Since 1965, CB Manufacturing & Sales Co., Inc. has been an industry-leading, family-owned company renowned for customer service, innovation and the highest standards of quality. Currently operating under the guidance of the second generation, the Biehn family continues to embody Charles “Charlie” Biehn’s legacy of commitment to customer satisfaction, value, and consumer-driver quality.
A Cincinnati native, Charlie was a budding entrepreneur from a young age starting with a paper route and then salvaging batteries as a high school student to earn extra money. Following high school, he joined the U.S., Army, serving in the 82nd Airborne. After leaving the Army on an honorable discharge, he and an army pal set out for Florida stopping in Charlotte, North Carolina where Charlie settled. It was in Charlotte that he met his future wife, Ruth. Hired in North Carolina for his first “official” sales job, Charlie sold Electrolux vacuum cleaners door-to-door and found he had a knack for it quickly being promoted to sales manager within two years.
Successful in his career, the birth of his first two children Darlene and Charles Jr. found his family in Allentown, Pennsylvania where Charlie was now regional sales manager for Victor Comptometer, a supplier of printing calculators. By the time his third child, Joe, was born, the family had relocated to Dayton, Ohio where Charlie accepted a position in sales for a local machine knife manufacturer, Simonds Wordon White. In 1965, Charlie decided to go out on his own to fulfill a long-time dream; he started his own company.
Initially named CB Sales, Charlie represented machine knife manufacturers (including Simonds Worden White) and distributed related products for the printing and paper industries. He traveled the U.S. from Sunday night to Friday, calling on customers and setting up distributors for his products. His garage served as the office and warehouse. Ruth fielded phone calls and took orders while the children played at her feet. A licensed private pilot since 1959, Charlie would joke that the reason he started his own company was “just an excuse to fly around the country.” In truth, that mobility and ability to provide personalized service in an era where air travel was prohibitively expensive made CB Sales a preferred vendor to his customers. By 1967, Charlie had moved his business out of his home’s garage and into a small rented office and added another salesperson and a “Gal Friday.”
It wasn’t just his salesmanship and technical knowledge that made Charlie successful. It was also his dedication to providing his customers with the best possible service and quality. On a rainy day in a phone booth in Alabama, Charlie was informed by a vendor that a promised order was to be delayed again. In that moment, he decided the only way to ensure his customers’ needs were met was to manufacture machine knives himself.
Charlie returned home to West Carrollton, Ohio and in 1969 leased a larger building, bought his first grinding machine, hired his first operator and renamed his company “The CB Manufacturing & Sales Co., Inc.” Within a year, CB Manufacturing purchased a second machine. Some said he was pushing too fast, but Charlie simply replied, “If I only have one machine and it breaks down, how can I serve my customers?”
It was not just the commitment to customer service that made CB Manufacturing successful; Charlie was also an innovator, an inventor, and a problem solver. Users sought him out as his reputation grew for providing high-quality knives that saved them time and money. Partnering with its customers, CB Manufacturing designed and produced some of the most innovative knives in the industry.
All successful start-up companies have to have lucky breaks and CB Manufacturing had several. The plastics industry exploded in the 1970s and the company was at the forefront, with CB Manufacturing developing the technology and know-how to manufacture superior Pelletizer knives. In 1972, Charlie met with some representatives of a Japanese company who had developed a tungsten carbide blade. The blades were extremely wear-resistant, but also very expensive in comparison to carbon and stainless steel blades. The Japanese representatives asked Charlie if he knew of any application where these very expensive blades could be used. Charlie didn’t know but he took a couple of samples and tossed them into his briefcase. Soon after, during a meeting with DuPont engineers, a discussion about a new fiber called Kevlar came up.
The properties of the fiber were very tough which gave the material great potential but the qualities that made it so useful also meant the standard steel blades used to cut it dulled or broke after one or two passes. This reduced the quality of the cut and increased machine downtime due to repeated blade changes. Remembering the tungsten carbide blade in his case, Charlie pulled one out and used it to cut the Kevlar sample the engineers were showing him. It went through like butter repeatedly without dulling or affecting the cut. Charlie set up the first of CB Manufacturing’s affiliated companies, Strider Corporation, to sell and distribute tungsten carbide blades throughout the U.S. and eventually, globally, as more applications were found for the blades.
CB Manufacturing & Sales was also building a reputation among machine manufacturers as providing the superior quality product that OEMs require. To meet the increasing demand for their manufactured goods, CB continued to grow, adding employees and facilities. Purchasing a 10 acre farm on the outskirts of Miamisburg; he built offices, factory, and a small warehouse, about 10,000 square feet in total. Within 10 years, the building had doubled in size. Surrounded by cornfields, Charlie would grin and say, “We’re the largest knife company in the “country!”
Charlie loved machinery and cannily acquired some of the largest and most precision technology available, not only to manufacture knives. CB Manufacturing became to “go-to” for other metal-fabricating companies who did not have the same specialized machines. Sub-contract grinding became and still is an important department of CB Manufacturing.
From the very beginning, CB Manufacturing was a “sales-based” company, concentrating on servicing and supplying the customer with what theywanted, rather than focusing on specific products. CB Manufacturing has always been a “full-line” knife company, making industrial knives for the plastic, paper, wood, steel, and many other industries. As the 1980s unfolded and computers and communications became more sophisticated, CB Manufacturing started reaching beyond the shore of the United States, both exporting and importing product. A survey of customers indicated that some customers were more concerned about price and CB Manufacturing found they could meet those customers’ needs by sourcing some knives and blades overseas, while continuing to produce in-house parts that required specialty materials, extremely tight tolerances, exotic geometry or needed to be manufactured and shipped with an extremely fast turn-around.
As CB Manufacturing’s business model evolved, Charles Jr. “Chuck”, joined the company. He started off as a janitor after school, moved up to general laborer, then machine operator. After five years in the factory, he moved into the offices, gaining experience invaluable to his later responsibilities. Chuck was followed into the family business by his sister, Darlene, and then brother, Joe.
It was in the mid-80s, that Chuck developed a personal friendship and business partnership with Frieder Lutz, whose family had been fabricating metal products in Solingen, Germany since the 1700s. As the demand for swords had diminished through the centuries, Lutz turned their focus on producing thin, razor-type blades. Chuck and Frieder negotiated an agreement with CB Manufacturing handling all of the USA business for Lutz, with the distribution to be undertaken by a newly developed division of CB Manufacturing: American Cutting Edge, known as “ACE.” This has been an extremely successful relationship. Working together, ACE and Lutz dominate the thin blade arena in markets as diverse as archery broadheads or medical blades used for LASIK surgery.
At the very end of the decade, the Biehn Family purchased Certified Heat Treating. Although they had recently started a small in-house heat-treating company to better control the quality of the metal treating of CB produced blades, this acquisition vaulted them into commercial heat-treating in a big way. Joe Biehn was sent to work there and learn all he could. Eventually, he was named General Manager and President of the company and is acknowledged throughout the Miami Valley for his almost encyclopedic knowledge of heat-treating processes, which are an amazing combination of science and art.
In the 80s, CB Manufacturing grew again, erecting more offices and warehouse space across the parking lot from the original building. A production facility was also added and Certified Heat Treating was moved from its leased building in downtown Dayton to Miamisburg. In 1993, the Biehn family purchased a small cutting tool company, renamed it Certified Tool & Grinding, and constructed a state-of-the-art building alongside the other properties. Collectively, the collection of sales and production facilities is called “The CB Campus.”
Chuck Biehn was named President of CB Manufacturing & Sales in 1990, and Charlie stepped up to the position of Chairman of the Board. The Biehn Family Group of Companies, casually known as BiehnCo, now consisted of CB Manufacturing, American Cutting Edge, Strider Corporation, Certified Heat Treating, and Certified Tool & Grinding. Under Chuck’s guidance, CB Manufacturing and its divisions continued to grow and thrive as Charlie enjoyed the freedom to travel and indulge in hobbies, and adventures he had never had time to enjoy during CB Manufacturing’s formative years. Charlie was still very involved in the companies but now had the luxury to do the “fun stuff.” He invented, innovated, problem-solved, and sometimes even ran a machine! He still loved to get his hands dirty.
In 2002, Chuck Biehn added two new companies to the Biehn Group purchasing Better Tools, a customer of American Cutting Edge whose product lines of hand knives and cutting devices were very successful in the floor covering and roofing industries. And, he started Evolution Resources, a strategic sourcing company that helps companies locate overseas manufacturers.
In August of 2009, Charlie Biehn passed away after a brief illness. CB Manufacturing and its various divisions were inherited jointly by the three children; Chuck, Darlene, and Joe. Combined with the Great Recession, this was a time of great upheaval for the Biehn Family of Companies, and the survival of the companies is due to the strong guidance of Chuck Biehn, the hard work and dedication of all the family members, and the loyalty, and commitment of the CB employees.
CB Manufacturing and the divisions remain very much a family-run business and “family” includes the 80+ employees who willingly did what it took to get the companies through this tumultuous time. Changes have been made over the years to strengthen the business and Charlie’s legacy. BiehnCo. has been “leaned” out and Certified Tool & Grinding was sold to allow the Biehn Family to focus their resources on the other businesses. Certified Heat Treating was also sold. Joe Biehn continues to lend his expertise to that organization and American Cutting Edge works with them as a trusted industry expert and partner for heat treating needs. Strider Corporation, the entity created to sell tungsten carbide blades, was folded into American Cutting Edge and the Strider Corporation name was discontinued. CB Manufacturing and Sales is now operating under the brand name American Cutting Edge to more closely align with the knife and blade industry.
Since Charlie’s passing, BiehnCo has continued to evolve and flourish. Thanks to a new “re-shoring” attitude in the US, our factory is busier than ever and the Biehn family continues to invest in the newest and most capable machinery, as well as seek out smart, pro-active employees who share their commitment to service, innovation, and quality. When the original Japanese manufacturer of the tungsten carbide razor blades decided to focus their interests in other directions, the US-based branch of the company was sold to Superion of Xenia, Ohio, a cutting tool company. In 2014, CB Manufacturing bought the assets and intellectual property to manufacture tungsten carbide and ceramic razor blades from Superion. Although American Cutting Edge is the largest seller of these blades in the world, it now has the capability to manufacture and re-sharpen these blades in their own factory in the USA.
Today, Chuck is the Chairman of the Board for all companies of the Biehn Group; American Cutting Edge, Better Tools; and Evolution Resources. Darlene Biehn Southern serves all the companies in varying capacities, as does Chuck’s wife, Dana Biehn. Many of Charlie’s seven grandchildren have joined the company as soon as they can push a broom or file, working their way up the ladder, as did their parents. The companies now occupy over 100,000 square feet of buildings in Miamisburg and Centerville. Total group sales are nearly $30 million and the opportunities to expand sales and profits look very good in the future.
And Charles Biehn’s legacy of quality, customer service, and innovation still guide the missions of all Biehn Family Companies today. He would be proud.