Author Archives: Noah Graff

IMTS Web Grief

The great rip off of IMTS is the $1200 that McCormick Place charges to run an Internet connection to an exhibitor’s booth. Such a charge is absurd on its face, but even more heinous because at least where the TMW booth is located, we can buy the McCormick Place Wi-Fi signal for $10 a day. It is perfectly adequate for email and searching Google but a little slow for video.

The McCormick Place Wi-Fi points out how old school the IMTS-McCormick Place approach is, despite the kinder and gentler face the Teamster’s Union is presenting. On Tuesday, the day before the show, the union guys cruised around the big hall offering drinks to the sweating technicians setting up their exhibits.

Chicago is desperate to hold on to the giant convention business, but they continue to hold on to the abusive pricing tactics that has driven business to Las Vegas and Orlando.

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Pumped For IMTS

One week until IMTS and I’m pumped. For me this is a show, a spectacle a conversation, an old home week and a roving seminar in machinery, tooling and software.

It is also a huge test. For Today’s Machining World, it is time to match ourselves up with the other publications in the field. We are still considered newcomers by some, and our approach is so different from the competition that I am anxious to sample our reach and acceptance on the IMTS floor.

It is certainly a physical test. Walking a million square feet every day for a week on leg killing concrete will test my stamina. The noise of the machines will be a constant energy drain, and the lighting will tax my uncertain vision. Name recall is another test, particularly when so many people know me from the magazine and Graff-Pinkert. I may have met them once and long since forgotten their name and face.

But what the hell. This going to be one gigantic festival of my chosen business. I get the chance to do IMTS, and I’m going to go for it with all I’ve got.

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Beautiful, Soiled Mops

My friend Stanley lives for laundry. He is a young entrepreneur who brings his intellect and creativity every day and night to his sliver of a laundromat in a strip mall in Homewood IL. The Starbucks and Panera Bread stores are the offices where he plots his forays into the lucrative land of institutional laundry.

Hospitals are the Valhalla of laundry. A decent sized hospital has a million dollar a year laundry tab. Stanley says once you get into a hospital’s billing system it takes explosives to evict you. So how does a tiny strip mall laundromat shop get into a gigantic hospital? Cold calling? Knocking on doors? Direct mail? –Hopeless. But Stanley feels like he has found the key—mops.

Hospitals use a lot of mops and they must be laundered every day. Institutional laundries tend to throw the mops in with the sheets when they return them to hospitals. This means lots of wasted time by housekeeping to fetch their cleaned mops. Stanley, the mop cleaning specialist, will return the mops clean and segregated, to the place where they are needed. These days, Stanley takes his digital camera on deliveries to document the waste of bundling mops and linens. He plans to illustrate his better approach to ten local hospitals. One hospital’s mops are a $700 week account, a pittance to an institutional laundry, but a nice account for Stanley. But the most important piece of the mop business is that it gets him into the hospital on a regular basis to build his relationships and credibility. And once you are in the billing system…

Every big company has a wedge, a dirty mop, which is begging for a better way. Stanley will eventually get the mop business at several of the local hospitals, not on price or even connections, but because he showed the tenacity and the creativity to scope out his opening. And one day, the soggy mops will lead to linen business.

Next time you think there is no way to pry open the door of a big account, consider my friend Stanley and the beautiful, soiled mops.

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eBay: Lookin for Love in all the Wrong Places

By Noah Graff

eBay has lost its love in the merchant community, and it is looking to find it in all the wrong places.

Much of the attraction to eBay is the auction mode where there is an opportunity for both the buyer and the seller to make a score. The auctions built eBay, but they are losing their appeal. Professional sellers fear the randomness of an auction for an unusual item at one given point in time. For a machinery dealer like Graff-Pinkert & Co., the sister to Today’s Machining World magazine, selling without a reserve or high starting price seems foolhardy on its face, but it appears to be the only way that we can get action on the site. The eBay store is advertising, but we hardly ever sell anything off of the store. Graff-Pinkert attempts to jumpstart auctions with email and fax announcements because we do not trust eBay to generate the traffic we need on our machinery and tooling items.

Our buyers usually come from people on our lists, but new people do keep popping up who we’ve never heard of before. I feel our auctions would be more affective if other sellers in the field trusted the auction model. This would bring more interested buyers to the site. eBay’s management knows that the auctions are the heart of eBay, but the stores are the Golden Goose. Management is happy to take the big store advertising dollars, but the energy comes from the auctions, which are becoming stale.

eBay is raising the store fees to try to move the sellers to auctions, but the result may just be more merchant irritation.

Wall Street prefers the store advertising approach because it appears more predictable, but it will eventually sap the soul of eBay, which is the auction action.

An area where eBay has also failed the merchants and buyers is in its security. The auction site is brutally hacked. Every bidder on a large ticket item who is unsuccessful receives clever “second chance” come-ons, which are totally bogus frauds. eBay’s purchase of Skype, the voice-over-internet protocol software, sent a message to me that Meg Whitman and the eBay board had lost faith in the basic eBay business and were desperate to invest in the “next big thing” while they still had a highly valued stock currency.

Personally, I think the money would have been better spent on securing the site and promoting the original auction concept.

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Your Ride: Camel Driving

In July, my friend Justin and I traveled to the Sahara desert in Southern Morocco. We camped out in the wilderness twice, the first time in Zagora, the second time in Merzouga. Both times, we traveled by camel to reach our campsites. Our camels in Zagora were some of the smallest, mangiest looking camels we had ever seen, yet they got us to our destination generally unscathed.

On our desert treks, we had little control of our camels because our nomad guide Muhammad pulled us the entire way. Camels provide an interesting travel experience, but not the most comfortable journey. While riding, our legs straddled our camels’ wide saddles, which were poorly cushioned by coarse blankets. Our legs dangled to the sides and constantly rubbed up against the blankets because the saddle had no stirrups. When we finally reached our campsite, the skin on our calves was chafed from all the rubbing and scratching. A bigger discomfort when camel riding is that the rider bounces every time the animal takes a step. As we rode back to town on our second day in the desert, our butts were so sore we actually got off the camels and walked most of the way.

In Merzouga, our camels were in slightly better shape than in Zagora, probably to traverse its overwhelming dunes. Some of the dunes were so high that you could rent skies or a snowboard to slide down. As we trekked into Merzouga’s tumbling ocean of sand, we felt we had finally reached the promised land. It was the desert we had fantasized about from watching films like “Lawrence of Arabia” and “The English Patient”; blazing hot, sandy, infi nite. Usually, our travel strategy in Merzouga was to navigate around the sand valleys, staying on top of the dune bluffs, but sometimes, we were forced to ride down into the sand pits. Every time we descended, our stomachs churned. Imagine a sharp drop on a roller coaster lasting about two seconds where you bounce up and down on a camel hump rather than rolling on wheels.

Read full article here

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