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This blog is written to share my experiences regarding the operation of my small knife business.  Some of the experiences are good, some are not good, and some are in the middle somewhere.  I would say my business is not a success yet because my expenses are larger than my income.  However I am not going to quit yet, because I don’t think I have given it enough time.  I am lucky I don’t need to do this for a living.

We have all heard this before but the three most important things for a successful business is location, location, and location.  This is especially true for a small knife seller.  At least in northern Indiana, people do not think of a knife as a useful tool for themselves or as a gift, so in general they are not out seeking knife sellers.  People also do not carry knives like in the old (my) days.  They also do not think of a knife as something that will hold onto its value or quite possibly appreciate.  I think being in a place where a steady flow of people going by your store, might make them think about the tool/gift idea.  I have been located at two different locations, and they both suffer from poor traffic flow that hinders business.  This is something I have to address.

One thing I think that has helped my business is sharing the store with my wife.  She is an arts and crafts person who sells antiques, candles, wreaths, flower arrangements, pottery, kitchen utensils, etc.  This offers the advantage of giving the women something to look/shop for while the men can look/shop for knives.  (Please forgive this chauvinistic generalization)

Another thing that helps the business and makes a little money is to learn and offer knife sharpening and restoration.  I also sharpen scissors, chisels, tools, etc.  Many people have knives that need sharpening, cleaning, buffing, etc.  This is a good way to get your foot in the door, so to speak.   I actually enjoy doing this kind of work.  I also buff out copper and brass candle holders, vases, etc. that can also be a benefit to your business. 

Another strategy is to buy used knives or lot of knives that need work.  You can then repair them, clean them, buff them (except for knives that you do not want to destroy the patina), lubricate them, and wax the handles.  This should allow you to sell it for more than you bought it for.

I have also resorted to selling on ebay where the audience is much, much larger.  Because of a knife’s relatively small size, the mechanics of this task is not difficult.  Easy to take a picture, write up describing verbiage, listing it, and packing it up once you have sold it.  However I think in the current economy situation it is somewhat difficult to get a price that you would like.  Patience and willingness to relist are needed here.  I do make money doing this.

I have not tried gun and knife shows yet, but I may.  I was hoping not to have to do this.

Competition also makes knife selling difficult.  It is difficult to convince many people that it is worth investing in a good knife when they can buy a cheap knife at a truck stop for $10.  And of course there is always ebay and internet stores that are formidable competitors.  Another fact I find most interesting is the general public thinks that knives don’t break.  That’s right, they don’t break no matter how big or small they are.  The fact is that if you put a large enough load on a knife it could break, especially if it is a cheap knife.  I heard a story about someone who bought a cheap knife for their Boy Scout son, only to have it break and injure the youngster.

I am not a dealer, so I have to seek out knives at as low in price as I can.  But if you are content with a lower profit margin, it can be done.  Finding the best possible prices usually takes time.  I have also found out that at least in northern Indiana, the threshold of price is about $40.  Most people are not willing to spend more than this to buy a knife.

The other thing is I am definitely not a high pressure salesman.  I don’t like them, so I’m not going to be one myself.  And I always tell a purchasing customer that the last thing I want is an unhappy customer. So if you get it home and you don’t like it or something isn’t right, please bring it back so we can work something out or get a refund.  And for me, this is absolutely how I feel.

The enjoyment I get out of my business really comes from two sources.  It is satisfying to sell a knife to a customer that meets their needs and makes them happy.  It is equally satisfying to get feedback on what a good job you did sharpening or restoring a customer knife.  Making a knife that looks like junk and transforming it into the useable, nice looking knife it was meant to be is satisfying.  The other source is just about everyone has a knife story, or has an old knife that their granddad left them that has been tucked away for 20 years in the barn.  All of these stories are so interesting and fun.  Sometimes conversations can go on for quite a while.  I think I enjoy this as much or more than the first reason.  If only listening and telling stories would pay the bills.

To really make it a real/larger business I believe I would have to do the following:

  1. Find a better location
  2. Become a dealer for some prominent knife brands
  3. Expand into other product lines such as flashlights, clothing, camping gear, etc.
  4. I do like the idea of having product lines that appeal to women (not to say women are not interested in knives).
  5. Keep regular hours
  6. Develop ideas that set your business apart from the average knife shop.

But most of these things I am not willing to do because I have other important things I want to accomplish.  So in the meantime, I am going to continue with what I am doing and continue to try to make it profitable.  It is a lot of fun and it adds variety to my life.  Plus I am addicted to knives just like you, and in the end, you end up buying more knives; and do any of you not like buying more knives?

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Comment by Stanley May on November 30, 2012 at 17:34

Steve you are right about the ads in the newspaper.  I need to get off my butt and do that.  The other things I am doing.  Thanks for thinking of me.  You are a true friend!

Comment by Stanley May on November 28, 2012 at 21:11

I would say about 95% of the people who look at them, do not buy a knife.  I have had days when no one even acted the least bit interested in knives.  I sometimes ask people if they have any interest in knives, and usually the person says I already have a knife or knives and don't want another.  Sometimes I solicit knife stories or ask to see their knife that they are carrying.  That's at least fun.  It is more common for women to come in the shop and look at Susan's creations and look the other way when they approach the knives.  I tell them that I sharpen and restore knives and that gets their attention.  Crazy situation


In Memoriam
Comment by Terry Ray on November 27, 2012 at 20:01

Very good observation Stan,  I have a showroom and sell on ebay some, keep on plugging !!!

 

Comment by Stanley May on November 27, 2012 at 19:15

I am definitely open to suggestions.  Fire away.

Comment by Jan Carter on November 27, 2012 at 19:07

Stanley,

Thanks for the write up on small knife business these days.  We have a friend here that has been at the local flea market (rather a big one with lots of traffic) for 15 years that I know of and probably longer than that.  He has a sign out front that says, tell me a knife story.  It tends to make the guys stop and look. I am happy that you like those stories, it makes good word of mouth

I like that you do restorations also but I think that would be more difficult in an area where the average knife sale is around 40.00.  I see that as a potential for getting a customer to buy a spare.

  I know there are folks that dont buy a knife unless they can hold it first.  Nothing wrong with that but in our area there are a limited number of stores that carry knives. I would love to hear from our members about buying at small brick and mortar stores.

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