Happy New Years and what a year it’s been

Let me start by saying 2014 can be summed up as an interesting, frustrating, rewarding, confusing, amazing year.  I just haven’t decided which adjective best describes the overall picture!

I have to start by saying the most amazing thing I witnessed this year was the explosion in popularity in the SFO market driven by Great Eastern.  The year started pretty normal but by mid year GEC had made a clearly defined shift to the SFO, club and private label side of the business.  The shift was so strong that distributors (not associated with the SFO’s) ended up with a rather mundane looking rerun of the #54 for a ‘new’, year end release  that  didn’t hit their shelves till Christmas eve.  In other words, nothing really new for the Christmas stockings.  While my holiday sales were what I’d call average, the bulk of the orders were for older knives or ‘other’ brands.

The interesting and confusing aspects of the year has been the astronomical prices some of these SFO’s have reached on Ebay.  ( I think the recession is over.)  This was a series of ‘production‘ knives with a long bolster, jigged bone handles and a 1095 blade, run in relatively large quantities (for GEC production norms) hitting prices 4x issue price.  All of a sudden some of the high end custom knives started looking like a bargain!   A few folks made some nice profits but let’s be honest, in the long run those prices aren’t sustainable for a production knife.

It’s been frustrating to see GEC shift their focus away from building the knives that brought them to the party.  This past year was filled with lower priced (relatively speaking) knives with delrin handles, a proposed hatchet(?), dual knife set, fixed blade ‘bird hook’,  steak knives, paring knives or the aforementioned SFO’s aimed at the collectors.  Quite frankly, the ‘regular production’ lineup has been either a bit boring or downright odd.  I think the handwriting was on the wall when the 21 Bull Busters didn’t blow out off the shelf as quick as they were built.  That’s a great knife at a reasonable price, but it’s not what the majority of GEC consumers are looking for.

For several years we heard the mantra that GEC wanted to be a small company building superior products for folks looking for a quality knife.  Now, it seems the collector market is in the forefront while they throw ever more unique  low end ‘stuff’ against the wall to see if it’ll stick.  .While that’s been interesting to watch, it’s also been disappointing.

The positive side to all of this has personally paid off by pushing me to expand my product spread to fill the void.  The Edge Pro sharpeners have been great.  Starting to dabble in the higher end Fallkniven knives was one of the better decisions I’ve made in a while.  It not only filled the gap for some old EDC customers, it brought some new ones in as well.  Hess continued to be a strong seller to the outdoors-man that wanted a high end custom ‘EDC’ knife that was reasonably priced.

The shining star was Queen Cutlery.  Queen not only maintained a solid catalog line of popular knives that were available throughout the year, they produced some reasonably priced, really neat short run knives as well.  The Bill Ruple Jacks were a major hit.  It’s been fantastic to see a company building knives with a variety of blade steels for the consumer that appreciates the difference.  Queen also seems to have the ability to balance short runs, private label and regular production knives to keep things interesting for everyone while maintaining a steady flow of products.  Sales have steadily increased as more crossover buyers decide to give them a try and the feedback has been positive.  It’s been gratifying to see the quality from Queen continuing to gain consistency and there’s just a lot of positive things coming out of their factory.

During the past year I’ve gotten a bit ‘harder’ when it comes to dealing with customer concerns regarding quality issues, perceived or real.  Most recently I had an exchange with a potential customer regarding a request that the $58 Farm Tool he wanted to order be ‘perfect’ in all respects.  The radar went up that this was a knife that would be returned regardless of the condition.  A few weeks before, a #42 was returned when the customer noticed there was a slight (and I mean slight) difference in the blade bevel from side to side.  Prior to that, a 73 came back when the customer felt it just didn’t meet the standards most of the other collectors on the chat boards were seeing.  (No specific problem with his knife, however.)  It can reach the ridiculous level pretty quickly.

And thanks to all of you that made purchases at TSA Knives this year.  A portion of the dollars you spent with me went to the Wounded Warrior Project.  I haven’t totaled the numbers yet, but it should be around $2,000.  Thank you.

Overall, it’s been a good year.   Some disappointments and some home runs.   I’m working on a couple of potential projects for 2015 and am starting to put the wheels in motion.  Always looking at new items to add to the store but they have to be items I’ll personally use or endorse but nothing immediate in the plans.  Beyond that, if there’s one thing we can always count on, next year will no doubt be just as interesting, frustrating, rewarding, confusing and amazing as this past year!!  In the meantime, have a Happy New Years!!

8 thoughts on “Happy New Years and what a year it’s been

  1. Hi Greg, I have to admit, I’ve only been interested in traditonal knives and GEC for about a year and a half. I agree that a lot of the patterns over the past year have been hit and miss, but there have been a few standard production runs that I really like, namely the #78, #92 and the #66. These may have been made before, but if they were, I missed em! I admit to buying a few of the SFO’s. Also, the #63 looks like it will be a hit. With me at least. It’s safe to say that their business model is probably changing a bit, but I still like them and even if you don’t have all the SFO’s, I will still continue to support you.

    I agree with you about people complaining about fit and finish. I don’t think I’ve sent any back to date. It’s too bad you can’t refuse service to people that complain before they even purchase!

    At any rate, I hope the new year is even better than this last one!

    1. That 66 was first released in 2010 and is a gem of a pattern. What’s been disappointing is seeing fewer higher end handle materials and more lower ‘economy’ offerings in what seems to be an effort to keep the price down. The market is still there for Mammoth Ivory, Rams Horn, etc, but they seem to want to use more dyed jigged bone or acrylics.
      As far as the SFO’s go, I’d considered doing one a few years ago and ultimately passed on it. I’m not critical of GEC for running them or other dealers ordering them. So far, they’ve been a money maker for the party’s involved and from a manufacturer/dist standpoint, that’s important. These trends run in cycles and I just hope no one puts too many eggs in one basket.
      The quality complaints also run in cycles which seem to be driven by the chat boards. With the lower priced knives a profit of a few dollars can quickly turn into a loss, however. And I’ve turned away several orders when quality inquiries were obviously based on unreasonable expectations.
      This Fall I had an overseas customer unhappy with a purchase. To make a long story short, I gave him a full refund including shipping and told him to keep the knife with my apologies and still ended up the bad guy. In hind sight, while it was disappointing, I should have seen it coming. Live and learn. The other side of that coin is I have several customers that have purchased 3-400 knives from me over the years and I’ve never heard even a grumble from them. But they’re also seasoned collectors with a pretty firm grip on ‘reality’.
      Somewhere in the middle of all this is a point of equilibrium. It’s just a matter of finding it and trying to maintain it. Based on history,…..good luck with that!!! Hey, hope you have a very Happy New Year!!!!

  2. Hi Greg, interesting write up. When I looked at the Bull Busters at your table I thought they were ok, priced low enough, really nothing to admire or think about making a safe queen but the B Buster was a utility make/use and many collectors just didn’t go for it. Speaking of Queens, Queen cutlery has some very nice offerings. Just my thought.
    Have a Happy New Year and see you @ Fargo Gun Show this Sat.

    1. You too Muskrat!! Thanks for reminding me to mention the Fargo Show!! I’ll have a few more Queen, Hess, Bark Rivers and a couple of the Black Jacks with me. See ya there!!

  3. The profusion of SFO’s which tend to not be available to us overseas people has helped me to look at other manufacturer’s as well . Only bought Queen and S/M so far but I am looking at others , fortunately you don’t stock the Falkniven slipjoint . Some of the posts about” Quality issue’s “on one or two of the forums do seem to be getting silly , but I am on a car forum which is similar. I don’t think the Queen knives that I have at present are quite as flawless as the GEC ‘s are but any issues with the Queen knives are more along the “character”end of the scale. I don’t really want machine made perfection just a knife that will gain it’s own character over time, I guess the folks who don’t use their knives look at things differently . What I am hoping for this year is one of the makers to come out with a nice , better than nice, Stockman high end steel ATS 34 or similar with something unique about the scales, not likely to be GEC then is it ?

    1. I think an ATS34 stockman would be a possibility. In fact, I think it’s a pretty darned good idea.
      Regarding the Fallkniven slip joint, thanks for bringing that to my attention!!! I apologize for sometimes overlooking the restrictions on locking knives for my overseas customers. There will be some U1c’s on my next order.
      Your comment about the perfection level of ‘machine made’ knives is spot on. I’ve seen some perfectly built Chinese knives in the sub $20 category that absolutely lack any character. One of the gems I have is an early Bark River Woodsman from their start-up Dairy Barn operation. Whoever finished the white micarta handle was either having a bad day or new at finishing handles. It’s definitely not BRKT’s best effort but there’s no way I’d even consider sending it back to be ‘fixed’.

  4. I do have a couple of locking knives Greg and may buy some more in future. They aren’t totally illegal here but you need to be able to prove you have a use for one if stopped by the police. As it is such a knife unfriendly country it would be unlikely that “not cutting yourself ” when using a locking knife would be considered a good reason. Even slipjoints are considered illegal if you were thought to be going to use one as a weapon . I don’t think that self defence is going to be considered a good reason either it never was with firearms when we were allowed to have any.

    1. Can’t imagine how frustrating that has to be. I have a customer in Australia that orders a fair amount of knives from me. Each order is a guessing game whether customs will allow it through or not. On his last order we split the shipment into 3 packages hoping they’d make it through but customs kept a box of 3 throwing knives and wouldn’t even return them to me. In the same order was a machete which they had no problem with. Go figure.

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