Small garage shop: Trying to find steady work
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  1. #1
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    Default Small garage shop: Trying to find steady work

    I'm sure it's the most asked question but I just wanted to give it a go myself.

    I'm a one man band with a very simple shop: CNC plasma, welding, tube bending, and I even picked up a older Amada RG25 CNC press brake. I guess I would be more of a fab shop than job shop. I do mostly sheetwork but I honestly tackle anything I can get my hands on. I'm relatively fluent in CAD (Fusion360 and some other simpler software) for what I need to do. I'm located in a pretty rural part of Missouri but I'm at the doorstep of a military base.

    For almost a year, I've visited/emailed as many manufacturers, contractors, business that I think I could add onto, etc. from KC to STL and haven't heard back from any. I actually picked up one reoccurring customer in an adjacent town supplying semi-truck trailer parts which has been doing OK. I come to learn CNC cutting is hard to compete against other shops that also supply metal since they buy their material at wholesale whereas I'm having to buy at marked up prices.

    I'm also signed up in the SAMS for gov't work but I only had one phone call (I'm registered as a non-disabled combat Vet in the system. My area doesn't qualify for any of the specialized competitive zones). That system isn't very small business friendly (small as in 1 person. Their definition of small is ~500-1000). They solicit for advertisement options but it gets pricey. If you want to tackle jobs elsewhere, you honestly need a full-time employee to sit there and browse the listings on a daily basis. I'm also in local cities and State bid systems but most of that work is large-scale contractor stuff. Not really any small shop related work.

    The biggest part that's probably killing me is that I just work out of the house. I can't afford a separate shop. But, since I'm looking for the job-shop related work, I figure there is no need to have another building. However, since I do tackle any job I can get my hands on, it often becomes a struggle because it requires customers to come by and leave stuff at my already packed property.

    My nearest competitors are all an hour away but these are legitimate job shops with fair size facilities running 24/7 with more capacities and capabilities. Seems like most of the job shops I know in the area are spaced about an hour apart. I've even talked to them about picking up any OT work but they're usually OT on welding.

    Wondering if anyone else has some strategies that I could try? I'm not picky nor trying to limit my boundary. My only competitive edge is my shop rates are pretty cheap and lead times are pretty quick. I'm also adjacent to an interstate if that helps but there aren't any shipping brokers nearby. I've seen various trade shows to try and enter into but I can't afford those booth costs. I was told Design2Part wants $4k for a booth. I believe I can get a booth at SEMA cheaper than that, lol.

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    Industrial and commercial HVAC sheet metal duct work seems to cost a small fortune.

    Maybe visit all the local/regional HVAC companies...

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    When selling your services, don't try to compete with the "big boys" on price and capacity. They'll eat you up. Promote your service and flexibility.

    I am also a small 1-man shop. I can usually immediately drop everything and work late to fit in an emergency job for a good customer. Rush jobs also happen to pay good. Some larger shops don't have that flexibility. That's your advantage, especially being home based.

    I will work late into the night and take the next day off, or work the weekend and take off during the week if possible to get a job out. Flexibility.

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    Think up, develop, and market a clever, unique product that solves a problem
    or enhances a users experience with some other product.

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    I think you pretty much covered all the reasons why doing what you are doing is not going to work.

    Make products or move somewhere better or go get a job.

    I'm not any kind of genius, but I do have numerous ideas for products that sell and make me a decent living. I have an impressive shop that I've put together to make my stuff and if I didn't have the products I would have never gone into business just to compete with other shops.

    I don't have any competition. I could base my business on the North Pole and do just fine. My biggest concerns in business are keeping my stress levels in check and making parts fast. I don't have to compete on price.

    It's not all sunshine and roses, but I sure don't envy those that have a shop full of expensive machines and make parts to somebody else's print.

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    Make your wife a co-owner. That will make government work easy. Minority-owned business get priority.

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    +1 to DKMC. Doesn't have to be a large niche -- indeed it's better if it's not. Just a product with decent, steady demand that matches up reasonably well with what you can and like to build.

    Sounds like you could make pretty cool barbecue grills, gates, fire pits, fireplace log racks, fireplace tongs etc. etc. Good design, looking robust but light enough and compact enough when disassembled, might have a national reach from that on-ramp near your home.

    Around here several metalworkers make a good living with custom ornamental ironwork - gates and the like. Might talk to some local architects. Maybe find someone with really clever design ideas if that's not already you.

    Others make indoor and office stuff a combination of metal and wood slabs. Businesses like this in reception areas, conference rooms. Local architects are a good contact on that as well.

    Maybe form a habit of asking everyone you meet what they like and don't like about their current suppliers, products, or services. Good way to approach larger shops as well -- what's working well (emulate it). What's not -- maybe you have a solution.

    Personally, every time I got sucked into working for a government agency, I vowed not to do it again. It's fine if you make a business of it and know how to handle the red tape; but it's a pain if you do it just every now and then. Working with some large companies isn't much different.

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    I've been in a job shop since October last year, and the one thing that's hit me is just how much expense goes into a job shop in order to be able to do whatever job comes our way. Not only that but our last long weekend turned into a "short" weekend, when someone walks in on Friday afternoon and needs a job doing yesterday.

    I've got my own basic gear at home - CNC plasma 2500 x 1500 mm 80 amp, big lathe, Bridgeport clone, welders, hydraulic press, pedestal drill, bandsaw, etc, etc. But you know what, I don't really have a lot of interest in service work. I'll do it if it comes my way, but I've tried it before and crikey, people can be difficult to deal with. They want a cheap price so you say OK bring me the metal. I tell them the length, diameter and type of steel. The idiot comes back with a short piece of tool steel and there's only 5mm to stick in the chuck.

    Did a plasma cutting job, 23 sheets of stainless. However, in the beginning the guy brings me ridiculously mangled (I mean mangled, not just a little warped) small pieces of stainless and asks me to use them. Anyway told him to deliver me 23 sheets of new stainless (I saved them about 7 sheets by improving on their nesting) and drop them in my driveway. They send them on a flat bed truck with no crane so I have to manually unload them myself. The time spent discussing the job before all this crap.

    As others have said, making products is where my interest lies. Nobody coming to my house, no deadlines, no dealing with customers that don't know jack, I combine processes when it suits me in order to help things run more efficiently. I refine repeat processes. I know in advance what materials I need. I buy tools to suit what I know I will be making, not what I may need for unknown service jobs.

    I've thought about this a lot and the list goes on. If at all possible I'd also recommend trying to make products to sell.

    Good luck with everything.

    Keith.

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    IMHO half the problem is your equipment list, none of that fits with the kinda products that are easy to make in small spaces. CNC plasma a very short press brake and only welding (what and how??) kinda makes you compete with everyone on the planet, most commercial shops run laser and have bigger brake's + the capability to handle suitably sized pieces. Your trying to do heavy engineering from a very domestic space, customers won't show much interest in that at all im afraid.

    Your best bets to find a neich product and make and sell them, but it needs to be neich and you have to find it, trade shows are not going to get you far IMHO at all. Especially if all your offering is what almost everyone can do.

    As soon as you start making customers supply material - jump through hoops they tend to go else were, if you can't unload the materials or load the finished items on there truck IMHO you have lost to start with. having a 8x4 plasma and a large lathe but no forklift or lifiting gear will limit you and drive people away. Its just how it is.

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    "Make a product", good advice but may seem overwhelming.

    I'm trying to retire. So, I started buying old military weapons parts kits. This is where a military anywhere in the world torches up a surplus weapon to the point the rest of the parts can be legally sold in the USA. I rebuild them into legal semi auto weapons, mostly for display. Every time I need to make a part, I make a few dozen. then put them up for sale. Does well.

    A friend with a CNC shop next door rebuilds old cars as his hobby. he needed a custom wrench to take apart the steering. So, he made a few dozen. twenty years later he's still selling a dozen a year.

    At any rate, to get ideas just start doing what ever interests you in your spare time. As soon as you need a widget, make a dozen. see if it sells. Big advantage here is you are just doing what you want when you want. AND you will end up making more money in the long run.

    Just an old guy's two cents worth.

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    Quote Originally Posted by gwelo62 View Post
    Make your wife a co-owner. That will make government work easy. Minority-owned business get priority.
    Lovely system we have here.....So if the OP wasn't a "Combat Veteran" he would be getting even less work....and Now he's got to be married to get work.

    Straying far off the path the constitution laid down eh ?

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    Go to your competitors. Every big shop has jobs they don't have time for or don't want to do and they would be happy to let you do the work. I started my first machine shop by visiting all the established shops in the area and taking from them.

    Make Chips Boys !

    Ron

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    Fake it until you make it. Keep beating on doors and asking for work. Make a habit of always answering your phone. Forward your calls to a spouse if your unavailable. Make sure your digital fingerprint is clean.. I’m not afraid to work with home gamers, but I check people out first. I look for sketchy crap on FaceTrap and the like.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Dupa3872 View Post
    Go to your competitors. Every big shop has jobs they don't have time for or don't want to do and they would be happy to let you do the work. I started my first machine shop by visiting all the established shops in the area and taking from them.

    Make Chips Boys !

    Ron
    This can work out sometimes.

    Hopefully you find a shop owner who started out much as you are right now. He'll understand what you're up against and might be willing to refer jobs to you.

    When I was starting in machining I had no contacts. I made friends with a local mom and pop shop who gave me little nuisance jobs. After a bit of getting to know each other they gave me a customer who needed everything yesterday. That customer's work was not my dream, but it was profitable giving me the money to buy CNC's to go after the type work I wanted.

    And as they say, everybody lived happily ever after........ Except when I decided to take an early retirement I referred lots of steady work to promising newish startups. 90% of the time they screwed up,
    overcharging and bad parts. Makes you wonder whether the work ethic has changed that much in thirty years since I started.

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    Quote Originally Posted by rbmgf7 View Post
    I'm sure it's the most asked question but I just wanted to give it a go myself.

    I'm a one man band with a very simple shop: CNC plasma, welding, tube bending, and I even picked up a older Amada RG25 CNC press brake. I guess I would be more of a fab shop than job shop. I do mostly sheetwork but I honestly tackle anything I can get my hands on. I'm relatively fluent in CAD (Fusion360 and some other simpler software) for what I need to do. I'm located in a pretty rural part of Missouri but I'm at the doorstep of a military base.
    Don't know if anyone has suggested this or not but if I were you I'd try and come up with something of my own. Try talking to some of the military guys and see if they can suggest anything.

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    When I was a small garage shop, I made virtually all my money from people I had a personal relationship with. The ol' it isn't what you know its who you know.

    IF someone knows and trusts you, they can send you work you might not otherwise get.

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    Have you already tried it online, too?
    Build a small but professional looking website.
    Search for forums where people need to get weld jobs done.
    Some forums have defined threads where you can openly offer your services and get found.
    Did you try little local advertisements (Newspaper...)?

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    You can try for overflow work from others shops...but guaranteed it will be the work they do not want as it is not money making easy stuff...or they would keep in house. That said...it gets your foot in the door and pays some bills.

    Large companies, government don't want to find new small shops...they are usually dug in with their comfy suppliers....Combat that by finding a Purchasing agent, forecaster or the Go To Guy on the floor. Tell them you will take on the jobs nobody else wants to tackle...if you can't do it...no/charge and they get their Print/Sample back in Pristine condition...if price it too high, they can pay what they want...or nothing. It can definitely get their attention. That opened quite a few doors for me in the past. Problem is...you have to make the parts perfect and be available at the drop of the hat if and when they call with great lead times. But get a few jobs like that word gets around quick as the Go To Guy and you build from there.

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    Quote Originally Posted by MadMax28 View Post
    Did you try little local advertisements (Newspaper...)?
    Why the hell would anyone waste money on that??
    That WILL work great for attracting cheapskates and weirdo's.

    Like way back when the guy with the metal kitchen chairs from the 1950's calls and needs all the cracked chrome plated tubing re-welded. Thats been welded about 5 times before that. He asks 'how much' and when I say I charge $15/hr (1980's prices) he says 'wow, I used to have the guys at work do them for free'. Yea BUDDY....

    Or the strange woman that kept calling and calling about the door falling off her rusty 1972 Pinto. Even tho I TOLD her like 3 times I DON'T WELD ON CARS. She kept calling.....

    Or the guy with the old 1950-ish Willy's Pickup, that looked like Charlie Manson's twin brother. Stops by, pulls out the dipstick, asks if I can weld the slotted washer thingie back on.....the 'hat' that stops the dipstick from going down the tube too far. I'm in such disbelief I say 'SURE' and he asks 'how much'. And I'm so not even taking anything seriously at that point......I say FIVE BUX. And he says 'Oh, I can get one at the junkyard for $3' And I'm not at all surprised! And I say 'GO GET THAT ONE'!!
    BYE'

    Save the money from any Newspaper or Shopper paper ads you think
    you might run, and donate it to charity or something.
    Been there, Done THAT.
    Once.
    Last edited by dkmc; 03-20-2018 at 02:30 PM. Reason: sp

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    Quote Originally Posted by dkmc View Post
    Why the hell would anyone waste money on that??
    That WILL work great for attracting cheapskates and weirdo's.
    worked at a shop, that for some unknown reason, had a YELLOW PAGE ad..

    "How much to resurface my cylinder heads" about 30X a day.


    The calls were so stupid... The one kid that wanted us to make a
    tranny to engine adaptor plate.. Put a bit of time into giving
    him a quote and he comes back with "Advanced Adaptors has them
    for $139"... WTF!!!!!!!

    He also wanted a new gear for the trunk latch in a Cadillac I think it
    was.. They were plastic and about $10.. He wanted a metal one, it
    was less than an inch in diameter and less than an inch long.. He kept
    insisting it would be cheaper to make it from a casting, because then
    we wouldn't have to turn it down.. Gave him a price of about $700 to
    do a one off casting(slice off a piece of bar stock) and a one off gear..
    He figured it shouldn't cost more than $20 since a plastic one was $10...

    Repair work for farmers isn't all that much better, but at least the stuff
    they bring you is from an expensive piece of equipment, that they NEED NOW
    to keep making money... And most of that stuff is Keyways and Shafts, Keyways
    and Shafts, Keyways and Shafts...

    Amazing how many people think they are "Smart" because they think having ONE of
    something made is going to be cheaper than buying it from a company that makes
    Thousands of them.

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