Restoring straight razors and making custom scales has been a relaxing, rewarding, and sustaining hobby for me for nearly 2 years now. I've been able to pay for my workshop, grinder, a couple razors for myself, my hones...and even taken my wife out for an evening here and there with the small profits I've made. It also helped pay for my son's habit of being an awesome hockey player, which is quite an expensive habit to have! I am grateful for my customers and the business they have given me. I always felt really good about offering my customers fair prices, for a good quality job.
What I didn't expect was that in doing so, I became so swamped that I could not keep up with demand. At one point in 2010, I had 40 razors
that weren't mine sitting in a box waiting for work to be done to them. And I was averaging at the most 3 razors per week. Eventually I realized that I just didn't feel comfortable with that much work, sitting there looming over me. I tried to keep cool though, and put everything I had into each razor I completed. It can be overwhelming though! Keeping track of who wanted what done...addresses, etc. I almost needed a secretary (my wife passed on the job....). In late 2010, I decided to start saying "No" to new work. That is a really frustrating thing to do, because, I know it had to hurt my reputation. But, I had to get out of the hole I dug! 14 weeks later, I had finally finished my queue. Since then, I had started pulling out a few razors I had acquired and needed some work. Things were good and it was nice to work on razors that were my own. But.. it didn't take long before I was doing some work for a friend... and then soon thereafter, a customer sends a razor to me without inquiring first if I'm accepting work...and so on and so forth, and I find myself swamped again -- well, not quite like before, but, you get the idea!!!!
Some very obvious realizations have come to light for me, that I think I always knew, but, was underestimating...
1. Demand for Straight Razor Restoration is out of control.
Hundreds of straight razors are sold EVERY WEEK on E-bay, and almost all of them need work. Most of the time, not just a little work. They need a LOT of work. Who are buying these razors? Mostly people who want to use them - and mostly people who don't know what to do with it when it shows up on their doorstep. Very few people are willing to put for the effort to clean up a razor, and very few know how to hone. So, why are they buying them? Because they constantly read about people buyng vintage and having them restored, see the pictures, and hear about how amazing XXXXX brand is - it seems like a good alternative to buying current production razors. The fact of the matter is, however, there are not enough people offering Razor Restorations out there that offer a QUALITY service to work on these razors.
Any time that a market has this much demand, there are going to be people that will take advantage of it. The charlatans. Go to E-bay, do a search for "straight razor." Choose Buy-it-now, and price highest. I can guarantee you, you will see a few razors in the $150-350 range for sale - some common names like Wade & Butcher or Wostenholm, put in "custom" scales. Click one of them. Notice how the scales usually don't seem to fit right. Sometimes they are too wide near the tang. Imagine stropping that. Notice how the wedges aren't tapered. Notice how the scales are too thick, and they aren't rounded very much along the edges. These are all signs that these guys are new at scale making - yet they are demanding prices that would suggest they are masters. This is troubling to me. That is NOT the right way to start off as someone who wants to become a well respected and reputable restoration person. If you're charging people $100-300 (the premium over the bare blade value of $50 maybe) for a set of scales they aren't blown away by, they won't be buying from you again. However, if they are charged $40.00 for a set of custom scales, then, they will likely be willing to overlook a few problems with the scales. THIS is how you should approach being a new scalemaker -- start with low prices, build a client base, and, for crying out loud, MAKE SCALES. Make LOTS of scales. The more you do, the better you will be at it.
Demand for these services is THROUGH THE ROOF, and although the numbers of users continues to grow, the only thing I see popping up all over the Internet are new places to buy DOVO's...and Gold Dollars... and brushes... anything that doesn't require any work and can almost be drop-shipped to the customer. I guess there is a place for those vendors, but, I guess I am just sad that there are not more people out there willing to put in some time to learn how to restore razors properly. Its not like it is THAT difficult... Especially when there are so many resources available. Heck, I have basically given away every secret I have
in my Straight Razor Restoration Video Series on YouTube
Time for another realization...
2. People have, and will take advantage of me if I keep my prices low.
I LOVE making scales for people, seeing their reactions, telling me how they will cherish their newly restored razor, never sell, etc. This is why I rescale for people, as opposed to just rescaling for re-sale, which is way more profitable. This fuzzy feeling inside changes when I see my customer sell their rescales the week after they get them back. It doesn't take a genius to figure out, I'm being taken advantage of. You buy a nice old rusty wedge for $20.00. You send it to me, I restore, rescale for $80-90. You sell razor for $175.00. You profit $75.00. I get my money too, it really is a victimless crime. However -- This creates more demand for my service -- demand that I can't handle - and it preys on my willingness to offer quality services at a fair price, expecting you to actually use the resulting razor....which leads to my next realization...
3. If I re-open to new work, I have no choice but to increase my prices.
And not just a little bit. I'm talking about a 68% increase in price. From $59 to $99 sets of scales. That is depressing to me -- but -- how else can I open my doors, be fair to my customers, and keep myself from getting swamped with work? There is no other way! Its either raise prices.. or have a lottery? Ha. thats the only other thing i can think of. What if I take on 10 razors in a week at $99? I will have no choice but to raise them further. Turning people away because I'm overloaded doesn't make sense - it just puts people off. I also have to set my prices accordingly so that false demand is not created by people sending me razors for me to work on so that they can re-sell.
And finally, if any of you have actually read this far, I have one more realization that is inevitable
4. Prices of good-quality and restored vintage Straight Razors will continue to rise with no end in sight.
Number of straight razor users and demand continues to go up, number of quality restorers remains unchanged, and the number of vintage razors out there is a finite number. All of these things equal higher prices. It is inevitable. Get used to it. Look at the bright side --- It makes PERFECT sense to buy lots of AMAZING razors. It is an investment. Its as good as putting money in the bank.
Hope you enjoyed my ramblings :)