Unsolicited small shop advice thread. List your top five.
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  1. #1
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    Default Unsolicited small shop advice thread. List your top five.

    I am by no means an expert but I have learned some things the hard way. Life is better now vs when I started. I am a slow learner. Hopefully other shop owners will post quick and short advice for others starting or thinking about starting small shops.

    Here is my list:

    1. Watch your cost on building leases. Seeing what you give to the landlord each year hurts. Life is so much better for me after I built my own shop building.

    2. Buy cnc machines with automation. I am taking bar loaders, chip conveyors, live tooling and y axis in the case of lathes. 4th axis for vmcs or perhaps pick up a horizontal instead. 2nd ops, deburring, chip shoveling, bar loading are a insane time suck. If you buy smart used these things don't even have to cost you much. Having a machine spit out parts complete while you mow the lawn is amazing, standing in front of a machine loading slugs is not.

    3. Buy used and avoid debt on machines, learn or know how to fix them if you need to. If you have the work and employees than maybe new makes sense if you have the thing running constantly. I can get so much capacity for so little money used that for me it is the answer.

    4. Either avoid fussy work or charge a ton for it. Doing tight tolerance or tricky prototype stuff because I can has never paid me well, or more than likely I never charged enough for it. On that note charge more than you think you should. I bet the first few years I could have charged close to double and not lost much work. Can't get that money or time back.

    5. Fire a customer every once in a while. Not everyone is a good match. Getting rid of the ones that suck your time for little return is liberating.

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    Agree with No. 5 but take it a step further and prune the customer base once every year or so to get rid of the time wasters or low profit customers. Spend time getting new higher paying customers. Just my 2 cents.

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    3a - ...Buy older used higher quality machines rather than newer cheaper machines even if the technology and features are better on the newer low end machines. And especially favor machines you can get good support for.


    6 - Hire slowly, fire quickly, keep the good ones.

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    7. Treat your employees well and they should treat you well. If they don't you know what that means.

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    8-

    Be cautious of a single lucrative client.
    Diversify so you have options if the one or a couple of key clients shifts their needs away from your shop.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Trboatworks View Post
    8-

    Be cautious of a single lucrative client.
    Diversify so you have options if the one or a couple of key clients shifts their needs away from your shop.
    *cough*OTRLT*cough*

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    How to go on #1 depends a lot on circumstance, some locales make it a major PITA to build your own building. I found just having a small metal building added to my property to be a major issue in So Cal and I was even in a county area, outside city limits. Thinking Cali was the worst I have heard horror stories out of local businesses here in Central Virginia of the hassles of erecting a building in towns. It seems you are at the mercy of the local planning and zoning and no two are alike. They seem to keep wanting more and more as you go along.

    I have heard quite a few people that had building put up that if they had it to do over again they would have bought an existing one and adapted it to their needs.

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    10) Organize and STAY organized. Nothing brings stress faster than searching for something you know you have "somewhere."

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    Quote Originally Posted by douglasjrizzo View Post
    10) organize and stay organized. Nothing brings stress faster than searching for something you know you have "somewhere."
    this right here!!

    Qft!

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    Quote Originally Posted by DouglasJRizzo View Post
    10) Organize and STAY organized. Nothing brings stress faster than searching for something you know you have "somewhere."

    But I already have a fulltime job or three!

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    Two is one and one is none

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    1) Things can always get worse. They usually don't, but Murphy is a SOB.

    2) Don't take your health for granted. Physical and mental. Exercise. Get outdoors frequently.

    3) Get rid of shit you don't use.

    4) Don't buy a used C02 laser

    5) Own your own building.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Hardplates View Post
    Two is one and one is none
    Gotta have spares. The more you have the less you'll need.

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    Healthcare, pensions and taxes are overheads, not luxuries.

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    Lifting capabilities are a must. Forklift, cranes, hoists, just something to lift and move loads.

    Diversify. Have multiple customers in different industries. One industry takes a down turn, you have a backup. Unless everyone takes a hit.

    Reliable shop truck. I bought a commercial truck for far less than a new POS. License and insurance cost me less than my F150, and I can haul 13000lbs. The thing nice about a commercial vehicle is if you need a part, the dealer looks up the VIN and has the actual build sheet with all options specified.

    Have hobbies and interests outside of your shop. It helps advertise. I love sawing on a circular sawmill, so I built one. Showcases my capabilities. I own a steam traction engine, it's brought in work from other engine owners and made some great contacts.

    Definitely own your building and land it sits on.

    Sent from my rotary dial flip fone

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    You don't want to do it like that.

  24. #17
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    Quote Originally Posted by Garwood View Post
    1) Things can always get worse. They usually don't, but Murphy is a SOB.

    2) Don't take your health for granted. Physical and mental. Exercise. Get outdoors frequently.

    3) Get rid of shit you don't use.

    4) Don't buy a used C02 laser

    5) Own your own building.
    #3 is dicey, when I moved across country I quickly wanted things back that I sold, scrapped or gave away that I had not used in quite sometime to lighten the load. As soon as you get rid of something you haven't used in 10 years it seems you will need it.

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    There are only 2 ways to make a part. The right way and the wrong way. Unfortunately there are about 50 wrong ways for every right way.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Dualkit View Post
    How to go on #1 depends a lot on circumstance, some locales make it a major PITA to build your own building. I found just having a small metal building added to my property to be a major issue in So Cal and I was even in a county area, outside city limits. Thinking Cali was the worst I have heard horror stories out of local businesses here in Central Virginia of the hassles of erecting a building in towns. It seems you are at the mercy of the local planning and zoning and no two are alike. They seem to keep wanting more and more as you go along.

    I have heard quite a few people that had building put up that if they had it to do over again they would have bought an existing one and adapted it to their needs.
    If you really want to avoid the petty local-government Hitlers you should consider relocating and buying an existing building. Look for a place that has empty industrial facilities for sale. Anywhere in the oil patch is a good bet right now, and is likely to be for the duration of the Harris administration. Coal towns likewise. Plenty of places have an economic development association or a chamber of commerce. Those people will usually be glad to meet you at the airport and show you around town, and will enlist a realtor to help you find that smokin' deal. Before visiting, be sure to send them a list of the building features you require (3Ø electric, gas, etc) and those you can't use (barns, quonset huts, etc) so as not to waste time.

    The hardest but smartest decision I ever made was to admit to myself that building in Maryland would be an endless struggle against moving goal posts, and that I had to abandon it and look outside. Once you have made that huge mental leap where you can visualize your operation in a fresh place, at that point you are set free.

    While it's true that affordable places are often in bleak scenery, remember that you work indoors. With the success you achieve from being unfettered, you can plant grass and trees and pave that dirt road.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Dualkit View Post
    #3 is dicey, when I moved across country I quickly wanted things back that I sold, scrapped or gave away that I had not used in quite sometime to lighten the load. As soon as you get rid of something you haven't used in 10 years it seems you will need it.
    Well then give it to a friend. In 10 years when you need it they'll be ready to get rid of it too.

    Having good friends in their 80's I get to see first hand what it looks like when you accumulate so much "good stuff". I believe in keeping spares and having one's own hardware store that beats Fastenal*, but there are times when I have to stop myself from investing time into saving/organizing crap I will probably never use.

    Maybe that should be my #6- Realize when it's time to downsize.

    That goes right along with

    7) When it stops being fun stop doing it.

    8) The only thing you can count on is change.

    *There is definitely a euphoric feeling when you have hung onto something for years, need exactly that thing and know exactly where it is. Recently I was stripping a bunch of 100 year old rolled steel windows of glazing and glass. There are these special formed spring clips that retain and space the panes. I started saving the old rusty ones then realized I had seen them before- Went right to where they were and had a bag of 500 of them. I like those moments.


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