Oregon City's sharpest store

Benchmade Knife opens a retail outlet
by: Matthew Graham, Johnny Morin of Benchmade Knives in Oregon City shows off a sheet of steel from which blades are carved. The knife maker just opened an Oregon City retail store.

Did you know that one of the premier knife makers in the world calls Oregon City its home?

Benchmade Knife Company opened up its first and only retail outlet last week at the company headquarters in the Red Soils area. Now, anyone can now walk in and shop the entire Benchmade knife product line.

'The store goes beyond just selling knifes, but to make this a destination for our customers,' Benchmade Founder Les de Asis said. 'We wanted to make it convenient for our customers, to take care of all of their needs in one place.'

In addition to displaying and selling all Benchmade knives, the retail store carries clothing, hats, coffee mugs, factory one-ups and prototypes.

'A lot of what we have here is not available anywhere else,' de Asis said.

Customers from all over the country come to Benchmade headquarters, dropping off warranty work and getting their knives sharpened. A lot of military personnel on leave come to get their knives sharpened, Benchmade Public Relations Coordinator Emily DuPlessis said.

'From the day we opened the doors we've seen the need to have a display room and to showcase our products,' she added.

And with the company's 'Credit My Dealer' program, sales at the retail store are credited to dealers and outlets where the customer would have made their purchase.

'We wanted to be really careful about that because Benchmade is so dealer driven,' she adds.

Benchmade's retailers include REI, Sportsman's Warehouse, Bass Pro and other higher-end sporting good stores. You're not going to find these knifes at Wal-Mart, DuPlessis said.

Where it all started

From Benchmade's beginning in de Asis's Los Angeles-area garage, the company's come a long way to where it is today.

'I wanted a quality knife and I built a custom knife. I went to a gun shop. I showed it off and they said 'Think you can make 100?'' he said. 'I built them in my garage and then in a small community shop.'

'I had no experience in manufacturing, no experience in business and very little money,' de Asis said. 'We chose the Benchmade name because it really illustrates what we do with custom knife making - beauty and function.'

From there the operation continued to grow; de Asis said he was tired of Los Angeles and its traffic. Tired of being a company that was just another number.

Oregon, with its variety of recreation, housing, business and - relatively speaking - ease of transportation, was the perfect home.

In 1990 the company moved from Los Angeles to Clackamas and set up their operations in a 2,000 square foot shop in an industrial area. Soon, they had 12 2,000 square foot shops. After outgrowing that space, they began the search for a new home.

They looked at the current sight and, with some urban renewal incentives from the city, found their new home, where they built their 35,000 square foot shop. The location was a former OSU agriculture test center.

'We thought it would develop into the community it has and we wanted to be a part of that,' de Asis said.

In addition to pride in being part of the community, de Asis takes pride in each of the company's employees and remains committed to workforce development.

Laser Bay Technician Johnny Morin has only been with Benchmade for about a year. After working for a technology company in Idaho, family in the area brought him to Oregon.

'This company is family operated, very comfortable, stable company,' Morin said. 'You're not on pins and needles with everybody.'

Morin said he enjoys talking about Benchmade and his work with others.

'A lot of the time customers know more than I do - they're passionate about our product.

Aaron Bangle, who was recently promoted to Assembly Value Stream Manager, has been with the company for nearly 13 years.

'I was just looking for a job, it was swing shift and decent pay,' Bangle says. 'But what I found out was that this is a great company to work for.'

Bangle lists the education opportunities that Benchmade has provided as being integral to his advancement in manufacturing and his growth with the company. Benchmade offers 100 percent tuition reimbursement and in-house educational seminars, DuPlessis adds.

Accolades and Awards

Benchmade has a loyal following, and it's not just their customers saying good things about the company and its products.

The company's ERT-1, a rescue tool that features a spring-loaded glass breaker, submersible LED light and a folding hook blade for cutting seatbelts was recently awarded Safety Product of the Year by the Shooting Industry Academy.

Benchmade was also a 2007 Finalist for the Oregon State University Austin Family Business Awards.

Giving Back

Benchmade stays committed to supporting manufacturing educational programs, working with local high schools and Clackamas Community College to further their education programs.

'Benchmade is all about keeping our products manufactured in the US,' DuPlessis said. 'Benchmade is committed to keeping manufacturing alive in Oregon.'

And the partnerships go beyond manufacturing. The company recently made a $50,000 donation to CCC's Military Endowment Fund

The company also created a pink knife called the Pink Griptilian, with 10 percent of the wholesale profits from it going to the Oregon Health and Science University Cancer Institute, to benefit the Breast Health Education Program.

Expansion plans

'Conventional wisdom 20 years ago was to have a big plant,' de Asis says. 'Now it's about efficiency.'

But that doesn't mean they have enough space. De Asis says the company has additional space next to their current sight for future growth.

'It won't be too long before we have cranes out here as part of our expansion,' he says. 'The next generation manufacturing will be awesome.'

Benchmade is located at 300 Beavercreek Road in Oregon City, and is open Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. There is a 30 percent discount for Military Personnel with current Military ID.