tl;dr

  • This is a story of how to modernize in an industry that hasn’t embraced digital.
  • It isn’t enough to “be different”. You must explain how you are different (even if it is subtly through pictures or ideas).
  • Leverage those things that can make a difference. For Benchmade, this meant a 3D customization tool. But, they still support their loyal network of dealers.
Profile photo of Emily Sloan

Meet Emily

  • Digital Marketing and Sales Manager at Benchmade.
  • Benchmade makes high-quality knives. They have been in business over 30 years. Their knives are seen as some of the best in the industry. They are made in the United States, and have maintained their competitiveness through the waves of outsourcing that the United States has witnessed over the past 30 years.
  • Benchmade was nominated as a finalist for the Adobe Experience Maker ‘Mastermind’ Award, much of which goes to Emily’s leadership. Benchmade was one of over 350 websites that was reviewed.
  • Emily gave a fascinating talk for Adobe Experience Makers live.

Meet Benchmade

Benchmade was started by Les de Asis in California in 1988. It was then moved to Clackamas, Oregon. Les worked to utilize the finest technology to make the highest-quality cutlery. Benchmade has continued to grow over the years—yet its mission and quality stays the same. Benchmade maintains complete control over their quality and this has allowed them to retain their incredible brand reputation.

All Benchmade knives are “Made in USA”. Making a knife is a competitive business (there are plenty of YouTube videos on how to make a knife). If there are videos on this, certainly people from all over the world can do it. As such, differentiation is a massive part of success for Benchmade: and they do that exceptionally well.

You will quickly see that the personal touch augments Benchmade’s claim to quality. Oh, and what happens to knives that are used? They get dull and they might not open/close as easily. Benchmade services their knives for life.

I might start sounding like a “pro-Benchmade” apologist… this conversation was extremely impressive.

However, Benchmade had a problem: they had an impressive dealer network, but everyone else was going digital. How would they keep up? On the other hand, what Benchmade had was working, so maybe it wasn’t necessary to change?

If you know the knife industry or the shooting sports industry, we’re a little bit behind on trends. So kudos to the Benchmade ownership to say we have to invest in digital.

Emily Sloan

Benchmade sat down and did a digital audit:

  • Where are we at on this digital maturity scale?
  • How do we compare to our competitors?
  • What about our dealers?
  • How do we bring our channels (social, blog, direct-to-consumer, business-to-business) through a transition?
  • How can we leverage personalization?

Ultimately, purchasing a knife is often a tactile experience. I, Joseph, remember when I purchased a Benchmade for my brother (as a knife layperson, I was told by a young man that “Benchmade is the best.”). Even thought I was a genuine ignoramus, I felt the knife. I checked to see if the blade was sharp—it was. I made sure it opened/closed smoothly. I checked how it felt in my hand.

How can this be replicated online? Emily made this point clear: “The person can’t hold this in their hand, but it should still feel it’s going to cut them.” Bingo, and they did.

Benchmade underwent a digital transformation.

What’s that? “Digital transformation closes the gap between what digital customers already expect and what analog businesses actually deliver.”

That sounds like baloney. But let’s think about it. Digital customers (online shoppers) expect a lot. They want to be able to easily purchase products on the website. They are confident the products will be delivered shortly. They bank on good customer service. They anticipate easy returns, and the ability to purchase online and to return in-store to save return shipping costs.

Benchmade started on Magento 1.

They realized the need for digital transformation, but decided to start with the B2B website. However, just like “repainting the kitchen” (which often turns into a $10,000+ dollar project), Emily and Benchmade realized they needed to have a solid strategy behind these upgrades.

They analyzed all available ecommerce platforms. They researched and even interviewed other companies to hear their experiences.

In the end, Benchmade settled on Magento 2. Magento 2 has an outstanding B2B module. Of course, the direct-to-consumer side of Magento 2 is solid.

One aspect that Benchmade utilized to evaluate ecommerce platforms was “what limitations could I have on this platform?” Because Magento 2’s source code is readily edited, Benchmade realized that they had no limitations on this platform.

How to help the customer find what they want?

I regularly reference the quote by Andrew Davis in Episode #10: “selling online is like selling from a closet.” We have no direct reference to our customers. We can’t observe their body language and facial expressions while they are looking at a product. We can’t immediately answer their questions (live chat or phone calls are the closest thing).

Remember, Emily said that their goal of the website is that “The person can’t hold this in their hand, but it should still feel it’s going to cut them.”

In the audio recording, Emily says that they haven’t yet started on videos. This is changing at the time of publishing the podcast as some products now have videos.

Benchmade is also crazy dogged on getting customer feedback (they use Meltwater). They use HotJar to see how customers interact with their website.

But doesn’t having a digital strategy and a dealer network seem to be at odds with each other?

The answer is easily “yes” in many cases.

However, Benchmade has been having success in what seems like a difficult scenario. They invest in the areas that are especially difficult for dealers. But, they also support their dealers.

For example, they have a feature called “Credit my Dealer”. When you make an online purchase from Benchmade.com, you can select your local dealer, who receives some amount of credit from this transaction. This feature is especially helpful if a dealer is out of stock on an item—but it is in stock on Benchmade.com.

Extending digital’s capabilities.

Benchmade has also invested in a 3D knife customizer so you can achieve the exact knife desired. Everything is completely customizable on these knives. As you can imagine, this is a significant investment.

Look at the detail that you see in that knife’s preview. It is exceptionally crisp and easily viewed.

In addition, if you desire to add a laser engraving to a knife, you can see exactly what this will look like. The benefit of this investment is it reduces (or eliminates) returns for “I don’t like how this was aligned on the knife.” The customer sees it right there and agrees to how it will look.

That one thing to do.

Ah, but Emily has two:

  • Make sure your navigation is clear and concise for what you want people to do. I think that we get in this land of driving people to I need all my options at once. No, you just need them to make that next decision towards purchasing.
  • Look at your PDPs (product display pages), make sure your content and commerce is blending and that you can shop on every single page of your website. When customers get stuck, turn on that online chat. Online chat will increase your conversion by 40% is the industry standard.
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