Lifetime Hoan: How A Knifemaker Stays On The Cutting Edge

Milton L. Cohen, who has been selling knives for nearly four decades, has spent the past few years cutting deals. As chairman of Lifetime Hoan Corp., a maker of cutlery, kitchen tools, and gadgets, he joined with Bear, Stearns & Co. to buy Lifetime in a 1984 leveraged buyout. Four years later, he bought out Bear Stearns's take. And last year, he took the Brooklyn-based company public.

Cohen, 62, isn't about to slow down. His growth strategy: licensing. To compete against such sharp competitors as Imperial Schrade, Ekco Group, and Chicago Cutlery, he figures it's essential to have big, recognizable brand names. So in the past couple of years, Lifetime Hoan has lined up licensing deals with Walt Disney, housewares giant Farberware, and Pillsbury. For Disney, Lifetime Hoan makes products such as Mickey Picture Toast, a plastic gadget that imprints the famous mouse's mug on pieces of toast. For Farberware, it manufactures pricey knife sets sold in department stores. And it will develop and market a line of bakeware products featuring the Pillsbury Doughboy. Products in that line will be shipped to retailers in the fall.

Since most competing houseware products look and work the same, a brand name can make for a real marketing edge. Sales at Lifetime Hoan last year were $54.8 million, a gain of 13.1% over 1990. Profit climbed 21.6%, to $4.9 million. The Farberware license alone brought in revenues of $5.7 million last year. Even in the sluggish retail economy, "we have never experienced any kind of recession," gloats Cohen. The company's recent record landed it in the No. 90 slot on BUSINESS WEEK's 1992 list of Hot Growth companies (BW--May 25).

Now, Cohen says he would like to make some more deals. He might even make an acquisition in the housewares industry, given the right opportunity. Lifetime Hoan could probably afford something pretty flashy: Last year's public offering sliced long-term debt down to zero.

    Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.