Paying for Ideas

By Lloyd Graff.

15th Anniversary of Madden NFL from EA-Sports

As we diligently rub metal on metal, producing the stuff that makes the wheels roll smoothly, the big money in the economy continues to flow to the world of ideas, entertainment and health.

A few thoughts to connect.

Monday Amazon agreed to buy Twitch for $970 million. Google thought they were going to get it but Amazon swooped in at the last minute. Twitch is a site that broadcasts online video game competitions. They aspire to be the ESPN of video gaming. Who knew?

But this is a big business and growing fast. Twitch is in the top 15 most trafficked Websites. It gets 55 million unique viewers a month as a three-year-old company. The number of hours users spend on Twitch is the same spent on MTV and a tad behind CNN. For Amazon it means an advertising vehicle for the company and a big opportunity for growing ad revenue to reach a prime demographic that is hard to reach – young men.

One of the video game competitions Twitch broadcasts is Madden NFL, which came out with its 15th edition Monday. The 25-year history of this game is fascinating. The game’s creator, Trip Hawkins, was a football player at Harvard. He wanted to combine his love of the game with his passion for computers. As a child he had played the board game Strat-O-Matic and wanted to bring a version of it to the Apple II, the computer gaming platform of the day. While he was not banging helmets on the field for the Crimson, he worked on the code for his video game, which became the genesis of his multi-billion dollar firm, Electronic Arts. Hawkins admired John Madden as a student of football and wanted to get his input and possibly even his name and voice for the game. John Madden was famous for his fear of flying and traveled to every game on a land conveyance. Through a friend of a friend, Hawkins located Madden traveling on an Amtrak train in 1984. He bought a ticket and found the famous coach and commentator in the club car. He introduced himself and told Madden about his project in the hope that Madden would buy into the idea even though he was not computer savvy.

The game’s popularity has grown steadily through the years, with total sales of $4 billion since its inception. They have an estimated 6 million active players today. Madden receives $2 million a year from Electronic Arts, a nice royalty but paltry compared to the $50 million Electronic Arts pays the NFL and NFL Players Union for the exclusive gaming rights. With Twitch under Amazon’s flag I can imagine those numbers rising significantly.

Meanwhile, Kevin Durant, the NBA’s Most Valuable Player last season, weighs shoe offers from Under Armour and Nike. Under Armour has offered him a $265 million 10-year deal to endorse its shoes. Current shoe endorsement Nike probably will not match it. Kevin Plank started Under Armour in his basement and has come a long way toward challenging Nike in athletic apparel. He is hoping that Kevin Durant will be his Michael Jordan, or his Madden.

But the Durants and the Maddens are the tiny exception. Consider the lock the NCAA and its schools have had on their huge cash cows, the college football and basketball players who have always worked for nothing except their scholarships. The NCAA cartel has really taken advantage of its players. The organization rakes in billions of bucks each year and then terrorizes the players if they get a hamburger from an alum.

The era of athletic serfdom is beginning to end now with smart lawyers blitzing the NCAA from all directions. Some players will be getting a little money soon, and considerably more of the pie down the road.

A side note. The Libman family, which owns a 118-year-old cleaning products family business that started with brooms manufactured in downtown Chicago in 1896, recently signed a smart endorsement deal with the Big Ten Conference. Libman is the exclusive floor mop at all 12 of the conference’s schools.

Every time a kid swoops onto the basketball court of an Indiana vs. Ohio State game to mop up sweat, you see the Libman brand. It’s a nice branding device for the company and another piece of money for the colleges. Of course, the players don’t see a penny.

What these disparate dots on the economic map illustrate is that money gravitates to good ideas and where we spend our time and cash. When we go to IMTS in a few days, the emphasis will be on better machines to make things, which is crucial in the machining business. There will be a little booth in the corner where a geeky young woman or man will have a better idea for your business, like Trip Hawkins offered John Madden on the Amtrak train in 1984. Maybe you will feel a twitch when you see it.

Question: Should college athletes be paid?

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Little League is Big League

By Lloyd Graff.

Philadelphia’s Taney Dragons, Mo’ne second to left

I was going to write about the important stuff — unemployment, Fed policy, Ferguson, and the price of the new Hepatitis C wonder drug. But then the Little League World Series came on TV and I knew what really spoke to me.

I’m one of the millions of men and women hooked by the Little League World Series — broadcast on ESPN, brought to you by Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes. I know it’s all brilliantly packaged by the media flacks, but the authenticity of the 11-13 year-old boys and one amazing girl have lifted the event from obscurity to center stage.

A million years ago I played Little League Baseball. But my team could not have challenged these kids. They are focused and athletic, yet still unpolished enough to relate to.

The big hype for the event is around 5’4” Mo’ne Davis, the female star of the Philadelphia Taney Dragons. She is superbly athletic, plays shortstop, and pitches. She can bring it at 70 miles per hour, which is the equivalent of a 91 mile per hour fastball from a Major League mound. She has control and an effective curveball.

When my daughter Sarah was growing up I taught her to “throw like a guy” with full arm rotation. She was bigger than Davis, but not as coordinated. And girls and their fathers would never have dared to intrude on the male domain of Little League Baseball. A pity, in retrospect.

I love the Mo’ne Davis story. The girl has moxie and a remarkable calmness about her to go with her technically perfect left-handed delivery.

Jackie Robinson West, the Little League team from the south side of Chicago, has excited the Windy City. In a year when both the Cubs and White Sox are pathetic, these kids have achieved front page status. With rampant gang violence and kids their age being slaughtered daily in random shootings, it is fresh air for the city to see a cohesive group of black boys, coached by fathers, compete with the best teams in the country. Baseball has lost favor amongst kids in Chicago. The ball diamonds in my neighborhood are neglected. Girls play softball, but boys hardball has generally been forsaken for basketball, soccer and football. So the Jackie Robinson West boys are a delightful anomaly for a city where baseball seems like more a sport for middle aged (and older) white guys.

In South Williamsport, Pennsylvania, the annual Little League World Series has struck a national nerve. The television ratings of Wednesday evening’s Jackie Robinson West vs. Philadelphia’s Taney Dragons were seven times that of the ESPN broadcast of the first place Los Angeles Angels vs. the Boston Red Sox the same night. People wanted to see Mo’ne pitch. She had just been put on the cover of Sports Illustrated — generally a bad omen. She lost that night, but struck out six batters in less than three innings against a powerful Las Vegas team that had a burly blond kid 6 feet tall who threw even harder than her.

The baseball in the Little League games is not as artistic as in the Big Leagues, but the energy and passion makes up for it. The kids really care. They cry after losses. Chubby kids with glasses hit home runs. Shrimpy kids make terrific plays in the outfield. Coaches really coach and comfort devastated young boys who have just lost the biggest game of their lives.

I’m a sucker for a good story. I even loved the Tim Tebow saga. I understand that a Mo’ne Davis autographed baseball is going for $500 on eBay. And the beauty is that she couldn’t care less.

Question: Should girls play Little League Baseball?

Question 2: Will a woman ever play in the Major Leagues?

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“Carbide Doesn’t Go Bad”

By Lloyd Graff.

This basic truth haunted Brian Nowicki for years as he moved through important jobs in the distribution of tooling and machine tools for 30 years. The opportunity he saw was in the dead inventory sitting in the Lista and Vidmar cabinets all over the world, filled with perfectly usable cutting tools that were no longer needed by manufacturers or couldn’t be sold by the Sandviks, Iscars and Kennametals because they had developed slightly more advanced cutting materials to push.

Tooling Marketplace is Nowicki’s online answer to the problem of unloved inventory. It is an Internet supermarket of carbide and other cutting concoctions artfully displayed and organized so buyers can buy new surplus cutting tools for a fraction of the price they would pay for the current favorites of the industry. Nowicki and his partners knew that “last year’s model” did not mean “no good,” just “unloved.” If he could get the cutting tool manufacturers to buy into his concept of unloading yesterday’s best idea in tooling on his site, he had a business.

He and his partners were veterans of the cutting tool industry. They had contacts all over the world of chip-making. They wanted to build a site that would be focused on just one piece of the metalworking world. It would have some of the elements of an eBay, but it would not be a hodgepodge of goods. It would have some of the best of a Grainger or MSC, but it’s strength would be its depth and familiarity with the primary industry it was serving.

Tooling Marketplace just launched in August and the early indicators are positive. Manufacturers like Kennametal and Ingersoll have embraced the idea and put over $3 million worth of inventory on the site. Nowicki expects to double that amount in the next few months.

Now his biggest challenge is to attract the buyers. He makes money when the goods actually move out of the bins. Tooling Marketplace gets a 12% commission from the sellers and an 8% handling fee from the buyers. Transactions are all online. Tooling Marketplace is sending out targeted email blasts to advertise special deals. They need to get traction fairly quickly to make their site a legitimate habit-forming Internet location for both the everyday and the exotic in cutting elements. They invested $100,000 in the software to make the idea into a business. They are hoping distributors of tooling will be both buyers and sellers on Tooling Marketplace and will attract end users who will invest the time to browse last year’s model of boring or drilling carbide to save some cash. On many jobs the difference between 41-25 and 42-25 carbide on the shop floor is infinitesimal.

The big test for the site is to be able to attract viable new inventory to keep buyers interested. The inventory will come if they can get the word out to the buyers and get them to try it — the usual chicken and egg problem in the distribution world. I wish them luck — and lots of carbide.

Question: It is it worth spending a lot of time looking for bargains while running a business?

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Do You Know What You Want?

By Noah Graff.

A principle my parents have repeated to me is that nobody in the world is a mind reader. Therefore, to get what you want from other people you have to be as clear as you possibly can.

I usually hate going to a new barber because they ask me tough hair questions that I do not feel qualified to answer. They ask things like, “Do you want it short on the sides?” “How much should I take off the top?” “What gage should I use?” “Do you want it thinned out?” I’m not a barber. I don’t know this stuff. Why can’t they just do their job and give me a haircut I like? The big problem is that after 34 years of getting haircuts, I still have a lot trouble knowing what is actually going to make me happy. But I can say, after the barber is finished, I usually do know whether I’m satisfied or not.

It’s a tough situation for a new barber because she can’t read my mind. All she can do is guess what I want, and compounding the challenge, sometimes I don’t even know what I want. Sometimes I just want to say something like, “make me look cool, or do something that will be appropriate for work.” I have been going to my current barber, Dita, for many years. She can remember what I’ve liked in the past because she cuts my hair every month, but what makes her special is that she can use her intuition to style my hair in ways that I couldn’t have envisioned myself.

It is a wonderful and rare thing to be able to trust a pro to do what I want without proper instructions. Dita is just about the only person in this world who I can say comes close to reading my mind. When going to new barbers, my best results have come when I first comb through a magazine and find a photo of an actor or model whose hair I like, and then show the photo to the barber before she begins. The barber then at least has a clear vision of what I have commissioned her to create. Please new barber, do not ask me how to do your job. You’re supposed to be the pro!

At Graff-Pinkert we constantly repair and rebuild screw machines, a process which takes both creativity and experience trying various methods to make machines work smoothly. We always encourage our mechanics to ask questions when they are unsure how to deal with a problem, as it is obviously better to ask than screw up a machine or get stuck and waste time. We have the advantage of employing people with decades of screw machine experience — we have an Irish guy who has worked on Wickmans for a half century. More often than not, the solutions to their technical problems come from the mechanics conferring with each other rather than with the people in the office. Lloyd, Rex, and I want to know the significant technical issues occurring in the shop, but sometimes we just have to say, “I’m not sure how to do it, but I know you can figure it out. SO JUST GET IT DONE.” The mechanics get paid because they are professionals who we can trust to do things we can’t. The system usually works well, because even though we don’t know how to repair the machines, we at least know what we want in the end.

There are very few people in this world like my barber who can predict what other people want. So before you can clearly tell someone what you want from them, you better make sure what you want is clear in your own mind first.

Question:  Do you usually get the haircut you want when you go to the barber?

Noah Graff is a Salesman at Graff-Pinkert & Co.

Check out this Seinfeld clip in which Jerry’s carpenter unsuccessfully reads his mind

Seinfeld Clip – Jerry And His New Cabinets

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Surviving August

By Lloyd Graff.

Robin Williams in “Good Morning Vietnam”

August is a strange month for me. It is the month of my mom’s birth and death, August 11, 1993. It is a celebration of surviving my heart attack, a near death experience in 2008. It is the time my daughter Sarah and son-in-law Scott come to Chicago for a week with my three spectacular granddaughters.

The baseball season is in its dog days, and my Cubs are in last, as usual. But oh those fabulous prospects – the best in the game they say – will turn it around next year. Well, maybe in 2016. With my August pre-occupation with life and death, I always wonder if I will be lucky enough to cheer the next Ernie Banks.

In business we feel the excitement of IMTS growing toward Labor Day. I can already feel me knees rebelling against the endless aisles of McCormick Place.

School is starting this week in my neighborhood, and the kids are oiling up their iPads and computers. My wife Risa is gearing up her educational therapy practice. She is in the “make school easier” business, and beginning in August, needy parents and struggling kids find their way to her office in our house.

In August, Rabbis like my daughter have started planning their Jewish High Holidays (Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur) sermons. The High Holidays are somber days of contemplation, fasting and relief. I’m particularly aware of the clergy prep. While writing this blog I sat next to two local rabbis who were planning their Temple services at the local Starbucks.

August also brings the Fantasy Football draft and NFL football pre-season, the former being the more important of the two. I find it fascinating that today the statistics of the game have become more important than who wins or loses for many people. The game really is a lot more fun seen TV than paying $100 to attend a game, fight the traffic, and sit in the sleet. Games may as well be played in big TV studios. Fans in the stands, who needs it? Just give me the stats in real time.

For the French, Italians and Spaniards, August is the traditional vacation month. Five weeks of saying goodbye to work. To me it is a quaint custom for the monied elites. I’d go nuts if I didn’t work for over a month. Oh, maybe I could survive it with constant doses of televised baseball, football and audio books, but it would be tough.

I am soaking up August, that difficult transitional month between summer and fall, baseball and football, and who shall live and who shall die.

Question: What was your favorite Robin Williams film?

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Congress Cares?

By Lloyd Graff.

Congressman Francis Underwood from the show, “House of Cards”

Man plans. God laughs.

A client of ours just had a huge fire that wiped out much of his capacity. He is scrambling to pull things together overnight to service his customer base. The insurance adjusters dither while he awaits the settlement.

Another client jumped into the machinery market because he landed a big new account that wants parts in September. He’s buying a $100,000 machine and new secondary equipment. It had not been in the budget finalized in April, but a million dollar job was not going to be missed for want of a machine to run it properly.

In Washington, the bonus depreciation law is up for debate again, behind and in front of closed doors. Code name – Section 179. The trade associations I belong to, the Precision Machined Products Association (PMPA) and the Machinery Dealers National Association (MDNA), have their law firms and lobbyists out buying drinks and advocating hard for the resuscitation of the expired law. It’s why we hire lobbyists and pay them $500 per hour to schmooze staffers and channel money to campaigns. But I have to wonder, in the end, how much do the incentives really change behavior?

In our machinery business we expected a rush of business before Section 179 expired last year. But I can attribute to it only one sale, a ridiculously cheap 1-1/4″ RB-8 National Acme, that a client (who happened to have an accounting background) rushed through because of the tax incentive.

I know this dissing of the catechism of tax benefits for business is Obamaesque blasphemy, but I really think it is true. People buy capital equipment generally only when they have a pressing need for it. Without a pressing need, they may buy a smaller item like a hardness tester, or a cleaning tank. At Graff-Pinkert we rushed to buy a Graymills cleaning machine last year and a backup generator the year before to get the convenient write-offs. They were purchases we could have lived without, but the ability to write them off against income did play a role in our timing and was an impetus to pull the trigger. If you multiplied our cleaning tank and generator buys through the whole economy it would be significant.

Section 179 is not part of the backbone of capital spending in the United States. It will not have a pivotal effect on our machine tool business. For big companies it will barely ripple the water. On the margins, the last-second buys of a clutch, a repair part, a set of bearings, or a generator, magnified by thousands of little buyers, is significant. It’s worth fighting for in Washington, but if we don’t get it, there’s still next year for another schmooze at it.

Question: Do feel like your congressman cares about you?

Lloyd Graff is Owner of both Today’s Machining World and Graff-Pinkert & Co.

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Auction Rookie

By Noah Graff.

Auction at Ameriflo, Two Mazak Turning Centers

Last Tuesday, I attended an auction in Carmel, a suburb of Indianapolis, trying to pick up a few CNC machines to round out Graff-Pinkert’s stock. Key Auctioneers was auctioning off machine tools owned by Ameriflo Corporation. The company wasn’t out of business. It had just decided to outsource its machined parts.

The sale featured an L32 Citizen manufactured in 1999 and four Mazak CNC Turning Centers, Multiplex 6200Y machines. Two of the Mazaks were new in 2000 and two in 2004. Mazak Turning Centers are not Graff-Pinkert’s specialty, but we are always trying to learn the CNC market better, and if there is an opportunity for a great spec we try to explore the possibilities. My boss, Lloyd Graff, saw an advertisement for the auction in the Chicago Tribune of all places. We had received only one email blast promoting the sale and had not received any print flyers for it, so we thought the auction might be a sleeper.

I had been given a rough number that I could spend at the sale for the Mazaks. I was told that if I could buy one of the 2004 Mazaks for $60,000, not including the 12% buyer’s premium, it would be too good a deal to pass up–even with our very limited experience with the equipment. An auctioneer colleague of ours estimated that the retail price from a used dealer for one of the 2004 Mazaks in good condition would be about $120,000. At the sale, I was told by a Mazak sales rep that if these type of machines were bought new today from Mazak they would cost $450,000 each. My instructions for bidding on the 2000 machines were more vague. All I remembered was, “bid a lot less than the $60,000 we targeted for 2004 Mazaks.”

I spent more than an hour the day before carefully inspecting the four Mazaks and the Citizen. The operator of the machines from Ameriflo put the machines under power and was extremely helpful in giving me the straight dope on the equipment. The machines had put in a lot of hours over the last 10-15 years, running lights-out a lot of the time. The bar loaders and the parts conveyors weren’t working on the Mazaks. One machine had a recently replaced motor, one needed a new ball screw, one just had a new battery installed. He told me the machines were all “good machines.” I had at least confirmed that the four Mazaks were relatively aesthetically pleasing and were running.

The auction was small, with only a few hundred lots. After just 15 minutes, the newest, best Mazak was on the block. The bidding started at $30,000. This was one of the main machines I had come for so I jumped into the action. It was the first time I had actually gotten to bid at an outcry auction. In the past I had pushed the button to bid online with my bosses directing me at my side. A few times at past outcry auctions I had permission to bid on certain items, but the prices went over my threshold before I could even throw a number out. But this time I was in the ring. I went back and forth with two other bidders. At least two auctioneers were swarming me, waving there hands just a few feet away trying to egg me on to bid more. One bidder was online, the other, who ended up buying all four Mazaks, I had seen the day before, inspecting the machines at the same time I was. I bid $40,000, then $50,000, and the intensity built as it got into the $60,000s. I think my highest bid was $67,500. I had reached my spending limit and I admit I was a little relieved when I couldn’t go any higher, even though I think that the $70,000 it went for was probably a good deal. But a price of $70,000 plus 12% buyer’s premium, rigging and repair costs was a lot of cash to throw at something I knew little about, even if I did know some customers who might be interested in it.

After the machine sold, I called my boss and told him what happened. He was pleased that I got in the thick of the bidding and gained the experience, but he was glad I didn’t go any higher. He said something like, “We don’t want that type of machinery anyway. Maybe you can get the Citizen when it comes up.” So, when the last Mazak 6200Y (new in 2000) came up, I sat back and watched it sell for a mere $40,000 to the same guy who had bought the other three similar machines. When the bidding ended on that machine I thought to myself, “That machine was probably the steal of the auction. This was the opportunity I blew.”

Looking back, I don’t think I should flagellate myself for not bidding. The money wasn’t coming out of my pocketbook and I had just been told that it wasn’t the type of equipment we wanted to spend our money on. Later, I spoke with the guy who had bought the four machines. He asked me if I was Lloyd Graff’s son or Jim Graff’s son–the machine tool business is a small incestuous world. Then the guy told me that he had not even planned to bid on the fourth Mazak, but it was just too cheap not to buy. Ug. I was learning. What did I learn? I should have been better prepared. I should have had a better bidding plan. I should have known more about the machines. Maybe I should have gone into battle with a partner.

I held out hope to get the Citizen, a machine we do have some experience with. Our target price was $40,000. The machine was clean and running but it was still pretty mature in CNC years–not as bad as dog years, but computers have come a long way since 1999. Heck, in 1999, I was a college sophomore, Bill Clinton was President and the Bulls had won the NBA Championship the year before. Also, the Citizen’s bar loader was an oddball at 6 feet. I got in the mix and bid all the way up to $47,500. I was then relieved when someone else after some deliberation bid up to $50,000 and won the machine.

I felt fine as I left the auction. I gained bidding experience, learned quite a bit about CNC equipment and made some good contacts. I think I might have let a good fish get away, which does not feel good, but I would have felt more disappointed if I had lost out on a multi-spindle screw machine or Hydromat that I knew well.

Question: Do you enjoy buying stuff at auctions?

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War and More War

By Lloyd Graff.

Rubble in Gaza City, 7.26.2014

I met up with a Jewish acquaintance a few days ago. I asked him what was new, and he said his son was having an interview the next day to volunteer for the Israeli Army.

Why would an American kid who was not subject to the U.S. draft volunteer to fight? I can’t speak for him, but I think I understand the pull. I feel it myself, vicariously.

Israel has been attacked once again by a hailstorm of rockets and vicious killers infiltrating the country through underground tunnels. The Palestinian leadership in Gaza has had decades to make a logical settlement with Israel’s government, but continues to commit itself to Israel’s destruction and doom the Palestinians to misery and containment. I am not an ardent fan of Benjamin Netanyahu’s hard-line stance, but there is a consensus in Israel for a two-state solution. Unfortunately, hard-line Palestinians have walked away from good deals that have been offered through the years.

Israel continues to get stronger both militarily and economically. The Palestinians are falling farther behind Israel and are even losing support in the wider Arab world. American leaders may not like the prickly Netanyahu, but both political parties find it useful to align with the American Jewish community that supports their campaigns generously.

I sympathize with the desperate folks in Gaza, who are victims of a cynical hateful leadership that has sacrificed its people to its ideology of Israel hatred.

I think the young guy who wants to join the fight thinks he can help end the endlessly painful struggle. It’s a romantic thought, though a dubious one.

I think the 2014 war will end soon. Perhaps it will buy 2 or 3 years of relative quiet in Israel. Maybe some peace will come from exhaustion and mourning. Maybe the Hamas leadership will flee in disgrace. I can hope.

I would hate to see this idealistic boy from Chicago caught up in a 2016 Gaza War. But I’m glad there are kids with the courage and idealism to put it all on the line for something they truly believe in – the one and only Jewish state.

Question: Can there ever be peace between Israelis and Palestinians?

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It’s in the (Business) Cards

By Noah Graff.

IMTS is coming and neither Graff-Pinkert nor Today’s Machining World will have a booth — but we do at least have business cards!

Cards are a funny thing these days. It’s the 21st Century, and everyone has a Website, a Facebook, and smartphone that can store detailed information plus take photos and video. But still, if you’re in business anywhere in the world, you have to have a business card. Those little portable pieces of cardboard can be powerful. Pass out a lot of them, and maybe one will have a lasting impression that pays dividends.

Last fall, I was traveling around Germany looking for screw machines and Hydromats. Often on my business trips I resort to shots in the dark while I’m in between previously planned appointments. I call up companies from old lists of machine shops acquired by Graff-Pinkert over the years. I have a beautiful phone intro, “I’m in the area, so I was wondering if I could stop by your shop. Do you have any machines for sale or that you’re looking for?”

On a rainy day, sitting in my hotel room in Cologne Germany, I was able to get through to an owner. He then told me he had nothing for sale, so I shouldn’t come, but he recommended that I try a colleague with a shop in the mountains, about two hours away. I called the shop up and made it through to the owner, and indeed they had a very expensive vertical Hydromat for sale and said they would be happy to have me. So I drove out to the boonies on the west side of Germany — it seems like most shops in Germany are in remote places — and when the owner met me at the door he handed me a boring black and white business card in pristine condition. I couldn’t believe it when the card read “Rex Magagnotti,” my fellow salesman at Graff-Pinkert. Apparently Rex had trekked up to the same shop 16 years ago, probably just like me, on a whim, looking for treasure.

There is something about a business card that has the power to make a lasting impression. Sure it likely will get tossed or bunched in a rubber band with 100 others, but it has a presence, it’s tangible, you can carry it in your wallet, keep it on your desk, or write on the back of it. If the receiver cares about what’s on it, it might just survive. Paper is a waste of natural resources and a cumbersome thing to organize. However paper can last for centuries. The Vatican library has books that have lasted 2000 years. Computer bytes disintegrate in 5 to 10 years, meaning the data has to be constantly backed up.

Another business trip also gave me a respect for business cards. When I went to Japan to do a story for Today’s Machining World, I was instructed that if a Japanese person presents you with a business card, you must read it thoughtfully for at least 30 seconds and then carefully store it in a holder, rather than shoving it in your pocket. The card is regarded as a symbol of a company, deserving respect.

My friend Rich Kaplan, a professor of creativity who used to contribute to Today’s Machining World, told me that a good business card should have a utilitarian purpose, in addition to just being a promotional tool. For example, he suggested putting a ruler on the back of a business card, or perhaps a table of feeds and speeds. Put something on the card so it can be constantly used for practical purposes and stay in the hand of a customer as much as possible. Our Graff-Pinkert business cards were designed with a matte finish and a lot of blank space on the back, so people can easily write notes on them. When I’m at IMTS this year, I will try to remember to only write on the back of our own cards and not on the back of one from a Japanese company.

Question: What should Barak Obama’s business card have on it?

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Stretching the Truth

By Lloyd Graff.

The American Girl Doll, Ivy, that Lloyd’s granddaughter Eliana received for her birthday (left)

My oldest granddaughter Eliana celebrated her 9th birthday Monday, and her grandmothers splurged on an American Girl doll for her present. She and her sisters love these dolls and they have a small family of them accumulated from several birthdays.

I am fascinated by the success of the doll company, started by Pleasant Rowland in 1986 on a shoestring, an idea and a bit of a lie. She sold her company, called Pleasant Company, to Mattel (owner of Barbie™) in 1998 for $700 million cash.

I have enormous respect for Rowland as a marketer. She built a brand based on history, wholesomeness, and quality that has endured and grown hugely under Mattel’s management. But she fudged the story about the genesis of the doll in her early catalogues. In Rowland’s story of the American Girl Doll, she writes that “deep in the basement of a small museum lies a tattered, water-stained doll trunk. Open the dusty lid and the long-ago childhood of some lucky girl comes instantly to life. Tucked gently inside a beautiful porcelain doll – dearly loved and much played with. I discovered this trunk by chance more than a year after I had begun working on the American Girl Collection. It served as a powerful reminder of why I had begun the collection, and what I hoped it would accomplish.”

However, the story written around this doll and its image is false. The doll was purchased for Sybil Hanks (born 1908) by her parents and named Nancy Hanks. She was kept in pristine condition and never played with before being donated to the Wisconsin Historical Society in 1966 along with Hanks’ entire collection. When Rowland put the doll in the catalogue, it was placed by a water stained trunk to convey a “well-played with” image.

Rowland’s story stretched the truth a little, but don’t we all in business and in life? Haven’t we all said “you look mahvelous!” to a friend who needed a boost, even if they looked pallid and frazzled.

When is stretching the truth a “lie” and when is it just smart marketing or saying the right thing at that moment?

I listened to a fascinating TED talk recently on this subject by Dan Ariely, the brilliant social scientist and commentator. His topic was ‘“cheating” and “stealing” not just lying.’ His point is that we tolerate and even accept a lie if it is perceived not to hurt other people and is believed to be a “small one.” Telling a friend that they “look mahvelous” is probably not going to offend anybody but the most sensitive sourpuss.

But how about Patience Rowland’s little lie to the parents of 8-year-old girls? Did she violate the sense of honesty and purity she meant to convey in her doll creations by dramatizing a fiction to the parents and grandparents who were shelling out a paycheck for dolls and doll clothes dedicated to a purified image of wholesomeness?

I am in the “who cares?” category. We love our stories and myths. They bring meaning and depth to our humdrum lives. My beloved granddaughter Eliana cherishes her dolls and their families. She gobbles up the books about the imagined stories of her doll figures and embellishes her dolls with her own version of their biographies.

The purists who begrudge Patience Rowland her fortune because she saw gold in a romanticized doll story and executed her vision to perfection miss the point. Myths, even made of little lies, are the stuff of life. My Dad and I used to joke around that all our dirty oily screw machines were used by “a little old lady on Sunday.” If we ever found a pristine National Acme that had been sitting in government storage for 25 years, we would call it a “little old lady machine” and laugh.

Stretching the truth. Indulging a little lie. It’s business.

And “you look mahvelous” too!

Question: Is lying a sin?

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