(July 14, 2015) – Ben Barto was surprised to learn last winter of an opening for the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally’s commemorative knife-maker license.
The Wyoming small businessman was shocked when the rally’s licensing committee awarded it to him.
“It’s kind of one of those things: Careful what you wish for,” Barto said with a chuckle. “I didn’t think I’d have a chance in hell of getting it.”
Barto, his wife Sherry and their small crew at Barto Wildlife Collectables are now busy creating the custom-made, antler-handled knives, filling and shipping orders and preparing to work the 75th annual rally on Aug. 3-9 in South Dakota’s Black Hills.
The business is located on the Wind River Indian Reservation between Riverton and Dubois. Barto made two trips to Sturgis in the past month to deliver product and display cabinets and check on early sales – they’re hot. There’s a booth at the Harley-Davidson dealership in Rapid City, South Dakota, and display cabinets at the Knuckle Saloon and Sturgis Photo and Gifts – both situated on Sturgis’ two main streets. Barto also lined up accounts in Keystone, Custer and Deadwood in South Dakota and is working on securing more.
“Normally, people who produce this kind of thing start after Sturgis the previous year,” Barto said. “We’re about seven months behind the gun, but I can guarantee you nobody has seen a Sturgis-licensed knife with the logo and antler handle and a gorgeous turquoise stone inlaid in it before.”
Barto Wildlife Collectables offers five limited-edition 75th anniversary knives along with 30 other styles in various logo designs. One knife comes in a limited edition of five because the handle and the antler stand that goes with the knife are hand-carved.
The couple started in the ornament business 16 years ago, selling hand-carved antler Christmas decorations and antler wine bottle stands among other items. The Bartos expanded into antler-handled knives in 2008.
Wyoming Business Council West Central Region Director Roger Bower aided Barto Wildlife Collectables’ expansion during his 15 years on the job by employing an array of the agency’s small business assistance tools.
The Bartos promoted their products at trade shows with funding from Business Council Trade Show Incentive grants, Bower provided small business consultation and the Wyoming Market Research Center helped the couple develop target audiences and improve customer reach. The Market Research Center is a Business Council partner in the Wyoming Business Resource Network.
Bower said the Bartos exemplify the phrase “Luck is when opportunity meets preparation.”
“That’s these guys. They had the product line, had the skills and were able to make it work when the opportunity arose. This could be a home run for them,” Bower said. “But it takes a lot of hard work.”
Barto estimated his business could sell anywhere from 5,000 to 7,500 Sturgis knives this year. He expects to continue receiving online orders through the holiday season.
“I’ve never had anything of this magnitude before,” he said. “To finally be able to get to do something that could potentially be seen by millions of people, it’s very gratifying, but it’s kind of scary to think of what we could possibly do. Especially where it goes from here.”
On the Web. For more information about the Sturgis knives, go to www.bartoantlerknives.com.
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