The Rookie Machinery Dealer

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?

Tour of Aaron Machinery, MDNA Weekend With The Pros

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14 thoughts on “The Rookie Machinery Dealer

  1. Troy Clark

    I had the privilege to also attend the Weekend with the Pros conference, and the privilege of meeting you as well. I absolutely DO look forward to going to work. The challenge of meeting the needs of our customer base is overwhelming, but drives our goal setting every day. Our customers are the greatest people in the world. They are constantly trying to build a better mouse trap, and for less that their competitor (many times over seas). Being associated with these decision makers is a pleasure and an honor. I have often been overwhelmed, but never bored. Thanks for the post!

  2. Wes

    Noah, If you are as good as making contacts as I think you are, and if you learn the machines, especially the CNC, you will do fine. Welcome to the business. You come from good stock.

  3. MIke Richards

    I would have enough material for a bookshelf full of books if I had started a journal 35 years ago. Most people would swear it was fiction. Auctioneers bid at their own auctions, dealers try to register other dealers, “dealer machines” travel from one dealer showroom to the next. Don’t miss your opportunity.
    And yes, after 35 years, I still look forward to going to work.

  4. Ray Escandon

    Welcome to the business Noah!
    The machinery business and the people in it are the greatest in the world.
    I love this business so much, If I did not have my own business, I will pay someone to let me work for them buying and selling machinery.

  5. shawn arnold

    Hi Noah, like you I am in the family business. And like you (at one time) it is in publishing. I started out in 1980 knowing nothing about this business but 31 years later I am so glad that I am in it and yes I look forward to going to work each day. As in every facet of life there are some people I really don’t like, some people who probably don’t like me, but it is a fun challenge to maintain print publications in this day and age as you well know. My two publications CNC WEST and MACHINE TOOLS WEST have been mainstays on the west coast since the late 70’s and so far so good in keeping them going. I do love this industry and look forward to each day…I hope you will be saying that 30 years from now

  6. john Otto

    I still look forward to going to work in the morning. I like talking to people about needs, concerns, jokes and making a living at the same time. It also helps to love computers, databases etc.. I started with a 20mb, IBM knockoff with 256k memory. Now a photograph is bigger.

    Jack is the second generation at Ottomatics. He didn’t need the Aerospace degree for me to hire him because I had it planned all along, but I’m very proud of his accomplishment and know you two will be doing this long after Lloyd, Jim and me are not.

    Best of luck.



    I enjoyed meeting you this weekend as well. While I may look Jewish, I am not – though I am told I have Jewish ancesters! One thing that struck me was that you have other interests besides just the machinery, such as writing. For the record, my entre into the business was in 1973 when I got a job in a machine shop in Baton Rouge doing shipping and receiving at first, and then the bandsaw, turret lathe, etc. I literally did not know the difference between stainless steel and carbon steel, or even that you could “cut” metal! But my mentors were good to me, and I am thankful.

  8. Bob Cardoza

    Hello Noah,
    I have extensive sales / management experience in the wireless industry. I met a fantastic owner and I just celebrated my one year anniversary in the business and love it. The learning curve is huge, but I find it fascinating. I am privileged to work for and with some of the most knowledgeable and coolest people on the planet. Every day is a thrill..!

  9. Don Bentley

    Noah, if was nice meeting you at WWTP and again last night at Midway. I was impressed with your enthusiasm and found your insights interesting. The concept of WWTP is learning our trade from one another, meeting our peers, gathering information & gleaning from it things that can help you, and I believe you are doing those things pretty well!

  10. Paul Lashin

    Great to see all who attended WWTP! As you can see from the photo, not only did I enjoy the networking and warehouse tours, but also my coffee. Noah, welcome to the wonderful world of machinery dealing, and may you be part of tomorrow’s oral history the way our machinery ancestors are today! By the way, I hope I’m still considered one of the young guys.

  11. Jason Adler

    Noah – great to meet you at WWTP. I also think the WWTP format is fantastic, as not only are company owners present but many of the sales reps as well. It is great to catch up for a drink face to face with the people you only knew by voice over the phone. I have only been working in the industry for 9 years as a service provider (not a dealer), so I am not yet an old timer (I think??), but 50 is not as old as it use to be!!

  12. Dan Wheeler

    Noah – great article! Really enjoyed the reading and like you I was born into the business. I was not pushed real hard – that this “business” was something I had to do! I actually stepped in awhile to help my dad and never left :). This business in the last 15 yrs. has taught me more than any degree of education could ever teach me. I have learned sales, purchasing, customer relations, acccounting, etc. If you dive in, you will benefit in all facets of your life, not just financial, but in relationships that will be long lasting. Good luck young Skywalker!


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