Companies on the cutlery side seem to be weathering the COVID-19 era better than those in most other industries, in no small part due to online knife sales. BLADE promised to check on the custom side of things for you, and, though maybe not quite as well as their production brethren, the custom knifemakers we asked about it seem to be holding their own.
Already Practicing Social Distancing
Having employees work from home is one of the measures factory knife and other companies have taken to ensure long-range social distancing and to help control the spread of the virus.
Many custom makers, of course, work out of their home shops and have done so for decades, so they were a step ahead of the game in that regard from the outset.
Moreover, many makers take orders and sell their knives through their own websites, on social media, via email, and through advertising in knife magazines and elsewhere. As a result, not unlike their factory counterparts, they have experienced some success in that area, too. Purveyors who sell the makers’ knives are an added bonus as well.
Ironically, the early lockdown and also the downturn in another industry—travel—actually benefitted at least one knifemaker.
“Good For My Business”
“Honestly, COVID has been real good for my business.At the beginning when everything was closed, we suddenly had a bunch of free weekends when travel all got canceled,” noted Jason Fry.“I used that time to do a lot of knife work.In the first three months of COVID, I have one customer that bought four of the six knivesI put out for sale.Product has continued to move well, even at the $500+ price points.”
Another boost to custom knife sales early on was the federal stimulus and unemployment checks.
“Our sales went up a whole lot when the stimulus checks were sent out and people on unemployment were getting that extra $600 a week,” noted Linda Hibben, wife of BLADE Magazine Cutlery Hall-Of-Fame® member Gil Hibben.
Linda added that while things had slowed down a bit in late summer, Gil continued to accept orders.
“Believe it or not, the Rambo III bowie and machete are still selling,” she enthused. (Along with the third Rambo movie, the Rambo III bowie debuted in 1988.) “We have had several different bowie orders and combat-type knife orders recently.”
“Orders Are Down Overall”
ABS master smith and BLADE contributor Wally Hayes indicated he was still taking orders via email, messenger, Instagram and Facebook, but had “lost a bunch” also.
“I would say orders are down overall,” he stated. Helping take up the slack for Wally are the damascus watch dials he builds for a watchmaker in Oslo, Norway.
Supplies Still Plentiful
As for having enough supplies to fill knife orders, maker George Brackett said he had everything he needed to make about 70 forged knives, with 32 orders “in the pipeline.” After he gets the go-ahead from his doctors following some recent surgery, he’s going to start making knives again.
Fry indicated he’s experienced no real issues with supplies yet, and intends to order bulk every few months.
“I haven’t tried ordering steel lately,” he added, “but belts, etc., haven’t been a problem.”
On the down side have been the cancellations of a number of knife shows, including BLADE Show 2020, the latter a place where many makers would have sold a significant number of knives and taken a large number of orders. (BLADE Show 2021 is set for June 4-6 at the Cobb Galleria Centre in Atlanta.)
If it weren’t for the fact that other knife shows aren’t the go-to venues they once were due to online sales and other factors, such makers no doubt would be hurting more than they are now.
Contracts Still In Place
Another bonus for makers such as Gil is the collaboration agreements they have entered into with factory knife companies. In fact, his long-time contract with United Cutlery is going great knives, including a knife design in the works celebrating his upcoming 65th anniversary as a knifemaker in 2022.
“We have new designs coming out with United on a regular basis,” Linda wrote, “so all is good!”