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Self employment a different way

I found out about this thread on another forum. After reading from the beginning I thought many would find it interesting so... bump
Just finished reading the thread and have loved every minute. living on the edge of my seat the last few days.

Joe, if you're still around. did you ever write that sharpening book? or catch up on any of the others?
Joe dropped off PM several years ago, I believe he tired of the political arguments.

It was a big loss for PM, as Joe was a wealth of information and wisdom for the small businessman and craftsman.

His original business website is ran by other folks now, possibly an adult child...? He and his wife lived somewhere in Arizona.

It would be nice to know what become of 'ol JoeDGrinder...

ToolCat Greg
it is a good thread, should resonate with every entrepreneur. Reminds me of Napoleon Hill's Think and Grow Rich...but with machines and tools :)

I had an graduate accounting course Prof, Howard Teale who's passed away now, (fantastic Prof, when accounting was the standout best course you know the prof is friggin awesome) who had a great line: "Everyone in the country is a brilliant strategist, its execution that counts." As I see it, every entrepreneur has a great story like Joe's and they're the ones who executed - made it happen. for everyone of them are 10x,.. 100x..... 1000x people with great ideas that never act?

Making it happen is where the rubber meets the road, the idea is just the entry fee.
I agree with Mcgyver. Grinder tells a shaggy dog story just assuming the reader has the same ability he does. 99% of the gumps I know would starve to death if they tried to make boxes out of tree branches.

The part I didn't get was how "9-11 killed the gift shop business in the west". Where did that come from? :confused:
I actually sold to higher end gift shops, including some that Joe sold to, from the late eighties until the late nineties.
Its not exactly true that 9/11 killed them- it was a long term trend, exacerbated by China, and, in the area of metal objects, Pakistan, the rise of the internet, rising gas prices which made shipping double and triple in price, demographic changes, and a few things I probably never even saw coming.

There was a time, before the internet, when craft galleries, gift shops, and similar small businesses that sold handmade stuff did quite well.

Although I am sure it would grate on Joe to admit it, part of that was due to the hippies. As 60's hippies became 80's adults, with jobs, families, and mortgages, they reassured themselves that they hadnt sold out completely by buying handmade objects.
And a fair amount of these stores were run by old hippies as well.

Around 1990, I used to do an East Coast wholesale trade show that catered to these markets, and it was common to have 2000 stores from around the US attend, and write orders.
By 2000, there were a third as many, and far fewer orders, in dollar amounts.

So the decline of the retail stores was slow and ongoing, but by 9/11 all the factors combined to make it really noticeable.

The internet, in particular, killed a lot of those sales.
Inflation killed some of it.
In the eighties, I knew a lot of people who bought houses, even in expensive places like Seattle, for fifty grand or less. And they furnished them, with products from people like Joe and me.
By the early 2000s, inflation in real estate made for far fewer sales and furnishings to arty types who bought fancy wood boxes.
And now, they buy a phone that costs $700 instead.

Many of the store owners I used to sell to are dead or retired- and nobody opened stores to replace theirs- nowadays, its all etsy and amazon handmade- I have an ex-employee, who does basically what I did in the early 90s- he makes and sells metal furniture, craft items, and knickknacks- and he sells almost all of it online thru Amazon Handmade.
In most towns, there are NO stores that would sell his work anymore.
And if they sell anything like it, they buy stuff from China and Pakistan, for 1/10 the price.
One of the reasons I stopped doing that kind of business in 99 or so was- I could wholesale a metal bar stool for $125, and pay UPS $12 to ship it from California to Long Island, in 1990.
By 99, the same store could buy a chinese made bar stool, of obviously inferior quality, for $15 INCLUDING SHIPPING.
My materials cost double that, including powdercoating.

Now, its even worse.
Stuff you buy on ebay is drop shipped from China, with the postage from China costing like- a dollar.

Direct online sales is the only way guys like Joe make it today.
I think Joe, himself, is retired. But younger people, who do things similar to what he did, are selling direct to customers.
I recall reading this thread years ago. It is interesting and inspiring for sure. Not to denigrate Joe and his story, but I wonder if this type of business model is really viable in our current society.

I wonder how much Joe was concerned about product liability insurance and collecting sales and income taxes on his products.

Take the dental implements he was making for example. He tells us about the simplicity of the tools required to make them and the money the maker was raking in. However, in today's litigious society, no one would get into that market without a mountain of product liability insurance and a team of lawyers. I imagine it would be the same on the purchasing end. No dentist in 2016 is going to purchase a surgical instrument from a one man band in a garage. His malpractice insurance company would hang him out to dry in the event of a catastrophe, even if it is very remote.

I'd say the same thing about building sawmills. Sure, it's fine to build one for your own use. You can sell the wood or do custom cutting with no issue. But, it you want to have employees running it, you need OSHA guards and safety devices. If you have workerman's comp, your insurance agent would turn himself inside out before he would OK a homemade sawmill.

Even more risky would be making a sawmill to sell to someone else.

Craft sales and swap meets used to be a good way to sell products to the general public. Even 15 years ago it was popular. Sales were all cash. No taxes were collected. No questions were asked.

Today, I don't know if you can get away with that. My mom went to a craft fair recently where all vendors were required to accept credit cards and all sales required state sales tax to be paid to the folks who ran the show at the end of the event.

Sorry to be the downer. It's a neat story, but I don't know how much luck you would have repeating it in 2016.
Sorry to be the downer. It's a neat story, but I don't know how much luck you would have repeating it in 2016.

It was a neat story and very inspirational to me at the time is was active.

I didn't think of it as something to be repeated, although some did.

No interest here in sharpening anything. :) Or making wood boxes or sawmills.

These days you have to do it....wait for it.....

A Different Way
Sorry to be the downer. It's a neat story, but I don't know how much luck you would have repeating it in 2016.

then I'll try to pump you up :)

the things you've said are true such that they are, but there's always, always been a long laundry list of why you can't, why it won't work, why you shouldn't try. Yet I guarantee 20 years from now they're be a whole new crop of millionaires and billionaires who are nobodies today - heck some might not even be born yet. There are two young men (20's) from Son's public school class worth over $100MM - and from two separate ventures! Almost makes me feel like a loser, I taught these kids T ball a few years, so wtf have I been doing since lol

When has that ever happened, and before 30? This is a great age of opportunity.

Technology breaks down barriers. Think of what an entrepreneur has today: the entire global market brought to the home via internet - with a website or ebay the reach you have to niche markets was unimaginable 20 years ago. You have unbelievable research capabilities. 20 years you had to specialize in a domain to know what was out there and have a room full of manufacturers catalogues - gone. All instantly available to you. Design. It used to be a very difficult process to design and draw and modify and react....now anyone can drive 3D Cad and fast. Sourcing; with a press of button those designs can go to specialty manufacturers anywhere for quotes.

Next, with direct sales you don't have to be some major player and get carried by distributors/retailers. Godaddy and Fedex are your new supply chain partners.

And with social media (like this place), PR really is the new advertising. Products can take off as endorsements go through forums, facebook, utube etc.

Never been a better time to be an entrepreneur, sure there is BS driving manufacturing to China (which you can do to even as a one man band) but imo our current technological environment strips away a lot of the old advantages of being big and is often a great equalizer for the entrepreneur/smaller business
The lesson I take away from this is that Joe was flexible and adaptable and was willing to put a small bit of cash and some sweat equity into trying out a product. Whether the product is dental instruments or tree branch boxes is irrelevant, being open minded and spending very little cash to prototype are still relevant lessons now. Ewlsey from reading some of your other posts I think you've got the flexible/adaptable thing down. The times are different, your location and local market are different, but you're doing some different things that work for you. Joe's stories are a good kick for some of us trying to get off the tit of a corporation that we need to be more flexible than the corporation has trained us to be.

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I'm not trying to take away from the story. I love it. In many ways I play the same game Joe does, and several generations before me have done the same. I just question how much of his success was based on "flying under the radar". A modest income can carry you a lot further when you don't worry about things like taxes and insurance. We only know one side of the story.

It's more like an overgrown hobby than a business. In a hobby, the practitioner has a very minimal investment (low overhead) and no worries about liability. It's a hobby. Worst case scenario, you walk away and do something else.

Contrast that to a more traditional business where someone stakes a substantial portion of their personal wealth on the venture that must be successful. They are highly motivated to protect their investment by following the rules and being more conservative.

I'm not saying one approach is wrong or better than the other. I suspect that Joe had a safety net of some sort that he never mentioned (not that he was obligated to do so). Or, maybe he just had huge balls. Who knows.
Product liability or consulting liability insurance can get expensive in a hurry. Earlier in the thread someone pointed out that folks only file the big suits if they think they can get a big payout. A liability suit will sink a lot of small businesses whether they have insurance for it or not. I don't fault the folks that choose to have multiple corporations, run them correctly to keep them as separate entities, and keep minimal assets in the Corp that has potential exposure. There is some belief that this acts as a deterrent to suits, and if the financial consequences are similarly disastrous either way the $10k+/yr savings in insurance cost is attractive. Accounting costs for an extra corp or two are not that expensive.

It also depends on the business model, whether selling to a large number of consumers or medium to large businesses as customers. Big companies generally have small legal staffs and have to pay by the hour for outside attorneys for litigation, so a decision to go after a small company is made logically and ability to pay is a factor.

Note that patents are a whole different topic - this discussion is only on liability exposure.

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I was reading Joe's stuff right before I headed to Montana from Southern California. I even bought his ebook about "Artisans" it was terrific! He may have well saved me from ruin by insisting to never tie into the local economy in a small town but to stay focused on reaching further. I followed his advise and can only say the while I am a job shop and he made products...it was the BEST advise to date.

Yes...I had to follow the advise different than he implemented for himself. I groomed out of state contacts and kept in the loop with my California crowd.

After seeing the nepotism in a small rural town...and the abuses that can happen when big fish in a small pond think they have you by the financial gonads...I am sure glad I listened!!

There is a BIG difference between "nice" and "friendly". If you've learned it the hard way you know what I mean...

That was almost nine years ago....

Thanks Joe D Grinder!!
I have friends who make a living doing hand made stamps like joe did. You can make money but you hit a wall. The wall is insurmountable, even if you are really fast at hand grinding and you hire people you max out. The next step is automation then your stamps are not handmade and they look machine made and no one will pay top dollar for them. I think the limit is 30 to 50 grand a year if you really work hard and keep the customers happy. The customers are middle age women crafters and they will gut you like a fish online if you dont bend over backwards for them.