Ever now and then I ask myself are online or show knife sales the best way to go. I owned and operated a brick and mortar sporting goods store for 9 years and was happy the day I walked away from it. The hours were grueling. Originally I was a one man operation opening at 6AM and closing at 6:00PM, 8PM on weekends. Minimum wage would have looked pretty damned good.
Years later when I transitioned from Ebay to an online storefront it was a dream come true. I’m still putting in the time but at least I more or less have total control of my time. If I want to fill orders at midnite or 5AM I can do it. What I don’t like is the lack of face to face contact with my customers.
I haven’t sold on Ebay for a 8 or 9 years. After nearly 6000 transactions I got frustrated with people looking for a reason to complain. If some people were unhappy with a transaction they still left negative feedback even if an issue was resolved. One young fellow took me to task for making a fool of him by letting him bid a $25 knife up over $40. Somehow it was my fault I let him bid it up that much. Go figure.
That was really driven home this weekend at the gun show. A customer showed up with a problem with a knife he had purchased. He handed me the knife, I handed him a replacement and we both walked away happy.
I bring that exchange up as I recently inadvertently royally pissed off a customer with what I THOUGHT was a reasonable answer to a pretty clear question. The exact question was “ What is mammoth ivory?” Unfortunately I explained what it was and included a link to Wikipedia. NOT what he was looking for as an answer. Total misunderstanding on my part and an over reaction on the customers part. You just can’t beat the one on one exchange of information up close and personal. A couple of years ago I got drug through the online gutter after giving a customer 3 knives and refunding his money for his original purchase which he was unhappy with. Sometimes the harder you try, the deeper the hole gets.
Another advantage to brick and mortar store or show sales is the ability of putting the product in the customers hand. For a couple of months I’ve talked to customers by email, on the blog and on the phone about the White River Knives and the Artisan knives. This weekend I sold close to 30 knives including a good number of both the White River’s and the Artisan’s.
Once people got the knives in their hands it changed the whole conversation. I didn’t get a single negative feedback regarding Chinese cutlery which really surprised me. A lot of the gun show attendees are flag waving all American folks that ‘appreciate’ the Made In the USA label. With the knife in the customers hands it changed a lot of minds. With the White River’s everyone that handled them concurred the line is a winner. You just can’t get that kind of give and take in an internet exchange of info.
It makes it easier to understand why a few of the higher end knife makers require a brick and mortar presence to carry their lines. Getting the actual product in the consumers hands can be key to conveying the quality and features of the product.
ArtiAnother aspect of the shows is the ability to trade for some really unique merchandise. Last year I had the privilege of owning the Larry Brandstetter 1850’s Sheffield Bowie from a show trade.
The most recent show left me the proud owner of a Knax. And there have been countless other gems. It’s the fun of having someone walk up to your table and open up an old leather brief case and start laying merchandise like this on your table. Love it!
I don’t plan on abandoning the online business any time soon but…. I do miss the human contact. At the next show coming up in April I have a ‘date’ with a young lady in her twenties and another in her early 60’s that are both collectors. One likes Case Knives and the other likes miniatures. I have a big box of both that they want to go through. I’m already looking forward to it!