A Typical Tuesday for a Machinery Dealer

By Noah Graff

Yesterday, I started my workday by returning a phone call to customer in Italy as soon as I finished my home workout. I had read their email to try to distract myself while doing wall squats.

Later I spoke with people in Czech Republic, Germany, California, Arizona, Michigan, Wisconsin, and New York, and emailed others in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Albania, and probably other places. Most of the people were making parts or peddling iron like myself.

Customers often ask me how Graff-Pinkert’s used machinery business is doing, and they ask me how I think the manufacturing economy is doing. After all, I’m in contact with manufacturers worldwide, and of course, I’m “the journalist.”

It’s hard to make generalizations about the machining world’s ecosystem. The majority of customers tell me business is at least stable. Many say they made money in 2020 or at least held their own. When they gush about their success in 2020 I always joke to them, “damn, I’m in the wrong business!”

Anecdotes from customers are more useful barometers for gaging the state of the machining economy than looking at the day to day events of our own business. I’m sure my fellow dealers will attest that the business is a rollercoaster because of it’s illiquidity. There could be no cash flow for weeks, and all of a sudden three big deals happen in a day. Suddenly the economy must be on an upswing!

Noah Graff in the Graff-Pinkert shop

You have to be very patient if you’re a used machinery dealer. My dad likes to say that often deals are like fruit, you just have to wait for them to ripen before they are ready to harvest—sometimes years! God willing, yesterday we finally sold two beautiful CNC multi-spindles that have been ripening in our warehouse for several years. They were built in Germany, traveled to Spain, then to Texas, then to Chicago, and now if all goes well they will go back to the place they started from. I hope I’m not jinxing the deal by writing this. Until we have received compensation for them, it’s not a sale.

Right now we have three multi-spindles, almost as old as me, ready to ship Mexico. Two other multi-spindles, older than me, we are hoping will go to Australia. There’s also a sweet Swiss machine I hope is bound for Europe.  

We have a tool and cutter grinder that we are quoting to companies in China, Mexico, the United States, Spain, Brazil and Turkey, and the supposed value seems to fluctuate dramatically from country to country—and not exactly how one would predict. We don’t know what the sell price should be. It’s constant internal debate.

That was my Tuesday (leaving out quite a few details). I think the day gave me a decent survey of the international turned parts industry. I’ll reiterate, it’s important to listen to a lot of different people to get a feel for the industry. I can’t go by what one person says because I hear so many diverse views. I can’t totally trust my own business’s day to day vibe either because, I, like everyone, live in my own bubble. Lots of our customers say business is great right now, and as I write this, 5-10 good deals seem like they are on the verge of breaking. But right when I think I understand something, or a deal seems great, or a deal is about to happen, or a deal is going flop, or my favorite ice-cream shop will have the flavor I’ve been waiting for, things take a turn in an unexpected direction—not necessarily a bad one though.

One more thing. Shameless self-promotion–the Doosan TT1800SY in this blog’s email blast ad is a real find. You won’t find treasure like this on your typical Wednesday!

Question: How do you feel the machining economy is doing?

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4 thoughts on “A Typical Tuesday for a Machinery Dealer

  1. Andy B

    Noah, we were pretty lucky in 2020 as our shop had a record year for sales, although not a record year for profits, but not bad. We are a small shop but we were fortunate to have customers that were experiencing upswings in sales I think due to the virus, and we also took on a fair amount of new business. So far into this year the momentum is still going, hard to say if it will last all year. In our region some are up, some are down depending on who you talk to.

  2. Lloyd+Graff

    One thing that is clear is that the firearms business was great last year and is much better now. Our clients told us that the pandemic, Black Lives Matter demonstrations, violence in Minneapolis, Chicago, Portland, Seattle and probably Paducah induced fear which prompted firearms sales. The FBI did 38 million background checks on legal gun purchases. Then came the Capitol onslaught. More fear, more guns, more ammo. Then Joe Biden is elected and sales go totally bananas because a Democrat means gun restrictions in many people’s minds.

    One client told me 550 million rounds of ammo are expected be sold in the United States this year. This bodes well for our medical and surgical manufacturing clients. Interestingly many clients do guns and medical components. It is the place to be in 2021.

    Great piece Noah.

  3. Michael P. Topolewski (Jr.)

    Naturally, we expected a rebound in 2021; but so far, rebound is an understatement. If the last six weeks are even a partial indicator for the remainder of the year, it looks to be an exceptional year for manufacturing. Our multi-spindle and CNC departments are very busy. Of course, we must acknowledge current supply chain issues such as increased costs and prolonged lead times, especially regarding raw material.


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