YARMOUTH, Maine (
) -- Eighty-four-year old Bruce Bohrmann has been making knives since the 1950s, but it wasn't until a local two-century old elm tree came down that he turned his passion into a full-time business, launching
As Bohrmann tells the story, "Herbie" was a 217-year-old elm tree in Yarmouth. He grew sick and had to be cut down. The tree was so venerated that the town gave him a name. Town officials then called for area craftsmen to make products from the wood.
Since Bohrmann made knife handles, he eagerly embraced the initiative and began receiving orders from all over the country. He officially launched the business in 1986 when he was "swamped with orders" and his knife carving finally became more than just a pastime. His need of business advice led him to SCORE.
Winning SCORE's Outstanding Small Business Launched by an Individual Age 50+ award (SCORE is the Small Business Administration's partner organization designed to mentor entrepreneurs), Bohrmann Knives is the fifth of seven 2012 winners to be profiled by
. SCORE celebrated the winners at its fourth annual awards gala in New Orleans on August 16.
"People like Bruce Bohrmann encourage others and demonstrate how starting a new phase of their lives can succeed and continue to support their community," SCORE CEO Ken Yancey said.
recently spoke with Bohrmann.
Tell us about your business and the industry you serve:
I make handmade knives. I work in a small one-man shop in the coastal village of Yarmouth, Maine. My customer base is collectors, hunting and camping enthusiasts and people who want a well-made piece of craftsmanship. A high percentage of my sales are to women as gifts for men. This is a rather affluent area, so it solves the problem of "what to buy for the man who has everything."
How has the recession affected your business?
The recession has affected sales from hunters, people who usually extend their means to purchase my relatively high-priced knives. I continually receive orders from people, who, once they've seen my knives and held them, want one. If someone needs something, it can be put off. If someone wants something, he will find a way to get it. To cope with the recession, I have lowered the price on one of my models to $299. This appeals to customers who can then justify the purchase rather than pay $325-$395 for the other models.
How have you financed your business?
I depend on sales to finance my business. If I need something to use in my production and don't have the capital, I try to find a way to work around the problem. This has often led to new, less costly and more efficient procedures. While using my imagination to solve one problem, letting my mind run free, I have on several occasions, developed new knife designs. Financial need leads to creative solutions.
Do you have growth plans?
My growth plan is to continue to be able to craft knives to the absolutely best of my ability, at my own pace.
A small business allows you to "buy smaller," need smaller inventory, require less space, and not have to purchase expensive machinery for higher production. Also, the problem with increased production is that at some point, you as a manager are no longer doing the thing that originally inspired you to start the business.
What's the biggest lesson you've learned as an entrepreneur?
Never give up. Enjoy what you are doing and do it to the best of your ability. Use the best materials available. When you begin with the best, you end with the best.
-- Written by Laurie Kulikowski in New York.
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