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!!