I wanted to share one of my best blogs, and amazingly Siri showed me this one without even asking. A few of the numbers are off by 5½ years, but I don’t care. The sentiment and conflicts are just as true today.
I am celebrating today for no good reason – except the best reason, I’m alive to celebrate 2140 days after my crucial heart artery, the left anterior descending (LAD), was completely obstructed. That should have ended my life, but it didn’t because a Muslim doctor in a Catholic hospital inserted a stent into a 63-year-old Jewish guy whose Greek Orthodox physician personally wheeled him into the Emergency room. Only in America.
Every day since then I give thanks for the gift of living another day. I wish I could say I was joyful every day, but I’m not. I let trivial crap annoy me. I worry about the business and making money. I get irritated by the aches and pains of 70 years and not seeing and hearing like I did 30 years ago.
My grateful happy self kicks my negative grouchy self in the butt as my dual psyche wobbles on the balance beam of life.
I am thrilled to be alive each day and yet still pissed off that every day is emotionally turbulent.
George Bailey from “It’s a Wonderful Life”
I feel incredibly blessed just to wake up and kiss my wonderful wife, Risa. And then, a few minutes later, I’m struggling in bed with business problems and girding myself for a painful post knee replacement workout. And then I remind myself, “you’re alive, Lloyd, you’re loved and you love, so get real.” Then I pull myself out of bed. I’m a happy guy, but I wonder why I’m not happier. Is this the blessing and curse of surviving till you have to start cashing in your IRA?
As a younger man I didn’t worry all that much. My parents were both big worriers, and I used to think I was absolved from worrying because they were so good at it. When they died at 70 and 77 I think I unconsciously believed it was my duty to become a worrier. It was almost an unconscious worry transfer that I couldn’t wash or wish away.
I am not debilitated by my wrestling match of gratitude and fear, but it does make for a tiring day. I live with constant double vision because of seven retina surgeries. My two eyes don’t work together. It’s another part of my daily internal battle – good sight and near blindness. Sometimes I block the one bad eye with an eye patch, but usually I allow both eyes to work it out. Maybe I prefer the struggle because it’s reassuring to have two eyes, even if one doesn’t see very well.
I often make the emotional connection with Jimmy Stewart’s character George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life, even when it isn’t Christmas. The strands of joy and depression ran through George. Most of the time he held off the fear, but it was a constant presence in his life. Ultimately, it took an aspiring angel to help him vanquish his internal demons that the hated villain Potter kept abetting.
The title of the film, with all its irony, feels like my story. My life has been wonderful. It is wonderful. I am so grateful. Why can’t I feel that way all of the time?
Question: Has the pandemic been more of a blessing than a curse for you?
Today’s podcast is the final segment of our season about companies who produce their own products.
Our guest is Ian Schon, founder of Schon DSGN, a company that makes high quality metallic pens machined on Citizen CNC Swiss lathes. One of Ian’s core philosophies for the production and marketing of his pens is to tell the story of their creation.
The summer after Ian’s Freshman year at Boston University, he and his brothers bought a 1940s Clausing lathe on Craigslist and started machining all kinds of things in their parents’ garage, including his first pen. After graduating with a degree in engineering, Ian got a job as a product designer. He started his own company on the side, creating pens and watches, back in 2012. Two years ago, Ian finally started manufacturing pens and watches full time. He distributes his pens in stores all over the world. He also sells at pen shows and on his website.
One of the defining aspects of Ian’s pens is that when you look at them you can see how they were made. The clothes are off. The full monty of the machining process is proudly on display for an onlooker to see. The pens are made of brass, copper, titanium, aluminum, and stainless steel, presented in a variety of bright colors and finishes. They have precise visible threads for fastening their components. They feature distinct exterior textures from processes like knurling or milling—outwardly telling the story of their creation.
The moment I started talking to Ian, the word that came to my mind was “passion.” He is passionate about both designing and manufacturing his products—ballpoint pens, rollerball pens, and fountain pens (listen to the podcast for an explanation on their differences). He gushed about the setscrew design he came up with to secure the ink cartridges in his pens. He also loved talking about machining on his used Citizens, L20s and L16s from the mid ‘90s, which he holds in the highest regard.
He says he sees himself as both a designer and a manufacturer, and says he could not create his products the way they are if he was not both.
He markets his pens and other products by telling the story of their creation. He makes videos of himself designing the pens, as well as videos showing himself working on the Citizens—setting up tools, changing programs, or managing pesky swarf.
He says his loyal customers care that his products are made by a person who they can get to know, whether through social media or in person at pen shows. “The journey is as important as the destination,” he explained.
The catalogs of November clog the mailbox. Who needs another sweater in quarantine? I feel fleeced already.
Yet occasionally a catalog does wander in that really does offer unique merchandise and the aroma of genuine value. I read and re-read the Garrett Wade catalog last night and then presented it to Risa, who also got into it for a half hour before bed. It has no gadgets, no apparel, just interesting stuff that you could imagine holding onto for decades or giving to a grandchild who would probably think you were nuts. But then they start to use the item and remember you fondly a decade later for being prescient enough to give it to them.
On page 3 is a “Baker’s Gift Set” of three stoneware mixing bowls, a rolling pin, and dough scraper. Then there is a rattan fermenting basket that “breathes.” The copy reads “for allowing a more controlled second rise.” The rolling pin is made with beechwood.
I probably won’t bake with it myself, but I can think of half a dozen people who would adore it. I do not know the difference between beechwood and maple in a simple implement.
What thrilled me about this 56-page piece of thoughtful literature was its variety and precise detail. The photos are compact, but informative. No background distraction. No extravagant drool about the products, yet they are attractive in their simplicity.
On page 6 I was captivated by an insulated stainless steel coffee mug, which says it will keep coffee hot all morning. Another set is on page 9. They seem expensive, but they will never chip. What is that worth to me?
On page 13 is a Gerstner 6 drawer tool chest. I have admired Gerstner products for many years. I gave one to the head of our shop, and I think that he valued it more than the yearly Christmas bonus checks that he came to expect and treated as a deferred wage.
The value of a present like a Gerstner box to another person–or to yourself–is that it embodies handmade beauty and caring. It is so much more than a pair of Nikes.
For a person in business, the Garrett Wade catalog is a primer on how to impart value to your truly valuable products.
On page 16, the essence of how to sell the seemingly mundane comes alive with doormats. “Exceptionally Good Coir Doormats.”
The Garrett Wade Catalog
I thought my vocabulary was pretty good, but I had no idea what coir was (the interior fibers harvested from fully ripe coconut husks). The copy went on to tell me that typically coir is processed to make it softer, but this takes some of the properties of toughness, durability, and abrasion resistance out of it. These mats are the real things for scuzzy boots.
I slowly paged through the Garrett Wade pages until I reached page 37, the showstopper for me. I am a person who has spent a lifetime selling National Acme and New Britain screw machines to folks who banged out millions of brass fittings, hoping to harvest their meager profit from the chips from which they centrifuged the oil, until the business all migrated to China and India.
“Solid Brass Quick Change Hose Fittings” is the heading. The catalog tells the reader that “solid machined brass fittings are infinitely superior to commonly available plastic. These convert standard screw-on fittings to quick change fittings, allowing rapid changing of watering accessories and easy movement of the hose.”
In one simple paragraph, a commodity became a highly valued, beautiful article for the gardener. A set of four fittings is on sale for $29.95, normally $36. They are artfully photographed as individual products, male and female. The hose fitting becomes something special.
For people in the turned parts business, I think there is a real lesson to be learned by the pros at Garrett Ward.
It takes tremendous talent to make machined products well. Our task is to explain their value as they do in the catalog, and to find the customers who value the artistry in each fitting, both male and female.
Just as I learned about coir, our task is to bring the beauty of our products to the attention of potential buyers with passion.
We need to teach them about the value of a beechwood rolling pin, and the beauty of a perfect thread in a brass fitting.
Question: What is the most memorable gift you’ve received?
On today’s podcast we continue our season talking to successful companies who produce their own products.
Today’s guest is Joel Trusty, co-owner and President of Trusty-Cook, a company that manufactures a diverse group of industrial polyurethane products such as dead blow hammers and spindle liners for bar loaders. Joel says one of the keys to the company’s success has been talking to customers about what they need.
Joel talks about the origins of Trusty-Cook. His father designed ship-to-shore missiles for the military. When he tired of that, he moved on and started a company making custom electronics. He hired a man named Cook, who went to Chrysler and came back with a purchase order for 3,000 polyurethane wear pads for an assembly line, something that the company did not make. In response, Joel’s father bought a used pizza oven, bought a book on polyurethane and figured out how to hand-batch the order. Two years later, he invented the dead blow hammer, one of the main products Trusty-Cook manufactures to this day. (2:55)
Joel explains the company’s polyurethane dead blow hammer. It is constructed to have good power when striking, but it avoids damaging the target or sending a lot of vibration through the user’s elbow. (3:40)
Joel says it was difficult to get into the market at first. The products were expensive to make, but the company landed deals with Matco Tools, Cornwell Tools, and Snap-On. Originally Stanley Tools wanted a private label as well but instead decided to buy out the company in 1982. In the mid-1980s a recession hit, and Stanley wanted to move the company under the same roof as a screwdriver plant in South Carolina. Joel’s father and brother agreed to assist the move in return for commercial ground and two product lines Stanley Tools was no longer interested in. They moved the plant and founded Trusty-Cook. The non-compete for the hammer ran out in the mid-1990s, so they created the Trusty-Cook brand. They also landed a private brand called Estwing out of Rockford, IL. Matco and Cornwell came back on board, and Trusty-Cook continues to make sledgehammers for Snap-on. The company also makes a line for NAPA. (4:00)
Joel explains that Trusty-Cook’s polyurethane hammer is made to replace hammers made of lead or brass. It is constructed so that it will not spark and not damage the material it is hitting. The durability of polyurethane is what inspired Joel’s father to create the hammer. Joel also talks about his father’s other inventions, including a machine to cook hamburgers in 6 seconds and the first blood machine to analyze kidneys, which is still in use today. The hamburgers tasted terrible, so that invention was not taken to market. He says inventing new products comes naturally to him and other members of his family. (6:30)
Joel says Trusty-Cook now makes 29 different hammers, which Joel calls a “rock on a stick.” The price to make them has not changed much since the ‘70s. Joel says the average retail price of a Trusty-Cook hammer is in the $50 range. The hammers are made in Indianapolis in-house. The company produces the steel components and the polyurethane for the hammers’ exterior. Each hammer is handmade using no automation. (listen for more a detailed description) (9:55)
Joel discusses other Trusty-Cook products, including polyurathane spindle liners for bar loaders for CNC machines. He talks about how the company got the idea for the product when a customer called up wanting to reduce a diameter in his bar loader he was using with a Mazak CNC lathe. Now the company makes spindle liners for running bar stock with irregular shapes such as hex and rectangle. It also makes spindle liners to enable running bars less than a millimeter in diameter. The OEMs selling machine tools refer customers to Trusty-Cook, rather than bundling them in a sale. (11:30)
Joel says that listening to customers is the number one reason why his company is successful. He describes feedback he received on forum for garage mechanics. The mechanic wanted a ball peen hammer for use in tight work spaces. In response, Trusty-Cook developed a large-headed ball peen hammer with a short handle. On the same forum, another mechanic asked if a similar product could be built with a flat end on both sides, so Trusty-Cook started making this design of hammer as well. (19:10)
Joel talks about why the company was monitoring the forums. At the time there appeared to be a lot of confusion about who was making various products because of all of the different brands distributing for Trusty-Cook. Joel says Trusty-Cook doesn’t participate often on online forums, but the company does post when it develops something new and asks for feedback. It has developed relationships over time with some of the users on the forum. Joel says Trusty-Cook will sell limited editions of various products at a low price to some users to get them to try them. (23:00)
Joel talks about building relationships with customers like custom bike builder Eddie Trotta star of the TV show Thunder Cycle. Joel says Trotta was having difficulty holding tolerances on his Mazak and put in an order to Trusty-Cook for spindle liners for his machines. Eddie was so happy with the results he gave a free testimonial. Eddie later called and asked if the company could make a dead blow bossing mallet to shape metal. Joel says he didn’t know what one was at the time. With Eddie’s feedback Trusty-Cook created three different polyurethane bossing mallets for him free of charge. Eddie said the hammers cut the work time in half. Today Trusty-Cook ships them all over the world. (25:55)
Joel describes the company’s relationship with bar feeder companies, LNS and IEMCA. He told the companies that if they came to him with an idea for a polyurethane product, he would work with them free of charge. He describes a split block Trusty-Cook designed for Edge bar feeders. (see video) He says LNS also called them with a predicament, in which some bar feeder channels were filling with lubricant and swelling over time. Trusty-Cook now makes all the channel sets for LNS. (28:10)
Joel says feedback from both endusers and OEMs is Trusty-Cook’s lifeblood.(29:40)
Joel shares advice for new companies who want to bring a product to market. He says that too many creators spend time perfecting something because they are afraid to test their product on the market. He says a company needs to test the sales end of things so it knows if a product has the potential to be successful. He suggests sending new products at no charge to friends or trusted contacts in an industry and letting them try it out to get feedback. It might cost money to produce the product, but so does doing nothing while you perfect it. (30:05)
Joel reflects on something new he has learned recently. He says the week before was the first time he could recall that he started feeling stressed about all of the negative stuff going around the world—the election, the pandemic etc. He says he had to take a step back to reexamine what he does, stay focused, make sure he is doing what he likes, and make sure he his doing things for the right reasons. (31:45)
Question: What is the most important tool you have in your shop?
The election is over and still the country is divided. No. Not Trump vs. Biden. I’m talking about getting together for Thanksgiving.
COVID-19 has messed up holiday planning. My wife Risa and I have not physically been with our California family for almost a year. We see each other on Zoom frequently and talk over the phone several times a week. We send lots of photos, do game nights, and even have an occasional party, but there is no popcorn via the Internet.
We long for the hugs, the breakfast coffee together, the kids walking into our bedroom to schmooze or crochet or complain about school. This you don’t get long-distance, no matter how close your family is.
Along with millions of other stupid, lonely Americans, we have decided to take the risk having our family fly in to celebrate Thanksgiving together. I guess an equal number of folks have decided it is not worth the risk.
Thanksgiving travel plans are riskier this year
This will not be a “carve the turkey, watch half of a football game, and wave goodbye.” My daughter and family will fly enmasse to Chicago and stay for 10 days. They plan to quarantine quite tightly for a week before leaving and take COVID tests shortly before they travel. Assuming they are all okay, they will figure out the safest way to get to the airport, wear masks and visors at the airport and on the plane, and keep their two rows of seats as virus-free as possible. We will drive two cars to the airport, leave one, and direct them to the parked vehicle when they arrive. They will drive themselves to our house. We have a big enough house to allow Risa and I to keep our distance. Despite these precautions, I do understand we are taking a risk as the pandemic reaches a holiday peak.
Risa and I have played it pretty safe all year. She had heart surgery in January, so we both classify as threatened old people who have had open heart surgery. But she has gone to the hairdresser several times, and we both have had friends come to the house. Noah and his wife just stayed with us for 28 days while they had extensive work done on their condo.
We have all had our scares. If you are not living in an igloo alone, you are going to imagine and really believe you have COVID at some point. Two people at Graff-Pinkert recently got over mild cases of the scourge.
Our family has made its call. We will be together for Thanksgiving. Noah and his wife Stephanie plan to be with us. My son Ari is still undecided about what he will do. He works in a rehab facility and lately has been doing group therapy with people who have had very bad COVID experiences. He also physically sees patients as a psychologist. He is very COVID conscious. Over the last several months our visits have been masked and mainly outside.
I want to know what you folks are planning for Thanksgiving. Maybe we can share some helpful ideas that can lessen the risk. Holiday visiting is a gamble. We are going to take the risk with genuine trepidation. How about you?
Question: Is it a stupid idea this year for family to fly in for Thanksgiving?
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By Noah Graff
On today’s episode we continue our season talking about companies who produce their own products.
Our guest is George Breiwa, founder of DynaVap, a company that produces a unique type of vaporizer, using Index multi-spindles and CNC Swiss lathes. George says that one of the keys to the company’s success is growing and nurturing a community of passionate customers.
George describes DynaVap’s VapCap 2020 M vaporizer, which he prefers to refer to as a selective thermal extraction tool. To operate the VapCap M a user removes a temperature indicating cap and places a chosen substance (often dry herb) for consumption inside the extraction chamber. Then the user applies a portable heat source to the VapCap such as a lighter. George also showcases a battery powered induction heater that can be used with the VapCap. (3:10)
George talks about the differences between thermal extraction (using a vaporizer) and smoking. He says that when burning a smokable substance, portions of it are burned away rather than extracted, whereas with thermal extraction, the plant material is heated to a temperature where the active compounds evaporate and can be extracted, leaving everything else behind with minimal chemical changes a no incomplete combustion byproducts like tar, resin and carbon monoxide. (Fingers crossed that I summarized him correctly!) (5:05)
Noah asks George about the health ramifications of using DynaVap’s vaporizer. George says health and safety depends on the substance being extracted and if it is done in moderation. He suggests that using a VapCap is a healthier alternative to smoking. (6:40)
George describes how DynaVap’s products are machined. Tube stock is custom drawn at the mill in variable thicknesses to manufacture the various parts. Again, he shows the 2020 M VapCap, which does not require tools to assemble or disassemble its four parts. The 2020 M can be purchased in a variety of colors. George describes one color called rosium (see video), which he describes as pink, gold, and blue with a little bit of green. The color is produced through a process called PVD (physical vapor deposition), which he says is very commonly used when producing carbide cutting tools for CNC machines. He also describes another model the company sells called AzuriuM, which starts as blue but changes to several different colors when exposed to heat. (8:40)
George talks about the value proposition of DynaVap’s product, which uses an external heat source (like a lighter) rather than using a built-in battery like a typical vaporizer. He says the VapCap’s small size and portability are significant advantages. DynaVap’s products can fit in a person’s pocket and also are extremely durable because they don’t have sensitive electronic parts. He says a person can throw a VapCap on the ground or even drive over it with a car and it will hold up. He says he is confident DynaVap’s products will remain functional for 20 to 30 years if taken care of properly, and the only parts that may need to be replaced are the o-rings.(12:30)
George talks about how DynaVap makes its products. He says the tip is machined on an INDEX multi-spindle (MS22-8 with double NCU). (14:20)
George discusses the company’s approach to marketing its products. DynaVap focuses primarily on growing relationships with the customers it already has, giving them the tools and knowledge to talk about the product with others. He says the primary way people are introduced to the product is by personal interaction with others who already have it. (16:05)
George talks about the impact of building a community around a product. He says many of DynaVap’s customers learn about its products in online communities like Reddit. He says the ability to customize a product to suit a personal preference is highly appealing to the company’s customers. DynaVap designs its products so that creative people can customize certain components. It shares necessary dimensions with the public and even supplies certain materials for customers to make after-market accessories like interchangeable stems. Meanwhile, the high-precision parts are still made by DynaVap. DynaVap’s community of users post photos online of their homemade components. (18:50)
George explains that the starting cost of a DynaVap vaporizer is $75, while the top of the line models sell for $180-190. (21:05)
George says the most important factor in the company’s growth is its user community and “social proof.” This wasn’t something he initially realized, but he discovered that the more the company supported and engaged with customers, the more the customers shared their love of the products with others. (22:30)
George talks about how the DynaVap’s numerous online videos show how passionate he is about the company’s products. (23:55)
George says that getting customers to have a great experience with a product requires educating them. He says DynaVap devices are simple to use, but they do require users to learn how to operate them properly. He draws a comparison to a chef’s knife. Most people know how to use a knife, but how many people do so correctly? (25:00)
George states that while using DynaVap devices may seem to require more work than similar products, few customers seem concerned. The company’s user community also provides resources to overcome the initial learning curve. (26:35)
George says community enrichment of customers is a very important aspect of bringing a new product to market. He says if the customers don’t know who you are and you don’t know who your customers are, then you need to familiarize yourself and engage with them, or you will not be successful. (27:55)
George shares something he recently learned. He reports that traveling to Europe right now is not difficult. He just spent two weeks in Amsterdam on business. He traveled on commercial airlines in major airports and experienced no issues or concerns. His COVID-19 test was negative upon his return. (28:30)
Question: What online communities do you belong to?
I was buying bagels for my lunch, and on my ride to the deli I started listening to an NPR interview of Terry Gross speaking with writer Jerald Walker, who Gross described incessantly as having grown up on Chicago’s Southside.
Well, so did I, so I was drawn into Walker’s recollections of moving into a White neighborhood which quickly changed to all Black in the 1960s. It might well have been very close to where I grew up a few years earlier on Euclid Avenue. Michelle Obama grew up on Euclid also, 15 to 20 years after me.
Walker showed promise as a writer and eventually applied to the acclaimed Iowa Writers’ Workshop at the University of Iowa. He was one of a tiny group of applicants to be accepted. In the interview, he talked about writing an essay about his youth in Chicago, about being pulled into petty crime by his brother, watching his sister become a heroin addict, and seeing another brother shot. He emphasized the crushing horror of his tough life in Chicago, and being raised by two blind parents.
Walker was proud of the essay for its bleakness and tough truth.
Chicago-born writer, Jerald Walker
His teacher, James Alan McPherson, a Black author himself, tore the piece apart. Walker was furious. After class, he ran after the professor and demanded a one-on-one meeting. MacPherson told Walker that he hated the essay. He told Walker that yes, it may be true and factual, but it was still a stereotype of Black oppression and young Jerald Walker was not a victim. He was an elite writer, one of the 3% of applicants who applied to the Iowa Writers’ Workshop to be admitted. McPherson asked Walker to think about who he was, and Walker said he thought deeply about who he was for a year, and it changed him as a person and as a writer.
For many years I have been trying to deal with the Black struggle in America. I live in an area which is now predominantly Black. Many of my neighbors are African-American, but I can’t say I’m close friends with them. The Black Lives Matter slogan and movement troubles me a lot because I think it emphasizes Black victimization, which I see as a huge negative, particularly for young people. It promotes anger and payback.
The “1619 Project,” from New York Times, which blames White people for almost all of the ills of Black America even today, is a huge negative for the improvement of the lives of Black Americans. On the sports front, I think the NBA showed poor judgement in allowing Black players to decorate their uniforms with Black Power slogans. I am not pleased by the societal about face regarding Colin Kaepernick, who grew up as an adopted son in a White family. He has now become a symbol of Black victimization, even though he had a successful career as an NFL quarterback and is now collecting big royalty checks from Nike for clothing naming rights.
Jerald Walker’s writing career has led him to Emerson College and a self-described “cushy” life in Boston’s 96% White suburbs. In the Gross interview, he talked about cringing at the thought of taking his 18- and 20-year-old sons back to his old neighborhood on the Southside of Chicago for his mother’s 80th birthday, after repeatedly telling them the horror stories of his youth.
I really think America is a victim of the Black victimization narrative, even though I know it has some truth to it. Will we someday become more nuanced and accepting of both the opportunity and obstacles?
I hope to see it–at least in the south suburbs of Chicago, where I live and work.