Editor's note: Follow BLADE on Instagram here. Also, anyone buying or selling knives online should take caution when doing so on a social media platform. Recent events have singled out “weapons” content, and Instagram (owned by Facebook) is likely to be no exception. Diversification is key. Remember: In-person knife shows are still the best bet for buying/selling safely and securely.
Instagram Knife Pictures Help Knifemakers Sell and Knife Collectors Buy
A wave of Instagram commerce is building in the knife industry, and there is no indication of a slowdown at this point. Those who have leveraged the platform have seen increased activity that otherwise might have required hours and expenses associated with travel, marketing and promotion.
“The impact on the knife community is significant,” Curtis Iovito of Spartan Blades commented. “I can say that this year we have reached more prospective customers and knife lovers than we have on Facebook based on customer responses. It truly is a mix of social responses, providing information and assisting prospective buyers. Instagram has started allowing businesses to sell via the platform, and we plan to do this soon. Sixty-four percent of sales for us are from mobile platforms, so we see this as a plus.”
“I had to come out of the stone age to get with the program, and it has doubled or tripled my business,” asserted knifemaker and BLADE® field editor Kim Breed. “You can put your wares out there for sale, and people comment or order and everything else on one simple site. You can go straight to your cell phone and post pictures and get immediate feedback.”
Purveyor Neil Ostroff of True North Knives started an Instagram account as a social tool to connect with friends, family and customers, but it soon became apparent that an additional sales tool was at his disposal. He changed his account from his personal name into the True North Knives (TNK) brand. He monitors how posts are received by the public, using the “View Insights” option for real-time metrics.
“As Instagram and other social media platforms are constantly evolving and getting better, I’m finding that Instagram is the easiest to use and provides the most results,” Neil explained. “An example of a result is getting a direct message, e-mail or phone call asking for more information about the product. Although we only post knives that are immediately available for online purchase, it’s always nice to have some practical contact with the buyer. We take pride in our knife images, whether they’re taken by a professional like Jim Cooper or our excellent in-house team. If the picture is not top rate, then it reflects badly on the product.”
More Than Just Knife Pictures
Breed points out that advertising in most any format is expensive. Knife pictures posted on Instagram allow immediate access to potential buyers at virtually no cost.
“Putting yourself out there to hundreds of thousands of people is powerful,” he noted. “If they’re looking for a knife, as soon as they search for custom knife or damascus, all sorts of stuff pops up to choose from.”
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Kim refuses to hard sell on the platform. “Buyers just ask ‘how much?’ and it is a process of direct messaging between you and that person,” he said. “Some people post prices out there and everything has a different price to it. [Costs of knife- making supplies] have gone up 20 to 25 percent this year. If you’ve got old stock maybe you can keep prices lower, but if it’s newer stock you’ve got to pass the cost on. People will message me if they’re interested in something and then we talk price.”
After seven or eight months on Instagram, Kim sees an unlimited future for the platform.
“All the stuff you’ve posted from when you first started [on Instagram] is out there,” he observed. “So, you don’t have to continually post the same kind of knife. Just as you make them you can throw them up on Instagram.”
Instagram Cautionary Tales
Though social media is asserting itself in the TNK sales process, Ostroff is warily watching developments. His website is still king with his business at this point.
“In spite of Instagram’s popularity and audience, for True North Knives our website still takes in 90 percent of our sales,” he added. “As with any other shopping-cart-based website, the purchase is triggered by the photos, but then we offer a smooth and easy way to select, pay and order the knife. Instagram does not do that. It merely brings the product to the subscribers but then the hunt begins, and many potential buyers must go through many steps trying to contact the knifemaker, who may or may not be available to take an order.”
Another caution from Ostroff is that Instagram provides any seller with an “escape hatch” to sell a knife to anyone and not necessarily the first customer who steps up to buy. When a traditional e-commerce website operates, the item for sale is listed and directly connected to actual inventory; once it is sold it is gone and marked as out of stock. “Fair game for all!” he said.
“Many knifemakers on Instagram are only offering their knives for sale by lottery or raffle. As I don’t buy knives from Instagram I feel sorry for the people who aren’t always ‘attached to’ their phones, and also don’t have the money to, in many cases, overpay for knives due to the hype,” Neil related. “Many knives are sold at grossly inflated prices by knifemakers who are merely looking for the quick buck with no regard for a potential secondary market”—a secondary market that will never come about when the initial/primary purchase price is way too high.
Still, the luster of Instagram has drawn custom makers, purveyors and purchasers to the platform like moths to a flame.
“Initially, the knifemakers get a large audience, not only from active buyers but also from fans who may not be able to afford these knives but who really enjoy seeing the blade—like eye candy,” Ostroff said. “Knifemakers should assign or hire others to manage their account after knives are posted. Potential clients have questions, most of which never get answered by the knifemaker.”
According to Breed, payment is sometimes a sticky proposition. “When people talk with the knifemaker they should use common sense,” he remarked. “Like the internet, Instagram is a great thing, but it can be ugly at the same time. I let a guy place his order, and when I get close to sticking the handle on [the knife], then he needs to pop a check in the mail. Others pay with Paypal as soon as they order a knife, but some want to see what the finished product looks like.”
No, simply an assessment of the pros and cons of a growing medium in the knife industry, one that cannot be ignored and likely will never go away.
“You almost have to get on Instagram,” Breed offered. “The younger generation that was raised on it will be jumping on other sites, too. I get on the computer once or twice a week because I’m spending most of my time making knives. Instagram is nice because it’s on your phone. If you’re grabbing lunch out or in your shop, you can have a brand new knife posted in less than two minutes and can follow up on what is happening with it.”
However, the traditional opportunity to hold the real knife in your hand is diminished. Buying from knife pictures has its own risks. The situation is always improved when buyer and seller really know one another. Time will tell how Instagram truly changes the buying/selling process.
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