How the Grinch Stole National Knife Day: No Rebound in 2017

The Year of the Gun did a number on the knife market. In 2016, to the detriment of knife sales, the market for guns and ammunition skyrocketed as the prospect of stricter gun control accompanied what many thought would be a Hillary Clinton Presidency. After a Republican victory in November, the knife industry expected a rebound. Everything would go back to normal and industry growth would pick up right where it left off in 2015.

But according to SSI Data, which tracks the sales of guns, ammunition, outdoor accessories, and knives across multiple channels, that simply hasn’t happened. In 2017, knife sales in the US remain stagnant, down another 5% even over 2016’s poor showing. “There was a period where folks were trying to feel out what the market was going to look like,” Odie Tucker of SSI Data tells us. “And it just didn’t shape up to much of anything, unfortunately.”

It’s easy to spot the symptoms of a struggling knife industry, but diagnosing the disease is a whole other matter. Maybe knife sales are just a reflection of a stagnating US economy. Maybe consumers have enough knives in their inventories already and see more value putting their dollars elsewhere. Or maybe it’s that knife companies, banned from advertising on search engines and social media, are being out shouted and drowned out by competing product categories that aren’t subject to the same restrictions. Maybe it’s some combination of all these factors or something else entirely.

It’s hard to pinpoint the cause, but SSI Data says that a few bright spots in the market may lead the way to a cure. Tucker says the Benchmade Bugout, a knife built for ultralight backpackers, is one example of a strategy that’s working. “Selling purpose-specific knives to somebody who already has knives is easy. But selling just any knife to them is not,” Tucker explains. “Saturation is definitely one of the reasons why a brand may start exploring new markets.”

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According to Tucker, companies that set their product road map to line up with the needs of sub-segments of the market also increase their chances of reeling in more first-time buyers. “These knife companies have to cast a wider net to pull people back in, but also bring new people into the fold,” he says.

Today is National Knife Day, and the knife community is taking the opportunity to celebrate. But it can be hard for the industry to find reasons for joy amidst their struggles so far this year. Still, Tucker says strong November and December sales could change the final verdict. ‘“I’m still hopeful for a great holiday season.”

Knife featured in image: Benchmade Bugout

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