WHEN New West KnifeWorks opened in Park City, Utah, I assumed it was an eccentric hobby. Instead, I found a $4 million business, with a 30 percent annual growth rate, and a knifemaker turned business owner who is taking on mainstream German and Japanese brands to offer innovation in a field that for long has seen none.
One look around the shop and you'll see a spattering of cooking knives, beautiful in their design. With colored handles that make them look like something of a collectible and powder-coated steel that make them durable and sharp to cook with.
The other side of the store is a bit of a man cave. Tomahawks--and a place to throw them-pocket knives, swords, and $2000 beaver fur vests perfect for an aspirational clientele that covet the unique and inventive.
Custom carbon steel blades make art pieces out of kitchen knives. Something you'd have to work to keep rust-free, but might be worth it so long as you're willing to hang it on your wall between meals. They don't come cheap. One custom-crafted masterpiece goes for upwards of $1,200. Even the smallest starter blade starts around $200.
But therein lies the success of an indifferent businessman. One who chalks the secret of his success up to a one-hour meeting with indifference himself: Yvon Chouinard, barely interested in being a businessman and author of Let My People Go Surfing: The Education of a Reluctant Businessman.
At the time, New West KnifeWorks founder Corey Milligan's wife was working at Patagonia in Ventura, California, and the founder of the company stopped by for a visit. Chouinard himself got his start in the metal business, forging pitons for Yosemite climbers out of a tin shed before reluctantly venturing into retail. When he met with Milligan and took a look at his knife collection, he gave him two pieces of advice:
The first: if you want to surf, you can't schedule it for 2pm on a Thursday. The wisdom being to craft a business around your life, not the other way around. Life is short, he said, and if you don't want to be stuck in a meeting when the surf is good, you need to build your business in such a way that you can abandon it when it's time to play.
The second: Hire good people and let them do their jobs. "So many people like to make themselves feel important," says Milligan. "They have to lord over everybody, and always be there, and everything has to go through them. That's just not the way. Not just for my piddly small business, but for all businesses."