The Business of Knife Shows

#1
I posted this in the thread about the Blade 2010.

I thought it might actually be more appropriate here:

I have been setting up at shows for almost 25 years.

One constant truth through those hundreds of shows has been:

Some makers will sell out

Some makers will do ok

Some makers will sell nothing.

The other truth is that most of the makers who sell little or nothing will look for an excuse other than themselves.

Could the Blade Show been run better last year. Yes.

The biggest complaint seemed/seems to be that the names of the table holders did not make it to print or the wrong name was put on the advertising.

This happened to me. I was listed initially by my corporation name. I then pointed out to the staff that the contract shows Robertson's Custom Cutlery. Yes, it took 2 emails to get this right. Lesson...Follow up...Follow up...Follow up.

The bigger question should be...why are you counting on the Blade Show to do your advertising for you? Yes, your name should be on the list...that is a given.

However, what are else are you doing to let people know you are setting up and where you are going to be?

If you aren't sending out invites, emails, making phone calls, etc. The question is why not? If you are, did you find what you did was enough or do you need to do more?

The Blade Show is no longer a knife show...it is now an event. To the point that many people go...just to go. Many will spend their "knife" money just to get there.

The bigger reality for all knife shows is a combination of 3 things.

1) The economy. While many report brisk sales...others have definitely seen a slow down in sales and maybe even more telling orders.

2) Cost of travel and actual and/or perceived lack of security when flying.

3) The Internet.

I had the worst Blade Show I had ever had in 18 years of setting up at the show.

After the show I sat at my desk and made notes from the show. What I found out was that the 3 days prior to the show I sold almost 5 times as many knives from Internet sales than I did at the show.

I started talking to collectors about why they purchased before the show.

Almost all of them gave me the answer that the economy has made them re-think how they spend their knife money. Most told me that the show cost them $400 - $900 to attend. Combined with the security issue for their purchases at shows when flying back. They decided to take there show expenses and buy knives off the Internet.

This explained why I had an exceptional pre-Blade sales flurry and a very slow weekend at the show.

The main reason why so many makers have poor Blade show is that their knives are overpriced.

These makers do not know their position in the market. Consequently their pricing is based more on what a fellow knife maker told them or what they saw another knife maker asking for their knives.

Next is that makers don't have a plan for the show. That is to say they are not taking the "pulse" of the market. Consequently they bring what they think will sell...not what the market is telling them what customers will buy.

Next are the group of makers who complain the most and have the most excuses as to why their knives didn't sell...These are the makers who "Make what they want". They are generally easy to spot. Poor designs, poor execution, miss-matched handle and guard materials, over priced etc.

The Blade Show is without a doubt the most competitive show in the world. My comment is based solely on the amount of custom knives that are available at the show. So you had better bring your "A" game if you want to be successful.

Back to my point. Take the responsibility of letting people know you are attending the show and what your table number is out of the hands of Blade. Put it where it belongs...in your hands.

Remember, every thing you do Good, Bad or Indifferent is your "fault" (Responsibility).
 
#3
Hi Denton,

You are welcome.

Given the current market, I think it is a mistake for a maker not to have a "plan" for any show they attend.

Collectors/buyers today are better informed than ever. Many (if not all) at least consider a makers knives desirability in the after market.

More times than not, they know a makers position and desirability.

While many claim that custom knives are not good investments. Check out the lines for those makers with a drawing. The main reason the majority of those people are in line. Because if they can get one of those knives they can sell it for a profit almost immediately.

I have fostered the idea of a 80/20 rule (with apologies to Mr. Pareto) regarding the compostion of the knives you bring to a show.

That is 80% of the knives should be geared to what the buying public wants. Style, materials and price points are the main considerations.

The 20% is where the maker can exhibit their skills (and pricing) beyond the 80% knives.

Selling the 80% knives will pay for the shows expenses. No, every knife you sell is not pure profit.

Net Profit: is calculated by subtracting the knife makers expenses for making the knife (materials, labor and fixed costs..generally the main 3 to consider) are subtracted from the selling price. That Net Profit is what you use to pay for your travel, hotel, food and table fee.

Most makers who only have 2 - 3 knives to sell (and sell out) do not have a profitable show.

When you are putting together you show plan Take into considerations your expenses when planing which knives you will make and take to the show.

Pricing your knives appropriately will allow you to cover your expenses. This will go a long way to really enjoying the show.
 
L

Larry B.

Guest
#4
Very interesting read Les. Very informative.

I think it was 1998 or so when I was at a NY show and went over to Les's table. He had at least 15-20 Ken Onion Speed Safes for sale. $500.00 a piece, can you imagine that. Im bought two of them. Who knew what those knives would bring later. I have since sold them. :D
 

Les George

Admin - Founding Member
#5
Good thread Les! :)

Having a plan and working that plan is very important. As Les points out, it's a lot more fun to be at a show that you sell knives than one that you don't!

That being said, as I have mentioned else where on the internet, you do not have to sell one knife at a show for it to be a success!

To me, a show is not a realistic way to sell knives and make money. I could box up the knives I am going to take to Blade show and send them to a dealer and even with a dealer discount make more money.

The dealer discount is less than my travel expenses for the most part.

But as pointed out, these shows are events! The person that spends all his cash to get to the show today may be your biggest customer in 2 years!

You never know what will come of a show, it really is the most intense advertising you can do, putting a knife in that many hands....

You get to see in person how a someone reacts to it the first time. If the thumb stud location could be improved, is the detent right, any number of things that people will look at and may not even comment about. If you pay attention, you can learn a lot.

I look at shows mainly as advertising, but I do enjoy the event aspect of them... most of the time! ;)

That being said, I try to always go with a purpose!

See you guys out there! Blade show table 19-C ;)
 
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Steven Kelly

Forum Owner & Moderator
#6
I think that the days of huge profitable shows are a thing of the past. Weather it be a knife show or any other kind of show. I think Les hit it right on the head. It is much safer and more financially responsible, if you will, for collectors to buy their knives from either the makers or purveyors over the internet. Heck, i give a 1 week unconditional money back guarantee with all of my sales. If the buyer doesn't like the knife when he gets it, just send it back and all he is out is some shipping cost.
I do feel that shows bring an intrinsic value of personality to the table. Where else in the world can someone go and meet so many talented people who have one common interest? The shows have a value to me as a maker way beyond selling knives. I go to the show, put on my A game and meet and visit with as many people as I possibly can in those 3 days. If I sell some knives, then that is a bonus. But the real value to the show is the networking that will help sustain your business far beyond the 3 days you spend there.
As Les has stated time and again, keep everything in proper perspective and understand the benefits that a show has to offer. Get over the whole " I sold out" or "I didn't sell anything" mentality. Look at what is going on on your business 3 months after the show. Then understand how that cam about. Chances are, if you put in the work and effort at the show, some of that success is because of it..

See ya all at Blade.. Please stop by and say hi.. I'll be at table 5-S again this year!!!
 

zappadragon

Well-Known Member
#7
Great post and great information. I think as a collector/buyer/wanna be dealer Blade 2009 was a bit odd. Although it was my first Blade Show I was happy yet very pissed off at times. I have a VIP pass and a game plan, but when I got in the door I kind of got lost and buy the time I got to the table of te knife maker I came to the show for he was sold out. Except for the little mini knife he had in his pocket that he would not sell to me, but later sold to someone else. (Not Pissed about this at all) That was a funny story. Back on track. So after that I said I would take my time and check every table I could and just work the room. Some makers were very cool and stopped and talked to you and asked questions. "What do you like about this one? or What don't you like about this one?" Some tables I was a bit careful not to touch as the price of some of the knife was WAY out of my price range and the person at the table would look at me and say "you have to hold it, or fire it, if it was an auto" That was very cool. But then there were people that took one look at me and thought I did not have the money to spend or they just did not care about selling there knives. I remember one table that had something I liked and they were sitting there on was reading a book. They looked at me and then went back to the book. Now I had cash money in my pocket ready to burn, but they could care less. I was going to ask to hold it but they did not even look up and I walked away. This was a real bummer and made me mad.

On the good side there was the makers/dealers that would let you fondle the blades and talk to you and tell you to put it in your pocket to see how it feels. That to me makes you stand out and want to spend my money with them.

Well lets all hope for a better Blade 2010.
 
#9
Hi Zappa,

When I do my seminar at the Blade show I get asked all the time about "Which makers are the next hot makers or which makers should I look at, etc."

The answer will vary given what the market is doing.

However, I always include in my answer. If you find a maker that cannot get excited about their work (Doesn't want to answer questions, reads a book, etc.)
Then how can they expect you to get excited about their work.

One of the "old school" sales techniques was to "Act Indifferent". Giving the appearance that "My knives are so good if you don't buy one someone else will."

This was from the same school that had makers saying "why are you looking at that....you know you can't afford it." As if to challenge you into buying the knife.

I have had an outline for a book on the business of custom knives sitting on my computer for years. I haven't written the book because as much as I think it would help makers...I just don't think that there is that much interest in those aspects of custom knives..

Another reason for the book reader may be that he is just very shy and has difficulty "selling" his knives. Many people find selling to be very difficult.

I wrote in my custom knife buying guide the 7 questions I used to ask makers. I found these specific questions helped me to determine which makers could best suit my needs. As well when I made the transition to becoming a dealer these questions gave me a great starting point to determine if these makers would be around long.
 

Les Voorhies

Badge Boss Admin Dog Catcher
#10
Another reason for the book reader may be that he is just very shy and has difficulty "selling" his knives. Many people find selling to be very difficult.
Les, do you have an answer for this problem? I won't sit and rerad a bookj but I suffer from lack of salesmanship and unless the customer asks questions, about all I can get out of my mouth is Hello, feel free to pick them up and play with them and have a good day.

When I got out of the air force in 1988 we moved to MN. where my wife's family was and my father-in-law set me up seal coating driveways, the problem was that very few people went looking for seal coaters so I had to go door to door and I hated it. It only took the slightest whisper of a "no" and I'd be saying thanks anyway and heading on to the next house. My father-in-law would get a job in 1 in 20 houses, I'd get more like 1 in 100. I've listened to people "sell" their knives and in some cases it involves telling the customer how much better their knives are than others and I just can't imagine going that far. I think my lack of social skills cost's me some sales but it would be good to have some guidance in this matter for some of us (I know I'm not the only one), so maybe you should write this book :)
 

12345678910

Well-Known Member
#11
I wrote in my custom knife buying guide the 7 questions I used to ask makers. I found these specific questions helped me to determine which makers could best suit my needs. As well when I made the transition to becoming a dealer these questions gave me a great starting point to determine if these makers would be around long.
So are you going to tell us what they are ?
 

StephanFowler

Well-Known Member
#12
Les, do you have an answer for this problem? I won't sit and rerad a bookj but I suffer from lack of salesmanship and unless the customer asks questions, about all I can get out of my mouth is Hello, feel free to pick them up and play with them and have a good day.

When I got out of the air force in 1988 we moved to MN. where my wife's family was and my father-in-law set me up seal coating driveways, the problem was that very few people went looking for seal coaters so I had to go door to door and I hated it. It only took the slightest whisper of a "no" and I'd be saying thanks anyway and heading on to the next house. My father-in-law would get a job in 1 in 20 houses, I'd get more like 1 in 100. I've listened to people "sell" their knives and in some cases it involves telling the customer how much better their knives are than others and I just can't imagine going that far. I think my lack of social skills cost's me some sales but it would be good to have some guidance in this matter for some of us (I know I'm not the only one), so maybe you should write this book :)


I make a determined point not to give negative feedback of any sort in a public manner, and if that is the sales technique used by a maker I can't imagine it doing well for him.

My "salesmanship" as it were, is to simply be excited about the knife I'm trying to sell

check out the Hamon I got on that one, how it curves with the tip and flows into the ricasso. and I managed to get the really deep lobes towards the edge

check out the handle, that curve right there has taken me years to get just right, but it lets the handle just melt into your hand giving a really positive control in a variety of grips.

and that guard, the polish came out just great and it seats up PERFECTLY to the blade, thats hard to do.


etc
etc
etc
 

zappadragon

Well-Known Member
#13
Les I would love to read that book!

Now the one thing I remember tht I thought was so funny about the book readers and the one that thought I did not have enough money to buy the blades was the "high end" dealers table the I was looking at. It was just me and him, we made eye contace and I said hello and drooled over some of his blades. I got as close as I could looking and not touching and said these were all beautiful blade. He looked at me and said "well pick it up and hold it" Then made a joke about never being able to sell me a knife if I dont hold it. This was very true and cool. I was holding a knife we both knew I could not afford but he was just like "Whatever".

It was just very odd for me to we looking at someones knives on there table/s and not even get a hello. I am not asking for an in depth conversation about the knives / economy /whatever. Just let me the customer know that you saw me.

Then there were the guys that just want to ******** for hours....... 2thumbs
 

Sean Cochran

Well-Known Member
#14
Les, do you have an answer for this problem? I won't sit and rerad a bookj but I suffer from lack of salesmanship and unless the customer asks questions, about all I can get out of my mouth is Hello, feel free to pick them up and play with them and have a good day.

When I got out of the air force in 1988 we moved to MN. where my wife's family was and my father-in-law set me up seal coating driveways, the problem was that very few people went looking for seal coaters so I had to go door to door and I hated it. It only took the slightest whisper of a "no" and I'd be saying thanks anyway and heading on to the next house. My father-in-law would get a job in 1 in 20 houses, I'd get more like 1 in 100. I've listened to people "sell" their knives and in some cases it involves telling the customer how much better their knives are than others and I just can't imagine going that far. I think my lack of social skills cost's me some sales but it would be good to have some guidance in this matter for some of us (I know I'm not the only one), so maybe you should write this book :)
Les
Having spent most of my adult life in sales and marketing I can tell you this, Mr Fowler is right. The most important thing you can do is be excited. People dont want to be sold, so dont "sale" them. Tell them about your product and be excited about it.
Another point is people like to buy from someone who is like them. When a customer comes up find some way to get common ground with them, favorite sports team, band, tv show, something. It is much easier than you think. There is a term in sales called "fact finding" it is where you ask a few simple questions (i.e. Where are you from? What do you do for a living? What is your favorite knife? etc.) what this does is give information for common ground.
Once you find something in common, have a conversation with them, nothing deep (and yes skip the politics and religion:)). Get to know them a little. Be sincere, nothing is worse than knowing a salesman is faking interest.
You can then transition into the sale, if you have done the first part the sale will take care of itself.

It amazes me how bad we knifemakers are as a whole at marketing. Everyone says "you have to get your name known". I agree, I just disagree about how to do that. It does not have to be long drawn out process. You just have to find a niche in the market you are looking to serve and create a brand that places you in a position to take advantage of that market. There is a good book called "The brand called you" I dont remember the author's name off hand, but if you can get a copy it well worth the read.

Remeber , sales can be a roller coaster dont get too high on the "I sold out!" and then you wont get too low on the "I didnt sale anything!"

Above all
SW
SW
SW
WN
Some will, Some wont, So what, Who's next?

Just my .02$

Sean
 
#15
Hi 1234....

The questions are found in my book "Custom Knife Buying Guide."

It is for sale on my website. Cost is $10.00

Remember, information you get for free is worth every penny you pay for it!
 

John T Wylie Jr.

Rockstar and ACE vBulletin troubleshooter
#16
I've listened to people "sell" their knives and in some cases it involves telling the customer how much better their knives are than others and I just can't imagine going that far.
That is a sure turn off for me , as soon as a maker starts claiming how superior their work is to maker XYZ , I walk away. There aren't many that do it , but they are out there.
If a maker is talking about his work , I will listen to everything he has to say.

Another thing I have seen a maker do is tell the customer " this knife is normally $XXX , but I am offering 15% off at the show...." , funny thing , he does that same thing at every show he attends. Why not just price em at the 15% off ?? (( and he never has a calculator either.... instead stands there trying to "brain calc" it. ))

At the Vegas this year I had a few makers who never even looked up from their book , and there were 3 of us standing there looking at his work. A friend asked him a question and he never even answered.

Les George: You did something right at Vegas , you had nothing left by the end of day 1 ! Every time I walked by you on day 2 , you were standing , you were sold out but you were still there , talking to customers , and getting future orders. Unlike other makers who weren't even at their table .

Now if you could just do something with Keith ;) ((remember the guy who wanted the grips... hehe))
 
L

Larry B.

Guest
#18
Personally I think one maker belittling another makers work is a turnoff for me. Anyway It should be a soft sell. If a maker does good work and has some promotion he will eventually catch on. It's a competitive business and the cream will rise to the top.
The makers that say they will make what they like and not what the customer wants, well they will probably accumulate a large collection of their own knives.
To be a successful maker one should

Deal with reputable knife purveyors.
Be accommodating.
Have an honest order list. Although a lot of makers are successful and don't have an honest order list I have to say.
Be unique.

My .02 cents as a collector.
 
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Steven Kelly

Forum Owner & Moderator
#19
As a maker/table holder, I feel it is my responsibility to interact and talk with everyone who will stop and look/listen.
I try to ask everyone who walks by my table how their day is going. If they stop and are willing to have a conversation with me, then I talk with them as long as they want to talk. Sometimes that is about knives and sometimes it is just about whatever is on their mind. I will NEVER push my knives onto anyone. But, if they are interested in them, I will tell them whatever they want to know about the knife. I will also always encourage everyone to pick up my knives. Many people are inherently shy and afraid to start a conversation. Sometimes they are intimidated by their perception of the popularity or status of the maker. If we as makers/salesmen don't remove that intimidation factor from the whole process, the person will never stop and engage you with conversation.
I don't believe we should have to SELL our work. I believe that if we have quality work that we as makers are proud of and believe in, then it is capable of SELLING itself. I do believe however that we have to sell ourselves, by making people feel comfortable around us. Nothing turns me off more than someone being un-personable and then pushing their knives down someones throat. I have seen that technique used and it is usually by people who are not confident in their own work. It almost seems like they are trying to convince themselves that their work is great as much as the person they are telling it too.
Zappadragon should never have to feel intimidated or unwanted around anyones table at the Blade Show. Come by my table anytime and just visit. Everyone is always welcome and it is a privilege to me to have anyone stop and express interest in my work.
I will be at table 5-S again this year and I hope everyone will stop by and say hello...
 
#20
HI Steven,

I like the concept of "Something Selling Its self". The truth is that is a flawed concept.

There is a reason that there is BILLIONS spent on advertising every year.

Kids who can't read can ride down the street in your car and call out:

McDonalds, Burger King, Taco Bell, etc. Remember these children cannot read...but because of all the advertising they see...they know what these places are.

How about Coke and Pepsi. You can travel to most places around the world and most people know what these are.

Knife makers who post on forums, set up at shows, advertise in magazines and have websites are advertising. Just as you are doing right here.

So while yes, the knife should be able to sell itself...it cant. Perhaps the one exception would be the pre-qualified buyer who knows about the materials, construction method and price will be that very quick sale. Note...these Pre-qualified buyers have done their homework gaining their own level of "product knowledge". You may have talked with them at a previous show (Selling)...talked on the phone (Selling)...or answered an email (Selling). There by creating the pre-qualified buyer.

So you will have to explain your knives to the vast majority of the knives you sell. Which of course is "selling". Not all selling is like Billy Mays or that Shamwow/Slapchop guy.

I agree with all here that a maker can gain little talking bad about a competitors work. Oh, and every person at a show is your competitor. Of course you talk bad about a fellow maker without doing it (how Zen like).

The way to do this is to point out why you prefer particular materials such as Stainless Steel guards as opposed to brass.

This is done by saying something like, I prefer Stainless Steel over Brass as it is stronger and requires more work. I used to use brass X amount of years ago when I first started making knives. Generally this is a tip off that you should look at the knife very closely, as I know when I first started there were a lot of mistakes on those early knives. But brass was "CHEAP", very easy to use (which are two things BEGINNER KNIFE MAKERS LIKE). Perhaps the thing that collector hate the most about Brass it that it requires constant cleaning (as it will tarnish in 24 hours) and if you actually use it, it will nick up pretty easy. That is why you see brass on so many of the inexpensive custom knives.

You have not badmouthed any of your competitors. You have however taught a collector about "Brass" with regards to custom knives. While at the same time you explained why your knives cost more than others. That you have progressed from using less expensive and easier to work materials. You are now offering a custom knife that is a "Step" up and that you are no longer making the mistakes you used to.

That boys and girls is a "Sales Technique".

This should lead into more questions about your work. This allows you to continue "educating" the client about your work....SELLING.

A couple other things for collectors reading this to do. Ask the knife maker what kind of knife they carry. If they pull out a factory knife...you should consider not buying a knife from them.

That tells you they don't believe that custom knives are superior to factory knives...if they did they would be carrying one. This is especially true of folder makers. There is no excuse not to have one of your own knives in your pocket. You fixed blade makers...trade one of your knives or buy one.

Kinda like a Chevy salesman...driving a Ford. This tells me that they have not truly bought into the mind frame that they are selling a superior product. Or more to the point they lack "Product Knowledge".

I think being the "Subject Matter Expert" (which is what every maker should be with regards to their work) is what goes a long way to a knife selling itself.

An example would be Tony Bose. Is there a maker out there who would be considered to have more knowledge of the slipjoint/multi-blade folder genre?

I remember talking with Jay Sadow years ago (Original owner of Arizona Custom Knives) and he asked me "Why do you think I don't set up at shows". I replied because your knowledge of custom knives is a mile wide and an inch deep. I felt if he stood behind a table for a whole weekend at a show like the Blade Show, this limited knowledge of custom knives would be exposed.

Makers have to know about their work and how it is created...materials, techniques, machines, etc.

Dealers have to know all that...but have to be able to answer questions about 4,000 makers. Then compare and contrast 2,3,4,5 makers against each other...and know all the primary and after market prices. How you learn that is standing behind too many tables to remember and answer thousands of questions.

Now imagine as a dealer you carry both factory and custom knives! Wow you would have to know even more...which of course you don't. As it would be impossible to have a complete grasp of both factory and custom knives.

(DID YOU JUST NOTICE THE SALE TECHNIQUE?) :D

Subject Matter Expertise is one the keys to being good at sales.

Having a love for what you are doing is another.

Being able to have an infectious attitude about what you selling completes the top 3 things top sales people have.
 
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