Selling Your Knives

BrandantR

Well-Known Member
#1
I've been making my folding knives for about three years now and I'm having a difficult time figuring out how to market and sell them effectively. I'm not really looking to make a lot of money, I just want to sell a few at a modest price as in order for my hobby to pay for itself and maybe keep my shop stocked in sunflower seeds and soda. It can get to be a very expensive hobby when you use high-cost materials and can't find any buyers. To date I have sold a couple to local friends, and a couple more to folks who have stumbled across my knife making blog, which doesn't get a lot of internet traffic. I've thought about the knife shows, but they are all located too far away and I'm far too busy with my day job to try that route. I've messed around with social media, but that's just not my thing. The thought of having to actively market my wares makes me tired just thinking about it. This lead me to the following idea.

I've visited a few websites of knife dealers and purveyors who accept knives from makers on a consignment basis. They charge a fee based on a percentage of the sale price for the knife (around 25-30% seems to be the average) as each knife sells. I know there are many more visitors to these sites than stop by my humble little blog. Consigning on one of these sites will certainly increase the number of people who might see my knives and the consignment fee might well be worth not having to do all of my own marketing. Has anyone here had any experience (good or bad) using one of these dealer sites that they would be willing to share? What sites would be the best to look into?
 

Calvin Robinson

Moderator Christian Forum
#2
Brandant,
I market my knives every where I can. Website, Facebook page, Instagram , knife shows, here on Knife Dogs, every where, all the time. I have professional photos made and they show up in magazines and the Knives annual. It takes a constant effort for many years to generate good sales. I've tried consignment sales and was never happy. I hear a lot of good things about A. G. Russell consignment sales ,The Cutting Edge,and may try them someday. Get after it! Show them everywhere, all the time, it will work over time.
 

BrandantR

Well-Known Member
#4
Brandant, are you open to critique form a fellow new maker? I could PM you if you'd rather talk privately.
I'm definitely open to public critique, Anthony and would appreciate any advise you are willing to offer. My skin is pretty thick, so I encourage any helpful advise. Some open discussion just may help someone else out there too who needs to hear what needs to be said. I've considered a lot of things, like my prices may be too high (very likely), my style of knives may not be what people want, maybe my work just isn't good enough to sell. So, call it like you see it folks and don't pull your punches. Just make your criticism constructive please.
 

jaxxas

Well-Known Member
#5
Hello Brandant,

First off no disrespect to you or anyone else, just my opinion. And I'm not yet a real knife maker yet, just a wanna be, but I'm working on it! But I do own a lot knives. I checked out your knives on your web site and I gotta say they are beautiful! Your file work looks awesome. And while I greatly admire high end 'pretty' knifes I've seen in shows and on this forum I would probably never buy one. I look for function, performance and durability above all else in anything I buy, 'pretty' is dead last. Not that I would exclude nice wood. Probably just my personality quirks but I will probably never buy a gussied-upped knife. Just not my style! And in your price range (or lower) I would humbly suggest you produce a few hardworking knives without the frills, appeal to the masses. Possibly add some tactical aspects. To my mind fancy file work belongs on wall hangers, which also to my mind brings high end buyers who often shop by brand name. My guess is your price on your current offerings is too low for the high end buyer and possibly too high for the working class knife lover looking to get into a hi-end custom made knife.

Anyway this is just my opinion and you do truly make nice looking knives.


Joe
 

Self Made Knives

Well-Known Member
#6
Ok, Brandant, some observations. When you started your blog, or rather when I first became aware of it, I signed up on your email list. Yet, I have never received an email about available knives. I wonder if there's something up with the blog software or if its you, but how many potential sales might be lost there? Someone may sign up and then forget all about you if they haven't heard from you in a while. If there's a bunch of people on that list, you need to work it. Just put a shop update out or some WIP's, just something to keep yourself in their minds.

Then there's Instagram, you started a page and put up a few pics but then quit working it. Instagram is a two way street, you not only need followers, you need to follow others. You need to interact with others, make comments, like their stuff, share their stuff, etc. And it doesn't just have to knife related, share other things too, people like getting to know more about you. You can build connections, lots of them, but it does take time and interaction. Hashtags! They do work, yes, they are a pain in the XXX, but they do get your pics in front of more people. I think Instagram has good possibilities, but it will require you getting on there everyday or two and participating.

Facebook. The dreaded social media giant of them all. Again, just as Instagram, you have to work it. You need to be friends with other makers, lots of other makers. You need to join groups, there's a ton of knife maker groups. You need to interact, comment, post, share, hashtag, etc. You need to accept friend requests in a timely matter, check it everyday. Like me, you haven't accepted my friend request yet :biggrin:. Potential buyers may move on to someone else if they feel you're not responsive. Jazz up your profile! Put some cool pics on there. Make the main page pic look interesting. Post WIPs or just random progress pics.

Other knife forums. This one is hard for me too, I like Knifedogs the best by a long shot. But, there a few others out there that you should try too. If you make hunting knives, there a ton of hunting forums. If you make tactical stuff, there's a ton of those. And on and on.

YouTube. Make a video sometimes, they don't have to be great, they just have to be interesting. People like getting to know you through videos. I suck at making videos, but I've gotten hundreds of requests for knives through YouTube. I tell most of them no because I just don't time to honor them all. But again, it's another avenue. It's another chance for customers to talk to you and see your stuff.

Knife shows. I'm not saying get a table, but rather travel to wherever and go spend a day at a world class show. It will inspire you in ways you can't imagine. You can meet the guys that you look up to, swap stories, get advice, make new friends, etc. I wear a Self Made Knives t-shirt when I go to shows and you'd be amazed at how many people recognize that and want to talk. I mean, really, I'm a nobody, but I've got guys coming up to me and saying they saw me on YouTube or online somewhere. I don't remember where you live, but if there's any way you could go to the Kansas City show this weekend, you should do it! It is awesome!

And lastly, photography. Again, I'm no pro at all, I always think my pics suck. But, we have to keep working on it. You have posted pics of some pretty nice knives, but they were on carpet, or a workbench or in bright sunlight. Don't get me wrong, you've had some good ones too, but I think you need to continually improve on the pics. Study Sharp by Coop, Caleb Royer, Chuck Ward, etc. Or, even splurge and have one of them take some pics for you.

I won't comment on your style of knives, that's not my place. But at some point, if you are doing all the right things and there's still nothing happening, you might consider branching out a little. I don't really think style is your problem, it's probably more of a marketing thing.

I started making knives a little more than 2 years ago and I haven't made nearly as many as some of you guys, I just don't have the time. Back then, I swore I'd never use Facebook, I thought social media was stupid, laughed at all the people saying hashtag this or that. But, knife making tempted me to try it and boy was I wrong. I've got people asking my for stuff all the time! I've started saying no because my list is so long now I'll never get caught up. Social media is where it is at, period.

So, just my 2 cents worth, take or leave it. Tell me I'm stupid and to shut up! Good luck.
 

John Wilson

Well-Known Member
#7
fantastic post, Anthony!

I'm a newb nobody. And I've got a running waiting list. In fact, I haven't made a single knife in the last year that wasn't an order on my backlog. That's good and bad. I want to do personal projects but I am always busy working the backlog.

The only place I have ever marketed my knives is Facebook. What Anthony says is absolutely true. Facebook isn't magical. It's a networking tool, not a sales brochure. The last thing you want to be is one more Ad that everyone will scroll past. They need to see you as an interesting person who happens to make knives.




Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk
 

BrandantR

Well-Known Member
#9
Hello Brandant,

First off no disrespect to you or anyone else, just my opinion. And I'm not yet a real knife maker yet, just a wanna be, but I'm working on it! But I do own a lot knives. I checked out your knives on your web site and I gotta say they are beautiful! Your file work looks awesome. And while I greatly admire high end 'pretty' knifes I've seen in shows and on this forum I would probably never buy one. I look for function, performance and durability above all else in anything I buy, 'pretty' is dead last. Not that I would exclude nice wood. Probably just my personality quirks but I will probably never buy a gussied-upped knife. Just not my style! And in your price range (or lower) I would humbly suggest you produce a few hardworking knives without the frills, appeal to the masses. Possibly add some tactical aspects. To my mind fancy file work belongs on wall hangers, which also to my mind brings high end buyers who often shop by brand name. My guess is your price on your current offerings is too low for the high end buyer and possibly too high for the working class knife lover looking to get into a hi-end custom made knife.

Anyway this is just my opinion and you do truly make nice looking knives.


Joe
Joe, thanks for taking the time to respond. I appreciate your perspective and will definitely consider your suggestion. Great insight!
 

BrandantR

Well-Known Member
#10
Anthony, great post and most likely exactly what I needed to hear! I always thought that knifemaking was like the movie Field of Dreams - if you build it, they will come, LOL. I admit that I haven't payed my dues and spent the time I've needed to market my knives properly.

I have often heard the virtues of social media suggested when it comes to exposing the public to one's product, but I have been reluctant to jump in with both feet. Like you stated, I dabbled with Instagram for a couple of weeks, became disenchanted, and haven't been back in a while. Shame on me I suppose. And Facebook . . . Now there's an elephant that I need to figure out how to eat! I created an account a few years ago, but never go there. Sorry I haven't accepted your friend request. I didn't even know you wanted to be friends. Shows you how much I know about that media. I'm almost sure that a presence there would give me some good exposure. I need to talk my teenagers into teaching me how to use it. There has to be a few benefits for having kids around the house other, right?

The last thing you mentioned was photography. Learning to take some good pics has been a struggle for me for years. I bought a decent DSLR camera, I've made several light boxes of varying sizes, bought an assortment of lights, and played around with some simple photo editors, but I still can't manage a good photo of my work. I've come close a time or two, but never been able to get there. To say the least, it's been a frustrating battle. Like Calvin mentioned above, maybe I need to consider having a professional photographer take some high quality pics of a few of my knives. I just need to sell a few knives to be able to pay for the photos . . . and we're right back where we started (big grin). Round and around we go.

I guess it's pretty clear that there are many tools right there at my fingertips, I just have to pick them up and learn how to use them properly. I appreciate all the great feedback!

I'm still interested in knowing if anyone has had some experience with dealers or purveyors though. So, if you've ever used one, please take a moment and share your experience with the class.
 

jkf96a

Well-Known Member
#11
Anthony gave a good general overview, to flesh out what Calvin said. Harvey Dean told me at a show once, "never miss a chance to sell a knife." Period.... I've sold knives at church, baby showers, wedding showers, car dealerships, you name it. Always be ready to talk about your work, in person, or online.

That said, my mailing list is my biggest selling tool. Over roughly 8 years, I've got around 350 customer emails. When I have a knife for sale, I send it to them first, and they buy 2/3 of them. Build a list, cultivate it by sending them emails from time to time. Mine only gets an email from me every 6 weeks or so, but it'll have news tidbits, upcoming shows, etc in addition to the knives for sale.

In looking at your website, while allowing that it's hard to judge fit and finish entirely from a picture, your pricing looks good enough to me. You're not high, unless the fit is rough.
 
#12
I went to a local blacksmith club meeting back in the spring. There were about 10, maybe 12 guys there and I asked if any of them forged knives. There were two guys who said they did so I struck up a conversation. The first guy only made railroad spike knives, and he admitted they were more of a novelty that he used as trade items. The other guy, a little older, maybe in his mid to upper 60's said that he used to make some nice knives when he was younger, but not much anymore. He pulled out a pocket knife that he had made years ago and showed it to me. But, he now makes railroad spike knives, wrench knives, mystery steel knives, etc. When I asked why he didn't make "real" knives now, he said there's no market for real knives. No one will pay more than about $35 or $40 for a good knife. Obviously puzzled, I showed him some pics of my stuff and told him I charged about $150 on average for hunting knives. He scoffed at me like he didn't believe it. I assured him that I had sold a lot at that price point and didn't really have any trouble finding buyers. When I said that I sold them mainly online, through social media, he said, "Oh, that's explains it, but you can't sell them around here like that". You would think the light bulb should come on right then. He would like to sell nice blades, but will not use social media or the internet in general. So here's a guy that obviously had some skills, but is too stubborn to take advantage of great selling tool. I even told him I would help him learn it and get it set up, and still he wasn't willing. Not trying to beat this to death Brandant, but I would like to see you succeed. Modern selling online is just another tool, just like a grinder or milling machine. When you get a new tool, you have to use it, practice with it, get good at it. If you do end up trying a consignment arrangement, please share how it goes. I am curious about it too.
 

BrandantR

Well-Known Member
#13
Thanks for all the comments, guys! This is all great information that I really needed to hear. I've got to come up with some kind of a web-based marketing plan and use those online tools as suggested. Granted, I make knives as a weekend hobby, so I can't dedicate too much time online, but I'll give it a go and see what happens. I might still send a knife or two off for consignment at one of the online purveyors, just to give it a try. I will let everyone know how my experience goes if I decide to do so. Thanks again, everyone, for sharing your thoughts and experiences.
 

John Wilson

Well-Known Member
#14
Knifemaking is a weekend hobby for me, too. And I don't "SELL" anything. All I do is post photos of my knives, usually the WIP type stuff. People come to me and ask to buy knives. As I mentioned before, I've had a steady backlog for over a year. I have never had a time when there wasn't somebody waiting on a knife. I have never once gone out to sell knives. The only place I have ever done knife business is through Facebook.

Here's a trick:

Post a finished knife on your Facebook page, along with the specs. Ten minutes later, post a comment (a reply) on that same thread, "Thank you all for your interest! But this one is already sold." (people have no idea how many emails and messages you received. even if there are no other comments on your photo, you just said that people have been beating down your door.) People will begin to comment, like "wow! that was fast! I didn't even get to look at it!" Then you comment back and start a conversation. You have to treat Facebook the way you treat KnifeDogs Forums. It's a conversation. It's an interaction. But more than that, on Facebook that conversation generates views by other people.

For anyone who doesn't use it, Facebook is a browsing experience. It's not at all like a website. On Facebook every time a comment is posted, that original picture of your knife pops up again in people's news feed. The news feed is the screen they see when they open Facebook. People open Facebook and they scroll through- it's just like scanning the front page of a newspaper while it's still on the newspaper stand. They browse the headlines. If there's something of interest, that's when they click on it and see what's there. Now imagine that the front page of the newspaper is always updating itself. You never have to open the newspaper, you just keep watching the front page for something interesting to pop up. When you make a comment on a post, that original post pops up again on that front page. In essence, the more comments you get on a post the more times it keeps popping up on the front page. Activity rules the day on Facebook.
 
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#15
Here's a trick: Post a finished knife on your Facebook page, along with the specs. Ten minutes later, post a comment (a reply) on that same thread, "Thank you all for your interest! But this one is already sold."
Exactly John! I've put a knife or two on Instagram and said it is available to the first person that PM's me. (This works better with private messages). I may only get 2 or 3 PMs, but when I go back on Instagram I just say, "Ok everybody stop PMing me, this one is sold." They don't have to know I only had 2 customers, they may think I was swamped with a 100. But, it makes the lurkers think they'd better get in there a little faster next time.
 

John Wilson

Well-Known Member
#16
So true, Anthony. It generates excitement and it keeps the tire kickers at bay. Tire kickers are never the early responders in my experience.

I'll tell you another lesson I wish I'd have learned earlier: Just because I'm frugal doesn't mean everyone else is. There are people out there who don't think twice about throwing down money that would cause me to choke. The biggest trap any maker can set for himself is to be too cheap. I'll be honest- I used to get nervous asking what I thought was a very high price, based on what I'd want to pay for something. Then I got the best piece of advice I ever got: Determine your price the very second you finish the knife. If this was a day job, what would somebody have to pay you to make that knife again, right now? I'll tell you what- that number is a darn sight higher than any price you'd come up with later on when your fingers are healed and and your back isn't hurting. That advice hit me hard. My prices doubled that day. Lo and behold, it hasn't hurt sales, either. Bonus: I'm no longer "Johnny's budget knife factory" either.
 

BossDog

KnifeDogs.com & USAknifemaker.com Owner
#17
Some makers use dealers/purveyors almost exclusively, some occasionally, most don't.
Purveyors tend to the higher end of collectable knives. Dealers sell what they can get their hands on in line with their inventory focus. Some dealers sell anything, some specialize.
Most charge 25% to 30% of retail. Newer, less know makers will often have to give a bigger discount as the dealer doesn't know how fast a knife will sell. Well known, established makers that sell quickly usually negotiate a lower discount or move to another dealer/purveyor that will accept less profit for a faster turn over.

There is an advantage to using a dealer/purveyor. You have one customer and little to no additional work to sell knives.
There is a disadvantage also, you don't get full retail and the dealer may or may not do a good job promoting your knife.

I have seen dozens of times when a dealer comes through a knife show and buys out a makers entire table. The maker is usually pretty happy - even with the discount they have to give the dealer. It's a big sale and the maker has a fad wad of money. The downside to this is the maker has nothing left to show the hundreds (or thousands) of customers strolling through the knife show. Many customers buy into the personality and relationship with the maker and if you don't have something to hand them/sell them you lose that.

Some dealer/purveyors take commission items. You send them the knife, they post it, sell it and charge you from 10% to 20%. Sometimes this works well, other times it doesn't work out at all. In every case, agree to a maximum amount of time in advance a dealer holds your commission knife. Agree to a "no lower than" price. Be open to offers because they will happen as buyers often want to negotiate. This part of it isn't much different than selling direct really.

Dealers/purveyors have to work at selling. There are legitimate expenses that have to be paid. There is time, effort, travel, show expense, emails, conversations, web and social media sites to promote. Then comes shipping, returns, warranty, scammers, knife makers and customers to deal with. On top of that, they have to feed their family.

There are some makers that really do not care for purveyors/dealers. They resent what they see as too large of percentage of the end sale retail. I personally think they help provide liquidity to the market for custom makers and keep the inventory moving around. In most cases, they market aggressively and help the community overall. Purveyors absolutely can improve the collect ability and resale prices of some makers. In a few rare cases, they swindle a maker (or customer) but they usually are found out quickly and disappear as the community is small and fairly well connected.
 
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J. Doyle

Dealer - Purveyor
#18
This is a great thread....one of the more interesting ones I've read in a while. Some good info in here, I especially agree with Calvin, John Wilson and Anthony in their posts.

I'll throw some other advice in here too, with pricing being the main focus.

I think the first thing to do is to learn to evaluate your own work ACCURATELY and HONESTLY. Figure out where you fit in with other makers work and watch what that kind of work is going for. This will help you on your prices and your market value.

One thing that I've seen too many newer makers (and some veteran makers) do is price a knife well below what it's worth because "I'm just a hobby maker" or "I just need to cover supplies and materials for more knives" or "I have a full time job or my spouse has a full time job". DON'T DO THAT!!!!! Price your knives fairly but do not sell yourself short. That kills the guys trying to make a living and it will hurt you too eventually. It isn't good for anybody in the business and it ultimately contributes to driving all prices down. It might look like a good thing to a very few makers, for a while, but it will eventually skew the whole market.

Also, figure out a fair price, not too high and not too low, and price your knife and state it boldly and confidently and then STICK TO IT!!!!! And learn to have some patience with it. This thing that's become so common of lowering prices if it doesn't sell right away, is not wise. I've seen countless makers lower prices after one day. Heck, I've seen a few makers lower prices two or three times in a 24 hour period. That's ridiculous and all it's going to do is condition your customers to wait for a lower price. If you state a price and say the knife is $xxx and someone says it's too high and you come right back with, 'well, I could go down to $yyy' what does that say about you? Didn't you come forward right off the bat with a fair price? Or does that look like you might have been gouging a little?

There are obviously a few exceptions to the rules. If you have a knife that you've had for 9 months at 3 different shows and posted online and it didn't sell, you may have to re-evaluate things. But take a look and see....is it the materials/design or the price. Don't just automatically assume it's the price. But it might be. But give it some fair time to determine that. And that time isn't a day or even a week or even a few weeks.

IF there are ever to be discounts/deals/price drops made....do it in private. Email or PM or in person away from a table full of people. Don't every show publicly to the masses that you are always willing to negotiate price. And don't do it all the time. In the big picture, you want to be know for putting a fair price on your knives and sticking to it, for the most part.
 

J. Doyle

Dealer - Purveyor
#19
As for the dealer/purveyor thing...Tracy is right on. About the 20-30% discount.... if you have to spend a ton of time marketing, photographing and trying to sell, what's that worth to you? That's time that could be spent making more knives. What about advertising? you'd spend money on that. You could look at dealers as advertising costs. And they will likely get a LOT more views from serious knife buyers than your personal site and social media....unless you're a marketing phenom already, in which case, you probably don't have the selling issues anyway.

All that stuff could easily add up to 20 or 30% of your end cost.
 

BrandantR

Well-Known Member
#20
Man, I'm so glad that I started this thread!!! All of the information is making my head spin a little bit, but it's all great stuff. I just spent the last couple of hours poking around Facebook, pushing buttons and making a few posts. I think I can make at least that one tool work.

Thanks Tracy and John for your input on purveyors/dealers. I'm aware of the ins and outs of these services. For some of us who are not good at marketing or work, it might be worth paying their fees and letting them do what they do to sell our product.

John, your comments about pricing sting a little bit . . . LOL. I just lowered the prices on all my knives listed on my website, trying to force a few sales, and I'm also guilty of the "I just need to cover supplies and materials for more knives" way of thinking. I've looked around at what I would consider comparable knives to the ones I make, and I think my asking prices are on the low end of the scale. I'm definitely working for peanuts if I figure up the hours and materials/consumables costs. Pricing has been one of the big "wrestles" I've been having as a new maker and could be the focus on a whole other thread. Thanks for your input.
 
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