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  1. #1
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    Default Expanding My Job Shop

    Hello all,

    Yes, this is another "starting a job shop" kinds of posts. I just wanted to share my story and get any advice or input from more experienced members of the forum.

    I've been slowly accumulating machines and tooling for a small job shop that I have developed out of my garage. My focus is on repair work and one off duplicates of hard/impossible to find parts. I live in Northern Maine in a very rural area surrounded by farms and paper mills / logging industry.

    Next Spring, I plan to build a new building on my property that will give me the proper space to expand. Right now I have some machines in storage because I can't fit them all in my current garage (small attached garage to my home).

    I'm not planning on getting into any CNC at this time, although I am competent with CNC. Not seeking any production jobs. A good friend of mine about 200 miles from me has had his job shop - all manual - for about 30 years now and is busier than ever. He does a lot specialized engine work on powersports applications and is a basic general purpose machine shop. I'm loosely copying his model. The work I've done has started to give me a name for doing things right and getting them done quickly. I also make a patented motorcycle kickstand accessory that I sell, and plan to get into some niche markets with Air Cooled VW & Porsche work.

    I have not started to advertise at all yet, because I feel that I should wait until my building is up and all my machinery and tooling is ready before I start general advertisements. Right now the work I'm getting is all through word of mouth as people know I have been collecting Machine Tools in my garage.

    Right now I work at a High School vocational center in the Automotive department. My plan is to quit this job in one year once my building is up and I hope to be open M-F 7:00-4:00 in my business. At the start, I am also going to get a part time job working evenings (Say 6-10) to keep some extra money coming in.

    Financially I have sat down and calculated that I can swing this, as my debt is very low and I don't have a lot for bills.

    One plan I have to increase business awareness in advertising is to hit the ground with a portfolio of jobs I have done for other customers, and go in to introduce myself to every surrounding business. Auto shops, farms, town/state garages, mills, factories... just get my name and face out there. I'm good at talking to people and presenting a strong first impression.

    There are absolutely no decent shops within a 50+ mile radius of where I live. There are a few welding shops and one "machine shop" that has only two knee mills and an engine lathe, but its a dungeon shop without even a granite table so its not a high quality machine shop. More of a fab shop. That guy stays right out straight with fab work though.

    The vision for my shop is doing A+++ repair machining and high precision work. I want to run a very clean shop that makes an impression on the customer who walks in. It seems like most places in my area (from automotive shops to the fab shop I mentioned) are "dungeon" environments. I was a Tool & Die Machinist previously and have been in the trade since I was 15 so I have some experience and a lot of drive. I'm 36 now.

    I've previously owned a small landscaping business where I learned a lot of mistakes/pitfalls of business ownership.

    Besides hitting the ground and personally meeting people, and allowing the word of mouth to spread about the quality of my jobs, what other ways of advertising do you see as most beneficial and cost effective? Do people still use newspaper ads? Radio ads? Do you use FaceBook or social media? Web sites?

    Thanks for any advice or tips. I know this question comes around a lot, and sometimes its a pipe dream, but I believe in myself and this business. I'm going to push forward with this 100%. Its been a dream of mine since I was back in High School.

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    In case anyone is wondering, this is what I have right now:

    Bridgeport Series 1 2J
    Clausing 12x36 lathe
    Do-All Surface Grinder
    Steinel SH4 Horizonal Mill
    Dake 50H Press
    Greenerd No. 1 & 3 Arbor Presses
    TIG & Arc Welders
    Sunnen Honing Machine
    24x36 precision lapping table
    Drill Press
    Inspection Tables

    The various tooling and general equipment- angle plates, rotary tables, indexing heads etc.

    A few other miscellaneous items

    Getting a full size lathe in the spring when the building is up.

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    If you are doing repair, how will you keep the shop clean?

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    Quote Originally Posted by kb0thn View Post
    If you are doing repair, how will you keep the shop clean?
    Not too difficult. I don't get into the mechanic side of things, so its no dirtier than a lot of other machining. Good cleanups at the end of the day. Attention to detail. I'm a very OCD Machinist when it comes to keeping my areas super clean.

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    Quote Originally Posted by HiltzMachining View Post
    ...and I hope to be open M-F 7:00-4:00 in my business. At the start, I am also going to get a part time job working evenings (Say 6-10) to keep some extra money coming in...
    A one man, backyard shop in a rural area and you plan to be open only from 7:00-4:00 Monday to Friday?
    Good luck with that.

    If you plan to run a real job shop doing repairs and he like I would prepare myself for customers showing up
    at all hours of the day and on weekends. What you're planning is almost exactly how I started 50 years ago
    and I can tell you that, especially in the early years, if I had only worked five days a week I would have put a
    lot less money in my pocket.

    Instead of thinking of a second job I would just dedicate more time to your shop and let your customers provide
    the extra income...

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    Hiltz, I'm no expert, but it sounds to me like you have a recipe for success:

    • low debt
    • growing reputation for good and on-time results
    • no particular competition in your niche in a wide radius
    • previous business-owning experience


    Based not on personal experience but on what I've read many times here, some things that come to mind:

    • definitely put together (or have someone put together) a good website. Major focus of the site should be ease of contacting you - don't bury that information at the bottom
    • word of mouth and personal contact will probably be the most effective advertising. If you cast a wide, general net - newspaper, radio, etc. - expect to get a lot of time-wasting inquiries along the lines of, "I've got a broken part in my mixer, and they want $25 for a replacement. Can you make it for $10?"
    • don't under-price yourself, and don't be afraid to say "no" - not just to the extreme cases as in the example above, but anything that will result in losing money. Remember that someone else's emergency is not automatically your problem.

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    Quote Originally Posted by HiltzMachining View Post
    Not too difficult. I don't get into the mechanic side of things, so its no dirtier than a lot of other machining. Good cleanups at the end of the day. Attention to detail. I'm a very OCD Machinist when it comes to keeping my areas super clean.
    I think this might go right out the winder when:
    1. Customers need it very fast, like "Having courier waiting for it"
    2. Customers are cheap, and won't pay for fresh cakes in the urinals.
    3. Customers Need to be back up and running RIGHT NOW, irregardless
    if you took a shower in the last (3) days or not.

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    Quote Originally Posted by HiltzMachining View Post
    Not too difficult. I don't get into the mechanic side of things, so its no dirtier than a lot of other machining. Good cleanups at the end of the day. Attention to detail. I'm a very OCD Machinist when it comes to keeping my areas super clean.
    Hrmmm. You said your focus would be on repair. And that you are in timber country. That sounds to me like a lot of hydraulic powered equipment coming in and the resultant mess. But you are planning on shaft being extracted from equipment and washed off before it comes in? From what I have seen, it is a lot more likely that shaft is either in the equipment or in some major component of the equipment when it is handed to the machine shop. Lot easier for somebody with down equipment to put the whole thing on a low boy and send it your way than it is for them to extract something.

    My point is that repair is a whole different animal than machining. Repair necessitates having a lot of oily mess, machines / assemblies waiting for parts to come in from suppliers, abandoned equipment that was too expensive to repair needing to be picked up or scrap, etc.

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    You also need to add a forklift to your list. The day will come very quickly where you need it.

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    Get yourself involved with people that got money. Word of mouth is the best you can have in Maine. Do a job that your customer will want to show their friends at a party. Then the friends will want to spend money to get you to do something cool for them. Let that flower. Never say no to any of them just let them know it's going to cost a whole lot of money.

    You get into that crowd and stay with it and you will do really well. It helps to be eccentric in good ways like really clean work habits, quiet and listening, don't swear, wear good clean clothes, no politics, and when they want you to jump you just say how high. Expect to work nights, weekends, and holidays - part of the power your customers will want to use, just remember to always charge more. There is no top limit.

    You have to charge big bucks, and learn when to charge unbelievable amounts of money for your work. That's when the dinner bell gets rung.

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    I'll tell you right up front one of my biggest weaknesses is under-charging. I had this same problem in my previous business. Undercut myself a lot of times.... I'm the kind of person who does all my own work, and I won't pay for other people to do work for me. That screws me up because I forget sometimes that OTHER people WILL pay to have work done, and they don't mind spending the money to have it done well.

    So I screw up when I think "Holy crap, they're going to be pissed if it costs X dollars because I wouldn't want to pay that."

    Then I low ball the cost. Got to stop doing that and remember that this is a service that few other people can do. Don't need to be a rip-off artist but need to charge appropriately.

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    write that down and place it next to your phone!!!!

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    Why no CNC?

    I do a ton of repair work and I could easily live without my Bridgeport. I could not live without atleast one VMC.

    I would keep an eye out for a small press brake.

    Press brakes are very very handy in a machine shop.

    Another thing that really helps with repair work is a caustic soda hot tank. I have a small one that will fit about 2 ft by 3 ft and plugs into 120. Really nice to throw a greasy mess in there and pull out shiny parts to work on. Customers seem to appreciate it to.

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    Quote Originally Posted by kb0thn View Post
    Hrmmm. You said your focus would be on repair. And that you are in timber country. That sounds to me like a lot of hydraulic powered equipment coming in and the resultant mess. But you are planning on shaft being extracted from equipment and washed off before it comes in? From what I have seen, it is a lot more likely that shaft is either in the equipment or in some major component of the equipment when it is handed to the machine shop. Lot easier for somebody with down equipment to put the whole thing on a low boy and send it your way than it is for them to extract something.

    My point is that repair is a whole different animal than machining. Repair necessitates having a lot of oily mess, machines / assemblies waiting for parts to come in from suppliers, abandoned equipment that was too expensive to repair needing to be picked up or scrap, etc.
    I trained most customers out of this 'dropping shit off' approach. I tell 'em straight out, go take it apart and bring in what needs the fixing and clean it up while you're at it. If the disassembly process requires a press and some heat, I'll do that, no problem. Of course, go with how you feel at the time, but if you loathe being somebody's mechanic, tell them so.

    Definite need for a larger lathe in the Op's shop. A 12" lathe is almost useless for general repair work. a 19" or 20" swing is about perfect. If you can get one with a 4" spindle bore, that'll come in handy, too. It's a feature worth paying EXTRA for.

    Edit: keep an eye open for a cnc mill and/or lathe. You don't have to get 'heavy' into cnc, but you can take on a bit of gravy work now and then which can return some good coin, and keep you from going nuts on a manual mill or lathe with a nice job with maybe more than 10 pieces. You can also do some fancy repair work with a cnc mill, but you need practice with some good software so it is not too daunting to take on.

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    It might be worth visiting with maintenance managers for the paper plants and equipment managers for the logging operations and see what their actual needs are. There might not be a machine shop within 50 miles because they don't need that kind of work. Or that their machined pieces are so big that they need to go a sizable specialized facility to deal with.

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    Quote Originally Posted by kb0thn View Post
    It might be worth visiting with maintenance managers for the paper plants and equipment managers for the logging operations and see what their actual needs are. There might not be a machine shop within 50 miles because they don't need that kind of work. Or that their machined pieces are so big that they need to go a sizable specialized facility to deal with.
    That's a good idea and I will definitely do that.

    What I'm seeing is the lack of Machine Shops exists because the older guys have all retired and closed up, and there are very few younger guys in the Trade up here. Down in Southern Maine where you have shipyards and more production work, you find a lot more guys in the trade.

    Before I started this project I did do some homework into whether or not a shop would be needed in my area, and found a lot of support for the idea.... but you know how that goes. People can talk all day long about how good an idea it is for me to spend my money starting something haha

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    I appreciate all the input so far and will definitely come back to re-read the thread from time to time as I take it all into consideration.

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    Quote Originally Posted by HiltzMachining View Post
    I'll tell you right up front one of my biggest weaknesses is under-charging. I had this same problem in my previous business. Undercut myself a lot of times.... I'm the kind of person who does all my own work, and I won't pay for other people to do work for me. That screws me up because I forget sometimes that OTHER people WILL pay to have work done, and they don't mind spending the money to have it done well.

    So I screw up when I think "Holy crap, they're going to be pissed if it costs X dollars because I wouldn't want to pay that."

    Then I low ball the cost. Got to stop doing that and remember that this is a service that few other people can do. Don't need to be a rip-off artist but need to charge appropriately.
    I have the same problem. Take the number you come up with and double it. That will be closer to what the price should be.

    Tom

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    Your business model is nearly what supported me for 40 years. BUT I am a "dungeon" or maybe more accurately a "junkyard" type. And "bring me only the part you need worked on, clean", may work for enough customers in your area, but would never work in my extremely rural, timber-and sawmill-and farming area. My customers will often break stuff taking it apart. They work in the woods or on the farm, and have no facilities to clean parts. And, if I am to repair a shaft, or a bore, I have to have in my hands the bore or shaft it fits with, because the mfr's specs if available no longer apply, and if I ask a customer to measure it, I get +- a quarter inch. Here I HAVE TO deal with the whole machine, if I am to make it work again.

    Customers will show up at 6:00AM and 10:00PM, with hay in the field or a 'dozer in a swamp. Their emergency does not have to be yours, but neither does their good-will.

    "Find the rich customers and charge the moon and stars" sounds good if (a) they exist and (b) if you love money more than helping folks

    Yes, you need a big lathe. You need a rosebud torch. You need a set of vees you can clamp on a long I-beam for indicating as you straighten stuff. 50 ton press is a good start, but I have needed bigger.

    If making a living and becoming a pillar of your community, the guy people depend and brag on defines success for you, you are assured of it. If 7-4 five days and a comfy suburban lifestyle is your goal, it will be harder

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    Magneticanomaly, I could not agree more. I have been in the business of helping people for 38 years. Some of my customers cannot operate there business without me. I still dont charge the sun, moon, and stars, but its nice to get a little twinkle now and then. I do mission work for months at a tme in central america with young men who need a little help and guidance. One of my customers in the US flew me back, and handed me $1000 when I got here, to fix something no one else could fix. That makes a guy feel good, like all the hard work was worth it.
    To the OP, stick in there, work that side job if you have to. Count on working harder than you ever thought you would have to. You have a good start, keep on going, it will all be worth it. Having the shop by your house is good, keep it there. I built 4 shops, and lm working on the fifth in Nicaragua. Should have kept the second one. It was at my house, small, and paid for. Renting will kill you.
    Also watch out for the insurance man, the city inspector, and the tax man, they will also kill you deader than disco.
    Every business has a slow time, its these slow times, when all your accounts have less than a dollar in them, that regular monthly payments become difficult.
    Find something no one else wants to do, and learn how to do it well.
    Inside of every man is a little boy who wants to grow up and be a hero. In this screwed up world, we need a hero. Go, and BE THAT HERO.
    Good luck.

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