COLUMBIA — Sharpening gives Corby Roberts time to think. The hissing of a sharpening blade fills the air, and Roberts tends to sharpening his knives.
"I've sharpened 130 knives at a single stop," Roberts said. "It takes six hours. When I'm just sharpening over and over, I'm thinking about what I'm doing because I don't want to get cut, but I can think about other things too."
Roberts started his knife sharpening business, Blade Runner Sharpening, after meeting a family friend who sharpened knifes in San Francisco. Before that, he worked as a salesman.
"I did like what I was doing," he said. "It was more that I wanted to be in business for myself. I wanted to be my boss rather than someone else’s."
Roberts works out of his truck instead of having a shop because restaurants want him to come to them.
He said there are not many people who do what he does anymore. He said he only has one other competitor.
"It's not that I don't have any competition at all," Roberts said. "My one competitor is literally 100 times my size. He's in seven states. They do thousands of businesses, where I do 120. It's not as easy as you might think."
While his competitor picks up the knives and leaves to sharpen them, Roberts sharpens them in his truck and gives them right back.
Roberts said it takes him about an hour to sharpen 30 knives. He usually starts his day at 7:30 a.m. and goes until about 4:30 p.m.
“It depends on whether I have a customer that I can go to late in the day or early in the day,” he said. “Some of my customers don’t get to their restaurants until 10 o’clock. I have one that doesn’t get there until 2, and I have customers that close at 2. I just have to work it so that I can get as much as I can in a single day."
Roberts said about 93 percent of his business is from commercial kitchens, and he gets his business through perseverance. A regular client of Roberts is a local hospital. It took him two years to get the hospital's business, he said.
“I can’t just walk in and say, ‘hey, you need your knives sharpened,’ and they let me sharpen,” he said. “It takes going back, and going back and talking with them.”
In his work as a salesman, Roberts said he enjoyed making cold calls to costumers, which he still does and still likes because he gets to interact with people. Roberts said he gets the best of both worlds. He gets to meet new people on a day-to-day basis, but is still able to see the same people on a monthly basis.
"One of my favorite things is when I go to a restaurant and everyone is happy to see me," he said. "It happens to me five or six times a day."