Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Trolling for Hate: Small Batch Insanity

If you remember the brief fire that burned bright that was the original KnifeHaterz IG account, you might also remember, before it went off the rails started just being mean, his or her precision sniping of one the gear world's greatest foibles--our infatuation with small batch stuff.

Let's just all admit it--if there is a piece of kit out there and there is some "I made this by the sweat of my brow in my garage" story behind it, we love it.  We root for those makers and companies.  We cherish and lionize those brands.  But the reality is, some of the items these folks or companies produce isn't that special.  Just because one dude made something with a Dremel or the company chooses to bequeath to us one or two blades at a time doesn't, necessarily mean that it is great.

Yes, this post is inspired by my now more than three month long wait for a Busse 2nd Gen Battlemistress.  The receipt told me the wait could be 2 to 20 weeks.  What does that even mean?  Well, a call to Busse last week told me that it doesn't mean either 2 or 20 weeks.  Instead, I was told it would be 20 weeks plus a month or so. Yikes.

There are two problems that people seem to overlook--poor product design and lack of products.  There are egregious offenders in both camps and some inauspicious small makers hit both.

The worst offenders of the first kind, in my mind, are some of the so-called custom knife makers.  These are folks that have a grinder.  That's it.  They aren't really making knives, they are making what Mike Stewart calls knife shaped objects.  These are crude, clunky designs that don't cut.  You see a lot of these on IG and many are fixed blades.  They have "finishes" that are accurately called "mistakes". If you make a mistake and repeat it enough, it becomes a finish.  Some of these knives aren't just bad cutters, some are so weird and so poorly made I would know what to do with one if I got it for free.  But worse than the junky product is the sycophantic buyers that praise the design as "original" and the maker as providing excellent customer service.  This is the absolute worse form the infection I have written about before called Magical Thinking.  Here we aren't even talking about something lame made by a master.  We are talking about junk made by a dude with a grinder.  

As the boom in the knife business and the custom knife business continues we will continue to have folks that decide to jump in and see what they can do.  As I have noted before, simply based on the law of averages, very few of these new makers will be any good.  Most will be flushed out of the hobby once the market contracts and hopefully their turd-like products will go with them.  The thing that puzzles me is the forces of the market SHOULD be punishing these folks.  Why buy some crude hunk of shit for $200 when you can buy a well designed knife for much less on the very same Internet that brought you the IG famous piece of crap?  Market logic depends on the rationality of buyers.  In the knife world, that sometimes goes out the window.  

As bad as the person-with-a-grinder-and-a-dream products are, in some ways the vaporware folks are even worse.  If you are around my age and were infatuated with video games in the early 1990s you remember how hype obsessed folks in the enthusiast press were.  No game that was released was at good because there was another game, available in Japan only, of course, that was better.  We had Mario, but we were waiting for an unavailable Mario ripoff.  And then there were the Japanese only game systems we were always pining for--remember the SuperGrafx?  It's easy to hype a product if you never have to make it or release it to the public.


So it goes with some small batch gear makers.  Wanna Survive Knives fixed blade?  Me too.  They look awesome on paper, because all you need to do to look awesome on paper is write down some good specs.   Let me try this:

Survive Knives Vapor

4.5 inch blade
5.5 inch handle
CF molded sheath with Tek-Lok
SM100 Blade Steel
Drop Point Blade Shape
Westinghouse Micarta scales
Weighs 3.4 ounces

Price: $175

Look at that!  I did it!  I made an awesome knife!  Or I listed a bunch of specs.  Boy do I wish I could use CAD because then I could really make the Vapor even cooler.  

I get that Survive Knives is basically run by one guy and it is hobby, but even with those limitations, they are producing precious few actual products.  And don't bother trying to time a release.  I have now been suckered into calendaring a release three times, only to go to their site and find nothing.  And the release notes are silly: in production, out of stock, pre-order....blah blah blah, but never: In Stock.   

Some companies pull out of the vaporware stage.  HDS did so with their Rotary and even now, years later, it is one of the best lights on the market.  But my hope for Survive Knives is dwindling.  There are complex instructions for buying their blades--Monday sales (which three times did not happen while I was watching) and pre-orders.  Let's be clear--never pre-order a knife if you have to pay for the whole thing up front.  Too many problems happen with this set up and too many great makers don't do this.  If Scott Sawby could hold my order for three years without even a penny, Survive Knives can do so too.  Then there are the flash sales.  I wish I could say this was a joke, but they had the GSO 5.1 "in stock" for two days starting at 2 PM and ending at 2 PM two days later.  I am not sure how they could make it more inconvenient to buy one of their products.  You know what the "How to Buy" button should say?  Click to add to cart, pay.  That's it.  I don't want to have to calendar a sale and I don't want to have to sign up for your newsletter where you show the one or two people in the world that actually have one of your knives outdoors slaying beasts with them.  Make knives, not newsletters. 

But for some reason, folks think this is a good way to build buzz for their gear, like free advertising.  It might be, but it also builds frustration and distrust (especially with a pay up front preorder model).  And it's bad business.  Why bother with all of the shenanigans necessary to land a Survive Knives blade when Bark River is making readily available stuff that is as nice and cheaper?  And if you want exclusive there is the available, but not in crazy numbers Fiddleback Forge stuff.

P1070037

In the end, Survive Knives will get lapped by the competition that has decided to, you know, make knives.  Weird right?  

Don't get suckered by the hype of small batch.  Look for quality.  Don't give your money away up front to anyone, unless you are asking for something to be made with crazy materials.  And don't be a small batch fanboy.  Imagine if some small batch guy made a knife as sweet as the Mnandi.  How bonkers would people go?

36 comments:

  1. What do you think about the new Anso/Vox collaboration knife company, both in general and in the context of this post? https://www.giantmouse.com/
    Context for anyone who hasn't seen the site: their model is to build a limited run of folders (the first one is 400) and 1/4 of them would be a "special version", and then discontinue the design. This seems similar to the Fiddleback Forge, but at a pretty reasonable price and more limited numbers. They have an unlimited-production fixed blade and a couple of branded non-knife products as well.

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  2. So is your Busse any closer to being in your possession? About three years ago I decided that I wanted a Strider PT CC more than anything after reading your review but after roughly six months of not being able to find any in stock I finally moved on.

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  3. I would be cancelling on that Busse so hard, Tony. These companies with their forever unavailable stock, 'closed books' and their associated fervor is ridiculous. Either you are making and selling stuff, or you arent. And yet they've always got something to put on their instagram pages. Me: "I'd like to buy that please" - Them: "we're not currently engaging with paying customers, but keep following us for more pictures of army dudes holding our shit".

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    1. So far I have a dollar into it. I am not super worried.

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    2. LOL @ "more pictures of army dudes holding our shit"

      Re OP - I come back to what Tony wrote once about the Mnandi: This could easily be someone's only knife. The more I carry it the more I kick around the idea (pipe dream?) of selling everything and just owning like six folding knives.*

      *does not include Alox Cadet collection those are multitools dammit

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  4. Mayhap Busse are spending too much money advertising in BLADE.

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  5. Irony? http://surviveknives.com/gso-4-7-cru-forge-v/

    BTW, totally agree with this post. My only exception is the torqbar...I want one.

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    1. Well, I plunked my money down for one. Let's see how long it takes. If I get it before Christmas I will be shocked. I got forty one and half emails about being part of the Survive Knives community, which so far as I can tell, is a bunch of people in a pine barrens somewhere with the only seven Survive Knives ever made.

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  7. Something you touched on in the podcast applies here as well. There's a node at which economy of scale and attention to detail intersect to make something better than either the garage hand-maker or the large scale mass producer are capable of.

    Let me explain. On one hand you have Kershaw or Boker making decent $50 knives as quickly and cheaply as possible. These knives are decent but they must be designed and produced with minimal quality control and attention to detail. They benefit from industrial level heat treating equipment, material science, and design forthought. On the other hand you have the dude in his garage. His products can benefit from a high level of attention to detail and personal QC but may not have the professional level of design refinement or manufacturing precision of high-end machinery. This type of production costs a lot for what you get. These guys can also fall short if their process lets lemons though. I got a Koster awhile back that I had to send back because it looked like an intern made it.

    The node is where someone like Zero Tolerance, Rick Hinderer, Chris Reeve, higher end Spydercos etc. are able to sell enough knives to justify a Makino A51 CNC, professional heat treatment, and a batch order of designer steel while still applying enough attention to detail/human QC to produce an ostensibly perfect knife.

    I believe the garage grinder guy is perfectly capable of producing a very nice fixed blade but it takes real machining (mill or CNC) talent, experience, and design acumen to make a truly great folder. Add in the complicating factors the garage guy faces such as standing out in the marketplace, sourcing materials, self-promoting at knife shows, and doing his/her own customer service and it's obvious why there is such a high price and low availability of that type of product. This is exacerbated by the collector mentality that runs Shirogorovs up to $800+. Another example are XM-18s: excellent knifes that were until recently too expensive to really use. Now they're a great mid tech beat-to-hell knife at <$400. If one is truly brand/maker agnostic they'll recognize that they're better off using a knife from someone like Chris Reeve than a functionally $350 knife that's been run up to $800 by market forces.

    If someone wants to pay for exclusivity or bragging rights for their fellow knife-geek friends that's another story and totally understandable. It's just annoying when they try to justify those purchases through the "magical thinking" as you put it.

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  8. So...... Bmh knives? I feel like that's gotta be the most exact example of your criticism. Especially how often they pop up in my IG browse feed.

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    1. I was so disappointed with the direction he chose to go, I reserved a spot with him a few years ago when he was mostly doing simple camp knives and friction folders, when my turn came up he was doing this tactical nonsense with the non flush scales and weirdly proportioned tantos. All with a mistake finish. So unfortunate.

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    2. Just checked the BMH website to see the message 'Everything shown on the website is ready to ship' - until you click on a knife and it says 'out of stock'. They will happily sell you a place in a queue for $55 - which is *in addition* to the final price of the knife. Looks like the only thing in stock is an ugly keychain or an impractical bottle opener.

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  9. I like this Tony on a warpath thing you've had going on, this is good!
    Totally agree with your post, but its so easy to fall into the short run mystique. I fall into it sometimes before I realize what I'm doing, thankfully it hasn't suckered me out of my money yet. Especially when I look at these short run companies vs Bark river, the value proposition is so much stronger at a company like bark river who is still doing extremely high quality stuff but actually making it available.

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  10. on point - I been waiting for my 4.7 since December 2015 and I an getting sick and tired of: we dont provide estimated time, you get it, when you get it.. Come on now! It today's modern world of logistics it is super easy to predict estimated date of delivery.. Instead I get a run around and constant updates to sign up for next unavailable for 3 years model and pay in full..
    Not happy!

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  11. I have to disagree. Yes survive knives are made in small quantities and they ARE hard to get, but I just discovered them last winter and have managed to purchase 7 so far through a combination of preorders and Monday sales. If you want one bad enough, follow their forum on bladeforums.com (they are very active there) and keep up with when they will be available. Then just hit refresh constantly on their site because they sell out of stock FAST. I defy any to argue with their quality vs price once they get one in hand.

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    1. (raises hand) I'll argue it..
      Lets see.. I paid 250$ over year ago for a knife that still has MUCH longer before I will see it.. So you can't compare something you don't have in your hand.. and don't know if you ever will..

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  12. I had several knives on order with Survive but had to cancel.. Awesome knives. But the wait time has grown to beyond absurd to unsustainable. The current knife they are working on, the 4.7, has been in production for over a year and they are STILL stuck on this. So how long do you think it will take for the poor suckers that prebought a GSO10 that is like nine models away from being made?! And as far as fanboys, you will never see as big a group of utterly delusional cool aid drinkers as you will in the Survive Fanboy club. They will spew all kind of zombie endorsements on how they are willing to fork over cash up front and not worried. or how "it's worth it" to pay up front for the privilege of maybe sometime in years time they may get what they paid up front for a production outsourced knife. Or they will compare the upfront outsourced production knife to a partial payment Randal custom. Or they will tell you how it's the Waltons family that made these and they just want to support such good people. Or they will tell you how no one is twisting your arm, they have refunds.. and on and on.. Probably won't be long before you start receiving nasty messages for having dared insult their god.

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  13. http://www.bladeforums.com/forums/showthread.php/1429522-EverydayCommentary-take-on-Survive

    Seems some are quitely a little upset at your every day commentary on Survive Knives.

    I agree with you however. They are great knives the wait time is insane.

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    1. Please take a minute to follow this link and read the discussion. There were negative feelings at first (based on the negative and not-entirely-true article here), but Tony introduced himself and some really good points were made without any more insults or childishness.

      You're free to dismiss everything you read there as fanboy nonsense or take it as information from those who know more about the company than just the points brought up in this article.

      You'll be able to decide if SURVIVE! is for you or not, and spend your money accordingly.

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  14. And as I predicted, when approached with the slightest criticism you will be met with an offensive front from the fanboy club. Same tired old lame excuses and defense..
    "Your a Whiner, your are mad because you don't understand anything, You are a whiny little girl wanting instant gratification, you just like to settle with mediocrity, you are spewing misinformation, no one gave you any guarantees on time, no one is forcing you" ,... etc..etc..etc..
    I notice a lot of those fanboy who will be so dismissive about waiting 18 will then brag about how they blow through $$thousands on different toys and investments. Well, not everybody has so much money they can just burn through thousands and see what sticks. Some people actually value their money and time. The condescending tone from the fanboys attacking someone DARING to criticize not getting a product after 18 months is absurd and very telling.

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  15. I'm having some trouble replying, so forgive me if I end up with a bunch or repetitive posts, but do follow the link to bladeforums.com that was posted. There's some really good discussion there.

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  16. There is a saying among knife makers.. "the hardest knife to make is the one already paid for" This may be the case here. Despite the fact the current knife model is now taking a year and counting to finish and TEN prepaid models on backloged, Gee, Survive! somehow finds time to start making custom knives. http://www.pictaram.com/media/1319921615714392488_330742413
    Or as they put it " time to tackle a bit of custom work has been a great break from the regular production". Hmm, a "bit of custom work"? with serial# in the picture at #416?? .. Well, one thing hundreds of custom new knives stuck in front of many years of prepaid orders will generate besides "a little break".. is a "little" $$ too I imagine. But of course the fanboys and shills will jump for joy. They will excuse it away like everything else. And the youtube shills will come up with bullet list of straw man arguments and deception to fool newcomers and serve cool aid for the fanboys.

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  17. The bladeforums survive! manufactures forum is mostly a one sided Jonestown full of fanboys and shills for Survive! It's a place where sk knife nerds get their Koolaid fix and gather for worship. You will not find a "discussion" there. You will only find elitist knife snobs slamming other "inferior" knives like Bark River while worshiping survive and attacking anyone with a different opinion. You will not find a "discussion", rather the total distortion of reality, attacks, deflections, and strawman arguments. If you want a better idea of the REAL discussion going round the campfire from SK customers, you can go right to the source at thier facebook and see what the response has been. https://www.facebook.com/SurviveKnives/

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    1. Really??? There has been plenty of talk about the issues such as; The problems of unknown actual knife production dates, number of knives shipped, and number knives under construction have been discussed. Pro's and Con's of how Survive's current business model operates. Limitations of Survive's production capacity.

      Seems to me that only person who doesn't want openly discuss the issues at Survive is YOU because you have some sort of personal axe to grind.

      Survive knives aren't cheap and you pay for them up front. My recommendation to anyone who buys anything is to do some research about the product and company before you spend your money.

      Survive's "issues" long lead times and a unrealistic posted production schedule aren't some dark secret nobody talks about. It's openly discussed and well know. If you can't, or don't want to, wait out the lead time Survive knives are not the knives for you. Just because Survive has long lead times and a poor production schedule that still doesn't seem to justify the amount of hate you have. Especially when you consider that Survive will refund your money if you just can't wait any longer, so its not like your money is gone. May-be you should just come clean and tell everyone what your problem really is?

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    2. Really??? There has been plenty of talk about the issues such as; the problem of unknown actual knife production dates, number of knives that Survive is actually shipping and how often, the number knives that are actually under construction and how many of those are pre-order knives Vs. stock production have been discussed. The Pro's and Con's of how Survive's current business model operates. And finally Limitations of Survive's production capacity based their size as a company.

      Seems to me that only person who doesn't want openly discuss the issues at Survive is YOU because you have some sort of personal axe to grind.

      Survive knives aren't cheap and you pay for them up front. My recommendation to anyone who buys anything is to do some research about the product and company before you spend your money.

      Survive's "issues", long lead times and a unrealistic posted production schedule, aren't some dark secret nobody talks about. It's openly discussed and well know. If you can't, or don't want to, wait out the lead time Survive knives are not the knives for you. Just because Survive has long lead times and a poor production schedule that still doesn't seem to justify the amount of hate you have. Especially when you consider that Survive will refund your money if you just can't wait any longer, so its not like your money is just gone. May-be you should just come clean and tell everyone what your problem with Survive really is?

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  18. There's a **major** difference between a company that's in over their heads with backlog, but valiantly trying to fight their way out from under it, while delivering a high-end product, at a fair price, while still making it in the USA (instead of shipping it off to China) — and a company that's deliberately and maliciously misleading customers in order to line their pockets.

    Mark, I think you're logically falling on the wrong side of Hanlon's Razor here: "Don't assume bad intentions over neglect and misunderstanding." I think the Survive crew are excellent at making knives, and less excellent at predicting business risk and delays. They do seem to be getting better at it, though — but there's still backlog to contend with.

    Have they made business/growth mistakes? Maybe. Probably, even. Are they still delivering a very high-end product, despite the backlog issues? Yes, definitely.

    Ultimately, I see Survive's issues as being parallel to what you often see with kickstarter campaigns: ambitious new companies work doggedly to get cool new products off of the ground, but sometimes they (dramatically in some cases) underestimate what it's going to take to pull it off. And often, that leads to long delivery delays, mass consternation and hand-wringing from their backers, and — more often than not — ultimately a really great product getting delivered. In the best cases, really solid businesses emerge on the other side of that painful growth phase, and wind up scaling effectively to deliver that product more conventionally.

    Given how good Survive's knives ostensibly are (I don't know, first-hand, but I've got mine on order, and I've not seen a single negative review of their knives, anywhere), I kinda think they'll fall into that last category, when all's said and done.

    Meantime, as long as you know that buying a Survive knife directly from them is going to be more like backing a kickstarter project than pulling something off the shelf at your local store, you should be fine. I think.

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  19. As far as views on SURVIVE!, I'm not sure if there is anywhere that is a true neutral ground. The official facebook page is mostly people venting. Instagram remains mostly positive. Of course Bladeforums and the community that has grown around SURVIVE! strives to stay positive in light of less-than-ideal circumstances with the company; furthermore unchecked or unfounded negativity is not welcomed with open arms.

    I'm sure there are many intelligent knife enthusiasts here who can look at both sides of the argument and decide for themselves if SURVIVE! is right for them. If so, great! If not, there is no shortage of other, reputable companies to buy great knives from.

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    1. A few things about my comments policy. I publish every comment regardless of content so long as it is not spam or a threat. Second, because of spammers, I have to manually read and approve each comment (usually about 10-15 a day) so if you posted and don't see something it will almost certainly go up within 24 hours (comment moderation is what I do in the morning when I first wake up!).

      As for a neutral ground, it can be here. I literally have no stake in this whatsoever. The $189 I paid for the knife is not enough for me to throw in on one side or another. I am working on a response article and one person has sent in a written response as well. That will come out next week.

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    2. Thanks, Tony, for having us. Looking forward to what comes of all this.

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  20. So many excuses. I have heard them all. It's funny how some SK champions conveniently gloss over how time and time and time again there have been misleading information coming out of Survive! baiting people for many months implying their knife is just around the corner. To deny that fact is to loose all credibility. I have lost track of all the excuses and strawman arguments.. Too many to list. But all that can be put aside if people are just honest about the facts or at LEAST don't try to subvert the caveats of Survives! preorder system. The preorder caveats are,

    A) You have to pay 100% up front for a very high quality well made mostly outsourced production knife.
    B) You are ok knowing they focus on making and releasing ONE knife model at a time, have 10 models on backorder order and currently taken about a year to make ONE model. So are looking at delivery times wayyy greater then a year for later models.
    C) Have a history of grossly overstated expectations of delivery timeframes.
    D) Have a consistent history of growing longer delivery times not shorter.
    E) Have gone on record they are not going to do any major changes or improvements to production timeframes..

    Then.. yes, as long as the customer is aware of the above. Then by all means It's "caveat emptor"

    What I have a beef about is when I see either fanboys, or Survive!, or shills utterly distort preorder caveats points a-e. It's Fine NOT to bring up those points. But it's grossly unfair and dishonest to new buyers to cover those caveats up, or attack others that bring up those points, or downplay and distort those caveats. To be fair, of course not everyone who loves and collects sk knives is a shill or fanboy.

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  21. Here is a great thread that discusses Survive! and the issues surrounding their business model.

    http://www.bladeforums.com/forums/showthread.php/1399221-What-is-reasonable-and-legal

    While there are some emotional posts, both sides fully present their concerns.

    The 2015 “Starter Program” was represented as a chance for Survive! to gather the capital they needed grow the business. Guy and Ellie said that they were going to invest in equipment that would allow them to shorten lead times and bring more processes in-house. To the best of my knowledge, they have made very few major equipment purchases and lead times for some of the Starter Program knives now look like they will be around 5 plus years.

    Since the end of the starter program (where people payed the total purchase price up front) Survive! has introduced and completed runs of totally new models while making customers that purchased knives during the Starter Program continue to wait. Besides selling factory seconds, they have reopened sales on the 5.1 and filled those orders before completing knives purchased during the Starter Program. The 4.7 has been “in production” since at least 6/2015. Despite claiming at one point that the 4.7 would be shipping by xmas of 2015, all of the orders for the 4.7 model from the Starter Program have yet to be fulfilled.

    I have owned a few Survive! knives, and they are nice. However, they are not significantly better than other production 3V field knives that are similarly priced and available immediately. To put it another way, Survive! is selling production knives. The extremely long lead times and their inability to provide or maintain any kind of schedule is both problematic from a customer service and business stability perspective.

    I am sure that I will get flamed and black balled by the fans that inhabit the Survive! sub-forum. That is sad for me as I was once a fan myself and have a relatively high post count there. However, I feel that Survive! has lost its way as a company and is now running a business model with inherent cash-flow and customer service shortcomings. Again, the knives are nice. However, they are not significantly different that other similar knives on the market, and to me they are most definitely not worth the risk and incredibly long wait times. YMMV. Peace.

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    1. Those are some great points. Many question the business model sustainability. I have seen apologists deflect from the sustainability concern arguing they offer returns, which is true. However because people are vested 100% not only in money but also often many MONTHS of vested time that it's not simply a matter "take your money, your whining and walk away". The concern of longterm viability is NOT negated by refunds. The whole point of worrying about the viability is of waking up one day with $1,200 of prepurchases and seeing a "closed for good"sign. Also the "refund argument" doesn't address the TIME investment aspect of it. It's strawman argument to claim refunds excuses the out of control lead times when people have not only vested money but 18+ months TIME. Time is money, and to hold onto my money for 18 months while baiting me with grossly wrong delivery estimates- just to have some peanut gallery shills clamor on about getting your refund,walk away and shut up is ridiculous.
      There are TWO egregious aspects of Survive!..
      1- The out of control leadtimes, the custom runs, and other knives stuck in production que.
      2- The shills and fanboys that act as surrogates to Survive! that subvert the caveats, and legitimate concerns.

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    2. C H, I won't try to argue or discredit you. Clearly you know what you're talking about as you've been involved for awhile. Anyone could admit that SURVIVE! has room for improvement, and the bottom line is that you and others have found it doesn't work for you while others are willing to take a "calculated risk".

      Thanks for keeping things professional, others are struggling with that.....

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