Addicts: It takes one to know one, as the saying goes. It’s no different with knife junkies. Robert Scott Wolfrom, who goes by Scott, is the driving force behind Blade Junkee, a California-based custom and midtech knife purveyor. He’s a blade junkie himself, so he knows exactly how to feed the addiction in others. Knife junkies are always on to the latest thing, so Scott tries to be one step ahead of the next trend. One way he’s done that is to create a retail app, not just a mobile-responsive website, but a true app that you download to your phone from Google Play or Apple iTunes. Since its launch in 2015, approximately 4000 people have done just that, according to Scott. Websites will be a thing of the past, Scott predicts. “Phones are getting bigger. Younger people are doing everything on their phones. Most of them don’t even own a computer.”
In the 1990s Scott owned a custom flooring and milling business. That industry was decimated when exotic woods began flooding the market and China began producing cheap composites, Scott explained. Homeowners are currently suing Chinese manufacturers because they are getting sick from the formaldehyde used in lumber products coming from that country. Nobody understood the dangers of not using formaldehyde-free American-made flooring and molding at the time, Scott said. The end result was his company went out of business.
He tried his hand at air conditioning manufacturing and construction, and he became a general manager in retail. Finally, in 2008 he thought about what he was passionate about: knives. He’d always been a collector, so he took a huge step. He sold his knife collection. He reaped $40,000 from the sale and sunk it all into his new business: Blade Junkee. The name came from his user name on knife forums.
“I am blessed,” he said about what he’s doing now through Blade Junkee. His wife, Jennifer, a school psychologist, helped him recognize his own knife addiction, and now he gets to collect all kinds of custom knives…and then sell them. “They come in and they go out,” he said with a laugh.
The Blade Junkee app offers a running list of custom knives that Scott has in stock. He is on knife forums daily, social media daily, he talks with makers and others in the industry daily. He explains that he must be following the trends in order to capitalize on what’s hot. A certain maker might be in demand for a while, or a certain construction method. Then it changes. Hand-rubbed could be in, or acid treated or the current psychedelic-looking craze. Then the trends circle back around.
Scott recognizes those cycles, because…well, he was a junkie. While some dealers can only take one or two knives at a time from a maker, Scott offers to buy eight or 10 knives at a time. The maker might say, That’s going to be $30,000; and Scott’s right there to say, Yeah, here’s $15,000 now. “It’s hard for a maker to turn that down,” he said. In this way, he never worries about whether he sells all the knives or not; if he doesn’t, he’ll have some set aside for when everyone’s scrambling to get one of that maker’s knives again.
The strategy appears to be working. In 2016, according to Scott, Blade Junkee did $1.3 million in sales. (In addition to selling custom knives, Scott also manufactures fittings, such as screws, that he sells to knifemakers.) Scott sees a lot of business from Russians, Thais and Europeans. He has customers who will spend $10,000 a month on knives. A customer may tell him, “The wife’s buying purses and shoes,” so he wants a knife that matches a particular watch.
But it isn’t just wealthy customers who fall in love with a well-crafted custom or tactical knife. Customers will tell Scott simply that he made them happy when he posted a certain picture of a knife. They might be having a bad day and seeing a picture of a well-made piece of art that Scott posted lifted their spirits. “There’s plenty more where that came from,” Scott says with a laugh. Not only does he understand buyers from both ends of the spectrum and their motivations, but it brings him joy to make them happy and feeds his own blade addiction.
If you think you can’t afford a knife you see on Blade Junkee (while you’re rocking out to, say, Rage Against the Machine or Bob Marley’s youngest son Damien), you’d be wrong. Scott offers Bladeaway, layaway for knives in four payments over a 45-day period with a 5 percent fee. This is a certain way to lock in the purchase of a knife at the current price. Some knives go so fast that Scott can’t keep them in stock because the makers aren’t mass-producing their work. “They’re artists, and I treat them like artists,” Scott said. Because of his willingness to purchase higher quantities of a maker’s work up front, a maker might pick up a call from Scott where he might avoid a call from a dealer who can only take one or two knives. This also gives Scott the ability to pick and chose which knifemakers he pursues, based on what trends he sees developing and what his junkies are clamoring for.
Although never a hunter, Scott used to fish, and like many of us, his first knife was a Buck. “I don’t drink. I don’t have kids. But I have a lot of energy. I know how to run a business. I have connections. I know how to make calls and make things happen.” And he is passionate about knives. Although Scott currently sees most of his business coming through the Blade Junkee website and social media, he can see every company having a mobile app in the future. He’s already one step ahead on that trend.
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