fishing industry trade shows from coast-to-coast. From the east coast to the Midwest, they attend trade shows in the crafts and sewing industries, with recent shows including the Bead and Button Show in Milwaukee, WI and the AQS Quilt Week Show in Des Moines, IA. Zahorski notes that some popular beading strings are actually fishing line, rebranded, so of course the Thread Cutterz work perfectly.
The team has grown to include Zahorski’s brother, Cullen, who has come on full-time to work on Line Cutterz, and Zahorkski’s mom, LeRae, who recently retired from her previous career and has taken over as CEO of Thread Cutterz.
“I hired my brother full-time. Then my mom recently retired, and now she’s grabbing the bull by the horns for Thread Cutterz and giving us much needed help,” Zahorski said.
“My mother and grandmother were avid quilters and seamstresses,” LaRae Zahorski said. “I watched my grandmother quilt using a magnifying glass in her later years, and I threaded needles for my mother when her eyesight dimmed. They never quit sewing. My mother taught me how to sew, quilt, knit, and crochet, but my passion is counted cross-stitch.”
An innovation that has been helpful for the business is providing customized branding on the rings for companies, or even individual Instagrammers with a strong brand. Quilt guilds holding retreats order the custom imprinted rings as well.
Vance and LaRae Zahorski
The company approaches social media by “sharing as much as we possibly can, the ups, the downs,” and Zahorski credits that with the close relationship they have with their customers. They have customers in ten countries, and Zahorski says there’s no way that would have happened without social media.
A regular part of their trade show booth is now Zahorski’s great-grandmother’s quilt, and he’s enjoyed learning more about the family history and he says it’s been a cool way to connect with the family.
With all the recent success of the business, has he been able to buy a new smoker? “Not yet! But I think we’re not too far away.”
Elaine is an artist, jeweler, public speaker and public artist in the Chicago area. She uses assemblage, collage and direct sculpting to get her message across. Visit her at ElaineLutherArt.com.