Knives Plus was created in 1987, but the
story starts long before that.
My name is Danner Toler, son of Troney and Joanne Toler, the founders of Knives Plus. I was young when my parents started Knives Plus, and I am grateful to have witnessed a true American story play out in front of my eyes. I saw the perseverance, hard work, grit, resilience, dedication, drive, faith, and love that it takes to start a business with little to no money. Today, we have three generations working and I hope I can instill the same values in my children. This is our story.
Danner Toler (left) and Troney Toler (right)
Joanne Toler (top) and Troney Toler (bottom)
Troney in hard hat
Joanne and Troney met on March 17th, 1981 in Washington DC. Troney was lobbying in DC with the AFL-CIO and Joanne was a Maryland native who was simply out having a couple drinks with her girlfriends. After spending some time together in DC, they parted ways. Joanne went back to Maryland and Troney went back to Texas. They continued to talk on the phone for a couple of months and eventually Joanne moved to Amarillo in June, just 3 short months after meeting Troney. Some may have thought Jo was crazy for moving across the country so quickly, but when you know, you know (to this day we like to joke that maybe we can't trust Jo's judgement making a move like that). They have been happily married ever since.
Like any small business, we began with very humble beginnings. Troney was a boilermaker. Joanne was a bookkeeper for different car dealerships. Troney had met a friend while boilermaking, who sold knives on the side and owned a small booth at a local flea market. This piqued Troney's interest, and he eventually started buying and selling knives to the guys at the construction site. Troney had zero business sense (he came from a line of construction workers in the family, not business owners) and eventually he realized that he had forgotten to consider shipping costs, etc. in his sales. He was losing money! However, the unexpected joy he found in selling knives pushed him to continue. A few tweaks to his business model, and he began helping his friend sell knives at the flea market. They started out in a meager 10' x 10' booth made up of just two sawhorses and some rough-cut scaffolding boards. There was no air conditioning, and in the 100°F Amarillo heat it could be quite miserable. This didn't stop him.
The day that changed everything arrived when Jo and Troney decided to have a garage sale. The plan was to take 100% of their earnings and start a business. They made just $40. Every penny from there on out, starting with that lofty $40, was reinvested into the business. Eventually Troney opened his own booth at the flea market with just a small selection of about 15 knives and very limited funds for anything else.
Months passed and they eventually found themselves needing to expand their knife selection. Being business partners and of course, married, they each had their own ideas about what items would sell. After some arguing as married couples often do, they decided to take the $100 they had from sales and split it evenly. Jo bought $50 worth of knives with pearl handles, synthetic bone, etc.). Troney bought $50 worth of double-edged knives, military-type knives. -All things manly. He was certain his items would sell, and Jo's would not. As it turns out, Jo's knives sold first! As a result of this, Troney learned a valuable lesson (as most men do when married to strong, smart women). Jo told him, "If you only sell what YOU like, you'll never make it". Troney still lives by these wise words to this day.
Joanne and Matthew running the booth (front). Knives Plus flea market booth (back)
Top: Outside of first store. Bottom-Left: Back of store. Bottom-Right: Danner behind product counter.
In the spring of 1986, the time came to name their business. Troney came up with "T. Alan Blades" and it wasn't long before Jo became known as "Mrs. Blades". In 1987, Jo had had enough of the nickname, and they decided to rename the business "Knives Plus" and they opened a brick-and-mortar store.
There were times where they only had $125 for the week to feed their two boys and pay the bills. Many nights were spent wondering how they would be able to continue. But Jo pushed Troney to stick with his dream, even when he wanted to give up. And so he did, even though at times seemed completely impossible. There were many times that Troney wanted to quit and go back to boilermaking where he could make a decent wage. Joanne, however, felt differently. She was always there, pushing him to continue and not give up on his dream. To this day, he credits her for his success because had it been up to him, he would have quit. She supported him when things were bleak and seemed utterly impossible.
Fast forward a few years. We began to advertise our catalog in Blade, Tactical Knives, Soldier of Fortune, Gun List, and others. It was small in the beginning, maybe a couple pages, but we started to get people calling us for the catalog. We'd send them out and before you knew it, we started to grow a catalog business. Over time, the catalogs began to grow in size. I remember our family working late nights collating catalogs on the tops of the display cases. We couldn't afford a copier that would do it for us, so we had races in the evening to see who could put together the most catalogs. Of course, I always won because I am writing the story!
Albert Einstein early catalog
Top: Inside of second store. Bottom-Left: Back of store. Bottom-Right: Joanne with Knives Plus sign.
In 1994, we had to move to a larger location to accommodate our growing catalog business. This is also the time we took our first ever vacation after working 7 days a week for 7 years! It was a four-day, all-inclusive vacation to Las Vegas...New Mexico. I have to say it was pretty weird not being at work. Even as a kid I remember the feeling to this day. In 1998, we made the decision to close the flea-market location down to give us the weekends off.
A few years later, catalog sales had all but fallen off. We were scrambling, trying to figure out what needed to be done because our business was tanking. About this time, we created a website and sales began to pick back up. It was business as usual from this point on. Like all businesses, there were ups and downs, but nothing that compares to the first 7 years.
In 2019, we purchased our very own building, where we reside today. We now have an amazing store front and warehouse that we can claim as our own. Troney's sons grew up and both had children. We are proud to say that we have 3 generations of Toler's involved in the family business. God, love, family, hard work, and perseverance. - These are the ingredients to a successful business and a successful life. We feel truly blessed to be where we are today and are forever grateful for both the loyal and new customers whom we get the privilege of serving every day.
Let's write the next 30 years together.
Left to Right: New Knives Plus building (left), Inside of building, Danner's son wiping glass, Danner's son checking invoice, Danner's daughter.