Opinel, the French family-owned producer of an iconic pocket knife exhibited at New York's Museum of Modern Arts, has set up a one-man sales office for the U.S. market in Chicago, and it will exhibit for the first time at the Outdoor Retailer show in Salt Lake City next month. Under a special program for youngsters funded by the French government, the office is manned by a junior manager who has already made contact with major retailers such as L.L. Bean and REI.

The company's sales outside France have doubled in the last five years, and they now represent 45 percent of its total turnover. The biggest foreign market is Germany. Another important foreign market is Italy, where the brand is distributed by Ferrino.

Total sales have risen to about €20 million a year from €7.5 million in 2005, when the Opinel family set up a new executive board consisting of six managers who came from Salomon, Julbo and other companies inside and outside the sporting goods and outdoor sector.

The growth has come from the development of the export business as well as the expansion and modernization of the product range. Opinel's iconic pocket knife, which comes with a natural wood handle, still represents 30 percent of its sales, but the company has introduced many variants, some of which are rather sophisticated. Opinel makes also gardening knives.

All the knives continue to be manufactured at the 126-year-old company's factory in Chambéry, at an annual rate of 4.5 million units, employing 60 workers. A subcontractor in Portugal makes a recently introduced range of kitchen knives and tableware, which generates about 30 percent of Opinel's revenues.