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Kingsport's Stewart Taylor turned hobby into successful business

November 16th, 2011 10:37 am by Staff Report

Kingsport's Stewart Taylor turned hobby into successful business

Taylor Brands holds patents on 30 knives.

As a young man growing up in Kingsport, Stewart Taylor haunted flea markets in search of World War II German daggers and Samurai swords. In the last 37 years, he turned that love of collecting into a multi-million dollar business, Taylor Brands LLC.


Today, Taylor Brands is the official manufacturer and wholesale distributor of Smith & Wesson and Schrade knives and sells to 65 countries. Taylor started selling knives while still a student at Emory & Henry College. At the time, he ran a small ad in "Coin Magazine" selling a Coca-Cola bottle-shaped knife that cost him $10 each. He sold the knife for $25 and, within a week, made $150.


Back then, that was pretty good money for a college student. Taylor decided to see if he could get the knife produced at a reduced price. He wrote to 16 U.S. and three Japanese knife manufacturers. Not one of the 16 U.S. companies responded. One Japanese manufacturer offered to produce Taylor’s $10 knife for 50 cents apiece.


Taylor always had an entrepreneurial spirit and, at age 16, purchased a house on Elizabeth Street in Kingsport. During college, he made enough money to repay the $5,000 home loan. He used that collateral to borrow $5,000 from First American Bank to secure production of his knives in Japan.


He graduated from Emory & Henry in 1974 and started his knife business in 1975.


Taylor had initially wanted to follow in the footsteps of his older brother, Cary, and go to law school.


"I wasn’t accepted to law school. I guess things work out for the best because I really enjoy what I do. We have fun creating products," he said.


It took six months for production of the knives. Taylor, and his wife, Shelia moved into a duplex in the Cherokee Village and set up a mail-order business.


"I would sit on the floor in the living room of our duplex wrapping packages," he said.


Taylor admitted there was a time when his family was actually concerned about him and his ability to provide for a family. "Quite seriously, there was a time when my family really worried about me and whether I could take care of my wife," he laughed.


Once their first child, Morgan, was born, Shelia and Stewart moved to a larger home with Stewart continuing to work from home. A year later, he moved to his first office location on Center Street and hired his first employee, Nancy Shipley.


"That was a big step for me," he said. "It was a big job to think about hiring somebody and having the responsibility to make payroll and pay their salary. You remember those really important first steps."


Taylor Brands would move twice more before the company moved into its current 163,000 square-foot facility on Eastern Star Road. That was five years ago and, initially, the new facility was slated to be 50,000 square feet. While on a visit to a Chinese manufacturing facility, Taylor learned the company had landed the AutoZone account that had 1,000 stores nationwide. The same year, Taylor Brands acquired Imperial Schrade Knife Company, which gave the company two strong trademarks - Uncle Henry and Old Timer.


The company holds patents on 30 knives, many of which were Taylor’s creations. In fact, the company’s three most successful knives were ones he created by "accident." One was the Swat knife that sold millions. The second was a small Scrimshaw knife with animal scenes on the handle. According to the Taiwanese, Taylor holds the record with this knife for the most imported knives ever from Taiwan.


The third was a knife, called the Shark, which Taylor redesigned from an older Japanese pattern. Of all the knives created by Taylor Brands, the Shark holds the most meaning for Taylor because the capital received from that knife not only kept the company afloat but enabled Taylor Brands to grow.


Today, Taylor Brands concentrates on more established knifes like the assisted-opening knife. The company recently invented the "first-ever" assisted-side-opening knife that will be released in a couple of months. In addition, the company designs and creates a lot of commemorative knives, such as the 175th Anniversary of the Republic of Texas and the 150th Anniversary of the Civil War.


As a community-minded citizen, Taylor donates many of the company’s prototype knives for auctions at local charity fundraisers. He additionally supports the "Wounded Warrior" program and has taken knives to Alaska and the former Walter Reed Army Hospital.


Taylor is surprised daily at his company’s success.


"I think we have the best family of employees that anyone could have. Our employees are what make this company," he said.


While he considers his employees family, Taylor is fortunate to have his three sons - Morgan, Carson and Russell - working in the business. When asked if he ever envisioned the company’s success, Taylor replied, "There is no way on this earth that I could ever imagine that my business would turn out to be what it has.


"I’m the guy who used to be at the flea market, selling knives and shaving one hair at a time," he laughed.


For more information on Taylor Brands LLC, visit the website at http://www.taylorbrandsllc.com/.

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