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Retailing knives.

How are knife sales made? That's the question I set out to answer by contacting a baker's dozen retailers who deal in knives. These were all sporting goods stores, not cutlery shops, and I quickly learned that all 13 had a slightly different story to tell.

Seven said that knife sales were brisk. Six said knife sales were slow. All claimed folding knives and lightweight jack knives were doing better than fixed-blade sheath knives. Three veteran cutlers concluded that selling knives is nothing like the "old days," when there were more unique patterns for sale.

Bernard Levine, famous for his writings and ideas on blades, remembers dozens of different knife patterns with handsome names such as the Church Window and the Swell-Center Jack, along with the Sunfish, Orange Blossom and Teardrop.

We're not so colorful today. Many of our knives go by numbers rather than names. For example, Bowker's #85 is a folding jack with razor and pen blades. The #93 is a folding sportsman bird-long clip blade.

Nostalgic memories indicate that old-time knives were better made than today's, but when the rose-colored glasses are removed, it turns out that we have quality blades in 1991 that are every bit as good - if not better - than grandfather's.

But were the knives of 40 years ago radically different from our folders? It depends on the knife. Certainly they were nothing like Boker's high-tech folding ceramic bladed knife, but they were larger-size knives and they did fold.

Yesterday or today, no small dealer can hope to inventory even a minor part of the knives that are available for sporting purposes. The retailer who wants to sell a knife today has to wear salesman's bifocals. He must focus on a solid line of display knives for the buyer who won't wait for a spcial order. He must also focus on that special order. He which only a few buyers are interested.

The prospective knife buyer must hear a message that shouts: "We have a good display of knives, but we also order knives. Ask us for what you want."

There is a small place for keepsake/collector knives among the display too because long ago knives slipped the bonds of being tools only. Not too many customers are going to be interested in that collectible Damascus knife that can cost as much as a rifle, but you certainly don't want to turn away a knife customer willing to spend $ 1,000 on a blade.

Selling The Knife

Clerking is essential in all sporting goods sales. Some things sell themselves, but it never hurts a retailer to know his wares. Catalogs contain solid information on steels and styles, and videos such as Cold Steel's instructional tape can teach the novice a great deal. The retailer should be able to see how a knife supports any other product purchased in his store and take the opporutnity to suggest a new knife to a sportsman who has just purchased a rifle, shotgun, tent, stove or any other sporting product.

How about th epoints that sell a knife? Style or design are as important as the pattern of the unit. The function and construction of a knife can't be overlooked. Its keepsake value is important - is it utilitarian only, functional and collectible, or just collectible? The brand and the guarantee are also important. Special features like these that make the knife unique should be pointed out to a prospective buyer.

Each of these areas can become fairly involved. It isn't necessary for the retailer to be a walking encyclopedia, but he should be able to tell the customer how a knife is constructed and designed. It's also imperative that the clerk know "what's hot and what's not." For example, my contacts all admitted that folding knives were currently doing better than factory-made standard fixed-blade knives.

Knife sales suffer from three positive knife qualities. First, knives are well-made. A knife is not a can of beans; you don't consume it today and and buy a new one tomorrow.

Second, at least one manufacturer will replace a lost knife. Since knives don't wear out, the best way to sell a new one is to have a customer lose his old one - unless it is backed up against loss!

Third, there are usually good guarantees with a knife which are readily honored. If a problem model gets away from the factory and breaks within the time frame of the warranty, it's going to be replaced by the manufacturer. All positive attributes, but they don't help sell knives.

Knifes are not cars. A new fender shape may sell a car, but knives don't become obsolete because of style. However, there are innovations which can generate retail sales. Many knives are unique due to modern materials and manufacturing methods. The retailer has to know about these new knives and what they have to offer.

The ceramic blade is one such innovation that demands attention. While these knives are not ideal for everything, they possess one feature that is unbeatable: they stay sharp. I have been testing a Boker folding ceramic knife that has now field dressed and skinned seven big game animals. It is still as sharp as the day it came out of the box. tHis is just the type of innovation a knife retailer needs to be aware of.

Finally, there are the special-interest knives. A retail store that caters to the needs of the Boy Scouts, for example, will certainly profit by knowing what knives are acceptable to that group. Of course there are generic markets comprised of hunters, fishermen, and campers, all of whom require a somewhat different blade for their individual hobbies.

Knive selling, in the end, is like any other market. It varies with season and area. The retailer has to know the buyers in his area - what they are doing and what they need to do it with, including a knife. He has to be in tune with them because they represent sales.
COPYRIGHT 1991 Publishers' Development Corporation
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Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Fadala, Sam
Publication:Shooting Industry
Date:Nov 1, 1991
Words:998
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