Category Archives: Business

Ep. 87 – A 7-Axis Collaborative Robot for Non-Programmers, with Zac Bogart

By Noah Graff

Today’s guest on the show is Zac Bogart, founder of Productive Robotics.

Productive Robotics manufactures a 7-axis collaborative robot called the OB7. Zac says that the OB7 is different from other robots because it can’t be programmed with code, it only works by the operator showing it what to do. Also, by featuring 7 axes rather than the 6 axes of a typical robot, the OB7 has the ability to do more awkward human-like movements, such as grabbing a part inside a CNC machine while not being directly in front its door.

Scroll down to listen to the podcast. Or listen on your phone on Apple Podcasts and Google Podcasts.

Main Points

3:10: Zac shares how he got his start, creating large robots to move around special effects equipment for the film industry. His experience working with non-programmers inspired the company to build a type of robot that anyone could use.

5:15: Zac describes how his company, Productive Robotics, began developing collaborative robots in 2015. Its goal was to produce a user-friendly robot that didn’t require programming but learned through demonstration. 

6:05: Zac talks about the advantages of his company’s 7-axis robot, the OB7. He says it mimics the human arm, giving the robot more maneuverability in the workplace. For instance, the robot can reach into a machine’s door even while it is not directly in front of it.

7:30: Zac describes typical applications for the OB7 in a CNC machine shop and how the robot is used to simplify routine and monotonous tasks on the shop floor.

10:50: Zac talks about the difference between how the OB7 moves from other collaborative robots on the market. It is not programmed using a series of points like traditional robots. This can make its movement seem more natural and less “robotic.”

14:35: Zac says the OB7 has a tablet, but it does not work by inputting code like most other robots. Zac says that there is still a place on the tablet where you can see coordinates if needed, but controlling the robot is almost entirely based on showing it what to do.

16:15: Zac says other collaborative robots on the market say they have easy programming, but it’s only easy if you are a programmer. He says many people are able to learn how to program a robot using code, but they still have to spend time and energy learn. 

18:35: Zac talks about asking his son to teach him how to swing a baseball bat. He wanted to observe how his son showed him how to swing a bat. Understanding this aspect of the learning process aided Zac in designing the OB7.

22:00: Zac says that the OB7 doesn’t require an integrator to install it in most cases. For CNC machining customers, Productive Robotics includes a package that enables the operator to set it up.  

24:00: Zac says Productive Robotics emphasizes safety in its products. He says that all collaborative robots have certain standards they must comply with regarding their speed.

25:00: Zac says we are in the second inning when it comes to building robots. He says that ultimately all robots will be collaborative robots and we won’t need to program them. He says we will give robots commands and hopefully they will obey.

27:00: Zac says he prefers The Terminator 2 over The Terminator 1. He also talks about working on the special effects crew on the set of Star Wars but not knowing anything about the droids until he saw the movie. 

Question: How have you used robots in your machine shop?

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Ep. 86 – Work is Coming Back from China, with Mike Micklewright

By Noah & Lloyd Graff

On today’s show, we’re talking about manufacturing returning to the United States from overseas. Our guest is Mike Micklewright, Director of the Kaizen Institute.

Mike says we may have finally reached a tipping point when manufacturers accept that it makes sense to produce goods again in North America.

Scroll down to listen to the podcast. Or listen on your phone on Apple Podcasts and Google Podcasts.

Main Points

(2:15) Mike Micklewright explains that Kaizen is about transforming businesses to get rid of waste in their processes and building a culture of continuous improvement. He says this is accomplished by putting the right systems in place for leadership and communication.

(3:30) Lloyd Graff asks if the Kaizen Institute has its own waste. Mike says the institute needs to limit waste like all organizations and it has systems in place to try to operate by the principles it espouses.

(4:30) Mike defines on-shoring as bringing the industrial base and manufacturing base back to the closest proximity of the consumer.  

(4:50) Mike says that manufacturing goods overseas and shipping them to the consumer creates significant waste. He says companies that outsource to China don’t always look at the total cost of production. 

Mike Micklewright, Director of the Kaizen Institute

(6:45) Mike says that one challenge to bringing manufacturing back to the United States is that purchasing people are evaluated on a metric called Purchasing Price Variance (PPV). He says PPV signifies the actual price vs the standard price. He says the standard price sometimes means the price of an item the previous year, and purchasing people are trying to make the actual price lower than that. Making products overseas is one way to try to accomplish that goal. Mike says the purchasing people often do not look at the transportation costs or other logistics costs. He says they also fail to take into account risks such as labor strikes, natural disasters or pandemics.  

(8:35) Mike says there is a ton of data available to present to top management of companies to try to make them see the waste caused by off-shoring. He says we need to utilize various tools available to present the data, otherwise they will just choose to ignore it and keep doing what they have been doing. He says the trade war has also helped pursued companies to bring work back.

(10:20) Mike says Covid-19 and other recent catastrophes have made companies consider risk factors more than ever before. He says Covid-19 demonstrated how reliant the United States is on imports from foreign countries for its livelihood.

(11:40) Mike says Japanese companies set a good example of how to be self-reliant. They want to keep their manufacturing close to their consumers. They also don’t want to borrow money from their governments or from foreign governments. 

(14:00) Mike says the US isn’t totally ready to bring a lot of manufacturing back. He says the US manufacturing base has shrunk and the country has less people with skills and interest in manufacturing. He says implementing robots in shops and new education programs are helping to deal with the workforce problem. 

(17:25) Mike says outsourcing to Mexico is less of a problem than outsourcing to China. He says it creates less waste because Mexico is closer and its culture is more similar to that of the US. However crossing borders has challenges as well as potential for political strife between countries. Mike says bringing back manufacturing from China and putting it in Mexico is called near-shoring, as opposed to on-shoring. He says near-shoring has been occurring more than on-shoring.

(20:15) Mike says he hasn’t seen a lot of waste costs for the manufacturing industry caused by Mexican drug cartels. But, he says their influence the Mexican government could increase risk of doing business there.

(22:30) Mike says wages in China have been rising for the last 20 years, and this has brought some work back to the US. He says Covid-19 and the trade war may have finally caused a tipping point for companies to bring work back to the US. Yet, still he admits he can’t name specific companies doing it. He says some information about this is confidential.

(23:00) Lloyd says we hear in the used machinery business that US companies are quoting against China, but still he seldom hears of much work actually coming back. Mike says we need to get salespeople to understand the concept of “total cost of ownership” so when they are asked to make a proposal they are not just presenting a price tag. 

(27:00) Mike says that even though we have not seen on-shoring yet on a large scale, the issue is hitting mainstream news rather than just business news, which could mean we are at a tipping point.

(29:00) Mike says that he just bought a 1992 Winnebago to take a two week trip. He says he bought it at a good price, but then he had to pay an inspector and it needed lot of repairs. He says his purchase was a demonstration of people’s natural inclination to look only at price, rather than look at total cost. 

Question: Is work coming back from China?

 

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Ep. 85 – Kaizen Principles for Personal Growth with Darrell Sutherland

By Noah Graff

Today’s guest on the podcast is Darrell Sutherland, founder and owner of Dylan Aerospace in Auburn, Washington, a Tier 1 supplier for Boeing.

Scroll down to listen to the podcast. Or listen on your phone on Apple Podcasts and Google Podcasts.

Darrell is also a professional mentor. He believes in using the Kaizen manufacturing principles for personal development as well as to improve a business. He believes in the power of mentorship so fervently that he spends over $100,000 a year on his own education.

Main Points

(3:40) Darrell talks about his personal transformation in the last decade or so. He says that for many years it was hard for him to just get out of bed because he wasn’t happy with his life, despite his success and running a business he loved.

(4:15) Darrell says growing up he looked awkward and was bullied a lot but thinks his difficult childhood prepared him for adversity later in life. He says when he was young he got into martial arts, which made him realize his passion for learning and more importantly teaching. He says he has a talent for deconstructing ideas and concepts and synthesizing them into individuals’ unique abilities. 

(5:40) Darrell grew up in Washington state. His grandfather and father worked for Boeing. His father told him to never be a “number” working for Boeing.

(8:00) Darrell says his manufacturing business had been very successful and made a lot of money for a long time before he underwent his personal transformation. He was even able to take more than 10 years off from day to day operations so he would have a lot of time to raise his kids. Yet he still wasn’t content with his life as he was addicted to food and alcohol, gaining over 100 pounds. He says November of 2009 he realized that he needed to change direction, starting with his health. Darrell says it took him many years and thousands of dollars to get the guidance he needed to fix his life. 

(11:00) Darrell in the end realized that the Kaizen principles he had embraced in his manufacturing business could be applied to his own personal life. Darrell summarizes the Kaizen principles as deciding what one wants to accomplish and then analyzing and breaking it down to its root. Then a person starts making small incremental changes at the lowest level he can, and then analyzes the result at that low level. The process makes a person more aware of certain facts about his own life that he hadn’t looked at before. Then when a person can understand the roots of what the real issues are, he can understand the challenges he needs to overcome. Darrell calls his philosophy “living Kaizen,” and in his new book he writes about its parallels with the Toyota Kaizen model. 

(14:30) Darrell says that reshoring of manufacturing is happening quickly and we as a country need to be prepared for it. He says despite Covid-19 this is probably one of the greatest times to be in manufacturing. He says that the pandemic demonstrated to everyone that the offshoring of U.S. manufacturing during the last few decades put the United States in a terrible position in the areas of infrastructure and national security. 

(15:40) Darrell says before Covid-19 he was already planning for 2020 to be a big year for his company. He says that several years ago his company started an initiative called I Love MFG. MFG stands for “Moving, Feeding, and Guarding” America and the world. 

(16:55) Darrell says that young people have no connection to manufacturing. He says they don’t think about their consumer items or modes transportation that are created through manufacturing. He says with reshoring upon us he is going to devote himself to opening young people’s minds to manufacturing.

(19:30) Darrell says that people often “stumble” into the world of manufacturing rather than set out to make it their trade. He says the question we need to ask is, how do we turn people into professional manufacturing people? He says we need to analyze how people are hardwired from birth and softwired by their community and then find the lane for them in the manufacturing space. He says he interviews his employees of all levels to help them figure out their talents and find the best way they can excel at his company.

(24:30) Darrell talks about how to find mentors and why they are so important. He says mentors are important to help us to find our weaknesses so we can fix them but to find the right mentor a person has to figure out what he wants. Darrell says to look on social media for mastermind groups to locate mentors, but he warns to watch out for life coaches who haven’t already achieved anything in their lives. 

Darrell says for more information about Living Kaizen people can go to his Website, darrellasutherland.com and lifeapprentaceship.com where he will be giving away a free PDF with an introduction to his program.

Question: Which self-help books have benefited you in the past?

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Ep. 84 – Advertising Machinery with Tom Scanlan of Surplus Record

By Noah Graff

Our guest on today’s podcast is Tom Scanlan, publisher of Surplus Record, an online and printed marketplace for buying and selling used industrial equipment, founded in 1924 by Tom’s Grandfather.

Scroll down to listen to the podcast. Or listen here on Apple Podcasts and Google Podcasts.

I use Surplus Record along with several other online platforms every day for our machinery business, Graff-Pinkert. But Surplus Record is unique because it combines the simplicity and transparency of an old school print publication with the convenience and speed of an online platform.

Main Points

(3:00) Tom says Leonard Graff and Aaron Pinkert, owners of Graff-Pinkert, taught him about Wickman Screw Machines when he started at Surplus Record in 1982.

(3:25) Tom says Surplus Record is the only print publication left of used machinery and industrial equipment. He says it is sent out monthly to 137,000 subscribers, 99% in the U.S. and Canada. 

(3:55) Tom talks about putting Surplus Record listings on the Web in 1995 after urging from his brother, who was in Silicon Valley. He laughs about how most of the machinery dealers at the time didn’t even know what a website was. 

(6:10) Tom says Surplus Record’s Website is constantly updated by machinery and electrical equipment dealers. He says one thing endusers appreciate about Surplus Record is that they don’t have to register to get information. Company names and phone numbers are clearly visible, unlike some other online machinery trading platforms. Also, Tom says Surplus Record’s own contact information is clearly visible on its site for endusers to call if they need credit references for sellers. He says his office gets six to eight calls per day by people asking to confirm if advertisers are legitimate. Tom says he or one of his staff personally visits 90% of Surplus Record’s advertisers, so they can stay up to date with what’s going on at their businesses and who is currently working there. 

(10:15) Tom says in the last few weeks several manufacturers have called Surplus Record to make sure they would receive their monthly print editions. They were concerned that during the COVID-19 crisis they might lose access to the Web and not be able to get the equipment they need if it goes down in the shop.

(11:40) Noah says he uses Surplus Record every day for its constantly active free bulletin board of wanted and for sale equipment.

(13:00) Tom talks about Surplus Record first accepting advertisements from auctioneers in 2005. This came about because many machinery dealers were becoming auctioneers. 

(14:45) Tom says Surplus Record is very popular for people who need electrical equipment quickly when it goes down. He says the transparent information about Surplus Record’s sellers (company name and contact information) makes it quicker and more user friendly than eBay.

(16:00) Tom talks about his father dying suddenly, which led to him running Surplus Record. He says he was trained on the job by a lot of the company’s clients.

(17:00) Tom says he is happy that his 32-year-old son, Tom IV, is now working at Surplus Record and will become his successor. He says his son still believes in keeping the print publication, but he admits that his son is much more Internet savvy than he is. He says he knows his son will come up with new ways of doing things, just like each successive generation of the 96-year-old company. 

Question: Do you prefer reading print or on the Web?

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Zooming in Different Worlds

By Lloyd Graff

I feel like I am living in several different worlds. 

During the day I am a business guy, trying to put together the diverse strings of commerce around the country and the world, culminating in a buy and a sell with a margin of profit for my company built into it. The outside world keeps telling me that there isn’t anything but scraps to be had, but I am finding a lot of opportunities when I contact the smart small and medium-sized business owners who are sniffing for opportunity at the moment. It really is quite refreshing to connect with these aggressively optimistic folk who ignore the gloom of the TV and radio blabs. I feed on their energy and they seem to enjoy mine.

As the late dusk sinks in, I turn on the news shows, which at the moment are immersed in pictures of broken windows, strewn Nikes, and stray flat screen TV boxes thought to symbolize the moment. It is demoralizing and scary journalism with no depth of understanding, just an abject play for ratings and a rising fear quotient. It affects me, even though I know it is a transient flicker of pain in 2020. The race riots have replaced COVID-19 this week as the story of the moment.

COVID is a lingering story of government mismanagement framed by the paranoid thirst of the press. It is an extremely costly one, but the threads of fear have a vibrancy for me in the death numbers of older, sicker people which comprise 80% of the dead.

Then I check stock prices and oil prices before I go to bed. Stocks are near their record highs. The NASDAQ, which has younger firms, is 3% below its all-time high. If I am looking for an indicator of optimism in America and investors from around the world, this is where I look for it.

I also take my assortment of medicines at night, which include a statin for cholesterol, a refined fish oil for all around cardiovascular health, and a Bystolic, which is an amazing beta blocker that controls high blood pressure. The negativists who see the world in decline don’t understand that people like me would never be alive at 75 after a heart attack 12 years ago. Folks living in the good old days of 1962 never would have recovered from blocked arteries like mine and their kids might well be in Iron Lungs with polio. 

We are likely to have a COVID-19 vaccine that actually works by the end of the year.  We now have a useful treatment for the illness, which will be augmented shortly. 

Not to be ignored is the rapid adoption of Zoom to connect people. My wife Risa uses it every day. I get to see my grandkids more often than I ever did before. Some young entrepreneurs infiltrated the market with a better product and took a dominant position in person to person TV while the giants, Google, Microsoft, and Cisco, slept. Now they are hopelessly behind.

The SpaceX Dragon 2

Before I go to sleep at night, I like to imagine the possibility of Zoom connecting the world with American astronauts zooming up to the International Space Station in Elon Musk’s rocket taxi. Yet the image of a brick smashing a Macy’s window plunders my calm. 

It’s June 2020. My life is good except when the noise of the day interrupts my joy of being alive.

Question: Do you still listen to the news?

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Ep. 83 – Tooling Machines to Fight COVID-19

By Noah Graff

Today’s guest on the show is Gordon Erickson, founder of KWALYTI Tool in Batavia, Illinois. KWALYTI specializes in tooling up packaging machines, often for food products such as meat and cheese. Since the COVID-19 crisis began, KWALYTI has played an essential role in combating the epidemic. The company has tooled machines to package cotton swabs for coronavirus testing. Soon it will be tooling machines that produce pouches for holding N95 masks so they can be sterilized for reuse.

Scroll down to listen to the podcast.

(2:45) Gordon talks about his company KWALYTI, a machine shop, located in the Batavia, Illinois. He says KWALYTI rebuilds and tools up vacuum packaging machines, primarily used in the meat and cheese industry. When you see the vacuum packages holding hotdogs or bacon they are probably produced with the type of machines his company works with. 

(5:00) Gordon talks about tooling packaging machines for both the food and medical industries. For the medical industry KWALYTI has tooled machines that vacuum pack suture removal kits and packages of gauze. KWALYTI also services and troubleshoots the machines it supplies.

(9:30) Gordon says that KWALYTI has suppled three machines to Vienna Beef, the hotdog brand that Chicago is famous for.  

(10:50) Gordon talks about how KWALYTI has been relied upon during the COVID-19 pandemic. He says when Illinois Governor Pritzker instituted the shelter in place order he quickly got a call from Vienna Beef and some other customers telling him the company needed to stay up and running because it was their main parts and service provider for their packaging machines. Also during the pandemic, demand for vacuum packaging machines arose when food that had usually gone to restaurants was diverted to grocery stores.

(13:30) Gordon talks about supplying molds to a company in Florida to change over its machines from packaging syringes to packaging nasal swabs for virus testing. He said the company was running three shifts a day making 3” swabs. 

(15:30) Gordon says that KWALYTI is in the process of making a perforating system that goes onto a machine to makes special pouches. Medical workers will put their used N95 masks in the pouches, which then will undergo an autoclave sterilization process overnight so they can be reused the next day. An autoclave process exposes the pouches to 250 degree Fahrenheit direct steam. The pouches have one side made of plastic and the other side made of a material called Tivek.  

(18:45) The same company that makes pouches to sterilize the masks also had KWALYTI make a tool to use in machines that make plasma bags. He says some of the tooling his company produces could have taken months to import from Germany, but he was able to produce them in a week.

(20:20) Gordon says he doesn’t point the finger at the government for not being more ready to deal with supply chain problems because nobody could predict what was going to happen. He says many critics are “hindsight engineers,” and in his case, suppliers knew right away they needed to insure food packaging machines stay up and running. 

(23:40) Gordon says he likes his business because it helps people people make their ideas happen. He says that tooling machines to combat COVID-19 doesn’t give him much more purpose in his work than he had before because he always felt his products were vital. Though he says right now he has more pressure than usual to get products to customers faster. 

Question: Should people wear face masks when they go out of the house?

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Do You Trust Yourself?

By Lloyd Graff

Deciphering the path of business through the COVID-19 mess is more difficult than finding your way through Boston without Google Maps. 

Stock markets zoom while Hertz declares bankruptcy. Oil prices fall to $18 a barrel but then double in five weeks. Auto plants shut down en masse but then reopen to parts shortages from Mexico, which didn’t want to produce until GM, Toyota, and VW leaned hard on the government.

The political and scientific elites caution us not to reopen because a mistake could mess up their reputations. They scare us about the “second wave” that may be coming sometime.

Meanwhile, the salon owner worries that she may never comb out another wave at her shop if she can’t reopen.

Small businesses navigate through government bureaucracies to claim the cash to survive, not knowing how much they will have to pay back because the SBA itself doesn’t understand the authorizing legislation. Washington consultants earn their juicy retainers by explaining stuff even the dudes who wrote the laws don’t understand.

People ignore barricade near Chicago’s North Avenue Beach.

The boardwalk fills up in Venice Beach, California, and Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. In Chicago, real people keep knocking down the fences that the park police keep erecting to keep them off the grass. In Georgia, Florida, and Alabama, where the governors took the risk of opening before other states, the caseload from COVID did not change.

There are at least a dozen possibilities for successful vaccines. With a decent chance we’ll have a real one before Christmas, and a drug is being made today that really does help reduce hospital stays.

Yet 100,000 people have died in the United States.

The press makes its living by promoting bad news. Maybe there would be no pandemic without cable news. But there is 20% unemployment, doors are locked, cities have emptied, and I am afraid to go to my own anniversary party. 

Yet somehow Americans seem to retain their optimism. The smart people predicted new home buying would fall apart. Yet yesterday the Commerce Department stats showed that real people put down real money and took out real mortgages to buy more homes in April than in March. People are making airline and hotel reservations. They probably are even nutty enough to plan cruises.

But if you are running a machining business, even if you are making respirator parts, it looks iffy. Will people start buying new cars? There are lots of leases ending, but dealerships are quiet because they seem like scary places to go to. 

Major League Baseball can’t seem to figure out if players can take showers if it resumes.

We live in the land of phases.

I am coming around to the idea that government should trust people to decide their next steps. It would be chaotic, I know. Most old people will not do dumb stuff like going to the beach or a restaurant. Young people will mix it up and some will get sick, but probably not real sick. 

We could have school this fall for those who want to go. We will get closer to the herd immunity that a successful vaccine could complete. 

Death in the economy by asphyxiation could be defeated. China would lose the COVID-19 war. Toilet paper would be everywhere. 

Is this crazy?

Question: Do you trust yourself to make the right decisions regarding COVID-19? Do you trust other people?

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Best of Swarfcast Ep. 66 – Creating Products People Use, with Rick Miller

By Noah Graff

Our podcast team is taking a short break this weekend to enjoy time with our families (virtually in some cases). In the meantime, this is one of our favorite episodes from earlier this year.

Scroll down to listen to the podcast.

In January, we interviewed Rick Miller, owner and co-founder of Elijah Tooling, a company that sells innovative CNC work holding equipment. Rick has a knack for coming up with unique products and has several patents in the work holding sector. He says that innovative ideas are vital for success, but getting customers to buy into those ideas is what makes for a successful business.

Main Points (Time codes according to audio)

(3:05) Rick talks about the origin of his business. Before producing work holding equipment, he and his brothers started a programming company for milling machines in 1990, but the business failed.

(7:00-9:30) Rick discusses the captive fasteners Elijah Tooling produces for CNC milling. They reduce the need for bolts and clamps in work holding by standardizing processes. He said it wasn’t a new concept, but the ability to buy a product off the shelf for that purpose was novel at the time. The company today has three patents on work holding products.


(9:30-13:00) Rick gives technical details on some of Elijah Tooling’s Products and discusses various applications they are used for.

(13:15-15:30) Rick discusses the ROI on his work holding fixtures. He gives one scenario in which one of his customers could save $4,000 per month by using his products.

(15:30) Rick talks about the challenge of getting customers to adopt his products. He says that often coming up with great ideas is easy, but making people understand why they would want a product is the most difficult task. On the video he talks about a T-slot vice the company created that wasn’t successful in the market place.

(19:20) Rick talks about a product Elijah Tooling produces called a zip bushing, which is a combination of a bushing and a threaded insert that come together in a fixture.

(21:20) Rick talks about his creative process. He says inspiration often comes from talking to customers about which existing products need to be improved.

(24:10) Rick talks about Elijah Tooling’s use of social media and videos that talk about the company’s products and business. He works with one of his sons who has a social media marketing company. They found that for the videos to be effective it was necessary for him to host them.

(27:00-37:30) Rick talks about sabbaticals he takes to find inspiration. He goes away for a week completely alone—no friends, no family, and no TV. He reads, he journals, he eats and sleeps when he feels like it, and does a lot of praying. On a recent sabbatical he decided he was going to eliminate all debt from his life.

(38:00) Rick says one of Elijah Tooling’s main focuses in 2019 was figuring out the company’s “why.” He wanted himself and his employees to understand their purpose.

(39:45) Rick says in 2020 Elijah Tooling will be focusing on growth by improving the company’s systems and reenforcing trust with its customers.

Question: What tool would you like to see invented?

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Ep. 82 – Running a Pizza Place During COVID-19 with Marco Schiavoni

By Noah Graff

Today’s guest on the podcast is Marco Schiavoni, owner of Pizza Metro, one of my favorite pizza places in Chicago. Marco has been in the restaurant business for 20 years, and like most business owners he’s seen his share of ups and downs over time.

Scroll down to listen to the podcast.

I spoke to Marco last weekend about how restaurants in Chicago are navigating the COVID-19 crisis. He also taught me the secret to making the perfect espresso.

Main points of the interview

(2:45) Marco gives his story. He talks about leaving his home in Rome to come to Chicago in the ‘90s. He realized there wasn’t a traditional Roman style pizzeria in Chicago so he opened Pizza Metro in 2001. Roman style pizza is served cut into square slices that are easy to eat on the go. He says that Pizza Metro is one of the top 10 pizza places in Chicago. 

(4:10) Marco describes the small size of Pizza Metro. The restaurant is around 700 square feet and has 15 stools. One cool feature of the restaurant is that you can sit at a bar and interact with the cooks while you watch them cook your food. 

(7:00) Marco talks about how his pizza is unique because it’s made in the traditional roman style, but every slice customizable as far as toppings. This differs from pizzerias in Italy, which usually only offer a few choices

(8:40) We discuss how Chicago’s Wicker Park neighborhood has changed since Pizza Metro opened on West Division Street in 2001. Marco says when he first opened there were hardly any restaurants and many gangs in the area. He said during his second year in business the laundromat across the street was replaced by Starbucks and everything started to change. Today, Division Street is super trendy, with too many restaurants to choose from.

(10:15) Marco explains why Pizza Metro’s espresso is the best in Chicago. Marco says he started making espressos when he was 13 years old. He says you have to grind the coffee to a different thicknesses based on the humidity at the time. He says his beans are some of the best imported coffees from Italy. Marco also says he makes his espresso with much less water than the way it’s usually made in the US. He says you can tell if the espresso was made properly if you put some sugar on top and it takes 6 seconds for it to fall through the surface. 

(16:40) Marco speaks about shutting his restaurant down at the very end of March. He says that one day he noticed the street was empty and that Starbucks was closed. He saw this as a sign that he should close as well. Marco closed Pizza Metro for a month and said it was the first time in 19 years he had a true vacation because it was first time that he didn’t have to worry about what was happening in the business. 

(18:22) Marco explains that the pizza business is good in both strong and weak economies. He says in a weak economy a pizza business can thrive because many Americans don’t know how to cook and a pizza can feed a family for a relatively low price.

(19:30) Marco says that what spurred him to reopen his business was that his employees needed the work. Otherwise he might have stayed on vacation a little while longer. 

(21:30) Marco says that people are going to start new businesses and alter their business models to adapt to the COVID-19 crisis. He says that restaurants who succeed will use social media to get exposure. He says people will put up videos of new, creative dishes they are working on. He alludes to a secret new desert item he is working on. He plans to pass it out to Starbucks customers waiting in line for coffee when it reopens.

(25:20) Marco thinks that many big restaurants will close, which will decrease competition. He says that many restaurants cannot stay in business if only a small number of people can eat there because the restaurant still has to pay the same rent and expenses as they did before COVID-19. He also says that if the country goes into a recession less people will eat out.

Marco Schiavoni, owner of Pizza Metro in Chicago

(27:30) Marco expresses worry about the health of restaurant workers. He says most restaurant kitchen staff do not have a lot of money so they are forced to take public transportation, and this puts them at higher risk for catching coronavirus. He says if one person on staff gets coronavirus he would have to close his restaurant for at least 2 weeks to ensure everyone is not infected. 

(33:40) Marco says he thinks that the US will look at how businesses are reopened in Europe. He talks about the first coffee bars in Italy that are just opening up. He says that people have to wait outside the cafe and only one customer is allowed to enter. The customer has to be 2 meters from the barista, so after the barista makes the coffee she has to back up from the bar for the customer to pick up the cup of coffee and leave the money. He says that even some restaurants in Italy that have been open for 50 years will eventually be forced to close because they can’t afford to pay their fixed expenses.

(35:00) Marco believes that people will learn to adjust to the new normal. He wishes the best to all the other restaurant owners and says the ones who survive will be stronger than before.

Question: What’s been your favorite takeout food during the COVID-19 crisis? Are you afraid to order takeout?

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Ep. 81 – Negotiating Like an FBI Agent with Chris and Brandon Voss Part II

By Noah Graff

Today’s podcast is the second half of a two part interview with Chris and Brandon Voss, coauthors of the best selling book on business negotiation, Never Split the Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It.

Scroll down to listen to the podcast.

Chris Voss used to be an FBI hostage negotiator. When he retired, he applied the negotiation techniques he learned in law enforcement to the business world. Some of the methods Chris and Brandon teach can seem difficult to execute and counterintuitive, but I can personally vouch for their effectiveness in my own business dealings.  

Main Points

(3:00) Chris and Brandon talk about why they prefer not to name price first in negotiations. They also explain why they don’t like extreme anchoring (naming an extreme asking price to begin a negotiation). Brandon says that it’s a problem that so many people come into a negotiation and automatically assume the first price is an extreme anchor. 

(5:35) Chris says that very often when people ask you to give them a price they are not actually interested in buying. He says that researchers have found that at least 20% of the time people ask you for a price they are only looking for a competitive bid, which he equates to lying in business. He says this percentage is an underestimate because people don’t naturally admit to lying, so you have to use strategies to bring out the truth.

(10:40) Brandon gives examples of how to use labeling to get a customer to reveal what they are willing to spend. As explained in part one of the interview, a great strategy to get information is to use labels—verbal observations such as “it seems like,” “it sounds like,” “it looks like,” and “it feels like.” He suggests saying, “It sounds like you haven’t spent that much time thinking about what you would spend on this,” “It sounds like there is a ceiling you don’t want to cross,” or “It sounds like you have a range in mind.”

(13:17) Brandon says it is also good to let a counterpart name price first because it  makes that person feel they are in control. He says that when people feel autonomous and in control of what is happening they are more likely to want to make a deal. 

(15:10) Chris explains the purpose of asking “no” questions. One of the negotiation techniques Chris and Brandon prescribe is getting other people to say “no” in conversations. He says that people are unfortunately conditioned that the word “no” is a word they don’t want hear in negotiations. People associate it with failure. However, he says research has shown that when people say “no” it actually makes them comfortable and safe and prompts them to take action (see video below).

Click here to watch more videos from the interview.

(18:40) Noah asks if Trump is a good negotiator. Chris asks jokingly, “Do you want the Trump people to hate us?” Chris brings up Trump’s dealings with North Korea. He says Trump did a spectacular job opening the negotiation with  North Korea—something unprecedented. However, he says that today nobody seems to know where the negations are at. Chris says that Trump is by nature an “assertive” negotiator, similar he and Brandon. He says that assertive negotiating can yield to some early spectacular successes, but people will not want to deal with you long-term if you can’t change from that mode. He says that every negotiator needs to be assertive, but it cannot be the only component in how you operate.

(21:35) Brandon and Chris discuss their dislike for the concept of “win-win” solutions. Brandon says the term is associated with compromise in which both parties give up things, leading them to feel unsatisfied. In his experience, deals that people call “win-win” often fall apart. Chris says when someone says “win-win” in a negotiation, they are either a cutthroat negotiator or a naive negotiator. He says if someone calls him to propose a “win-win opportunity,” he will hang up. Unfortunately this subject came up at the very end of the interview, and Chris and Brandon said they could easily give an entire lecture about it because of its complexity.

Question: Do you like to haggle when buying a car?

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