If the knife industry was narrowed down to one name, it would undoubtedly be Buck hunting knives. Their blades, famous for their ability to chop through a nail, have been in production since Hoyt Buck discovered his new method for tempering steel 90 years ago.
Employing 450 people and producing over 12,000 knives daily, Buck Knives offers everything from tiny pocket knives to gold-inlaid special edition blades. However, despite Buck's size and diversity, they continue to give their dealers and knife owners the attention of a small, custom shop.
With this kind of dynamic business attitude, it's not surprising that Buck is considered a trailblazer in the knife industry. Chuck Buck, President of Buck Knives and grandson of Hoyt Buck, is a knife expert extraordinare, with opinions on all aspects of the knife-making industry, from the alignment of the molecules of steel in his knives right on up to his national distribution techniques. In a recent interview he shared some of his opinions with Shooting Industry magazine.
Buck On Blades
Buck sees the knife industry in three segments. There's the low-priced specials marketed toward the price conscious consumer who wants a basic pocket knife. There are mid-line knives which are purchased by consumers to whom quality is more important than price. And there are the top-of-the-line collector's blades which almost fall into the category of art rather than tools.
Buck is one of the few manufacturers which produces products in all three categories, from their polymer-handled V52 series with interchangeable blades to their limited edition David Yellowhorse creations encrusted with silver and turquoise. With such a diverse market are in which to work, where does Buck see the most growth in the next year?
"I think we are already seeing consumers shying away from the para-military, 'Rambo'-style blades back to more simple designs," he said. "They want something that is versatile, and you just don't get that in an 18-inch knife that's made as a bayonet.
"I think we'll see more knives in the utility tool tradition, with multiple folding blades, can openers, scissors, and such. Consumers want as much usefulness as they can get for their money"
To compete in this marketplace, Buck has introduced the new SwissBuck line, a Swiss Army replica made in a joint effort by Buck and Wenger of Switzerland. There are 10 models of this utilitarian knife featuring pliers, scissors, fish scalers and even a toothpick. The handles of these knives are matte black with built-in grip ridges, distinguishing them from the traditional bright red Swiss Army look.
In order to compete in the low-end knife market, Buck has begun handling a new line called Ultrablade. Priced between $9 and $15, these foreign imports will be distributed by Buck but will not bear the distinctive Buck logo.
"We felt we had to have something to compete in this market," Buck said. "We see too many competitors with a bucket full of $3 knives. But this isn't really the mentality we want associated with the Buck name."
Buck On The Marketplane
As with many other products, customers are forsaking the personal atmosphere of the gun and knife shop for the low prices of the giant warehouse stores. How does Buck plan to deal with this consumer migration to the club stores?
"We're staying right where we are," he said. "The small shops have always been there to support us, and we're not going to desert them just because stores like WalMart and Price Club are selling knives by the pallet. Our greatest strength is our customer service, and that just gets lost in a warehouse store."
Because of the current trend toward the large-volume stores, Buck predicts that many of the smaller knife manufacturers will soon be weeded out of the marketplace.
"I don't expect it to be too long before the knife industry looks a lot like the automobile industry: with a few large manufacturers supplying the entire market," Buck said.
One of Buck's predictions last year was that a larger segment of the knife market would be made up of women. To meet their desires, Buck designed a line of small, purse-sized knives in a series of designer colors. Unfortunately, they found that the market they expected just wasn't there.
"The woman who buys a knife isn't interested in fancy colors or glitzy handles," he said. "She is a practical woman who wants the same degree of function and reliability in a knife as any man wants. We found there was no need to try and make the knife look like a 'lady's' knife."
Buck On Design
One of the hottest knife designs on the market today is the hunting knife with a skinning hook on the back of the blade. While this design is selling well for other manufacturers, Buck is hesitant to jump into the arena without more evidence of its usefulness.
"My son went hunting in Oregon using one of our early skinning hook blades," Buck said. "He found that the hook got clogged with hair and was difficult to clear. We're working on a better design, but until it's perfected we're going to stay away. We don't want to put out an inferior product."
Ceramic blades are another innovation on the knife sellers' racks that customers just can't seem to get enough of. While these small knives carry large price tags, word of their quality and durability are sending sales figures skyward. Where does Buck stand on this issue?
"Ceramics are a field that really deserves some attention," he said. "You're basically talking about a knife that never, ever needs to be sharpened. That's seems to be putting out the best ceramic knife in the field, but even theirs is having some problems. The blade is still somewhat brittle and it'll shatter if it's dropped. I don't doubt that before long someone will perfect it, and when they do, we'll get them to the customers."
Titanium is another space-age material which has found its way into the knife world. Stronger than steel, it weighs about as much as aluminum. Many manufacturers have started producing fixed-blade knives with titanium handles, but Buck feels the ligh weight metal is more appropriate on the smaller pocket knives, where weight is more important. To this end, Buck sells two pocket knives in the Tiny Titanium line and a larger XLTi locking blade model.
In the next year Buck says his knife designers plan to spend most of their energy perfecting the designs they've put together over the last few years. He says they'll be putting off the hot new designs until 1993.
Regardless fo the model number, design, or intended purpose, every Buck blade that rolls through the warehouse doors is a carefully crafted addition to the line.
"We don't think of our buyers as just customer," Buck Said. "Instead, whether they've bought a tiny pocket knife or a big sheath knife for hunting, they're all members of our family."
COPYRIGHT 1991 Publishers' Development Corporation
COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group
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