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  1. #1
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    Default Looking for starting a shop success story moments

    Looking at more niche product shops not really job shops but would like to hear both.

    What were some key moments that got you off the ground? How did small production turn into bigger runs? Word of mouth? Marketing and advertising? Your own website? Finding a retailer to sell them? Product design got bought by a bigger company?

    Were you making one product that gave you an idea about another that really took off? Started as a job shop then moved into a product line or vise versa? Long hours and just shear force of will? Lucky breaks?

    Very broad and open questions but would like to hear the stories if you have time.

    Thanks.

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    Long story super short.

    Had just started, little to no work in the shop. I quoted a 2 piece order that required buying a full bar of 16" round aluminum. Metal supplier paid me a visit and asked what we did and saw no machines were running. They offered to give us some work which we took.

    Their customer that picked up the parts turned into a $30,000 a month profit gig and shortly after that, metal supplier provided another customer that was small money but one of their employees forwarded our name to their main customer. We were making the parts and his company was playing middle man and screwing everything up causing us problems and that employee knew it.

    We got hooked up with the main company which was a public traded company, that turned into a long term $4,000,000+ a year contract for engineering and fabrication work. From there things snowballed into what they are today.

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    I'll try to make mine short. In 06-07 I managed to sell my families 70+ year old industrial supply/Machine shop to fastenal. After that I did the mail order bride thing and brought my wife from the Philippines and put her in a two week SBA class at the local college. They gave her a $400K SBMA loan a few days later at a rediculous low rate to start a machine shop in the local college incubator. Cleveland Bradley Business Incubator | Developing the future! . This included an almost free 2K sq foot building with free secretary, Phones, Internet,Conference rooms,Central AC, Discounted power, use of all campus students (Engineers, Machinist, IT, Business students) All working for a co-op grade.

    During this time my vision was making aftermarket ATV and watercraft parts. Well, this didn't exactly keep the bill collectors at bay so since she had taken the SBA class and was considered a dual minority business owner the SBA stepped in and basically set us up with government contracts piggy backing off of ISO certed companies that went through the same process. Within a few months the work rolled in and we were outgrowing the incubator. Another local shop owner came in and bought the company just as the two year mark was passing thus eliminating the use of the incubator. Paid off the SBA loan, banked a bit of money and repeated one more time.

    You have to love business incubators and the SBA.

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    Yeah ,and someone wins millions every week in the lotteries....bu not me.......I quickly found being a job shop was stupid,as customers wanted me to design their nicknack for production,then make it ,all for the cost of a bit of machine time.........developing product meant you had to have the money to patent it,which I didnt.......so I quickly found out buying and selling ex army machinery and spareparts was a whole lot easier and more profitable,and left plenty of time to go over to factory maintenance work,which did pay extra good,but only if you could get them going again.

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    Do a good job and deliver it when you say you will deliver it and you will have people beating your door down.

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    Quote Originally Posted by g-coder05 View Post
    You have to love business incubators and the SBA.
    Credit where credit is due...

    No "mail order" involved, accidental executive role juxtaposition atop mutual initial reluctance, rather, but...

    An already well-connected Asian wife wealthier and wiser in commerce than I am - (even though a minor legend at making my EMPLOYERS wealthy, but seldom my SELF! - worked rather well for me, too...



    Easily half of Asia depends on wimmin' always making the pragmatic bizness choices rather than chasing other people's dreams. Or even their own. They have always HAD to be good at going where the money.. or just the FOOD.. was to be found to best feed the kids and such. Long range thinking, not short, 'coz grandkids.. great grandkids.. etc. are how they measure success, their DNA carried-on.

    Sort yer dreams from realistic chances at reliable revenue FIRST!

    No one can do much of ANYTHING of their own choice, once driven broke and hongry.


    Yah might hafta run a totally unrelated bizness - but find it profitable enough to be able to afford to go PLAY with machinery for the fun in it.

    Many among us who understand well what is possible or less-so could make more money selling appropriate tools than USING them, for one example.

    And... DAMHIKT - I might take the better part of (yet) a(nother) year runnin' my keyboard TELLIN' yah other ways!

    Humans ain't born to do but just the ONE thing well, or we'd never have let go of a familiar teat and have had to go and find "strange" ones to tease....

    Business can be much the same...


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    I think my brain spends 97% of it's time working through solutions to problems the world didn't know it had. It's kind of a super power and a disability at the same time. I can get stuck for weeks, months or even years simplifying a might-be solution to a problem trying to make it into a marketable product.

    If it all makes perfect sense in theory then I have to make it. If I don't make the real thing so I can touch it and see it in real life it just about makes me a vegetable until I do.

    I started out doing automotive fab and drivetrain swaps. When I was designing products in my head that actually seemed like they might sell I went out and talked to shops that made stuff and asked questions and finally I bought a CNC lathe and mill (not hobby stuff, an old Mori and a Mazak), hired a part time programmer to get the first parts made and get me up to speed.

    within 2 months of the mill hitting my floor all of it was paid for and I had learned enough about machining to cludge through it myself. I kept turning ideas into products and most of them have sold fairly well.

    At one point, I had a really successful product. Hooked up with some big names in the auto aftermarket and all was looking really good until I bought out one of my dealers retail business and there was some fine print and naivety on my part that put some kinks in things and killed the big product of mine.

    I took 3 years off from any kind of product development/retail sales and built a 7k sq ft insulated steel building on my property. I'm now in a real good place to get back into it, but I'm moving pretty slow through the shallow end of the pool still. This time I have a far more calculated plan.

    I think my product's successes are generally because I do my absolute best to make the best I can. I don't cut corners. I want people to say "Holy shit this is nice!!" when they open the box.

    Most automotive stuff is pretty much shit made as cheap as possible. Pick almost any automotive area with a following demographic that has money and you will sell stuff.

    I think the most difficult thing for me to learn was how much I am actually worth and to charge every penny of that without flinching.

    You make the best of the best of something and you know more than anyone else on the planet about your little niche and you have the right to charge for it. And to politely tell people to fuck off that think it's too expensive.

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    I did work with a customer for years, when he retired he gave the business to his partner who in turn handed it over to his son that was my age, a guy with less drive but good contacts. I latched onto him making his job super easy, send me the work, I make it, bring it to you and you sell it. As I only wanted my rate, that left him with a nice profit. Most items they sold used to be made on their old manual machines. Lots of castings could be made on the CNC's from solid for alot less. His business grew nicely and the extra line of work kept us busy. It helped us pay off our machine leases, a win win.

    Then a buddy of his working for a larger corporation told him of a need they had. He made up a very rudimentary design that didn't quite work so I offered to tweaked, I then refined it to meet more stringent demands and he got orders, lots of orders. He became a millionaire, I was able to update a bunch of my equipment, get rid of some lousy customers and work on getting new customers that paid their bills and sent in orders before they needed them.
    He later sold the company, I stayed on doing the manufacturing for the new owner, then owners, but they got greedy after a short time money to pay vendors disappeared.
    For us it was several years with a backlog of work, all done at rate, nothing over the top...but it allowed us to reinvest on a quicker scale and helped update us in transitioning from Bridgeports and Turret lathes to CNC's.

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    Thank you all for sharing, really appreciate it. I know there are a lot of start ups that make it. You hear the start and the end but rarely the big key moments that really helped you take off.

    Thanks again.

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    After many years in business as a custom wooden furniture maker I had assembled quite a bit of a decent metal shop as it was a support system for my older machines and also a bit of a keen hobby interest in metal work.
    The woodwork had slowed down and a local company owner came by to visit my shop. He saw that I had a metal shop and asked if I would be interested in doing some metal work for them. I said yes!
    That started the ball rolling and after a bit of a slow start they now send all their work to me and it is very busy and has been for almost 6 years. Mainly I work on my own and have a part time employee.

    That bit about doing good work on time is so true! At first this company was sending only some of their work my way and sometimes they would call and say "we need this tomorrow can you do it?" and I would deliver it the next afternoon. It didn't take too long for them to start sending all the work my way.

    So not a million dollar story but I make a decent living and get to work in my shop and buy more tools!

    The question is "what is luck" the answer is " when opportunity and preparedness meet". If an opportunity comes along and you don't take it because you weren't prepared then that is not lucky, if you are prepared and no opportunity comes along....same thing. Many times over the years people have said to me that I was lucky that such and such happened but when I look back it was always the convergence of preparedness and opportunity that created the appearance of luck to others. And I worked my butt off to make it happen.

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    Quote Originally Posted by g-coder05 View Post
    I'll try to make mine short. In 06-07 I managed to sell my families 70+ year old industrial supply/Machine shop to fastenal. After that I did the mail order bride thing and brought my wife from the Philippines and put her in a two week SBA class at the local college. They gave her a $400K SBMA loan a few days later at a rediculous low rate to start a machine shop in the local college incubator. Cleveland Bradley Business Incubator | Developing the future! . This included an almost free 2K sq foot building with free secretary, Phones, Internet,Conference rooms,Central AC, Discounted power, use of all campus students (Engineers, Machinist, IT, Business students) All working for a co-op grade.

    During this time my vision was making aftermarket ATV and watercraft parts. Well, this didn't exactly keep the bill collectors at bay so since she had taken the SBA class and was considered a dual minority business owner the SBA stepped in and basically set us up with government contracts piggy backing off of ISO certed companies that went through the same process. Within a few months the work rolled in and we were outgrowing the incubator. Another local shop owner came in and bought the company just as the two year mark was passing thus eliminating the use of the incubator. Paid off the SBA loan, banked a bit of money and repeated one more time.

    You have to love business incubators and the SBA.
    Wow, this is a great concept. I sure wish it was available to all of us.

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    I wish it wasn't available to anyone.


    -------------------

    Think Snow Eh!
    Ox

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    Quote Originally Posted by M. Moore View Post
    After many years in business as a custom wooden furniture maker I had assembled quite a bit of a decent metal shop as it was a support system for my older machines and also a bit of a keen hobby interest in metal work.
    The woodwork had slowed down and a local company owner came by to visit my shop. He saw that I had a metal shop and asked if I would be interested in doing some metal work for them. I said yes!
    In nearby Meadville, Pa there are a bunch-o of plastic mold shops.

    As the work is going to china, things are getting tight.

    One small one man shop had (5) wire EDM's in his basement/garage. A specialized sub contractor as it were.

    When my neighbor went to get some work done lately (from this shop) he was told:
    "You tool & die guys never pay me on time, so I sold all the machines, and now make
    custom kitchen cabinets"


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    Quote Originally Posted by Ox View Post
    I wish it wasn't available to anyone.


    -------------------

    Think Snow Eh!
    Ox
    Amen! I have a new level of respect for somebody.

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    Quote Originally Posted by M. Moore View Post
    Many times over the years people have said to me that I was lucky that such and such happened but when I look back it was always the convergence of preparedness and opportunity that created the appearance of luck to others. And I worked my butt off to make it happen.

    Love this...

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ox View Post
    I wish it wasn't available to anyone.
    Why? Are you not a fan of small business? Incubators are available for all kinds of industries regardless of demographics. Most are run by non profits.

    Starting a business if f--ing hard. If people want to band together and support each other, more power to them.

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    Quote Originally Posted by boosted View Post
    Why? Are you not a fan of small business? Incubators are available for all kinds of industries regardless of demographics. Most are run by non profits.

    Starting a business if f--ing hard. If people want to band together and support each other, more power to them.
    I’m a HUGE fan of small business. But when I started my small business I called half a dozen different small business organizations that are supposed to help. I called my county and even talked with my city.

    NONE of those organizations would help a machine shop start.

    AND

    Most importantly, their definition of SMALL BUSINESS was a minimum of 50 employees and the minimum loan amount was $500k.

    Soooooo

    No?

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    Fal Grunt, not sure I follow the point here. I couldn't find a small business organization to help me either, but it sounds like neither of us really looked that hard. Relative to all of the labor involved in getting started, how much work is a day or two of phone calls and emails? Most of us are probably more interested in getting to work making things than pitching our business to strangers.

    That said; there are good businesses that get a head start from incubators. If somebody else can navigate that system, and get some value out of it, good for them! It certainly doesn't hurt me when somebody else succeeds.

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    Quote Originally Posted by boosted View Post
    Fal Grunt, not sure I follow the point here. I couldn't find a small business organization to help me either, but it sounds like neither of us really looked that hard. Relative to all of the labor involved in getting started, how much work is a day or two of phone calls and emails? Most of us are probably more interested in getting to work making things than pitching our business to strangers.

    That said; there are good businesses that get a head start from incubators. If somebody else can navigate that system, and get some value out of it, good for them! It certainly doesn't hurt me when somebody else succeeds.
    I'm just going to be the non-politically-correct one here and point out that the likely reason that he couldn't get help was that he was the wrong skin color and sex. Maybe next time he could get extra points for claiming to be a transwoman eskimo.

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    Quote Originally Posted by boosted View Post
    Fal Grunt, not sure I follow the point here. I couldn't find a small business organization to help me either, but it sounds like neither of us really looked that hard. Relative to all of the labor involved in getting started, how much work is a day or two of phone calls and emails? Most of us are probably more interested in getting to work making things than pitching our business to strangers.

    That said; there are good businesses that get a head start from incubators. If somebody else can navigate that system, and get some value out of it, good for them! It certainly doesn't hurt me when somebody else succeeds.
    My point was, incubators are available for a few categories of business, and are very dependant on demographics.

    The closest to getting help was from my city, they were willing to give me a small business loan to build a building and buy machinery. I was shocked! Then I was told the minimum was $500k, I had to hire a minimum of 5 employees the first year, and they would dictate the building I built and the machinery I bought. Then as we got further into the discussions, they found out I had not owned or managed a business before, and I did not have an income to support a $500k loan. So they said I would not qualify. But if I had a business and if I had an income to qualify for the $500k loan, I would not qualify.

    I spent a better part of a month, while working a full time job, calling and talking to various private, state, and federal groups that are supposed to help businesses start up. Everyone had a reason that I did not qualify, and if I met the qualifications for one, but missed one qualification, almost guaranteed for the next group that qualification I did have, would disqualify me at the next group.

    So I feel like while I only contacted 5 or so of those organizations, and my county and my city, I tried pretty damn hard. In a way I am glad it did not work out, because I spent the last almost 10 years slugging it out in a tiny 2 car garage with worn out old machinery. I did not have some bureaucrat staring me down questioning what and why.

    About the same time I purchased my Brother, a friend of mine was making a large capital investment in his business. We were both lamenting how hard it is to get financed when your an individual business owner. I again contacted some of these small business groups, who all said because I have an existing business there was no way for them to help. I wound up getting a 7yr, $100k loan, at 6%. My friend got a 10yr, $70k loan, at .2% because he owns a hobby farm and was putting in a grain silo and some other improvements. No, I did not mis type that. POINT 2 percent. He walked into an office that referred him to another for that type of farm loan. They typed up the paperwork, and the only leg work he had to do was going to the office and signing the paper work. He has an entire support network to ask questions, recommended suppliers, technical analysis, etc, all free at no cost to him.

    So, in a way, I disagree, you and I do get hurt when someone is artificially propped up. When resources are provided preferentially to anyone, I think it is detrimental. There are certain cases that this is OK, but they are few and far between.

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