Monthly Archives: June 2013

Multi-spindles are Coming Back

Graff-Pinkert, where the multi-spindle business is coming back to life.

“What goes around, comes around.” It’s a dumb cliché, but it’s what I am seeing in the screw machine business today.

The cyclicality of business is playing out as the auto industry in North America pushes toward the magical 16 million units a year mark. Thank god for the F-150, now the “best selling car or truck in America.” Tradesmen are buying, businesses are buying, even Aunt Millie is buying a vehicle today, and most of them are put together in North America with millions of perfectly turned components also made here.

Add a revival in home building and all those unleaded brass fittings needed and it means a lot of spindles turning, after the up and down gutting of the traditional turned parts world over the last 15 years.

My guess is that one third of the shops that ran multi-spindle automatics have gone away since the wholesale outsourcing trend to China began in the late 1990s.

The decline and the current revival were masked by the countercyclical growth in mining and Chinese infrastructure, which has made up for some of the huge decline in cars and homes over the last decade. Now weakness at Caterpillar and in the hydraulics industry is hurting some of the firms that prospered during the widespread decline. The shale boom in the U.S. has boosted that area, but it cannot make up for the China slowdown, which could last a few years, and the parallel mining weakness.

The recent relocation edict by Beijing to bring 100 million people from the countryside to cities will limit the correction, I think.

I am heartened to see veterans of the turned parts world starting to reinvest. Recently several clients of Graff-Pinkert have told me, “I thought I’d never buy a multi-spindle again, but I’m so busy in that area now, I need to reassess.”

I see this as the beginning of an upgrading cycle in turned parts manufacturing here. Mindsets change slowly, but necessity can force a pivot. I think we are near that pivot point, at least in North America. Many of the younger people who have gravitated to the industry over the last decade have seen mostly declining volumes, which has made multi-spindle turning look obsolete. But today, with well-financed incumbents few and far between, the survivors in a depleted environment should thrive for the next five years.

Question: What equipment would you invest in for your business today?

Lloyd Graff is the owner and chief space filler of both Today’s Machining World and Graff-Pinkert & Co, a reseller of used screw machines, Hydromats, and CNCs.

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Tickling the Funny Bone

A young Bernie Sahlins

Bernie Sahlins died over the weekend at 90. He was co-founder of Second City, Chicago’s famous comedy club, and is known for propagating great comedians like Gilda Radnor, Bill Murray and Dan Aykroyd on Saturday Night Live.

Sahlins was a close friend of a cousin of mine, Sheldon Patinkin (yes, Mandy Patinkin is also a cousin).

When I read Bernie Sahlins’ obituary I realized a link between improvisational comedy and what I do for a living.

The improv comic takes a word, a situation, a hint, and builds a sketch on it. If he or she is a Belushi or a John Candy they take funny and build it into pathos or a belly laugh with a gesture or word. The key is connection to the audience and boldness. They have to be willing to be stupid and fail outrageously to be crazy funny.

I feel the tug of improv in the used my machinery business, Graff-Pinkert. Every deal starts with a clue, a sniff, a subtle hint of possibility. I swallow the clue and let my unconscious pick up on the trail. The great improv comic also absorbs the clue. If she has a partner they toss the idea up like a balloon in a light breeze and follow it joyfully together around the stage. They make laughs out of nothing but their zigzagging playful imagination.

When I’m clicking in my work I’ve also connected to my unconscious mind, because that’s where the creativity lives. When I go to “what if” land I access the mind that can make deals where there are none.

This may sound goofy and a long way from engineering and machining, but I think the joy of improv has a place in every business and endeavor. What if the next time you get a batch of prints you say to yourself, “if I could do this stupid and wrong, how would I approach it?” You just might find some nutty insight that could start a new business.

In business, the exciting deals are the ones that make us feel uncomfortable. A smart guy once told me, “you never get a good deal until you feel it in your gut.” Then you know you’ve pushed into the discomfort zone where big things happen.

At Second City, Bernie Sahlins helped establish a culture where comedians were rewarded for both taking chances and playing ball with their peers. Second City is not for soloists. It is an ensemble. So is business. Even the virtuoso needs a good band to play with.

My two sons have both done improv. They even did it together. I think every person should take an improv class just to access their funny bones for once in their lives. It’s a way to stretch. We all need that.

Question: Who is your favorite comic? Why?

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Your Father’s Day Card

Learning from the master.

Father’s Day is coming up June 16, but what if you don’t have a Father to connect with anymore?

My suggestion is to reach out to another man you respect, someone you’ve learned from, who has gone out of his way for you. Write him a card, give him a hat (doesn’t have to be a fedora), bake him a loaf of bread (yes, I’ve done that), take him to lunch — a hot dog will do fine. Men are people, too.

I learned a lot from my Dad, but I’ve also searched for mentors who came from a different place.

I saw a psychotherapist for 10 years, Herb Cibul, who helped me see my world with a clarity and confidence I did not possess before I started going to him. Herb died several years ago. If he were alive today I would write him a long card to let him know how much he meant to me, and that I am okay.

For over 15 years I also had a brilliant business mentor, Belford Small, a machinery dealer from my father’s era, who gave up the daily grind after his warehouse burned down. He moved from Chicago’s Lake Street to Delray Beach, Florida, and advised a privileged few men on investments, the used machinery business and life.

Bel was a chain smoker, and I could occasionally hear him exhale smoke on the phone, but since almost all of our work was done long distance, it never bothered me.

Bel was incisive and analytical. I felt he could counsel me on every business problem I encountered. I know that my Dad was jealous of the hours I spent with Bel on the phone, but he also knew that Bel understood all of the players in our business and was often crucial in bringing about a consensus among us at Graff-Pinkert.

Bel Small made me feel like I was his special student, not a client. I paid him a consulting fee each year, but he never billed the company. I loved the man, not as a father, not as a therapist, but as a loving teacher and mentor.

I wish I could send him a card for Father’s Day.

I hope everybody who is reading this piece has somebody in their life who fills the role that Herb and Bel did for me, and that my Dad did in a different way. If you do have that person now, maybe take a little time to tell them how much they mean to you.

Question: Tell us about your mentors.

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