Who are we?
You may have seen us in a more frivolous setting, as two members of the Southern Scythe Squad: Tony Robbie and Marshall Roberts. We live in southern Tasmania, Australia, and we like scythes.
Why are we doing this?
We’re probably answering this for ourselves, as much as for you. We both have ‘day jobs’. A couple of them each, actually. Tony is a botanist, works as a lab technician and farms his land, and Marshall is an IT consultant and also farms. So, why indeed…
We saw value in the tool and the techniques, as something that a lot of people would appreciate and enjoy, if given the chance.
We started off this venture with the aim of putting scythes in people’s hands at a lower cost, without skimping on quality. Indeed, the intention was to get people kitted out with a rig that had the potential to last a lifetime, at a cost that would make buying a cheap, essentially ‘disposable’ whipper snipper a less attractive option.
We’re pleased to report that the scythe is winning out against even the non-disposable whipper snippers: one of our first customers was someone who’d just spent $1000 on a really good brushcutter, but still found it was really horrible to use.
In addition to the clean-green experience of mowing with a scythe, as we learnt more about the scythe production industry, we found that there’s another imperative to getting scythes ‘out there’ – the industry is in decline, and the survival of the know-how required to make them is teetering on the edge.
So we’re starting off with small shipments to see how we go. We’ve got Italian and Turkish blades and Canadian steam-bent snaths, and the accessories to keep your gear in top shape.
The experiment so far…
The main hurdles to achieving our “lower cost” aim thus far have been:
- Small shipments cost a ridiculous amount to ship to Australia, and more again to Tasmania. Freight/clearance/fees can far surpass the cost of the products themselves. If the experiment works, and we end up confident enough to organise larger orders, we may be able to reduce prices further. But…
- While we don’t feel comfortable making a huge markup on a product that involves a three year apprenticeship to develop the required skills to produce – training and work we’ve not done – the tool has a non-fiscal value all of its own, and we won’t achieve scythe promotion by ruthlessly “kneecapping” other outlets.
- By Australian standards, the tools are worth, fiscally, much more than these prices. One local supplier we approached to quote on producing an accessory for us, declined to even quote once they learnt the price for which we could secure the same quality product from Europe. Another local person “in the metalwork game” indicated local production would carry a starting wholesale price of six times our retail price of that same product. We haven’t even bothered to ask what a scythe blade would cost, because finding someone who knows the 20-odd step process to make one would be mission impossible in itself. So, the fact is, if a complete kit was made locally, it would cost several hundreds of dollars. (That said, we have started getting some of the kit locally made, by doing some of it ourselves!)
With these hurdles in mind, our approach to the pricing dilemma is to offer quality scythes in Australia at a better price, with the hope of being able to make it even better in future, while still being an indisputably “developed economy” price. In doing so, we offer suppliers a better price than their usual asking price, as a contribution to keeping the skills alive by valuing them more highly at the point of production.
We also have to pass on our thanks to Peter Vido for his help in getting the venture up and running.