Category Archives: Podcast

Marketing by Sharing Your Expertise, with Joe Sullivan

By Noah Graff

Our guest on today’s podcast is Joe Sullivan, founder of Gorilla 76, a successful industrial marketing agency specializing in the manufacturing arena. My goal in this interview is to uncover the secrets behind effective B2B marketing. Today, anyone who owns a smartphone has the tools to tell the world about their company. But how do we use those tools to stand out from the competition and get new customers? 

Most of clients of Gorilla 76 are medium-sized manufacturers such as OEMS, capital equipment manufacturers, and software companies specializing in the manufacturing field. Generally these companies have marketing budgets ranging from $125,000 to $200,000 per year, but Joe says that smaller companies don’t need to hire an expensive marketing firm if they approach marketing in the right way. He breaks down a B2B marketing strategy into three principles.

Scroll down to read more and listen to the podcast. Or listen on your phone with Google Podcasts, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or your favorite app.

 

Create Focus

No matter what size your company is, you need to narrow your marketing focus to a few specific areas. If your shop makes products for 10 different sectors, you should focus your marketing on one of them or a select few. 

After you decide which customers you are marketing to, you need to identify which individuals at the companies most influence the buying process. Often this group of people consists of engineers or people in a shop operating equipment. After identifying your target audience, you need to research what they are trying to accomplish and what problems they are trying to solve. Frequently, Joe’s company gathers information by interviewing people at targeted companies, often on video.

Joe Sullivan, Owner of Gorilla 76


Create Valuable Content Assets

Once you know what your buyers are trying accomplish, then you are ready to create content that appeals to them, often in the form of blogs, videos, and podcasts. Content creators can consult experts at a company about various topics and then communicate their knowledge via a targeted medium. The main purpose of the content should be to help customers solve problems.

Video or audio content can be very powerful because the expert’s knowledge comes straight from the mouth of the source, which gives it clarity and authenticity. Video demonstrations have the ability show processes, which makes them an effective teaching tool.

Joe says marketers need to remember to show, rather than tell. Don’t tell your audience you’re the best, of which most businesses’ websites are guilty. Instead, tell visitors the things you provide for your niche and demonstrate you’re the expert.

Proactively Distribute Valuable Content to the Right People

After you produce great content, you have to find a way to reach enough of the right people. You have to proactively push your content in strategic ways so your target audience will find you. To do that, you have to first research where your customers often consume information online.

Joe says it’s important to remember that usually less than 5 percent of your customers are in a buy cycle at a specific moment in time. If your prospective customers are not in an active buy cycle and you are constantly shouting at them to buy your product, they will tune you out. Instead, focus on being helpful. Stop worrying about giving away your secret sauce to your competitors or being judged. Just help.

Question: Which blogs, videos or podcasts about the machining industry are your favorites? (Besides this one!)

You can find Joe Sullivan’s marketing firm at gorilla76.com and listen to his podcast, The Manufacturing Executive, on all the podcast platforms. 

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Starting a Machining Company is Hard, with Jon Perin

By Noah Graff

Today’s guest on the podcast is Jon Perin, owner and President of Perin Industries, a young CNC machining company in Webster City, Iowa. Jon, started Perin Industries in 2018, after a 12-year career as a hospital administrator. Like many entrepreneurs, Jon has had to face some daunting challenges. Starting out, he aggressively bought new state of the art CNC equipment to make parts for the medical sector. When he had trouble penetrating that market he successfully pivoted to fire arms work.

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Main Points

When Jon Perin started Perin Industries in 2018, he planned on making parts for the medical industry. Early on, Perin Industries devoted a lot of resources to obtaining ISO 9001 and AS9100D certifications. Achieving those certifications was costly, so before the company could start the process of obtaining medical work certifications it had to start producing revenue. Also, Jon realized that medical customers prefer to work with companies who have established track records and experience, so he steered the company to work in more general industry. 

Jon grew up around his father’s screw machine shop and learned to run ACME multi-spindles in high school. His shop is right across the street from his father’s shop, which is now primarily managed by Jon’s sister. Jon attended college in Florida and after graduating went to work as a hospital administrator for 12 years. Working in the hospital environment played a part in Jon’s interest in making medical parts. Jon says he appreciates the manufacturing business’s simplicity compared to that of the health care field. He says it is easier to quantify success working in manufacturing because success can be measured by the quality of parts produced.

Perin Industries has eight full-time employees. In addition to managing the company, Jon does CNC programming and setups. He jokes that he is also the janitor. He says his employees are becoming more capable to perform setups, which will free him up to focus on more administrative tasks in the future. 

Jon Perin, Owner and President of Perin Industries

When Jon started his company, intending to do medical work, he purchased state of the art complex CNC equipment, including an INDEX C200 twin spindle/3-turret lathe he bought new for around a million dollars, and a Traub TNX65/42 twin spindle/4-turret lathe that he bought used for around $500,000. He says that after attending Design-2-Part trade shows around the US he concluded that the opportunities for Swiss work and traditional screw machine work were extremely competitive and dominated by established companies. This influenced him to invest in sophisticated turning centers.

After being unsuccessful in penetrating the medical sector, Perin Industries pivoted to the fire arms business, primarily making parts for Glock barrels and slides. Jon says that many companies produce the same parts using Haas machines. However, using his turning centers Jon can single-op the parts, making them in less than a third of the time as his competitors. Getting into medical work is still Jon’s longterm goal. He also aspires to one day buy his dad out, which would open his company up to many new types of customers.

Jon says he preferred to start his own company rather than go into business with his dad, but he says one of the main reasons he has been able to keep his startup company going is having good mentors such as him. Jon’s first year in business he made some costly mistakes, many of which experienced companies are also guilty of. Sometimes he took the wrong types of jobs, he bought equipment too early, and some jobs took him twice as long to set up than he had planned. Through it all, Jon’s father and another mentor have guided him to stay resilient. Jon says he’s grateful his company didn’t make enough bad decisions to fail. He plans to keep learning from the past and push forward.

Question: If you could go back in time and give yourself advice, what would you say?

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Running a “First Class” Cold Heading Company, with Joe Bennett

By Noah Graff

Our guest on today’s podcast is Joe Bennett, Vice President of Sales at Seaway Bolt and Specials, a privately held cold heading company in Columbia Station, Ohio, founded in 1957.

In the cold heading process, coiled steel is cut into slugs, which are then hit multiple times, ultimately pounding them into a desired shape. The cold heading process is capable of producing several hundred pieces per minute. Some cold-headed products are net shaped blanks that are shipped to machining companies who then finish the parts.

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Main Points

Seaway has historically focused on cold heading one product family, taper threaded pipe plugs ranging from 1/16” to 2” diameter. The pipe plugs are used in a wide variety of industries such as automotive, oil and gas, and agriculture, going into products like transmissions, pumps, compressors, and engines. Joe describes a threaded pipe plug as an inside out nut. It looks like a nut, but its threads are on the outside. They are produced by cold heading a blank followed by thread rolling. Seaway produces 100 million pipe plugs a year, exporting 30% of its production. A few years ago, the company decided it needed to make a new part family if it wanted to keep growing. Its team decided the logical course would be to cold head female tubular fittings to match its male pipe plugs.  

To cold head its pipe plugs, Seaway uses machines called nut formers. To make the new tubular parts the company purchased three machines called parts formers, which have the capability to make more highly engineered parts than nut formers. Joe says the new machines stand two stories high, have the footprint of three conference rooms and weigh 400,000 pounds each.

The used machines cost several million dollars to purchase and will take millions more to rebuild. Joe says National produced around 18 of the type of 1.5” cold heading machines Seaway purchased. GM was their original owner, buying them new in the 1970s. 

Prior to working at Seaway, Joe worked in sales for 10 years at a large cold headed parts distributor in the Columbus, Ohio, area. Six years ago, he took a job at Seaway because he preferred to work for a privately held, smaller company with around 70 employees, where he felt he could make a significant impact. 

Joe beams about Seaway’s philosophy of running the company with a “first class” management style. He and the company’s owner, Ray Gurnick, offered to cover a roundtrip plane fare for me to come to the company and interview them in person. I unfortunately had to take a raincheck.

Seaway pays 100 percent of higher eduction costs for its employees. The company has three holiday parties a year and regularly brings in food trucks to celebrate company achievements. It offers profit-sharing and gives regular bonuses. Its shop bathroom has been redone in marble. 

Seaway uses open book management, showing its employees the company’s financials on a quarterly basis. The purpose of open book management is to keep employees invested in the company’s success and guide them how do their jobs in the best way to maximize productivity. Also, including employees in the management process makes them feel valued, which can boost performance and satisfaction.

Every Friday, production at Seaway stops for the last half hour of the day so employees can clean the shop–cold heading shops happen to be notoriously filthy. Afterward, the quality department takes photos around the shop and reports to the various departments how well they cleaned up. Joe says that when visitors come to Seaway they are wowed by the shop’s cleanliness, but more importantly, the cleanliness creates a pleasant working environment for Seaway’s people.

Though Seaway is ambitiously expanding its product lines, the company does not aspire to be like its larger competitors. Joe says the company’s strategy is to do all the little things better than its competition. This will attract the best talent to work there, which in the end will lead to success.

Question: If you could buy any new equipment for your shop, what would you buy?

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Upping Our Machinery Business Game, with Noah and Lloyd Graff

By Noah Graff and Lloyd Graff

Today’s podcast is the second half of our conversation about Graff-Pinkert’s business in 2021. I particularly liked this part of the conversation because we dug deeper into our approaches to selling machinery, talking to people, and one of our favorite subjects—how to find serendipity.

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Main Points

Lloyd says one thing he wants improve on as a machinery dealer is his tolerance for risk. He believes taking gambles on used equipment is the key to being successful and having fun in the machinery business. Noah asks Lloyd if his willingness to take risks has waned now that Graff-Pinkert is not in debt for the first time in a while. After a moment of reflection, Lloyd says he still wants to take risks and that risk taking is what enabled Graff-Pinkert to get out of debt. Also, he is pleased to say he now sleeps better at night because he is less worried about keeping the machinery business afloat. 

Noah says he is working on getting to know customers more in-depth when they contact Graff-Pinkert. He says it is easy to allow phone conversations to remain merely transactional, only talking about what machines customers are looking for or what they want to sell. In his experience, spending extra time to really get to know people leads to learning important things about business and the world in general. He believes the more information he gathers about a customer, the more chances for serendipitous opportunities—lucky breaks. Also, spending extra time to get to know customers can lead to rewarding relationships that can pay dividends long-term. 

Lloyd says he admires Noah’s conversations and often finds them fascinating to listen to, but he feels he doesn’t have enough energy to have a lot of long phone conversations. His brain is constantly consumed with trying to piece together clever deals. “Connecting the dots,” he calls it. He marvels that all three of his children have careers that revolve around having in-depth conversations. His daughter Sarah is a rabbi and son Ari is a therapist. 

Noah says he wants to work on talking a little bit more during conversations, rather than remaining passive the entire time. While it is great to be an attentive listener and question asker, he says participating more actively is helpful to bring out new important information and create stronger bonds. He tries to use “serendipity hooks,” a phrase coined by Christian Busch, the author of the book The Serendipity Mindset, who he interviewed on a podcast. Serendipity hooks are various statements one inserts into a conversation to spur new discussions. For instance, one person in a conversation could mention they love a certain book or they are passionate about a certain hobby, which then could create a new interesting connection between people.

Lloyd ponders the idea that he likes blogging because it gives him a chance to express himself. He says to Noah that he is disappointed when he doesn’t get any comments on what he writes, interpreting that means the piece didn’t leave an impression on readers. For both men, connecting with readers/listeners, clients, and especially with each other, helps make life meaningful.

Question: What are you working on in your professional life?

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Rebound of 2021

By Noah and Lloyd Graff

For today’s podcast, I decided it was a good time for us to reflect on our used machinery business so far in 2021. It’s been an interesting and profitable nine months for Graff-Pinkert, so we had plenty to talk about—enough to stretch it into a double episode. Also, I was having trouble finding a new guest I wanted to interview. 

Scroll down to read more and listen to the podcast. Or listen on your phone with Google Podcasts, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or your favorite app.

Main Points

Lloyd says the word “rebound” is the first thing that comes to his mind when he thinks about Graff-Pinkert’s business in 2021. In 2020, the pandemic threw a wrench into the used machine tool business, putting Graff-Pinkert in survival mode. The only constant work machining companies seemed to be doing was supplying parts for guns and ventilators. However, by September of 2020, most shops were off and running again. Yet still, they were often too indecisive to purchase many machine tools. The 2020 contested election, which concluded with an incoming Democratic president and congress, caused machining companies to remain uncertain about the future.

Lloyd says Graff-Pinkert’s first quarter of 2021 started relatively slow, but the momentum of the business accelerated in February and March. In the second quarter, business was excellent, while in the third quarter it has softened a bit. Perhaps there is some new indecisiveness in the market due to the resurgence of Covid-19.  

Noah questions Lloyd’s theory that Graff-Pinkert’s business success is directly connected to various market factors. He makes the case that a string of a few great machinery deals can make a fantastic month. He suggests that success is not reliant on all customers doing well, just the right ones doing well. However, Lloyd contends that confidence in the economy can tip indecisive customers one way or the other—if they will buy a machine or stand pat. Both agree they are often baffled when customers don’t purchase equipment that seems like a small investment with a huge upside.

Lloyd says that Graff-Pinkert’s Wickman spare parts business has been weak in 2021 in comparison to its relative success in 2020. He theorizes that lately shops are replacing their multi-spindles with CNC Swiss machines because they don’t have the people to run the old equipment. 

Noah points out that Graff-Pinkert has done well in 2021 selling older cam multi-spindles. However, the majority of those machines were sold to plants in Mexico that have the personnel to run them. Graff-Pinkert has also done well selling cam multi-spindles because most used machinery dealers are afraid to spec on them. Lloyd says he is willing to take a chance on old cam multi-spindles that he knows he might end up scrapping because he can purchase them with a modest investment.

Lloyd and Noah have observed that more customers lately are choosing to buy new machines rather than used ones. They hypothesize this trend is due to the technical service and warrantees new machine tool builders provide.

Noah asks Lloyd what excites him most about the used machinery business. Lloyd says that the challenge of making deals is the reason he went into the business and the reason he has stayed in the business a half century. He says he loves the way it is fueled by serendipity and connecting the dots to create deals. He also admits to enjoying the gambling aspects of the business, particularly placing contrarian bets on equipment others overlook. Both he and Noah say that one of their favorite parts of the business is getting to work alongside each other. 

Question: Has your business followed a similar pattern this year to that of Graff-Pinkert?

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Sharing What’s Working and What Isn’t, with Reid Leland

By Noah Graff

Our guest on the podcast today is Reid Leland, founder and President of LeanWerks, a precision machining job shop in Ogden, Utah. Lean Works operates using open-book management, which means the company shares its financial information with all its employees on a regular basis.

Reid says this transparent management style makes its employees aware of how their performance impacts the company’s success. They feel accountable to not only work hard but more intelligently, in a way that benefits the company the most.

Reid learned about the open-book management approach at his previous company, Setpoint Engineered Systems. It was popularized by entrepreneur Jack Stack, author of the best selling book The Great Game of Business.

Scroll down to read more and listen to the podcast. Or listen on your phone with Google Podcasts, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or your favorite app.

Main Points

Employees Must Understand the Company’s Financial Score

All employees at LeanWerks are required to complete a rigorous training program in which they learn how to understand income statements, balance sheets, and cashflow. 

The object is to teach employees the ultimate financial score of whether the company is winning or losing. Open-book management is intended to illuminate the strategies and practices that make a company profitable and eliminate waste. For instance, at LeanWerks, shop employees might look at how many parts are being scrapped on a job and then study the balance sheet to understand how much the scrap impacts profitability. After analyzing the data, they might adapt some practices—not because they are told to do so from upper management, but because they understand and believe in what they are doing.

Flat Organization With No Hierarchy

Open-book management is based on the tenet that the intelligence of the group is better than the intelligence of any one individual. It also proposes that if everyone at a company shares information, the company will make better decisions. LeanWerks has weekly huddles in which its people discuss what’s going on at the company, what they need to fix, and what will happen if things don’t change. The company’s 35 employees all have the power to influence its decisions. This is advantageous because people working in various departments can contribute valuable perspectives that an upper management team might overlook. 

Reid says he likes that transparency eliminates hierarchy and makes everybody accountable, including him. He is OK with the fact that if he makes mistakes they are out in the open for people to see and call him on.

During the interview, I grilled Reid repeatedly about the obstacles open-book management could create. I asked him if he runs into the problem of having too many cooks in the kitchen who have conflicting ideas about how to direct the business. Surprisingly, he says the company does not waste a lot of time bickering over decisions. 

Reid Leland, Founder and President of LeanWerks

Psychic Ownership

Every month, LeanWerks’ employees have the potential to receive monthly bonuses if the company has turned a profit. This gives them extra incentive to make the company succeed, but Reid says the inclusion of employees in the decision making process is a more significant element in making them feel invested in the company’s success.

Reid says that LeanWerks’ people feel stress when the company is having a hard time and feel good when the company is doing well. He is proud to say that these emotional swings don’t only fall to him and his wife, who also manages the company.

He says that during three financial crises the company faced in 2009, 2015, and 2020, open-book management was instrumental in the company’s survival. All of the company’s people taking ownership and feeling accountable enabled it to endure. They were adept at taking difficult steps when necessary.

In the past, some talented employees left LeanWerks because they didn’t want to participate in open-book management. One talented machinist who quit lamented to Reid that his job at LeanWerks was the one job he had in his life where he would go home and worry. Reid says he is ok with missing out on some talented people who are not a good fit for his company. Talented employees are not enough for him, he wants partners.

Question: Would open-book management work for you? Why?

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Innovation from Playing with Machines, with Mike Taylor

By Noah Graff

Two weeks ago, Mike Taylor inquired on a Tornos GT26 Swiss lathe Graff-Pinkert had for sale. He told me that for him the machine would be like buying a new motorcycle. If he bought it, he would spend months learning how to use it himself before expecting to make any money with it, and it would be a lot of fun.

If Mike buys the machine it will be used to make screws that go into a KeyBar, the product he has been selling since 2013. A KeyBar is an organizer for keys and other tools that fold out in a style similar to that of a Swiss Army knife. Some of the tools available include a screw driver, blade, bottle opener, or even a comb. They’re often made of titanium, featuring distinct textures and colorful designs.

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Before he started KeyBar, Mike had been a chief engineer for several hotels in Georgia. He had a decent sized staff working under him and had to carry around a lot of keys that constantly jangled wherever he walked. The loud keys tipped off his slacking staff as he approached, so he always found them working diligently. His noisy key problem had be solved.

Mike is a knife guy. He won a pumpkin carving contest by carving a pumpkin under water. He was awarded a prize of $6,000 worth of knives and a trip to BLADE Show, the largest knife show in the world. At the show he was exposed to new machines, processes, materials and tools. When he got home he was inspired to create the first KeyBar—a stealth weapon to solve the problem of his slacking staff.

Titanium KeyBars

Mike started making KeyBars by hand for friends, but eventually they became so popular he started a business selling them. For several years, all of his components were outsourced, but gradually he brought the production process in-house, purchasing equipment such as a laser engraver, waterjet, and Haas VF4.

Throughout our interview, Mike kept telling me how much he was constantly learning and how learning fueled his business. That day alone, he had experimented with machining carbon fiber composites and learned to use a new printer for making labels.

Mike has a small but excellent staff at his company, who he trusts to handle most of the production and busy work. This frees him up to learn about new processes and play with the shop’s equipment. Often he enjoys making things other than KeyBars. He showed me a skateboard he fabricated out of a 3/8” thick titanium billet plate. The skateboard has a honeycombed design made with a waterjet. It features knurled and milled textures. It’s laser engraved, flame anodized and electro anodized. Mike plans to bring it trade shows to start conversations with skateboarding enthusiasts. He said producing the skateboard pushed the limits of the machine tools in his shop, which gave him important insight into their strengths and limitations. 

In my first conversation with Mike I asked him if a letter opener tool was available in a KeyBar—there wasn’t one. He told me that after our conversation he was going create one that day. One week later, on the day of our interview, the KeyBar website was offering a 100% titanium letter opener dubbed “The Noah.” It has a fleur de lis thumb tab and is available in Polished Titanium, Anodized Bronze and Radiant Teal. 

I wonder what fun stuff he will make when he finally gets to take a new Swiss machine for a spin.

Question: What would you make if you had free time to play with the machines in your shop?

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Make Your Employees Want to Stay, with Adam Wiltsie

By Noah Graff

After Graff-Pinkert sold a second used Lico CNC lathe to Vanamatic, a 3rd generation screw machine shop in Delphos, Ohio, I had a great conversation with Adam Wiltsie, the company’s Director of Operations. At that moment, I was quite envious of Adam—I was sitting at my desk in my office, while he was outside on a beautiful July Friday afternoon, waiting in line his local ice cream institution Dairy Hut.

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Adam gets out of the office on Friday afternoons. He gets to tailor his work schedule, and contrary to what one might assume, this is not just a perk for members of the company’s leadership team. Vanamatic allows a flexible work schedule for all its 103 employees. Adam says this is a key reason why the company has not been suffering from a shortage of skilled people, that so many other manufacturing companies often complain about. In fact, 103 employees is a record number for the company, which happens to be located in a town of 6,000 people.

Vanamatic was founded in 1953 by Adam’s grandfather in Delphos, Ohio. Today, the company is run by a leadership team made up of Adam, his brothers Scott and Jared, Steve Schroeder and Dave Ricker. The company makes parts for a variety of sectors including automotive, aerospace, fluid power, agriculture, construction, fittings, and refrigeration. The majority of its machines are 8-Spindle VNA Conomatics— 1-5/8” and 2-5/8” capacity. For those unfamiliar with Conomatics, or “Cones” as they’re often called, think of an ACME-GRIDLEY but heavier and a larger tool zone. Adam says the company loves the machines because “they can push feed rates like no other.” Cones aren’t built anymore so Vanamatic has its own rebuilding program for the machines. The company also has CNC turning centers, a few other brands of multi-spindles, and 10 Lico CNC lathes—picture a sexy, beefed up 11-axis CNC Brown & Sharpe. 

Adam is 42 years old, with three kids. He says having kids influenced his management style because it made him realize that every person works differently. Vanamatic’s management philosophy takes into account that all of the company’s employees have different requirements to bring out their peak performance and make them happy. Treating every individual employee uniquely bucks the traditional collective style of management in manufacturing companies, which Vanamatic had employed for the majority of the company’s life.

Adam Wiltsie, Director of Operations of Vanamatic

A while back, Adam and his brother Scott, head of Human Resources, implemented a management strategy called Start, Stop, Improve. Every year, they sit with each individual employee and ask them what they would start, stop or improve on a company level, a department level and an individual level. In the process, they learned that many people at the company desired a better work-life balance. They realized that by implementing flexible hours they could improve the lives of employees who prefer to be with their families at different times of day. Flexible hours could also accommodate employees who have hobbies or outside projects they want to pursue.

For most of Vanamatic’s existence, the company had a standard work week for every employee, of four 10-hour days and one 8-hour day. Fifteen years ago, the collective model was thrown out. Currently, all shop employees, aside from primary production operators, have the choice to work between 35 to 50 hours per week. Primary production operators can work 45 to 60 hours per week. Employees have the right to work within those ranges at their discretion without approval from supervisors. Every two weeks, the company takes a look at what work needs to be done and maps out a plan. Shop workers manage schedules amongst themselves to get the necessary work completed.

In the past, some of Vanamatic’s customers came to the company and demanded it implement a policy making its people work a minimum of 56 to 60 hours per week, but it refused to change its policy. Adam says loyal, happy, skilled employees are the essential element to keep the company successful, so it can’t afford to alienate or lose them. They take precedence over an annoyed customer.

Vanamatic’s management philosophy was a lifesaver in May of 2020, when its business fell 50%. The company gave its employees the choice to work 0 to 50 hours per week. It even laid off employees if they volunteered to be and then helped them sign up for unemployment benefits. When work came roaring back later in 2020, Vanamatic needed to get all of its people back fast. Instead of complaining about unfair competition against government assistance money, the company raised wages $5 above what workers were previously earning. Employees came back and felt valued. Now they are fueling Vanamatic to set a record pace for the company in 2021.

Question: How would you plan your own flexible hours?

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Best of Swarfcast: Ep. 46 – Building Bikes in Detroit, With Zak Pashak

By Noah and Lloyd Graff

The Today’s Machining World team is on vacation this week. We will be back next week with our regular blog and podcast. We hope you enjoy this edition of Swarfblog from August 7th, 2019!

Our guest on today’s podcast is Zak Pashak, founder of Detroit Bikes, the largest bike frame manufacturer in the United States. All bikes that the company sells are assembled in Detroit, and its high-end models have frames constructed of high quality American Chromoly steel.

Zak lamented to us that he couldn’t find many companies in the U.S. to supply parts for wheels and other bike components. We told him we would take on the mission personally to find him some.

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Zak hales from Calgary, Canada, where he had success in the bar business and organizing one of Canada’s largest music festivals. He eventually developed an interest in politics and urban planning, which would inspire his next venture. In 2011, he sold all of his assets in Canada and moved to Detroit where he started Detroit Bikes in the building of an old sign company.

Zak said he chose Detroit because he saw the city as a place with rich history. He remarked that it was where cars were first mass produced, where great genres of music were invented, and a place with talent in the manufacturing field. He also said he wanted to go to a challenging place where he could be part of positive change.

Zak Pashak of Detroit Bikes

We could feel a real sense of purpose when Zak talked about his company. He takes pride in assembling bicycles in the U.S., a country where most of them are imported. He appreciates boosting the economy of a revitalizing city. But Zak said his primary mission is changing urban landscapes. He really wants to contribute to changing the paradigm of how people get around in cities, making them less congested and more environmentally friendly. He said this ultimately will be decided by governments who invest in new types of transportation infrastructure—including bike lanes.

Question: Does it make you want to buy a product more if it is made in the U.S.?

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Ep. 129 – Recruiting Long Term Shop Employees, with Bill Cox (Part 2)

By Noah Graff

In part 1 of my interview with Bill Cox, owner of Cox Manufacturing in San Antonio, Texas, Bill talked about the power of his company’s robust apprenticeship program.

But how does Cox Manufacturing get so many employee candidates, while most machining companies are dying to get any job applicants? Answer—the company has built a strategic recruiting program.

Scroll down to read more and listen to the podcast. Or listen on your phone with Google Podcasts, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or your favorite app.

Some of the company’s strategies for finding new employees are simple common sense, such as keeping good records of everyone who has applied to the company, which Bill says some companies actually fail to do. Cox Manufacturing also posts a large company sign advertising jobs available, which is visible from the highway to grab the attention of potential employees.

The company also likes to find new employees via referrals from current employees who often bring in job candidates who fit the company’s culture. It offers bonuses to employees when their referrals remain at the company for one month, six months, and a year.

Several years ago, Bill became the founding chair of an organization of manufacturers in his area, called the Alliance for Technology Education in Applied Math and Science (ATEAMS). Initially, the organization sponsored tours for students to visit the area’s manufacturing companies with the hope it would attract them to working in the manufacturing industry. After a short time, the organization realized that instead of giving tours to students, it was more effective to give tours to local high school teachers who could then promote careers in manufacturing to the students. Prior to COVID-19, the program had become so popular it had a waiting list. Bill says most of the teachers have never been inside a manufacturing facility before, so they often are amazed when they get tours of state of the art shops like his. I asked Bill if guidance counselors also come on the tours. He said unfortunately most of them have not been receptive to promoting careers in manufacturing but he hopes that will change one day.

Bill said one of his employees who surprised him the most was a middle-aged woman who prior to working at Cox Manufacturing had spent many years in the health care field. She started at the company deburring and inspecting parts but then applied to its apprenticeship program. He said the company was hesitant to hire her because in the past they have not had the most success hiring people trained in other fields, but she persisted, so the company gave her a shot. As an apprentice she excelled and progressed much faster than a lot of her younger male peers. In 90 days she was setting up CNC machines. 

Bill remains wary of people already making good money in other careers who apply to work at his company. In the past, the company invested in several employees who stayed there a little while, but left when more lucrative opportunities became available.

Cox Manufacturing has a policy of not admitting candidates to its apprenticeship program if they are fully trained in a field where they can make more money and jobs are available. The aerospace industry often has a lot of layoffs, so in the past, aircraft mechanics came to work at Cox Manufacturing but then left when their more lucrative previous jobs again became available. The company has had similar experiences with employees who previously worked in the oil industry. 

Bill’s advice for manufacturing companies who want to build their workforce is to think about their long term future. He says companies should develop in-house training programs and start recruiting young people even when they don’t need new employees. They should not hire employees out of desperation who are not compatible with a long term success strategy.

As I do with many guests, I asked Bill what he thinks of when hears the word “happiness.” He told me happiness means fulfilling one’s God given purpose, which is why when his company hires a person it tries to make sure the job is aligned with who they are and who they are designed to be.

Question: How do you make sure employees stay long term?

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