Martha Stewart With An Axe
posted by Stephen Wong ~ 14/01/14
Category: Retail
Retail Concept Excellence: Best Made Company, New York

Every now and again, in our quest to keep our clients and readers abreast of what is happening in the big wide world of retail, catalogues and content, we come across an out of the box retailer who we just have to tell you about. 

How about a niche outdoors/adventure goods retailer who sells, repeat, sells their 96 page catalogue for $5!? Catalogue #2 is sold out. Catalogue #3 is about to be released.

The story behind Best Made Company, begins with an axe. While for some an axe is a tool, for others, it is a window into the past. For Best Made Company, it is a symbol of by-gone days, used in the present, and an invitation for adventure.

Peter Buchanan-Smith started the business in 2009. At a time when entire neighbourhoods in New York were being remodeled by young entrepreneurs selling limited-edition handcrafted products like handmade cheeses; or exhuming old products, like Edison light bulbs; or teaching their peers how to butcher the deer they bagged over the weekend - that is, selling products and skills that hark back to a pre-megabrand, pre-globalism world - someone like Mr. Buchanan-Smith can become a mini-star, the designer-turned-merchant, a Martha Stewart for this millennium.

The only axe he could find in his local hardware had a plastic handle

As often the way good ideas start, it was the result of necessity. When he simply wanted an axe to chop hardwood for his BBQ, the only one he could find in his local hardware had a plastic handle. With a background in design and memories of summer holidays near the lakes of Northern Ontario he set out to "right the wrong", as Buchanan-Smith puts it.

He now works closely with a timber mill in Tennessee and goes to great lengths to source the straightest grain Appalachian hickory he can find. The axe heads are 100% 5160 alloy steel and are forged by fourth generation axe makers.

Seven of his axes are hanging in the Saatchi Gallery in London

Back in 2009, design bloggers and the design news media trumpeted the "authenticity" of this manly tool - and then promoted it largely as an art object. This was both irritating and pleasing to Mr. Buchanan-Smith, who says that he constantly worries that he'll be perceived as "just some design hipster kicking it old-school selling some chic tools to a handful of other hipsters."

Still, seven of his axes are hanging in the Saatchi Gallery in London. Seth Godin, the entrepreneur and marketing guru, has one, and so do Leonard Lauder, David Lynch and Mike Jones, the president of MySpace. Mr. Buchanan-Smith's new website,, is as much a community centre for outdoorsy types like himself as it is an online emporium. 

Today the range now includes new products such as: a handmade rope ladder, a pocket hatchet, a toolbox and a nifty leather sling that accommodates only Mr. Buchanan-Smith's camp axes. And all the type of apparel and gadgets you need for when you're out in the wilderness swing an axe. 

Enough to fill a 96 page catalogue.

Stephen Wong heads up Creative and Strategy at Cumming Agency + Studios.

Source: New York Times, MADE Quarterly Magazine Edition 2

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