Spinner is a German CNC machine tool brand that’s been around for 73 years. The company sold 1,200 CNC mills turning centers, and automation systems in Europe last year, yet in the United States, a large amount of people in the machining industry have never even heard of them.
At the 2023 Precision Machining Technology Show, I stumbled upon Spinner’s booth, stopping there to ask if I could borrow a box cutter. Then I met Salim Awad, President and CEO of Spinner North America, who graciously agreed on the spot to be interviewed.
Salim has a fascinating personal story. He’s from Colombia, he was an army diver in Iraq, and he founded his own law firm. He worked for the prominent Italian machine tool company Bucci. And, since 2022, he’s been entrusted with bringing a German machine tool brand to the United States.
From my experience as used machine tool dealer at Graff-Pinkert, it often seems as though machine tool brands are like religions for machining companies. Once a company has experience and success with one, it’s hard to convert them to something different—let alone to one they’ve never heard of.
On today’s show, we’re going to talk about how you penetrate a crowded B2B market. How do you get customers to pay a half a million dollars to try a new machine? How do you market yourself? How do you earn people’s trust?
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Noah Graff: Give me a few examples of the types of machines Spinner makes. What would be the cost of a triple turret lathe, for example?
Salim Awad (We make) CNC machine tools, from lathes, to mills. We’ve got some very special machines, like a mill-turn with capabilities for grinding. Hard turning machines that are able to hold sub-micron precision.
In terms of price, we are very competitive. When a lot of people think about German machines, they think, oh yeah, they look great. They probably do a great job, but my God, I don’t want to pay that that much.
But we’ve found we are able to provide a very high quality product at a price that regular shops, not only the huge companies, are able to afford.
The (triple turret machine) you saw the today, we’re probably (asking) around $550,000.
Graff: Right now you are at PMTS (the Precision Machining Technology Show) getting the word out, showing the world who Spinner is. How long have you been distributing spinner in the US?
Awad: I joined the company right before IMTS 2022, August of last year. There was really no presence (before then). Like you said, their brand wasn’t known. Nobody knew what type of machines they could offer, where they came from or what capabilities they had.
Graff: What was your first step for bringing a machine tool brand into a new country, particularly the United States?
Awad: The first step was to identify who we want to be and what resources we have to accomplish that.
We didn’t want to tell the market the business we’re going to do. We wanted to listen for a little while and understand what works and doesn’t work. Understand what type of customers were the right customers for us and get their feedback about best way to approach the market.
We have been fortunate to bring on a fantastic group of people. We’re not to the level where we want to be as far as the team that we want to have. But I think we have a very strong foundation with the people we’ve brought on already.
Graff: What’s the next step?
Awad: The next step is to continue to capitalize on the relationships that we already have. We call that the “low hanging fruit.”
In this case, we call the shops that we’ve already done business with. The people who have become friends, who trust you and know that you’re going to do what you say you’re going to do.
Graff: So you call them and what do you say? “We’ve got this awesome machine. Come check it out”?
Awad: (We ask) “Are you happy?” And many times you find a point of unhappiness that can result in an opportunity for us.
We want to find their real pain. almost like a doctor would.
Start asking the real questions and find the core of the problem.
Graff: To me, machine tools seem like religions. It’s hard to convert people to try a new one.
Awad: I don’t try to convert anybody. We try to keep it solution based.
“Do you have a part that you that you feel you could do better?”
“Alright, let me try it. Let me see if we can do it better for you.”
Graff: What strategies are you focusing on to get new customers?
Awad: I try to focus on the elements that will make them feel comfortable.
What I’ve learned over years in manufacturing is that doesn’t matter how good the machine is if it doesn’t have the support. What the customers tell me is, “I don’t care how good your machine is, if you’re not going to support it.”
Graff: You guys are headquartered in Minneapolis?
Awad: (Minneapolis). We have some people in Texas, some people in Michigan.
We have to do that because otherwise we’re unable to provide the support that’s required.
Graff: At the 2023 PMTS, many of the big European machine tool builders aren’t there. DMG is not there. Index is not there. But you chose to come.
Awad: We don’t see (the show) as an expense. We see it as an investment and also a show of commitment to the precision machining community.
We make this investment because we care. Because we want to be part of this group of people who are there every day, figuring out how to do machining better, more efficiently, more automated, and competitive in the world.
Question: What machine have you been curious to try out?
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The machine brands that are already on a shop floor have a big edge in maintaining their foothold. To make the plunge on a new brand in a job shop environment, the new brand machine would likely be considered only if it blows away the competition on cycle times and accuracy. Even then, I think the main worry on an expensive, new brand is the ability to have support & service for the equipment. It does no good if you have a service technician to immediately diagnose a problem if the replacement part has a 3 week lead time.
Pretty much gone are the days when you had in-house personnel that could diagnose and repair Acmes, B&S, New Britains, etc. More skill sets are needed with the proliferation of advanced electronics and hydraulics. Maybe you will see some in-house capabilities for major brands that have been around for a while such as Mori-DMG, Mazak, Okuma, Haas, Index etc. I know in the old screw machine world, it was a challenge to have guys see multi-spindles index in the opposite direction to the one they had been accustomed too. Probably like driving on the LH side of a road in Great Britain.
Years ago I saw Spinner machines. Very accurate and very compact. I was impressed.