Ballard, Utah

Owner Rusty McDermott has built a career on manufacturing with silverware. Now he’s looking to take his company to the next level.

When Judson Jennings launched Forked Up Art in 2010, McDermott was one of his first employees. He immediately took to crafting art and accessories with the medium of silverware. “I like Legos, I like to paint and draw, I just like creating things. It’s just so satisfying.”

As the company’s production manager, McDermott helped grow the company’s manufacturing of unique kitchen accessories and artwork largely made from forks, spoons, and knives.

The company changed hands twice before McDermott — who moved on after the first sale — bought it with his brother-in-law in May 2018, when the company had three employees.

“I was planning on pushing the business and growing it, and I don’t think they wanted to work — so they all quit,” says McDermott. “I’ve just done it by myself ever since.”

McDermott moved his family and the business from the Salt Lake Valley to Ballard in northeastern Utah in 2019. He’s now a one-man factory in his workshop there, with hemp from his wife, Meghann, on marketing and design.

The catalog now runs the gamut from pickle forks resembling a common hand gesture to ornate rooster sculptures that sell for $2,500.

While he welcomes custom orders, McDermott says that products in the $30-to-$40 price range are Forked Up Art’s bread and butter. “The salt-and-pepper holders are still our number-one seller,” says McDermott. “I don’t know if that’ll ever change, so I make those like crazy.”

He calls the eye-catching rooster “our salesman,” noting, “We’ve taken it to local shows, and it gets people to stop and talk to us, and they end up buying things. Without the rooster there, they’d probably ignore our booth.”

More than 80 percent of sales go to gift shops and other wholesale accounts — the company has sold to 2,000 retailers over the years, with about 100 ordering in the last year — with the remainder sold directly to consumers.

McDermott says he sees potential in growing the latter channel, but there’s a catch: “No one is searching for ‘spoon man’ or fork man.'”

That has led to new products people are searching for like bookends. “They’ve done really well on Amazon and Etsy,” says McDermott. “I just try to think outside the box of what we traditionally are doing. I have a lot more ideas, but I’m so busy that I don’t get around to designing new stuff that often.”

Raw materials are sourced via “the restaurant supply industry,” says McDermott, noting that he needs low-quality utensils, because premium forks and knives won’t bend. “I like the ones that will bend, because the ones that won’t bend will crack. It just happens to be the right silverware for what we’re trying to do.”

With these utensils, McDermott’s process is a hybrid of art and trade. “With the figurines, we have a jig that we lay the silverware in and then we weld it in two spots,” he says. “I usually do these in batches — a lot of these orders are 20 pieces, 30 pieces, 100 pieces — so I’ll weld everything, then I’ll use a wire brush on a drill to buff off the welds.”

“From there, I move over to bending. I use a variety of pliers and tools and techniques to bend the figurines,” he continues.”For the salt-and-pepper holder, I have a custom tool I use that makes the rounded hands so that the shakers can fit right in there.”

His processes firmly established, McDermott is now looking to build on his success. “The business has been great,” he says. “I do want to grow it back where it used to be — I think 2013 was our best year — so I’d like to get back to the point where I could hire people and I’d get a warehouse out here and bring some jobs out here. But I can’t even grow the business at the moment because I’m so busy.”

Challenges: “We’re dealing with supply chain issues,” says McDermott. “I don’t want to hire people if I run out of silverware.”

Glass salt-and-pepper shakers have also been scarce recently. “That’s the thing I’m having a hard time getting,” he says. “Right now, I’ve figured out a lot of the silverware issues, but some of the other items are hard to get.”

Photos courtesy Forked Up Art

Opportunities: “I really want to start pushing the direct sales, because there’s a lot more profit in it,” says McDermott. “That’s why I created the bookends, because it’s easier to market a bookend than a spoon man.”

Needs: McDermott says he would love to get some help with marketing. “I’m not a marketer, I’m not an online guy, I’m a put-on-your-gloves-and-work guy,” he says. “I do literally no sales right now. It’s all residual.”

Social media might be a piece of the puzzle: “I want to start creating content for YouTube, maybe Instagram,” he adds. “We do have a fan base and we do have ways of connecting with them through email and Facebook, but it’d be great to grow that fan base and create content that could be monetized as a secondary stream of revenue.”