A Cut Above

How one South Kingstown family turned a hobby into an experimental business

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Kids can be entrepreneurial, when they want to be. Squeezing lemonade. Mowing lawns. Babysitting. And – in the case of the Blair family – sharpening knives.

“It started as sharpening things for my father’s buddies,” says Isabel Blair, who is all of 13 years old. At first, sharpening knives was a hobby that Isabel shared with her sister Abby – who is all of eleven. But then their father, Todd Blair, proposed starting an actual business. “He threw the idea out there,” recalls Isabel, “but I didn’t think he was going to purchase a machine.”

And not just any machine. Todd found a professional knife-sharpener, to the tune of $7,000.

Yet the equipment was no impulse buy. Todd has worked for 25 years in sales and marketing, and he’s an authority in environmental science and economics. “By training, my job is to look for those opportunities where you can have a good environment and good jobs,” says Todd, who has worked extensively with blue-chip companies. Also, many years ago, Todd worked for Dean & DeLuca, the luxury food emporium in New York City. “Knives were a big part of that job,” he remembers. “There are a few things I’m finicky about, and one is a sharp knife.”

In a way, B’Ladies is an exercise in micro-business, so that Abby and Isabel can learn how startups actually start up. The first step was to create a name – they considered “Blade Runners” and “Roller Bladies” – and they settled on a phrase that Todd calls “confusing but memorable.” Then, about a year ago, they started setting up shop in South County farmers markets, reviving dull knives and scissors in as little as three minutes. Their motto is “sharpen while you shop.”

“I am just so delighted with how the reception has been,” says Todd. Not only has the company earned back its $10,000 investment, but B’Ladies attracts customers from all over. “People come to us as if they’ve found the Fountain of Youth. They see us and say, ‘I’m so happy we’ve found you!’ We get some pretty broken-down blades. A lot of it is really built around safety, for use at the market and use at home.”

“People are just excited,” adds Isabel. “You don’t realize your knives are dull, because you fall into a routine.”

So – how big could B’Ladies get? Is this a knife-sharpening Uber in the making?

Says Isabel: “We’re still deciding what level we want to be on.”