After smashing years in the post-pandemic, knife buying has somewhat cooled for the time being.
While the outward signs of the pandemic—masks, shutdowns, etc.—that ravaged the world in the earlier part of the decade are largely gone now, the economic impacts remain. That includes in the world of knives.
Factory knife sales rolled right along in the first couple of years or so of the pandemic, due partly to the federal government stimulus checks and extended unemployment benefits offered to many Americans. The checks and benefits eventually stopped but healthy knife sales continued unabated throughout much of the factory knife industry into mid-2022. That’s when one company experiencing record sales the first six months saw consumer spending “suddenly jerk to a halt in the second half” of the year.
“Dealers had loaded up with knives going into the summer because they expected the Covid spending wave to continue and were left holding a ton of inventory that’s been moving very slow ever since,” wrote the company’s spokesperson. Consequently, he noted, his company’s sales were down about 30 percent in 2023.
However, again according to the company spokesperson, as important a role as the end of the flow of the “free” government money to Americans would seem to have played in the knife sales downturn, it “was small potatoes” in comparison to two larger factors—a poor economy and a lack of consumer discretionary funds in general.
“Confidence is down, so people are being conservative with their discretionary spending,” he noted. “Second, not everyone has discretionary funds, so while the cost of pretty much everything continues to rise, income growth is stagnant for people who were already underpaid.”
Another company spokesperson who stated his company’s sales were down about 8 percent in 2023 cited another cause.
“There is also pent-up demand to go out to restaurants and clubs since the pandemic. People are spending money on experiences [instead of on knives],” he opined. “I see this as temporary and will subside as they realize hamburgers cost $18 and service stinks.”
Even though TOPS Knives’ sales were up 15 percent at BLADE Show West ’23 over the previous year’s show, company general manager Craig Powell indicated he still noticed a sign of conservative knife buying at this year’s show in Salt Lake City.
“We are seeing people tighten their belts and being a little more frugal than in years past,” he observed after the show. Rather than the belt-tightening being reflected in the prices paid for individual knives, Craig wrote, “We saw people that otherwise would have purchased two or three knives buy just the one.”
It should be noted that not every company BLADE® contacted experienced sales drops in ’23. For instance, Condor Tool & Knife reported sales were even compared to ’22, while Coast reported a solid increase of 12 percent in ’23. Officials of both companies indicated they would not be raising prices in ’24, though the aforementioned companies that suffered sales drops in ’23 will be.
“We have a few products going up in price in 2024,” one company spokesperson wrote, “somewhere between 3 and 5 percent, mostly to cover our increased costs in labor and fuel.” Another company spokesperson stated his company would be implementing a 5 percent increase across the board for similar reasons. “We’re hearing that other brands are raising their prices much more than that, so we’re doing everything we can to keep our knives as affordable as possible for consumers without reducing quality,” he observed.
It should be noted here that the companies cited in this story represent a small segment of the industry. Moreover, we at BLADE believe in the ebb and flow of knife sales as outlined by Chris Quinn of GP Knives, and that most of the players in the knife industry who experienced down years won’t be down for long.
Nonetheless, perhaps more than ever, BLADE urges you to monitor the prices charged for knives in 2024. Today’s knives are of higher production quality and materials than their predecessors but, as always, it’s up to you to ensure that you get the best knife with the best bang for your buck.
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