Forecasting Cutlery Sales In A
User-Friendly, Post-Election Climate
By Pat Covert
Speculation abounds as to what’s ahead for the firearms and cutlery industries in the new America forged by President Donald Trump. Tending to run in unison, firearms and cutlery sales soared under the previous anti-gun administration — particularly in the tactical and self-defense segments. While the political incentive has been somewhat compromised there’s a big bright spot on the horizon. Many of those new customers introduced to both firearms and knives during the past eight years are ready to grow their interests, while longtime users can now focus on other genres such as the sporting arenas or simply beef up their collections.
While it’s still early in the process (as I write this, Inauguration Day is a couple weeks off), we wanted to get professional opinions on how the future of cutlery might unfold in 2017 by soliciting comments from three experienced members in this niche industry. Allen Elishewitz has been one of the top custom knifemakers in the tactical arena for over three decades; he also designs the Hogue Knives line and is a competitive shooter. Seasoned cutler Bob Dozier has long been one of the custom industry’s top sellers in sporting knives and has his designs produced by KA-BAR and Ontario Knife Co. Our third contributor, Lindsey Phelps, has almost a decade under her belt serving as Columbia River Knife & Tools’ (CRKT) sales manager.
Impact On Tactical Market?
Some observers may think the future of the tactical segment will be hardest hit in a “relaxed” political environment … not Allen Elishewitz. Crime and instability, especially in urban areas, has surged and the problems created aren’t going to be solved overnight.
“Crime is a threat to one’s personal safety — and of their family,” Elishewitz stated. “It always has been since the beginning of time.”
Knives, for the most part, flew under the radar during Obama’s anti-gun years. Even though we can assume an easing of firearms regulations under the Trump administration, there will still be places and circumstances that prohibit concealed carry.
In these cases a knife makes sense for a self-defense tool.
Elishewitz doesn’t expect wholesale changes in the tactical end of the cutlery market, but believes some shifting in priorities will occur.
“I don’t think much will change; I’ve been making knives for over 30 years and the political climate has never affected the advancement in knives. Most likely, more laws and regulations against knives will be abolished,” he predicted.
However, Elishewitz had an interesting observation on how firearm manufacturers will respond due to the results of the 2016 election season.
“During this past administration, there were a number of gun companies offering knives and edged tools — probably due to a desire to diversify their portfolios. With an openly pro-gun administration, I believe these manufacturers will put the focus back on firearms,” he noted.
Additionally, Elishewitz forecasts many of the new knife users brought into the cutlery fold the past few years will expand their interest in more upscale knives.
“Just like in any kind of collecting, at the beginning you start with something simple and inexpensive and as your interest and knowledge advance, so will your taste and the quest for a more refined and unique item,” he said.
Hogue EX-T01 Tomahawk
The Outdoors Equation
By and large, the sporting/outdoors segment of the cutlery industry did as well as the tactical segment due to huge gains in the popularity of the Bushcraft and survivalist genres. Bob Dozier’s handmade sporting knives have been his bread and butter for over 40 years; his Arkansas Made line, co-owned by stepson Daniel Crotts, is well established. Dozier sells a broad range of knives from affordably priced, baseline full-tang hunters and skinners all the way up to top shelf, Stag-handled hidden tang fare.
“Our sales never dropped off during the tactical boom times. In fact they increased,” Dozier observed. “We’ve always sold more knives, primarily fixed blades, to outdoorsmen like hunters, fishermen and campers. Our tactical knives have done well, too, but the majority of our customers want a good hunting or camping fixed blade.”
Looking forward to the next few years, Dozier feels optimistic about his business growth.
“I think with a pro-gun president we’ll see buyers relax a bit and enjoy the outdoors more. It will be a breath of fresh air to get out and have some fun — which means more sporting knife sales,” he concluded.
A Manufacturer’s Perspective
CRKT has been a mainstay in the cutlery industry for over 20 years. Built on producing affordable tactical and sporting knives, CRKT continues to be a hot pick for cutlery customers today. According to Sales Manager Lindsey Phelps, the company plans to take advantage of the influx of new customers brought in during the Obama years: “With these new users, our hope is they’ll continue to purchase knives and tools for their everyday needs.”
Phelps stressed self-defense never goes out of style, nor does utility.
“It’s always good to have some sort of self-protection. That being said, and since a knife is a daily tool, carrying one for everyday needs will continue to be the norm,” she said.
Additionally, Phelps predicts innovation will be key to maintain and grow a stable customer base.
“Leading knife manufacturers will continue on a path of bringing cool and cutting edge products to the market that showcase exciting innovations. For example, Ken Onion’s Field Strip technology allows you to disassemble your knife without any tools in the field. This aligns perfectly with the gun industry, and we expect a synergy with having guns and knives outdoorsmen can clean in the field,” she noted.
Meeting customer demand will be key to success this year in the cutlery market.
“I think the sporting segment will continue to do its thing. People want cool knives no matter how we categorize them. It doesn’t matter if it’s labeled outdoor, EDC, hunting or tactical — if the design is cool and it cuts, they’ll buy it,” she added.
Looking For The “Edge Ahead”
Dozier and Elishewitz — who have both been through numerous political changes — don’t expect a drop-off in cutlery sales due to a more firearms-friendly government position. In fact they, along with Phelps, see an opportunity ahead by taking advantage of a customer base that has greatly expanded over the past decade.
Retailers can also benefit from the influx of new customers who are going to be more upscale and sports-minded by padding their bottom line with custom and factory cutlery.