In November of 2015, our used machine tool company, Graff-Pinkert, bought a Schütte S32PC, mfd. 2002, in Cologne, Germany, from a dealer we didn’t know. It was a nice looking machine. A big 32mm CNC Multi-Spindle, painted red and cream because it came out of a Mercedes factory. We were excited to bring the machine to the US until the seller allowed it to get wet when he put it outside in a rainstorm.
But this debacle eventually had a happy ending. Someone we had never met before helped us get out of this jam, and that would lead to some great future serendipity.
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We sat in our office in Oak Forest, Illinois, dumbstruck, looking at photos of a wet multi-spindle screw machine that we had paid around 40,000 Euros for. The dealer who sold it to us hardly spoke English, but we understood the part where he said he wasn’t going to compensate us for the water damage to machine. He already had our money, so we were stuck with it.
We asked a German dealer in the area, who specialized in Schüttes to go see the machine. He told us he was afraid that the electrics were fried and offered us 10,000 Euros to take it off our hands.
We were in a tough situation. Bringing the machine back to the US would cost at least $10,000. Then we would have a 13-year-old machine that we knew would cost a crazy amount of money to fix.
But then an Italian dealer, who specialized in refurbishing this model of machine, found its advertisement on the internet.
Suddenly, there was a glimmer of hope. Maybe he would be our savior and take it off our hands. Who knows, maybe we could even still make a little money on the machine if we were lucky.
We negotiated a price of 50,000 Euros, pending inspection. I flew to Cologne to check out the machine with the Italian.
After inspecting the machine he was interested. He didn’t want to pay 50,000 Euros, but he was willing to pay enough to cut our losses significantly.
However, even though we had found a buyer for the machine, we had a new problem.
To sell a machine within the European Union, both the buyer and seller must have an EU VAT number, which Graff-Pinkert doesn’t have. Normally when we buy and sell a machine from one company in Europe to another, we work with a European dealer who buys and sells the machine instead of us. Then they send Graff-Pinkert the bulk of the profit and keep a small commission for doing the paperwork.
The complication in this case, however, was that Graff-Pinkert had already purchased the machine. So our little workaround that we normally used wouldn’t work this time. We were stuck with this machine until we figured out a different way to sell it within the EU.
After the inspection of the Schütte, I decided to pay an impromptu visit to a big machinery dealer in the area, Stiens Werkzeugmaschinen Handelsgesellschaft mbH. We always like to do that kind of thing when we’re traveling. If you’re already across the ocean, it’s important to visit as many people in the business as you can. You learn about each other, you check out their inventory, and often you encounter serendipity.
The owner, Martin Stiens, was happy to host me on the spur of the moment. He gave me a tour of his showroom. I remember seeing some Doosans that looked like new and a lot of fancy German CNC equipment. They really did have nice stuff.
After the tour, we sat in the conference room to get to know each other more. I told Martin about the Schütte saga and my problem selling the machine in Europe after already taking ownership of it.
I hadn’t gone to visit Martin to tell him about our problem with the machine, but since I was there, I figured why not ask him for his opinion. Then, unsolicited, he said he thought he could help us complete our sale.
Martin didn’t have to help us. I’m not sure he had even heard of us before I called him. He didn’t need the money. Maybe he did it purely because it felt good to help another dealer in need, but I think at least in the back of his mind, he knew that helping us and establishing a relationship had the possibility to lead to more interesting things down the line.
I don’t know how he navigated the deal, but in the following weeks, he figured out how to broker the machine for us.
We paid him a small fee for doing the paperwork, and with his help we probably lost about $10,000 on the deal, rather than the $50,000 we would lose when we scrapped the machine after it sat in our warehouse for a decade.
And in the end, we didn’t lose money on the deal at all.
About one year later, the Italian who bought the Schütte contacted us because one of his Schütte customers had a Gildemeister GM35 multi-spindle screw machine for sale. He specialized in Schüttes, so he preferred to broker the machine to us. It turned out to be a great deal, and I got to take a nice a trip to Italy. Man, I hope to do some more fun business trips again soon! It’s been a long time.
We also kept in touch with Martin, and four years later, he and his head salesman were in Chicago on business. We met for a steak dinner downtown, where I told them about a customer of ours in the Chicagoland area who was trying to sell some older INDEX G200s and Traub TNL12s. Great German CNC machines. If anybody listening to this has some they want to sell, please give Graff-Pinkert a call.
The next day, Martin decided to go have a look at the machines. I think we sold him about 10 machines right there on the spot. We would have never sold him those machines if he had not helped us with our Schütte problem.
I’m sure you get the gist of what I’m saying. Help people in business, even if you don’t know how it’s going to benefit you in the future.
If you give often in business—intelligent giving, not “getting taken advantage of giving”—serendipity will find you.
Because when you help someone, it creates a special bond between you and the person you helped. It’s a deeper bond than just meeting someone at a conference and having a great conversation. You’ve gone through something together, and that creates a powerful connection.
Before I wrap this up, I just want to clarify something. I don’t just help people in business out of self-interest. Helping people makes me feel alive. It gives my days purpose. I believe it’s one of the things we’re put on this earth to do. But that’s a topic for another blog.