Family business creates thousands of unique cookie cutters
The beep of the oven is the moment you’ve been waiting for. The house smells of sugar cookies, vanilla and Christmas. Iconic holiday shapes — stars, wreaths, presents and trucks carrying trees — will be ready for sprinkles and frosting soon. When your guests arrive, you’ll greet them with a plate of your homemade treats. After all, cookies always bring people together. That’s the vision that Joel and Tammy Hughes had in 1993, when they first started CookieCutter.com.
“My mother-in-law, who was an entrepreneur, suggested the idea as a way for me to be a stay-at-home mom and sell mail order because that’s what it was back then before computers,” Tammy says with a laugh.
Before the internet, Tammy says they sent out a small hand-drawn catalog with sketches of their products. “Out of our duplex, we would put little sets of six cookie cutters together in a bag, staple a label and include a cinnamon dough mixture and spices for people to make ornaments.”
The husband-and-wife team from Pleasant Valley started out with 50 cookie cutters and sold them at quilt shows. As the business grew, they expanded to seven employees, and moved their workplace to their current 3,200-square-foot shop. They began manufacturing cookie cutters in 2016, when the H.O. Foose Co. from Pennsylvania asked if the Hughes family wanted to buy their business.
“It was a perfect fit for us,” Tammy recalls. “We’d bought our cookie cutters from them since we started, so we were thrilled to purchase their business and have since added over 100 more designs.”
There’s an art to manufacturing cookie cutters. Tammy estimates they can make up to 6,000 in one day. Coils of steel are run through a machine to cut them to length and give one sharp side a hem.
“When it first comes out, the steel is straight as an arrow,” Tammy says. “We put the strips through a roller to give it a little arc, much like you would roll clothes through an old fashioned washing machine.”
After that, it’s time to bend the tin rings into shapes and spot weld them closed. Most designs are bent by hand, snapping the levers on custom steel plates to give each shape perfect indentations. However, for large quantities, they use one of two hydraulic machines.
“It completes the bending process in a matter of seconds,” says Tammy. “We have several videos of the process on our Instagram and Facebook. People are always surprised to know what goes into making the cookie cutters.” They also have 3D printers and offer a selection of plastic cookie cutters as well.
CookieCutter.com is the only cookie cutter manufacturer west of the Mississippi River and one of only four in the country. Joel says they manufacture 800,000 cookie cutters a year, and the company sells its products online through its own website alongside retailers such as Amazon, Walmart and eBay. Most cutters range in price from $1.50 to $1.75.
With more than 1,300 designs, they work year round creating their unique products for kitchens across the world. Besides shipping throughout the U.S., they also have regular customers in Australia, Spain, New Zealand and Greece. “Most of our retailers have online stores rather than store fronts,” says Tammy. “But we also have accounts with places like Yellowstone National Park and the little tourist shops that sell Yellowstone-themed sets of cookie cutters.”
Forget your traditional sugar cookie shapes. There really is a unique cookie cutter for everyone. The options and shapes are limitless. You can find your favorite animal — whether it’s a llama, moose, turtle or greyhound. You can search by holiday or hobby. Or shop their selection with a special event in mind, such as a baby shower or wedding. The aisles of their warehouse are filled with bins of shapes such as leprechauns, bicycles, haunted houses, sewing machines, lighthouses, hot air balloons, baseball caps and charcoal grills, just to name a few. Each has personality and a story to tell.
“We listen to our customers,” says Tammy. “We get some of our best ideas from them.” One customer wanted a thousand dog bones to make dog treats. Another wanted arrowheads. They also do custom designs and keep a list of new ideas they’re hoping to add to their future inventory.
Cookie cutters aren’t just for baking. They also work for sewing projects and paper crafts. “We’re also seeing a huge interest from people making car freshies by using our products as a template,” Tammy adds. “We love seeing the creativity of our customers.”
Joel and Tammy recently started a home bending program to keep up with demand. Seven employees pick up a box of rings and a pattern a few times each week, bend the shapes and bring them back to the shop for spot welding. It saves the company time and allows for employees to work around a flexible schedule. “One of our home benders has young children, so she works on our cookie cutters during the kids’ nap time and in the evenings,” Tammy adds.
“What’s really fun is that it’s so different every week. I bet I worked for them for three or four months before I ever repeated a pattern,” says Cindy Williams, a member of Platte-Clay Electric Cooperative. “In the past few months I’ve done around 12,000 dog bones, which was an easy pattern and enjoyable. Some of the cooler complex patterns are more of a challenge but always fun to accomplish.”
Christmas time is their busiest time of year, of course, but not just for baking. They make great gifts too. “Some people even collect them, especially the cute miniature ones,” Tammy says. “Another part of the business is we get to admire the cookiers, the home bakers and decorators, who truly create art with our cookie cutters.”
Joel and Tammy are grateful to be a part of the cookie cutter world. They love encouraging families to make and bake memories together.
“We have a lot of fun,” Tammy says with a smile. “At family parties and at Christmas, I am always the cookie person. And that’s OK with me.”