Writing about the machine tool business while wondering if the Cubs will hire Theo Epstein.
I attended my first Machinery Dealers National Association (MDNA) convention in Chicago last weekend, and I was surprised to find that it had a powerful effect me. The convention, called “Weekend With The Pros,” revolved around touring several large successful used machinery dealers’ facilities and networking with other dealers at various bars. The tours were impressive, but as I expected, mingling at the hotel bar was the true feature presentation.
I’m the third generation to work at Graff-Pinkert & Co., but I only officially joined the business four and a half months ago. Being a dealer had always been a path that I thought I might try, but I never felt comfortable with the idea of joining “the family business” until this year. Selling machinery had never been my dream job, and I had hangups about working for Daddy.
I had few expectations for the weekend but had predicted meeting a lot of white Jewish men in their 50s or older. That was my stereotype for a machinery dealer, shaped by family members and several dealers I had met in Chicago (a lot of those old guys happen to be great people by the way).
Some of dealers I met last weekend fell into my stereotype, but I was pleasantly surprised to meet an entirely different demographic as well. There was a strong presence of dealers in their 20s and 30s from all over the country. I was impressed at how approachable virtually all the attendees were and how energized they were about the business. The first night I stayed at the hotel bar until 2:00 a.m. talking business with a 29-year-old and a 23-year-old. The 29-year-old, who happens to work for one of our competitors, told me that he had been hired as a dealer after working in his company’s warehouse. The 23-year-old (the only Asian and non-caucasian attendee for that matter) had only been working in the business a month. He was a salesman for the office supply house Quill before his present employer, a second-generation veteran in the machinery industry, decided to give him a shot. The 29-year-old raved to the 23-year-old that the used machinery business was an awesome job and that he should feel lucky to have been given the opportunity to get into it. He repeatedly emphasized to him that both their entries were quite rare, because traditionally to get into the used machinery business people are either born into it (like me), marry into it, or have some type of personal connection. But judging by the stories of these two guys and a few others I met at the conference, I think that trend is changing.
I came away from the weekend with a lot of new business ideas and contacts, but more importantly I came away feeling proud about what I do, more secure with my identity as a used machinery dealer. There aren’t that many used machinery dealers in the world compared to most occupations. The media doesn’t romanticize the occupation–it doesn’t even recognize its existence. When I meet someone and tell them I’m a machinery dealer most people give me a puzzled look. But last weekend I met people who understood what I do, and it felt really good. As I was talking with the young dealers at the bar a slightly inebriated veteran dealer, who reminded me of Donald Sutherland, came over and told us that a machinery dealer was the most important job in the world. He pointed to our table and said, “Everything on this table was made by some type of machine and there was another machine that had to make the parts for that machine.” Nuff said.
Question: Do you look forward to going to work every day?