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What It's Like To Be A Knife Sharpening Entrepreneur

We were recently asked to do any interview with Step by Step Business, which is an online platform created to educate and inspire entrepreneurs. The opportunity to share our experiences with creating a business was exciting and we hope others, dreaming of their own business opportunity, will enjoy the read. 

As introduced by Esther Strauss: 

In this interview, we delve into the entrepreneurial journey of Jess Miller, the Owner and Operator of Knife Flight, a unique mail-in knife sharpening service. Jess shares her inspiration behind starting this innovative business, the challenges faced during the early stages, and how they adapted and thrived.

For aspiring entrepreneurs and those interested in niche service-based businesses, Jess’s experiences and insights are not only enlightening but also inspiring. Join us as we explore the growth and future plans of Knife Flight, a testament to innovative thinking and customer-focused service.

Origin Story of Knife Flight

What inspired you to start Knife Flight, and how did you identify the need for a mail-in knife sharpening service?

My husband and I were staying in a condo complex on a family vacation and they had a well stocked kitchen, but the knives were incredibly dull. He looked at all the buildings around us and said “I bet those units have dull knives as well”. From there the idea grew.

Early Business Challenges

Can you describe the early stages of your business, particularly the challenges you faced and how you overcame them?

The early stages of a new business are always filled with ups and downs, especially when simultaneously launching a business in the early stages of a global pandemic. Once we came up with the design for all the packaging we had to wait quite a long time for production, which delayed our website launch date twice. We tried to remain focused and used that time to generate local business.

Ensuring Safety and Security

How do you ensure the safety and security of knives during the mail-in process?

We spent a lot of time on our packaging to make it appealing to the eye, efficient, recyclable and, most important, safe. We send the customer everything they need to safely ship us their knives. This includes knife sheaths lined with removeable, yet strong, adhesive, a thick cardboard mailing envelope and a poly bag to protect the exterior.

Building Customer Trust

What strategies have you implemented to build trust with your customers, especially given the value and sentiment attached to kitchen knives?

Customer service, and customer trust, is very important to us. We always answer questions same-day and provide autogenerated emails with tracking information when a kit is shipped, so the customer can follow their knives every step of the way. In addition, when each order is unpacked it is photographed and placed in its own basket. This specific order will stay with its basket throughout its time in our shop and a second photograph is taken before the knives are packed up and sent home.

Maintaining High-Quality Standards

Can you share insights into how you maintain high-quality standards in your knife sharpening process?

Not only are our sharpeners well trained, we have high-quality eqiupment of all different types to ensure each piece is getting what’s best for its specific need and use. My husband is in the shop most of the time and does a lot of double checking before knives head back out.

Effective Marketing Strategies

What marketing strategies have been most effective in attracting new customers to Knife Flight?

Although we ran a few Google Ads in the early days and have a low budget Instagram ad that we keep on constantly, the most effective way we’ve drawn in new customers is by keeping up on our SEO and working on adding to our list of 5-star reviews, whether that’s on Google, our website or by other outlets and/or publications.

Managing Customer Expectations

How do you manage customer expectations, especially regarding turnaround time and the quality of sharpening?

One of our most frequent customer comments is how quickly they received their knives back. We ship using Priority Mail and guarantee a 24-hour turnaround once they hit the shop. Because of this, even if knives are coming from across the country, they rarely take much more than a week. We are also the only knife sharpening service that offers loaner knives while you wait.

Fixing broken tips and chips is included in the price and although we say that on the website, we receive so many emails from happy customers that now have not only sharp knives, but repaired knives.

The Impact of Customer Feedback

Could you discuss the role of customer feedback in your business and how has it influenced your service offerings?

We love our customers and love to hear what they have to say! Although we try and think of everything, there are so many bright, creative people in the world and we’re thrilled when they have anything they want to share with us. Over the last few years, thanks to customers, we have modified wording on the website, updated outgoing emails and changed the card that goes back after sharpening from being simply a thank you card, to being a thank you with tips on how to care for your knives between sharpening.

Addressing Challenges in Mail-In Service Operations

What have been some unexpected challenges in running a mail-in service, and how have you addressed them?

The hardest part of running a business that operates by mail is that we don’t have control over the postal service. Although they do a great job overall, occasionally, packages will get delayed or stuck due to a storm and customers can feel frustrated or worried when their knives are gone. We address this with a strong focus on communication. If we see a package is delayed in getting to us or getting home we will immediately reach out to the customer, let them know, show them visual proof and assure them that we are keeping an eye on it. In our experience, as long as people feel like you are looking out for them and working to fix any issues, they are typically happy.

Balancing Technical Expertise and Business Management

How do you balance the technical aspects of knife sharpening with the business management side of Knife Flight?

In our particular case this part is quite simple. This is the second business my husband and I have owned and operated together so, in addition to Knife Flight (and parenting), we’ve been working together for about 19 years. As it pertains to this business, he handles all things sharpening related and manages the shop. I handle all things customer service related and manage the office. Working and living so closely may not be the best for most marriages or businesses, but it works for us and we enjoy our time together.

Advice for Entrepreneurs

What advice would you give to entrepreneurs looking to start a niche service-based business? 

Ask endless questions and seek as much outside advice as you can. We hired a professional to help us with our initial business plan, from a financial standpoint. We were on a very limited budget launching this business, which forced us to get creative. We offered to sharpen local restaurants’ knives for free in exchange for honest feedback. We sent our logo and packaging designs out to friends and family for their input. We read articles and watched YouTube videos. Anything we thought would help us get started without breaking the bank.

The Future and Expansion Plans

How do you envision the future of Knife Flight, and are there any plans for expansion or new services?

The future of Knife Flight is looking great and we are excited! Not only is our organic growth healthy, we are currently in the process of negotiating deals to partner with knife manufacturers, allowing them to offer a great service to their customer base while giving us other avenues for growth. We look forward to what lies ahead.


Until next time,

Knifey Wifey

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