Monday, September 29, 2014

The Pocket Knife

My son passed his knife safety "whittling chip" class at scout camp this weekend. They learn the "blood circle," how to safely pass your knife to someone else, and how to sharpen and store their knife when not in use. He's nine years old and he took this deadly seriously, as he should. Then they practiced whittling on soap bars.

While watching my boy with a butter knife, responsibly, slowly whittling bits of Irish Spring into the shape of a sports car, I decided he had earned the privilege of carrying a folding blade knife. I wanted his first knife to come from his dad.

That's when I became conflicted. Retail has changed my brain chemistry to where "buying things" the activity that I facilitate for the vast majority of my waking hours, is never an easy thing.

Where should I buy this pocket knife? As a brick and mortar retailer, surviving on very thin profit margins, it pains me to pay full price for anything. I am not cheap, because I tend to buy top of the line products, another retailer trait. I buy top quality because I don't want to buy it again. It's a "buy once, cry once" mentality that comes from not having the resources to replace stuff most of the time (It's also a bit of a Gen X trait as well; fewer things of the highest quality). Looking at "return on investment" isn't a conscious thing any longer, it's how my mind works. But being frugal, not wanting to spend a lot, that's different. It's a bit paradoxical.

It's paradoxical because I know where the cheapest price resides, and it's not with brethren brick and mortar store owners like myself. It's in the small store killers like Amazon and Wal-Mart. It's difficult not to give them my money without being a total sell out, but often I have no choice when my tastes outstrip local resources.

We went to a very good army-navy store. Victory Stores has been in Vallejo nearly forever. The owner is a solid guy, the kind who bends over backwards to help, has mastered special orders (despite it being on a notepad), and sincerely thanks you every time you make a purchase. The rest of the staff is just as professional. I wanted my son to experience this store. I wanted this even though the knife I wanted to buy him was much cheaper online.

When we entered, I announced my intentions to the owner and he assigned us a staff member, an older gentleman, to help us select a knife. We had many requirements, including price, the opening and closing mechanism, the blade style and length, and a knife that would fit his small hand. There was no good way to figure all this stuff out online. Knives that seemed perfect had locking mechanisms he couldn't disengage. One was perfectly balanced for me but was far too heavy for him. And again, I wanted him to have that now rare experience of solid customer service. I would be giving him his first blade, but he would be choosing it. They would be expertly facilitating that choice. It would have more meaning this way.

If you've ever seen the movie, The Matrix, that's how I see retail stores, especially ones I know well. The zeroes and ones make up the various product lines, the quick sellers, the long tail items, the mid level merchandise and what passes for top quality. It's all on display systematically, on endcaps and gondolas and gridwall, terms I didn't know a decade ago. It's also not uncommon to find me in someone else's store, re-shelving goods, organizing products, or helping customers. I don't intend to do it. It's kind of an affliction. I wouldn't have gone ten years owning a store if there wasn't some personal satisfaction in that.

We found his pocket knife. The owner said he had just put it on sale for 20% off, which felt good. He thanked us sincerely for our business. We thanked him and the gentleman who assisted us. It was good to know you could still have that experience. It was really good to know that store was still there.


  1. Knives are a hard thing to buy online. I'd been debating it and I eventually decided not to. I want to hold a blade in my hand when I decide I want it.

  2. So this article boils down to "Feel bad for buying online"

  3. How about feel good for supporting a solid local business?

  4. A friend of mine bought a "rubber" one online for airsoft knife kills as required by a local CQB site. Turns up and it's basically rigid plastic. Realising that the point was too strong to risk using and that it was rigid enough to cause injury just by whacking people with it he called it a loss and decided to see if he could get it to hold an edge too. It could. Total waste of money. He ended up buying a cheap one at the site that he got to test out beforehand.

    Sometimes you just gotta try the shirt on to know if you want it.

  5. Thanks for shopping at Victory's. I have to say we enjoy helping people get what they need. Congratulations to your Son on his accomplishment. I also want to thank you for having a place I can go to on Mondays to play board games. Your staff is really great and well informed on the products you carry.

  6. I think it's more about the desire for a certain type of personal customer service that is getting harder and harder to find, yet is sometimes essential in order to make the best purchase.

  7. I think that the best folding knives are the pocket knives which can be placed conveniently in you pocket as well and retrievable in case of any unforeseen emergencies.

  8. Really awesome pocket knives. I carry a Victroinox Pocket knife for my everyday carry to outdoors.