Trading in used machinery is sophisticated gambling. Some people find it strange that I am utterly indifferent about sports gambling. It has no allure for me. I once lost $25 playing 21 at a casino in Vegas and felt stupid – not for losing, but just for walking into the smoke-filled room. Yeah, it was a long time ago.
And now, after such a long, long time in the screw machine trading and refurbishing business, we have the exhilarating and scary opportunity to reinvent a new business by finding a new cohort of machines to gamble on. I’m finding it exciting, even enthralling at times, and pretty damn scary, too.
A very smart guy once told me that “if you don’t feel ‘it’ in the pit of your stomach, you aren’t bidding enough to get a deal.” He was right, but that doesn’t mean fear guarantees your success. It only guarantees doubt and restless sleep.
In our machinery business, we are confronted with the wrenching reality that our traditional customers are not very interested in buying what we’ve always sold. It’s a bit like a car dealer specializing in sedans and convertibles in a pickup truck and SUV world. Not much action. The obvious path is to switch to pickups and SUVs, but the downside is that almost everybody else has done the same thing. For a used machinery dealer, the analog is to jump into the used Haas lathe and vertical machining center market. But that is awfully boring and terribly competitive. There is an auction every Tuesday and Thursday with Haases in it. The only sleepers are in sofa beds.
Our strategy has been to go to Outer Mongolia searching for bargains and hauling them back to civilization. My son Noah likes to travel to Outer and Inner Mongolia so he wants to try this approach.
I also want to search for the guavas and jackfruit in the produce department, the exotics that only the people with weird tastes dare to inhabit? This is a long jaunt from the Acmes and New Britains of my youth that we once sold by the truckload.
Our real niche seems to be in the European descendants of the Acmes and New Britains, the CNC multi-spindles like Index and Schutte that are so darn complicated and daunting that they confuse even people who have grown up with their simpler, now often discarded, cousins.
When you place bets on machinery you don’t know like family, you are going to lose some of the time. Try to tell your banker, “Well, I bought that washer, that robot, that Hydromat thing, to experiment.” They may get the intellectual gambit, but they get rather annoyed about losses. They think you are always supposed to win in business. This is when resilience and being part of a team that understands the value of defeat as an educational tool, one that realizes that business is a continuum, are so vital. To succeed in the long game of business you have to build in defeat cushions. If you are going to gamble you are going to lose. If losing is “unacceptable,” which seems to be the position of football coaches like Urban Meyer and Jim Harbaugh, you are going to end up desperately needing a shrink or a sabbatical.
I hate losing or being wrong, but I also love the action of being in business and trying really hard to win every day, knowing that setbacks are inevitable, and dealing with change is maddening.
I think about the option of leaving the game. Noah often asks me, “Dad, was it always this hard?”
Honestly, I can’t even remember, Noah. Let’s just get it on.
Question: Do you view business as gambling?