Accessorize Your Knife Customers

Invest In Thriving Cutlery Market To Maintain Sales Edge.

The world of cutlery isn’t just limited to the knife. There are a number of peripheral and maintenance products in this category, all of which represent another opportunity for a sale. A perfect example: knife sharpeners. Without question, your customer is going to need one or more sharpeners to maintain the edge of their knives, and that’s where you come in — you need to be the one to educate them and sell them quality sharpeners.

A wide range of factors affect profit margins for any given gun store, such as the area’s average income and local head-to-head competition. Typically, knives generate around 20 to 25 percent in favorable circumstances, and can be higher in extremely favorable market conditions. Likewise, the peripheral segments of the cutlery market — such as hatchets/axes, sharpeners and multi-tools — can generate the same percentages. Some firearms retailers neglect selling knives altogether and if you look down the street there’s probably a competitor selling them very successfully. You can’t win if you don’t play!

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Axes and tomahawks are designed for different purposes and it’s important to educate customers.
The Estwing Leather Sportsman’s Axe (top) is primed for field use, while the Estwing Black Edge
Tomahawk is better suited as a breeching tool.

Sharpen Your Focus

The boom in tactical knives for combat and personal defense began 25 years ago with the first Gulf War and hasn’t waned since. Like firearms, a less-than-favorable political environment by some in Washington has spurred on sales as well. The hunting and sporting market has been booming the past five years, in large part to survival and prepping shows on television, plus the rapid rise of the youth-oriented Bushcraft movement.

The firearms you sell generally dictates the type of knives you should carry. If your store leans heavily toward personal-defense and tactical customers, there are knives for that market. In fact, the selection available for sale to your customer is nothing short of astounding. So buy heavily in this product category and go lighter for your hunting, recreational and sporting shooters.

Conversely, there are many stores that cater mainly to hunters and sport shooters, such as skeet and trap shooters — who also tend to be hunters. One fortunate offshoot of the tactical knife explosion is hunting knives got swept up in the excitement and benefited from the movement’s design and technology. Consequently, there is tremendous selection here and you should, once again, buy heavily for this customer base if they represent the majority of your sales.

Needless to say, if your store has a 50-50 mix of tactical and sports shooters, your cutlery offerings should reflect the same.

I frequent two local gun stores and they both excel at carrying knives with a variety of low-, middle- and high-end options. No customer is left out of the mix. You might be surprised to find out some high-end customers only buy inexpensive knives while the opposite is true of those who buy low- to mid-range guns. Personal enthusiasm in knives varies from one customer to the next — regardless of income.

There’s a broad misconception that custom, handmade knives are too expensive to sell in a retail store. However, many custom knives can be found at a price below some manufacturers’ high-end offerings. The best way to seek these out is by attending local gun and knife shows (for area talent) and the BLADE Show in Atlanta, held annually in early June. Many custom artisans offer discounts to dealers and retailers — 40 percent off their list prices is not uncommon — as a normal course of business. Knife enthusiasts tend to hold custom knives in higher regard than manufactured ones and this translates into an opportunity for you to set yourself apart from the competition.

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There are a number of sharpeners available on the market for dealers (from left to right): DMT Diafold,
Fällkniven Diamond Ceramic Whetstone, Smith’s Tactical Field Sharpener, Spyderco bench stone,
EZE-LAP credit card stone and Norton India stone.

Maintain Your Edge

Knife sharpeners are highly varied, from bench stones and field sharpeners to high-tech systems with guided angle adjustments and electric units. Cover the basics first. Bench stones and smaller stones for use in the field are the most widely sold. The most common sharpening mediums are Arkansas stones (and their manufactured Aluminum Oxide and Carborundum/silicon carbide counterparts), diamond and ceramic. It pays to know the difference.

Arkansas stones do a great job of honing carbon steels and older stainless steels, but the newer, much tougher exotic steels produced today for high-end knives require diamond or ceramic. If you carry these you’ll cover all bases. If you sell Arkansas stones, add honing oil to your stock. Note: Diamond mediums require only water and ceramics are kept dry.

The most basic systems are crock sticks and similar “triangulate” sharpeners. The most high-tech are electric tabletop and handheld belt units. Here you might start with the simpler systems and move up the technological chain from there. These do require a more substantial investment.

On the simple side are hand or “pocket” sharpeners, which can be used in emergencies. These are very inexpensive, so you may consider them as in-store giveaways at a certain price point. In essence, sharpeners are a necessity for any knife user and another opportunity for you to add to your bottom line.

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Dealers, as you know, many of your customers also fish — the Saltwater Splizzors from
Buck Knives is a multi-function saltwater fishing tool you can carry for fishermen.

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Multi-tools, like the SOG Knives PowerAssist (top) and PowerDuo, enhance a dealer’s cutlery
cache by providing knife customers with additional options to choose from.

Tool-Up Profits

Another offshoot of the tactical knife boom has been the increased sales of multi-tools and other tools for field use, such as hatchets and axes. Before 1990, you’d be hard pressed to find a multi-tool not made by Leatherman. Today it’s hard to find a cutlery manufacturer who doesn’t have one or two in their stable. Firearms retailers don’t have to buy deep in multi-tools, but a noticeable presence is another opportunity to make a sale. There is an abundance of options from large to small and serious to unconventional.

Two very different market forces have altered the market for axes, tomahawks and hatchets. There are axes and tomahawks primed for tactical breeching and combat, and then there are axes and hatchets more suited for hunters, campers and survivalists. Choose your stock carefully. You don’t want to sell a hunter or camper a breeching tomahawk, as it won’t serve their purposes. Same as multi-tools, buying deep isn’t necessary — but if you’re offering axes, tomahawks and hatchets, you’re in line for additional sales.

Don’t forget other knife-related items, such as fire-starting kits with Ferrocerium or “Ferro” rods that use knives, in many cases, to spark a fire. These come in all shapes and sizes and can be offered for any budget.

All of these items are part of a burgeoning cutlery industry geared toward enhancing the performance of your store. Supplement your firearms sales with cutlery sales and boost your store’s overall profits!
By Pat Covert

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