Knife mailer a hit with TV channel

Jun 26, 2005 9:30 PM  By

Sevierville, TN-based cataloger Smoky Mountain Knife Works three years ago began selling its wares on satellite television programming provider the Dish Network. Today the TV show accounts for 20% of Smoky Mountain Knife Works’ sales.

Founded in 1978, Smoky Mountain sells kitchen and hunting knives, cook-ware, and some toys and gifts. The company, which also operates a Website, www.eknifeworks.com, mails about 5.5 million 70-page catalogs a year.

The TV venture came about when Smoky Mountain president/CEO Kevin Pipes teamed with former Home Shopping Network (HSN) host Chris Kirk. Pipes says that Kirk, who had been selling merchandise on a variety of cable-TV programs for about 15 years, already had a contract with the Dish Network.

Owned by Kirk, and called the Smokey Mountain Network, the three-hour program is produced at Smoky Mountain Knife Works’ showroom and airs twice a week. “Everything seen and sold on the show was designed here by our people,” says Pipes. “It has been a great showcase for us.”

Amy Barnett, vice president of art and marketing for Smoky Mountain Knife Works, describes The Knife Collector’s Show as “all knives all the time. We usually cover a lot during our broadcasts — discussing everything from collectible pocketknives to relic items such as Civil War collectibles to kitchen cutlery.” While the show promotes the catalog, it also sells knives that do not appear in the catalog, she says.

Smokey Mountain Network pays for its time on the Dish Network plus the cost of a satellite truck needed for each broadcast. “As far as the TV show goes, we pay a flat rate of a percentage of the selling price to Chris Kirk,” says Pipes. “The margins are slim for us after that fee, but again, I feel like it gives our specially designed knives a lot of exposure.”

Food for thought

In spring 2003 the Smokey Mountain Network tried broadcasting a program called The Kitchen Show, geared primarily to women, that sold kitchen items. While the program lasted only four months, Pipes says that it was important to try to establish a market for women in such a predominantly male-oriented environment. And Pipes intends to continue to expand the kitchenware portion of the business, by adding specialty food items to his product line. The Website already sells sauces, jams, coffees, and the like. “We have done a lot new product sourcing in gourmet foods and are planning to add a Williams-Sonoma type offering in our showroom later this year,” he says.

The company is also upgrading its facility, expanding the showroom to 30,000 sq. ft. and making the inhouse TV studio larger. Smoky Mountain hopes to unveil the revamped showroom/studio by November. The larger facility will allow showroom customers to serve as interactive audience members. What’s more, the company’s phone operators will be working directly adjacent to the showroom. “We currently have the operators housed in another part of the building,” Barnett says. “When the new studio is built, they’ll be right next to the showroom floor, hopefully making the show even more interactive.”