How to Lose a Customer

By Lloyd Graff

You never know when life will teach you a lesson when you least expected it.

I was at the local Farmer’s Market in Homewood, Illinois, last Saturday.  I was hoping to buy the last good peaches of the year.  I surveyed the sellers’ wares, and nothing looked spectacular.  I finally found a batch that appeared okay.  I asked the farmer, a young woman from South Haven, Michigan, how the peaches were.  “They’re good, last ones of the season,” she said.  So I bought them.

I took them home, left them out overnight and tried one the next morning.  Awful.  Mushy garbage.  I threw them all out.  I made a quiet vow never to buy another ounce of fruit from her again.  It was not just that they were bad. It was that she had to have known they were bad, yet sold them to me with a straight face. I am a bit of a fruit fanatic.

The next day I went to my favorite farmers’ market to buy apples for the winter’s applesauce.  I went to my favorite fruit vendor, Mr. Hardin of Hardin’s Orchard, west of Kalamazoo.  I bought a bushel and a half of apples from him and then asked if he had any good peaches.  I’ve been buying from him for 10 years, and he always tells me the truth about fruit.  If he’s selling blueberries and too much rain made them look plump and delicious he’ll tell me to wait a couple of weeks when the good ones will be ripe. Hardin knows his apples, and I rely on him.  He told me his peaches were sweet and delicious, and they were.  Every single one.  He earned my business for another year.

By the way, Hardin is the busiest vendor at the market every Sunday. It was a business lesson relearned on peaches.  If you want long-term customers always be straight with them, especially the less-experienced ones who may not know what they don’t know.  Don’t promise more than you can deliver.

Mistakes will always be made.  When Graff-Pinkert resells used machinery we do not get any guarantees from the people who sold us their no-longer-needed machine tools.  Sometimes they answer us honestly if we ask the right questions.  Actually, most people are straight if you know what to ask them and ask it in the right way.  But at an auction rarely do the sellers volunteer information, particularly if it is negative. But if you are in the business of trying to develop long-term relationships you have to tell people when the peaches are mushy when you know they are.

Question: What stories do you have about being duped?

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Swarfcast Ep. 13 – Jason Zenger on “Making Chips” and the Industrial Supplies Business

By Noah Graff

Scroll down to listen to the podcast with Jason Zenger.

In today’s podcast I interviewed Jason Zenger, president of Zenger’s Industrial Supply, in Melrose Park, Illinois, a company that specializes in selling tooling and industrial supplies to the metal working industry. Jason also has a popular podcast called “Making Chips,” which he cohosts with Jim Carr of Carr Machine & Tool.

Jason and I discussed how he eventually came to work at his family’s business and how it has grown and modernized over the years. Rather than simply distribute commodity products the company’s strategy is to become its customers’ single source supplier for tooling and machining accessories like drills, inserts, hand tools, etc.

I see some parallels between Jason’s podcast “Making Chips” and Today’s Machining World’s “Swarfcast” in our focus on similar topics in the metal working industry. Also for those of you baffled by our podcast’s and blog’s name, “Swarf” actually is a reference to the chips and grime in the belly of a metal cutting machine. One major difference between our podcasts is that “Swarfcast” is hosted by machinery dealers, while “Making Chips” is produced in the lens of a tooling and machinery supplies vender, and the owner of a machining company in Jim Carr.

Listen to “Making Chips” at https://www.makingchips.com/, or any apps (iTunes, etc.) where you get your podcasts.

Question: How are tariffs affecting your business?

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Swarfcast Ep. 12 – Logan McGhan on Reinventing a Career in the Machining World

By Noah and Lloyd Graff

Scroll down to listen to the podcast with Logan McGhan.

In today’s podcast we interviewed Logan McGhan, a used machine tool dealer at the firm KD Capital.

Logan’s journey to selling used equipment spanned numerous stages. At around age 7, his father, who also worked in machining, brought home a complex part from a trade show that had been made on a CNC, and Logan knew that the machining industry was his calling. At 17 he built an entire rifle (aside from the scope) using manual equipment.

In his 20s he and his brother started a machining business making after-market accessories for UTVs and ATVs. After the economic disaster hit in 2008 Logan got out of running his own shop and excelled as a CNC programer in the aerospace and medical fields. During this time Logan sometimes bought and sold used machine tools on the side to get a little supplemental income, but he hadn’t considered it as a primary career.

Then a few years ago, Logan was in a car accident and suffered a concussion leaving his brain in a condition that made CNC programming difficult to do as a full-time job (though he still enjoys doing it). Today he has once again reinvented himself and become a machine tool dealer. At Graff-Pinkert, we have had fun working with Logan on several deals in the last year. He’s an excellent treasure hunter, which I believe has a lot to do with the variety of experiences that have led him to this point in time.

Question: If you had the opportunity to have any career, what would you do?

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Unforgettable?

By Lloyd Graff

I’ve really been trying to stay away from political stuff in this blog, but the Kavanaugh sex allegations are just so juicy I feel compelled to comment.

I was aghast when I first heard that Senator Dianne Feinstein was pulling a “Hail Mary” with the Christine Blasey Ford letter, but the more I read about it and her, the more I felt she really does believe that Brett Kavanaugh, as a 17-year-old prep school basketball player and self-proclaimed virgin, assaulted her, groped her and left her indelibly scarred. Did he really do it while “stumbling drunk”? I doubt we will ever know. But if I were Kavanaugh testifying to the Senate Judiciary Committee, as well as to his wife and children, and Christine Blasey Ford, I would say, “I do not remember ever doing what you accuse me of, but if I did do it when I was drunk at a party as a teenager, I am horrified and appalled, and I ask forgiveness for being such a stupid awful lout.

I think about myself. I am a person who does not drink alcohol but certainly does not have a perfect memory of events 35 minutes ago, much less 35 years ago, and that is without being impaired by drinking. Could a selective fallible memory cleanse an unpleasant event 35 years ago at a noisy party? Absolutely.

Georgetown Prep School Football Team. (Kavanaugh on far left)

So Brett Kavanaugh, you’ve spent three decades trying so hard to be the guy worthy of the Supreme Court, why not step forward and set an example for the country, but even more so for your wife and daughters, by apologizing for something you can’t remember doing but Christine believes you did do. Be a Mensch (Yiddish for “man in the best sense”) Kavanaugh. It may get you your seat, or it may cost you, but you won’t be left with scars like those of Clarence Thomas after Anita Hill testified in his confirmation hearing in 1991.

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I have very positive memories of this year’s International Machine Tool Show.

I felt grateful just to attend IMTS. Ten years, exactly, since leaving St. Francis Hospital after almost dying of a heart attack and undergoing quadruple bypass surgery, I walked McCormick’s halls for hours with a purpose.

At 73, with the experienced eyes of a writer and used machinery dealer, my goals were different than those of a person trying to decide between buying an Okuma or Mazak. Spindle rpm and software were of little interest to me. I was interested in the people, the captains and lieutenants of manufacturing who managed the exhibits, and the foot soldiers like myself who schlepped around the endless corridors.

I talked to Bruno Schmitter of Hydromat about his son who is finally working full time with the company. I connected with Mindy Mikami of Okuma, who sets up the company’s spectacular exhibit every two years and then hauls it back to Charlotte, North Carolina. The Okuma folks were all worrying about how hard Hurricane Florence would affect their homes and travel plans.

I talked to Mette McCall, who has worked so hard to put Universal Robots on the map. She told me about how Odense, Denmark, has become the robot capital of the world. She’s Danish but now lives in Mobile, Alabama. Before robots Odense was known primarily as the home of Hans Christian Andersen.

I was very happy to catch up with Michi Tajariol, whose family owns TAJMAC-ZPS, which builds its machines in Zlin, Czech Republic. Michi lived with our family and worked at Graff-Pinkert when he was 23 years old for three months. He has a close relationship with my son Noah, and he and I also have much more than a business relationship. I caught up with Michi at the ZPS booth the day before he was leaving to return to Europe. We embraced, talked about some business, but mostly talked about the important family stuff that we could access without preliminaries. Life and death, marriage and divorce, cancer, birthdays of kids, the stuff that counts. This is business too, because relationships give you access.

Finally, perhaps the most important of all my meetings at the show was spending good time with my brother Jim after a long cold period.

These are the things I’ll remember from IMTS 2018.

Question 1: What are your favorite and least favorite memories of high school?

Question 2: What left an impression on you at IMTS 2018?

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Swarfcast Ep. 11 – Mike Fair of Rethink Robotics on Friendly Cobots

By Noah Graff

Scroll down to listen to the podcast with Mike Fair.

At the 2018 International Machine Tool Show I recorded a podcast with Mike Fair, Product Manager of Rethink Robotics, a robotics company specializing in collaborative robots for use on the factory floor.

What sets Rethink Robots apart from several of the other collaborative robot companies I saw at IMTS is that their robot models have people’s names and they feature a display tablet placed in a position to resemble a head. The robot featured at the Rethink Robotics booth was called Sawyer. Rethink’s philosophy is to give collaborative robots, also known as cobots, a personality in order to make them more approachable to the people who work side by side with them. Fair said that industrial robots have always had the connotation of being dangerous. Making the robots more lifelike is the company’s attempt to create a more harmonious relationship between the robot and its coworker.

In the interview Fair described Sawyer’s roles on the shop floor, performing the tasks shop workers deem mundane, dirty, unpleasant and dangerous. He said that Sawyer is well suited for CNC machine tending, aiding in loading and unloading parts particularly during jobs with long cycle times. He said Sawyer is also useful for packaging and pick and place processes such as part inspection.

Question: Do robots scare you?

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Swarfcast Ep. 10 – John Griner, Twists and Turns of a Hydromat Shop

By Noah and Lloyd Graff

Scroll down to listen to the podcast with John Griner.

In today’s Podcast we interviewed John Griner, founder of Griner Engineering in Bloomington, Indiana.

John has been cranking out turned parts for the last 40 years, and since the ‘90s his bread and butter has been the legacy Hydromat business.

He’s a renaissance man. He studies philosophy, flies planes and has played the guitar for 50 years. He has had 34 different startup businesses as diverse as centerless bar stock grinding, cold forming, video production, and an exotic animal business called “wild things.” But in the end, the one that always stuck was the multi-spindle/Hydromat business.

John Griner in New Orleans

We talked to John about how his machining business has evolved over the years. He started running single spindle screw machines, graduated to cam multi-spindles, then added Hydromats and finally introduced modern CNC turning equipment into the mix.

John talked with us about how he copes when deals go bad, how he finds good employees and why he prefers not to drug test in his shop.

Question: Is a strict drug testing policy a necessity for a successful machine shop?

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Swarfcast Ep. 9 – Russell Ethridge Small Business Lawyer

By Lloyd Graff

Scroll down to listen to the podcast with Russell Ethridge.

Today Brett Kavanaugh is being interrogated in hearings of the Senate Judiciary Committee as he attempts to thread the political needle to become a U.S. Supreme Court Justice.

In today’s podcast I interviewed Russell Ethridge, a solo practitioner lawyer in Detroit, who also listens to cases as a judge two days a month for the humongous sum of $15,000 a year. He believes the legal system must work for the guy accused of drunk driving for the second time and the secretary in the local real estate firm accused of embezzling $65,000.

Russ has been Graff-Pinkert’s lawyer for 25 years. I got to know him when he was spending a stint in Jamestown, New York, representing a French multi-national called Valeo. He sold Graff-Pinkert 13 Wickman multi-spindle screw machines for more money than I wanted to pay. Good negotiator.

Russell Ethridge

Ethridge has a knack for quickly assessing the nub of the issue in a potential legal hassle and pointing to a way out with the least aggravation possible. Many lawyers like to milk a case for the billable hours. Russ thinks the opposite way, always looking for the smartest, most efficient resolution of the problem.

Russ’s Dad was the Editor of the Detroit Free Press in its heyday in the late 1960s and ’70s. In Russ’s younger days he worked as a reporter for a tiny paper in West Virginia close to where his grandfather practiced law for 60 years.

Russ’s grandfather had a one man retail legal practice, which to some degree was a model for Russ. In the podcast Russ discusses the impact his grandfather’s funeral had on him when he observed the huge cross section of people who talked about how his grandfather had helped them over the years. Russell Ethridge—lawyer, judge, one man band—continues his legacy.

Question 1: Is our legal system rigged against the little guy?

Question 2: Would you prefer to pay a lawyer by the hour or by the job?

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Swarfcast Ep. 8 – Electric Cars and 3-D Printing with Jeff Reinke

By Noah and Lloyd Graff

Scroll down to listen to the podcast with Jeff Reinke.

In today’s podcast we interviewed Jeff Reinke, Editorial Director of Industrial Equipment News (IEN). He gave his take on several of the fastest emerging trends in the machining business, including electric cars and 3-D printing.

Reinke said that right now Elon Musk is suffering the consequences of overpromising and underdelivering on his products. He said that Musk is a unique car company CEO because when certain projects suffer setbacks he stubbornly charges forward instead of shelving them as other car companies would.

This boldness enables Tesla to develop innovative technology that sets the company apart from the established but conservative automotive makers.

Reinke said that when the big car companies start producing all-electric vehicles on a large scale Tesla will have to develop a niche to survive the market. Not having a niche could lead to being acquired by an established car company seeking to obtain Tesla’s technology.

Thirty four non-spring parts made with a laser-sintering machine out of Inconel 625 (weaponsman.com).

The big question is whether the majority of consumers will follow the electric technology or if they will stubbornly hold onto their current gas vehicles.

Reinke also said the advancement in 3-D printing is one of the current trends in machining he is most excited about. He said it is fueling the demand for customization and he is impressed by the cost-effective materials available for the process such as carbon fiber and metal. However, Reinke believes that for the near future large volumes will still be made with conventional metal cutting equipment rather than using additive manufacturing.

Question: Does producing guns with 3-D printers scare you?

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The Machinist Gig

By Lloyd Graff

How much would you pay for a bottle of clean water if you were thirsty and could not find drinkable water? How much would you pay for a room if you had no place to sleep?

How much would you pay for a programmer for your CNC machines if they were down there was nobody to hire?

We are apparently in a period, or on the cusp of one, in which there are almost no skilled machinists available. In such an environment the logical thing to expect is that men and women with skills that the market demands will begin to auction their expertise to those who will pay the most. We may be entering the “gig economy” for machining people with quantifiable expertise. Smart entrepreneurs will develop websites that sell manufacturing skills by the hour or by the day. Businesses have employed freelance specialists for many years, but today’s Google economy is empowering more individuals than ever before.

The machining world has thrived in the land of the reliable and predictable—long-term clients, machinery that lasts for decades, dedicated employees who spend a career with one firm. It has worked pretty well for both employers and employees in a period of employment stasis.

Ten years ago, some companies in the machining world would have extra workers paint the floors when there was no production work. They had core people who they believed in and who believed in them. Today, life is quite different. Skilled people who dutifully worked loyally for humane owners have retired or died in many cases.

Private equity firms with professional managers own many medium sized manufacturing firms and are acquiring more every day. Their mission is to pay off debt, build equity and sell the businesses to the next firm in line. They have a short-term horizon which affects their view of employees. I would think that they would buy into the idea of a gig economy where employees auction their services, if that was necessary.

Traveling Knife Sharpener in Paris.

I think the gig economy has plenty of negatives for both employers and workers. I write this as somebody who has hired many gig workers for both Graff-Pinkert and Today’s Machining World. Paying for hotels and rental cars for the pricier freelancers can bite.

For workers, shifting to new work environments is scary and can wreak havoc with family life and relationships. Stable businesses with long-term employees develop community and rapport. Gig people are often not accepted easily in that milieu.

I think we have a real predicament in the machining world in late 2018. There’s lots of business, but not enough skilled people in the wings to hire. Owners and managers have a logical reluctance to upset the status quo by hiring new people for $10-$50/hour more than steady, loyal current workers. Meanwhile, they see contracts for the plucking or projects running late or unfulfilled.

Silicon Valley has lived with this dilemma for a long time. Workers have been drawn to the riches of the Valley, but the side effect has been sky-high housing prices and cost of living. The buses on Highway 280 and 101 are filled with folks who commute long distances for the wages in Palo Alto and Mountain View.

Most of the manufacturing in the Bay Area has moved to Nevada, which is causing a similar mini-inflation in Reno and Vegas.

For the moment, I expect a significant bump up in wages in the machining world. It will be hard to stomach for employers, who are dealing with tariffs and escalating metal prices. The result may be more work heading to Mexico and possibly China and Europe. But American manufacturers are extremely resourceful. They have weathered 20 years of headwinds. They will train young people, get by with fewer workers and hire the pricey experts when absolutely necessary. We will see the machinist as entrepreneur in isolated situations, but I doubt it will become the norm in the near future.

Question: In the future will more skilled machinists quit full time jobs to become freelancers?

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Swarfcast Ep. 7 – Dr. Martin Levine D.O. Talks Health Care in America

By Lloyd and Noah Graff

Scroll down to listen to the podcast with Dr. Martin Levine.

In today’s podcast we interview Dr. Martin Levine D.O. Martin is a third generation Osteopathic physician who worked in a family practice for 30 years, treated Olympic athletes and gave Mike Tyson a pre-fight physical—twice. He also happens to be my first cousin once removed (that means he’s my mom’s first cousin).

Osteopathic Medicine uses a hands-on, holistic approach to diagnose and treat patients. The philosophy is to treat the body as a whole rather than just focusing on isolated bodily issues.

In the podcast Martin explained how our country’s current medical system rewards specialists rather than primary care doctors and why that’s a recipe for less healthy Americans and much higher medical expenses. He discussed the origin of the opioid epidemic in the United States and why it is so difficult to stop in our current medical system plagued by greedy pharmaceutical companies, unnecessary medical procedures and unaffordable mental health treatment.

Dr. Martin Levine D.O. helping at the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013.

Martin told us about fearing Mike Tyson might throw him out of a window while he was at his apartment drawing his blood before a fight in Atlantic City.

He also talked about his experience working as a physician at the 2013 Boston Marathon when the bombs went off.

Listen to the podcast below to find out more!

Question: Is the emergency room your primary care?

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