Editor’s Note: The following article by Pat Crawford was originally published in the April 1980 issue of BLADE, but the advice still holds true today.
New Knifemakers: You’re Not That Special (Yet)
Any knifemaker can make almost any kind of knife, but some knifemakers are better than others. Knowing where you fit in the scheme of things is important, especially for developing a pricing structure that is compatible with the quality of your work.
Those makers who can command big bucks for anything that leaves the shop have paid a lot of dues for this success. And just because your work looks just as good doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll be able to compete with the big names and legends whose work is priced at the higher end of the spectrum.
Remember, even today’s legends got their start by turning out quality work at fair prices.
Make Up Your Mind: Why Are You Here?
Decide where you want to compete in the market. Should you specialize in something unique or should you offer a wide range of products?
The latter strategy has the potential of appealing to a larger share of the knife buying public. One example of this approach is the addition of folding knives to many makers’ offerings.
However, this type of market coverage won’t work for everyone making knives. You will have to decide whether diversification will capitalize on your strengths or spread your resources too thin.
Whatever you decide, the wrong choice could end you up making something that nobody wants. “Being there” at the right time with the right product takes as much hard work as it does luck, whether that product is one knife or a whole line of knives.
Knifemaking Isn’t A Romantic Business
If you think making knives is a fun, romantic way to make a living, you may be overlooking a very important point. Making knives is enjoyable, but it is hard work.
There is a big difference between hobby knifemaking and doing it full-time. Hobby knifemakers (and there are some super part-timers) don’t have to depend on their knives for a living, while full-time makers do.
And the transition from part- to full-time can be a traumatic experience. For the first time, there’s the pressure of getting the work out and meeting delivery dates just to put bread on the table, and what used to be an activity you enjoyed in your spare time is suddenly a job you must do to exist.
Living with a constant backlog, increasing demands, and monthly quotas takes a certain amount of nerve and self-discipline. Roses wilt and so do some knifemakers under this kind of pressure. But, if you enjoy the challenge of a sink or swim kind of life, you may not want to do anything else for a living.
You’re Not Setting Trends, So Jump On One To Get Noticed
It’s a business world fact that some products are more popular than others, and what was popular yesterday may be a dog tomorrow. However, makers who are unable or unwilling to make what the people want have seen once loyal customers flock to those who do.
Trends may be spotted by attending the more popular knife shows and events.
Don’t Count On Word Of Mouth
People will not automatically knock down your door just because you make knives. You have to let the public know what you have to offer; then if you’re lucky, they’ll knock down your door.
Of course, word of mouth advertising is great and it’s free, but a lot of mouths would have to do an awful lot of talking to reach as many people as are reached by a good magazine in even one issue.
Customers’ Attitudes Aren’t The Problem; You Are
People are more likely to buy your knives if they like you as a person. A personal relationship is one of the most important parts of the custom knife trade.
Knifemakers who are unfriendly, too busy to answer questions, too sold on themselves, or just plain rude to potential customers are shorting themselves as well as other makers.
Buckle Up, You’ve Got A Long Way To Go
Even the greatest knifemakers are constantly striving to better their product. Whether it’s a new design, material, or method of construction, there is always something you can do to perfect your product. And believe me, if you don’t, the competition will.
The One Thing That Sinks More Knifemakers Than Anything Else
No knifemaker can get away from the fact that he or she is a small businessman as well as a craftsman. Neglecting the business side of knifemaking has probably put more makers out of business than any other single factor.
You don’t have to be a business whiz to know you can’t have more money going out than you have coming in. To keep track of cash flow, accurate recordkeeping is imperative. This includes knowing the cost, both in time and materials, to produce one knife so the revenue from its sale is enough to cover costs and produce a profit.
See You At BLADE Show
If you’re serious about getting into knifemaking, there’s only one place you need to be: BLADE Show. See you in Atlanta.