Turning a creative hobby into a business is always risky. It’s especially crazy to do when you are the sole provider for a family of five and that hobby is hand crafted knives. Several years ago I made the decision to shut down my residential renovation business to pursue knifemaking full time. The truth is that I never was very good at making money in the remodeling business so it actually made sense to fall back on my hobby. This is the opposite of the traditional “don’t quit your day job” wisdom but for me in was the right thing to do.
An artisanal version of cheap everyday objects is by definition a luxury good so finding a wide enough clientele is the first challenge. A pursuit like knifemaking has a high barrier to entry in terms of skills required and the expensive tools and materials needed. Even with all these things stacked against me, Join or Die Knives is still growing 10 years later. Any risk is possible to undertake with a supportive family and personal grit and determination.
Being in a specialty industry requires multiple revenue streams because it can be difficult to reach a broad audience, especially if one is a smaller player in the industry. We have our custom shop which is where it all started, the production knives and the educational component.
Custom knives are essentially projects that I or the customer design as a single piece that requires a dedicated process to complete. This includes any pattern that I have not made before but is usually something like a sword, axe or larger pieces like Bowie knives, daggers or blades specific to a world culture. The production side of the business includes any knives that are produced by the team in quantity. Any patterns used for this are designed to be repeatable and efficient enough to keep costs competitive with other high quality blades on the market. The educational component includes knife making classes and a membership based community shop, both provide revenue through services to other knife makers and enthusiasts.
Managing a team and keeping high morale can be a challenge but leading by example is definitely the most important thing. I have seen over and over companies where everyone had the same bad attitude as the boss. Authority sets the tone for the whole organization. This seems to be a law of nature of sorts. People resonate and return the quality of energy that they receive. Keep your mood positive and humble and you can expect a similar culture in your team. Of course, it is important to remember that no one that you hire will ever have the same level of commitment and love for your company as you. How could they? No matter how hard they work, someone else will ultimately get the most benefit from their work. The best we can do as owners and managers is to make people feel as appreciated and invested as possible while holding realistic expectations of our team.
This transcript is from an article I wrote for Canvas Rebel, the article can be found here: https://canvasrebel.com/meet-brent-stubblefield/