Capacity Podcast Ep. 3: Kirk McCauley of AEM

Sunny Han talks to Kirk McCauley about how he built AEM into the prominent fabrication shop it is today

Kirk McCauley is the owner of American Engineering and Metalworking in Northeast Ohio. He started the business 17 years ago and it has grown to 38 employees. The company is a niche metal fabrication business and handles projects, parts, and specialty types of metal fabrication that others won't. Kirk became interested in this field due to his father who had a business in the printing industry and he was always interested in working with metal and cars. He saw an opportunity in the metal fabrication business as it was not using advanced technology and equipment at that time. He learned the advanced technology while working for a billion dollar company before starting his own business. His father encouraged him to buy a business and Kirk waited for the right opportunity to arise.

Kirk was working for a manufacturing company that was facing competition from Asia and not adapting to the changes in the industry. He saw the opportunity for the company to pivot into the job shop market, but the owner was too attached to the tool and die business to make the change. Kirk ended up leaving the company to start his own business after a moment of realization that he needed to take action. At the time, he was about to get married and his wife was starting her first job after graduation. Listen to hear how the story unfolds and how AEM grew from nothing into a prominent and influential metal fabricator.

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— Transcription — 

Heads up, this transcription is ai-generated so it may have some minor errors.

Sunny: [00:00:00] Welcome to the Fulcrum Podcast. Today we have Kirk from American Engineering and Metalworking in Ohio. Kirk started this business 17 years ago and has grown it to 38 employees, uh, and has a wonderful story about his journey so far. Welcome to the show, Kirk.

Kirk: Thanks, son. Well, tell us about your business, Kirk.

Kirk: So, we're about 17 years in business now. I consider our company, uh, niche to be, we're a white gloves, metal fabricator. And what I would tell you about the definition of that is that we handle projects, parts and specialty types of metal fabrications to a degree that our competition won't. Maybe it's something that's mere polished, maybe it's something that has a lot of value added, and maybe it's something that goes in a critical environment where people want extra attention and special care.

Kirk: how did you

Sunny: stumble into that, into that market? Is it something that you always wanted to do? You thought that stuff was [00:01:00] cool or the work was

Kirk: available? It, it's kind of a, a hodgepodge, a culmination of how it came about. Um, a little bit more background of my youth. My father was an entrepreneur and he, uh, he had a business that was related to the printing industry and graphics industry and retail, um, facing type of work.

Kirk: And it's all image based, as you know, in, in that world. And his products that he made were, were finished goods, but his company didn't fabricate any metals. They were doing printing, digital printing, like when digital printing became like a new technology. The early adopter of that and using it in the graphics industry.

Kirk: And so he had a supply base of people that made metal components to hang his stuff and to bolster his products. And I was a pup at that time and watching all this [00:02:00] happen. And you know, the difference between, you know, what my, what my father did and what I did is, is I was a, a gearhead at heart and always been around cars and metal and, and that type of world.

Kirk: And then making stuff with my hands and, and. I kind of saw the opportunity then when I was really young, and then that stemmed into some of my career choices in, in, you know, post high school. And then, you know, taking my love for working with metal, getting to work for a billion dollar plus company post-college, and working in, you know, after that some really cool industries to, and dye and, you know, a lot of heavy manufacturing stuff that I, I just savored at all.

Kirk: And it culminated into that day that, uh, you know, when I met you, uh, we discussed where, you know, it was the day to start AEM, you know, and, and, uh, that was, that was the leap of faith I took to, [00:03:00] to do something. Great. When you

Sunny: said that when you were young, you saw this opportunity, was, was it that, because it's hard to do that people couldn't do it well?

Sunny: Or what was that opportunity even back

Kirk: then? So technology's changed so much. In 17 years. But at that point, back then, I saw that people were looking at it, the metals business in, in the fabrication of metal as like a World War II kind of mindset, right? They were, they were not using CNC equipment. They were not, you know, using 3D models and cad, which back then it was all available and, and it was coming on very strong then.

Kirk: And the world was quickly changing to, you know, using precision equipment and using, um, you know, real 3D and such and bringing it into manufacturing. And then in, in the Ohio space, I knew this because I worked for a billion dollar company and was doing all this, [00:04:00] what would you call, cutting edge and proper practice.

Kirk: And then when I would reflect back to my father's suppliers, Looking from this billion dollar company back to, you know, the, the signage and graphics world and the supply base. He had to work with the, the, you know, the, the small businesses, right? The, the small manufacturers that, that a typical larger company would, you know, in have as a supplier.

Kirk: They were archaic and they were companies that, that I just saw, like, my gosh, if they put it in, clicked it up another couple gears. They'd really, they'd really kill it. And that was where I just watched and watched and watched and saw it. And, you know, my father was, he's a very, very, very smart, calculated person.

Kirk: And he was bestowing upon me, like, just hang tight. We'll buy a business. I'll help you buy a business, I'll help you buy a business. And, and I looked and scanned and I sent [00:05:00] letters. And I, you know, I was like, where's the, where's the situation? And my father's like, well, you know, somebody will get ill, somebody will get a divorce.

Kirk: There's all these reasons why businesses sell and a good business will pop up for sale and, you know, just be patient. Well, you know, when I was 20 something, patience wasn't, it wasn't in the cards, right? Sure. So, so that day came that I told you about long ago, and, and I said, today's the day and I'm gonna do something better than what's out there.

Kirk: And I did a scorched earth started from scratch out of the garage, out of the house. And here we are out of frustration. You were sick of waiting. Yeah, because the opportunity didn't come up to buy a business. And, you know, when I was counseled by my father and, and others being like, you know, maybe an outside accountant and other mentors, you know, I, I just had in the back of my head that starting [00:06:00] from scratch was better.

Kirk: Like, Don't, don't, don't invest in something or don't take something on that. You gotta undo cancer and undo problems and undo bad practices and people setting their ways, you know, like better off starting from scratch. And, you know, VCRM kind of has the same idea, right? Like, it wasn't like, well take this product and fix it.

Kirk: And in Fulcrums competitors kind of looked at it in, in a weird way. Like, you know, they're, they're sitting where my companies that I could have bought are today where, you know, they haven't changed and they've, they've done well, but they're not gonna do well in the future. So that's why I chose to start from scratch.

Kirk: Was it, did it feel

Sunny: scarier to start from scratch than to buy something?

Kirk: Uh, I would say, I would say it was a different feeling, right? Like, I would almost say it's, it's less risk because, you know, if you bought a business and you go on the hook for some, [00:07:00] You know, big amount of money in this, you know, loan from a bank and, you know, hey, I'm, I gotta buy out ex-partner or buy out, ex owner, you know, I mean, that's, it's a big number and, and you're shoveling every month to, to get that situation outta your life.

Kirk: And with starting from scratch, you know, you're taking on the risk as you can, building it brick by brick, which is one of my philosophies. And, you know, you know, taking, taking it on as piece by piece, bite by bite. And I think it was palatable for me. It was, it was stressful. And I think we've all been through that.

Kirk: Like any anybody's listening to. Talk today, um, as an entrepreneur, I mean, there's, there's goods and bads, right? There's days where you wanna vomit. There's days where you can't sleep. There's days where you think you're gonna lose everything, and then there's victory days, there's the good days, right? So, um, but looking back [00:08:00] on it, I mean, it's in my d n a and, and I love doing it.

Kirk: Um, was every day fun. No , but, but we're here. Yeah. So

Sunny: the, the biggest challenge in starting from scratch is getting that first sale, getting someone to take a risk on a, a new shop and a new place with a new owner. Yeah. Uh, what was that like for you? How did you overcome

Kirk: that? So, so that was kind of, um, it was an, it was an interesting lead in and, um, it, it, uh, it happened in, in a good way.

Kirk: I had left the billion plus company in, in and, uh, through, through layoffs and attrition that industry downturned. And, and by the way, the, the Billion Plus customer, the company that I work for is, is in my top five right now, so, you know, top five customers. Yeah. Mm-hmm. And, uh, you know, one of those philosophies is, you know, I, I really believe in the Golden rule and not burning bridges and treating people.

Kirk: Right. And [00:09:00] it was, it was something that was, you know, instilled in me as the youth. And, um, someone might have been

Sunny: bitter by being laid off. But you still maintain those relationships.

Kirk: No, no, no. I, a lot of good friendships and, you know, you know, I, I feel like. I was paid in, in that big company. And, and if someone that's listening to this is, is of youth and, and in that situation I'm talking about now, like one of the best things that ever happened about working for that big company is learning how to do things right and learning how, how big businesses tick and how long it takes 'em to do stuff and how slow they are.

Kirk: And opportunities for a small, nimble, you know, I would call it a, you know, a PT boat and I worked for an aircraft carrier, you know, and, and how the aircraft carrier turns versus how my company can turn and, and that, that knowledge that was gained from that was invaluable. And, and, you know, [00:10:00] knowing what I know now, if I could have afforded to work for free for them, I would've.

Kirk: Because I enjoyed it. I was frustrated with it. Big business. I mean, we all, you know, working at a big business, they, you know, it's tough. There's a lot of hierarchy, you know, change management's tough and, and that, but, you know, when it was all said and done, I wa I left there with like, so much knowledge and skill and, and took that relationship and created a, created a really good customer and, and they didn't become a good, um, a customer day one.

Kirk: You know, it was about, let's say six, seven years after I was in, been in business that, that I really started to gain traction with them and, and kind of went radio silent with them. And, you know, post, post leaving that big company, I went into tool and die. Um, and I, I really enjoy the stampings world and the automotive production world.

Kirk: Giant presses and, and all the things you see on the, on the TV shows. You know, I'm a, I'm a [00:11:00] sucker for those shows, you know, to watch the great things that happen in America. I mean, it's, it's, it gives me goosebumps to go in a big factory and see a, a 3,500 ton press blanking out half inch metal for something that's American made, you know, and our country's, our country's got some really neat stuff, you know, and, uh, taking all that in.

Kirk: Um, how do you, you know, how do you. Boil that down into something that, that a guy in his garage can start from and work towards, you know, and, and you know, walking away from the big company going into to and die, you know, I, I was kind of like shrinking down, you know, like going back into what was attainable, right?

Kirk: And, and the tool and die world. I loved it, loved, loved tool design, and loved how big was that tool and die shop about? Um, you know, at that time probably 30 people, um, but much more nimble. Yeah. Much quicker to change. Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. And, [00:12:00] and you know, it, um, they, they, they, uh, they're a job shop, right?

Kirk: Like to and die and machining. It's, it's very similar to what I do in, in terms of the architecture of, of how workflows happen. . But, um, what, what the challenges they had when I was there was similar to the challenges today, right? You know, getting more stuff done, automating, um, you know, keeping up with technology, yada yada.

Kirk: And then at that time, this kind of leads into the question of how did we get our first customer and how did we start the company? And that, like, how did I, how did I make that leap of faith? And, um, the owner of that company, uh, is still a great friend and mentor to me, and I worked for him about three years and he had two daughters.

Kirk: And when I went. When I made the choice to go to work for him, you know, like joint choice, right? Like, I'm coming to work for you. You need me to come to work for you. This is all a good thing. You know, one of the things I [00:13:00] sized up was he had two daughters. They were older than me, and I just saw an opportunity like, man, this could be the one.

Kirk: Right? Like going back to my father's advice of like, go somewhere, learn it, buy it. You know? And, and I saw like, my gosh, this is an opportunity with sweat equity. And you know, if I, if everything clicks and goes right, you know, this could be a home run for him. Mm-hmm. and a home run for me. Right. You know, looking at a, at a transition plan, right.

Kirk: In a, in a neat company. Um, but why did that not work out? And it, and it's not a bad story, it's just how history evolved, um, that point in time. Call that 18, 19 years ago, something like that. Um, the Asia. Competition was really attacking America. And the, the manufacturing world was really getting shocked by like, they're gonna rule the world, you know, they're [00:14:00] gonna, they're gonna decimate us, right?

Kirk: And, and the things we made at that company were higher volume, right? And, and they were stampings and they were going into, you know, H V A C businesses that, that, that make, you know, air conditioners for everybody's house and car parts and brackets for things and big time, high volume stuff. And what I was working with the company is they did have kind of like a job shop kind of side of the business that was starting, right?

Kirk: They had lasers that they used for making progressive dye blanks, and they had a little bit of the bones, right, of what, what I thought was the vision for the future of what AEM became to be. And I was. I was working with the owner of like, Hey, let's kind of start not really abandoning the tool and die business, or abandoning the stamping die business, but let's kind of set some roots up in, [00:15:00] in the, um, job shop world.

Kirk: Man, we got these lasers. We're a little bit there. We get a press break, we do a little welding, you know, I know about all this stuff. Like, let's kind of start dancing in that, that kind of segment of the market and, and we did a little bit. But, but the owner of that company, and he's a friend, like I say, he's, he's a tool and die guy, man.

Kirk: I mean, he loves tool and die. That's his identity. He, he is really good at building dies and they stayed in their lane. So I couldn't get him outta that lane of, of what I saw was a threat, right? I saw like this threat of like, if it can fit in a container, The game is on. Right. And if it's got volume, it's like a, a no-brainer for aha to attack and, and do it with, you know what?

Kirk: I would say, you know, an unfair playing field, right? Um, but, but you can't cry in your weed east about that. You gotta evolve, right? So I saw that as being a threat and I was trying to steer [00:16:00] us away from it. And what I saw in the meanwhile was doing a little bit of the sales for the company as well as engineering and aware a lot of hats that you wear in a small business.

Kirk: I did like the non tool and die kind of sales for the business, like machining only and um, you know, like kind of repair stuff and, you know, not to, not stamping dye stuff, right? And, and kind of feeding the lasers some work, some side work in that. And as in the paper world back then, you know, I had. Emails printed out and I had this kind of opportunities we didn't take pile and the opportunities we didn't take pile exceeded the opportunities that we did pile by far.

Kirk: And I looked at that pile and I said, that's the business. That's the business. So the breaking point came where I couldn't wait [00:17:00] anymore and be the patient guy that I was advised to be. And I, uh, you know, one of my sidebar things, kind of one of my favorite movies is Shaw Inc. Redemption. Great movie. Yeah.

Kirk: And there was a day that read Red said, get busy living or get busy dying. And that resonated in my head forever. And I was, I just, I went to work that day and that red just got into my head. I couldn't get him out. and I said, today's the day. And it was like a random, it was just a random like action, right.

Kirk: It wasn't like, I'll address this when I get home. It was like a lightning bolt. Right. So I,

Sunny: and for context, you're about to get married just a few months after this moment,

Kirk: right? Jingo? Yeah. You know, a little bit of the background of this and yeah. So I got like pressures of that and my wife's younger than I, and she had just graduated from college and, you [00:18:00] know, and you're young too.

Kirk: Took her first job. Yeah. I'm 29 ish, you know, something like that. You know, 28 ish, 29 ish. And she's, she's undergrad, she's done with her undergrad, you know, getting ready to cut her teeth on her first job. And here I am getting ready to grab a box of hand grenades and start having fun. Right. You know? And so that's, that's kind of sidebar, uh, that rolls into this.

Kirk: And so I have this lightning bolt happen and I get up from my desk. And I check out and I say, I'm gonna go make a sales call. I'll be back. So I get my car and I start driving down towards my father's business, which at this point in life, my father sold my, one of his, one of his businesses when I was in college.

Kirk: And it was crystal clear that I would never work for him. And I had zero desire cuz it wasn't in my DNA, it wasn't, it wasn't in my blood work. Like, you know, did I respect that he was very successful and, and ran a good business. [00:19:00] And it was, it was an awesome experience to watch, you know, your dad do that.

Kirk: It was super cool, right? And, and it led me to probably have that strong d n a to be an entrepreneur, right? Is to watch, watch him do what he did. It was, it was incredible. So I start driving down towards his former business, which he operated for 10 plus years after he sold it. and I walk into his office, which it was five minutes, just away from the stool dye place where I worked.

Kirk: And I walk in, I said, dad, I'm gonna hit you with something. What?

Kirk: I'm gonna, I'm gonna leave my job and I'm starting my business tomorrow. And he, he got pretty pissed. And he said, we had this talk I told you about being patient. I told you the opportunity's gonna come. You just gotta [00:20:00] listen to me. I said, dad, I love you, but today's the day and you're not changing my mind.

Kirk: I came down here cause I respect you. This is what I'm doing and I should back up a, a fuzz and tell you that even though at that point, you know, um, Alta al alter respect for my father, um, I had to consult somebody that was gonna be a big part of my life. in 30 days. And so I called my wife Annie, which was my fiance at the time.

Kirk: I'm, I'm driving from building to, to see my dad. And I called her first and I said, Annie, I said, I can't take it anymore. I said, I have to start my own business. I have to do it. I can. It's just eating me alive. And she didn't blink one eye. She didn't pause, she didn't say anything. She said, you need to do this, and I can't stand to see you [00:21:00] miserable anymore, and I know it's eating you alive.

Kirk: And so she had my back and I had the, I had the green light from her to step on the gas. Right. So then, you know, I had to go break that bad news to my dad, which didn't go as well. Right. And then, uh, I went back to the owner of the tool and die shop and I told him, I said, Hey, here's what we're doing. I said, I'm gonna put in my notice and I'm resigning.

Kirk: I don't wanna be up front with you. I'm gonna start my own shop. We're not gonna compete. We're gonna still be friends. I can work for you and do whatever's needed for the time that you need me. Transition plan, whatever be, but I just want you to know, I'm like, I'm not gonna, I'm not gonna hurt you. I wanna be your friend.

Kirk: And, you know, that's lasted. We're friends. We, we do things outside of work. He's, he's, you know, he, he's aging enough to be my father [00:22:00] and he's, he's a good guy. You know, we shoot guns together and have a great friendship and we share work back and forth. And so doing it right and that golden rule thing played right into it.

Kirk: And, um, you, you. You were, one of your last actions that you asked me to ask me about was, you know, where did customer one come from? And ironically, that statement I just told you, I'm not gonna take any of your customers. Um, it popped up real quick and there was one customer that was in that kind of sheet metal genre that wasn't a, a, a tool and die customer of that company.

Kirk: And I had the conversation with him. I said, John, I said, I'm gonna hit you with something today. I said, I'm leaving. And, um, you know, I'm starting my own shop and everything's gonna be fine. Um, you know, you'll be, you'll be taken care of here and, and don't worry about it. And this was a, this was a personal friend of the, the fellow that owned the to die shop.

Kirk: [00:23:00] And he, he. Hit the brakes real quick. He's like, whoa, whoa, whoa. Where are you going? What are you doing? And I said, well, I'm gonna start something, you know, in the sheet metal genre and white gloves, manufacturing, doing stainless stuff, doing alum stuff, kind of don't know yet. But he's like, oh, I need you to do my CAD work.

Kirk: I mean, you're, you're the guy, you know, like, , you know, my product and I don't have an inside CAD guy. And this guy was a startup and, and he's wildly successful now. And, and, uh, but at the time he was small. He was, I'm telling you, like humble beginnings, man. And he, and, and we just had an open house and he was customer number one.

Kirk: And, and, uh, we sent an open house to, at the, at the holidays there between Christmas and New Year's. And, and he was there and we were just, we were just laughing about like, hey, remember like borrowing stuff and you know, like sharing resources and trucking stuff, you know, with snow on it and cleaning parts off because we didn't have a box truck.

Kirk: And just, just that rags to, you know, success kind of thing where we look back and [00:24:00] say, man, we, we, he was in a storage unit, like he had his business started out a storage unit and now it's, it's tremendously successful. And, um, we laughed about that. And, and going back to the guy I used to work for, I mean, I, I went and declared, I'm like, , this is dicey man, where we, I, I'm already bouncing off the guardrails at one of the pillars of what I just told you.

Kirk: And he's like, no, we're cool with that. So that's how customer one happened. And, and, uh, it's a great story. And, and they're, um, they're probably like, you know, pretty far down on the customer list in terms of like dollars and cents. But it, it's so rewarding to me that we've retained them and partnered with them and grown with them.

Kirk: And, and I've built a company that, that served them and more, right? Like, you know, anything they ever needed and they never had to worry about me scaling up to be part of their success. And they, they really have grown a lot. Um, and, and [00:25:00] we've kept 'em. So that's a cool thing. I want to, I want to

Sunny: keep it at this whole starting the business thing and rewind it a little.

Sunny: I know this because you told me this, but you grew up watching your dad start a company Yeah. Sleeping in a, a sleeping bag. Yeah. Rags himself. Yep. And you chose even though you saw it to do it yourself. So yeah, tell me about that experience, about what you learned and what you saw and how you applied that to you

Kirk: starting your own business.

Kirk: Yeah, so, um, you know, my father's, my father's work ethic is, it's, I wouldn't say second to none, but it's up there, man. It's, if there's 300 some million in this country, he's up at the top, top, top, top right of his ethics, integrity, and drive. And, and when I was. Really little. You know, I, the one story I kind of mentioned to you in past conversations we had is, you know, he, he had the opportunity to buy a small business and turn it into something giant.

Kirk: And, and, uh, he saw the vision to do it. And I [00:26:00] was six years old-ish, and he was working for this company that he eventually ended up buying. And he worked to the Bone Saturday Sundays. He wouldn't come home for long periods of time because it was too much time to come home. Not that he lived far away, it was just, that's how tireless he was.

Kirk: That's how driven he was. And so, you know, seeing that, um, and watching a lot of lessons and as he succeeded was, was invaluable. And then, and then growing up, like how long did it

Sunny: take for him? How long did he sacrifice and push for before some success

Kirk: happened? I would say like a good eight years, you know?

Kirk: And he, and he had a, he had a good partner. And, and, um, but, but you know, they, they, they had a lot of struggles, right? They had, you know, financial challenges, human resources, challenges, space challenges, and, and they got into a business segment of America that, that was really exploding. [00:27:00] And, you know, people, when I was little, little, you know, you go into a retail store and there was, it was a retail store, right?

Kirk: It was an old hardware store. It was X it was y it wasn't, it wasn't the glitz and glamor that you see in today's retail world. And, uh, , he was a visionary in, in his partner, they saw that opportunity. It's like, man, people want really nice displays, aisle markers, signage, image, stuff like it, it exploded.

Kirk: Right? So they had the pieces of the puzzle and, and they were traditionally just making like a decals, you know, that was like the original business that they bought and they, they transformed it over, you know, kind of brute force and vision and, and got it into this new kind of hot segment. Right? And, you know, say that was when I was 12 ish, when it really took off.

Kirk: And, and then we lived, you know, a, a, a awesome lifestyle and he provided, you know, a great childhood and living [00:28:00] for us. Um, but it didn't come easy, right? Like it came with brute force and hard work and he never let up. Never. And he took a lot of risks and that, you know, I'm sure you and I will talk about risks here in this conversation, but.

Kirk: uh, you know, I really watched him take some strong risks and we all have to do it. And if, if you don't have the, the tolerance and the DNA to take a big risk like that, um, you know you're never gonna do it. Right? But I, but I learned from him, like, you know, you push chips in and you bet on yourself and, you know, I always asked him like, certain questions, being a youth and you didn't understand stuff.

Kirk: And he'd always bestow on me these one liners, you know, like little simple answers that were a book of knowledge, right. And. You know, I said something about stock market or something when I was a kid and we had general business class in high school or something, you know, and he's like, Kirk, I'm gonna tell you something.

Kirk: There's no one [00:29:00] ever to better to bet on than yourself. That's why I bet on me. You know? And he, he taught me a lot of that stuff. Or like, push your chips in on yourself, man. Don't, don't invest in somebody else. Do it yourself. And so that all this stuff maybe be springboards to building blocks, to starting aem.

Kirk: And, uh, as, as that all went on, um, you know, as he succeeded and always told me, like, you know, and, and it's something that's really relevant to probably the latter part of our conversation, is it's it's harder to stay on top than to get there. And, and he was dead right with that. And I watched him and he'd always say it.

Kirk: And, you know, the latter part of my youth, we, we lived at a country club and. , he was the master of showing me the people that took their eye off the ball. Or they'd be the guy with the Porsche at the country club. They'd be the [00:30:00] guy golfing four days a week, and then they'd disappear, or they'd get arrested, they'd do something fraudulent.

Kirk: And my dad would just rub it in my face about the, you know, getting, there's not that tough. You gotta stay there, right? And you take your eye off the ball, you're gonna lose it all. And, and he beat that into my head. And I think my ethics and dedication to my team and my family and my business, you know, it, it came from that of like, you know, knowing that that is, that's out of bounds to take your eye off the ball.

Kirk: And in business today, it's even tougher. I think when, when the times we're talking about, I think, um, competition wasn't as fierce. opportunities. You know, were, were a lot different then and, and now we're in a, we're in a dog eat dog world more so than we were back then.

Sunny: Hmm. So those lessons that, that he gave you, um, did that translate into you starting, instead of [00:31:00] buying and, and transforming, you saw him transform this decal business and it took eight years?

Sunny: Like Yeah. Did you, were you trying to shave off some time and, and learn a different way than, than what he was trying to do?

Kirk: Well, you know, back to the risks, you know, it's like, you know, I've watched him grab hand grenades and toss 'em and, and succeed and, and work through it, and he'd jump off the cliff, right?

Kirk: And then he's encouraging me to be patient, you know, and the same guy that, the same guy that's this business savvy, you know, risk taker is, is urging patience on me. So my wires are crossed in my head and, you know, to answer your question, it's like, well, he did it. Why not? Mm-hmm. . So that, that was probably the impetus for me to do it quicker.

Kirk: Right, right.

Sunny: eight years in a am compared to eight years into his business. Was it easier for you? Was it harder for you?

Kirk: Um, I would say that, you know, if you, if you compared his experience to my [00:32:00] experience, you know, he didn't have a mentor like he was to me and didn't, you know, give me, um, a first class ticket to watch.

Kirk: Right. And, and my wife and I both believe, you know, we're trying to teach our, our boys who are six and 10, like, you know, you are who you're surround yourself with. And I learned that real quick in life too. And, and I surrounded myself with some other people that were more in, in the industry of machining and fab than what my dad did.

Kirk: and, and picked a guy that I had tremendous respect for and he, he became a mentor of mine too, in a, in a, in a way that just, you know, you meet a good person and I'm a young guy and, you know, I think good driven business people love [00:33:00] younger driven business people, and there's just this natural gel. And if you, if you're willing to soak up stuff from somebody that's, you know, an ace in something, you know, and, and you go about it the right way, they'll teach you the craft.

Kirk: So I, I partnered with some other people and surrounded myself by another, another person that Angel became a mentor to me really. and taught me, I would say in a shorter time, many of the tricks of the trade, you know, crazy, crazy business strategies, how to finance stuff, how to negotiate a machine tool, purchase, you know, how to do things yourself rather than paying others.

Kirk: And some of those tricks that I learned from him are the same, uh, same values, you know, and same invaluable things where it's like my friendship with that person is just absolutely invaluable. And sidebar to [00:34:00] that, you know, that that person was a, was a person that bet on me when I, when I did this leap of faith and wanted to start my company.

Kirk: Obviously we talked about my dad being not supportive of it, right? And, and so then it comes into, you know, just getting married, you know, working for others, didn't really have any capital and. , you know, how does this all start now? You know, you quit your job, get up, get up something, right? You know, got a customer.

Kirk: We talked about that. So we got all these pieces laying on the ground and really the glue of it's a building and money and some machinery, right? So, so this mentor friend that I was telling you about, he, uh, I went to him and I was, I was getting ready to get married, obviously, and, you know, looking at SWAT analysis of my situation where I stood at the point of leaving this job.

Kirk: And, you [00:35:00] know, one thing that was probably a, a big threat was not having healthcare insurance because I'm not married. My wife's just taken her job, can't get on her insurance. And you know, with today's medical world, like going on insurance is a bad thing, right? So it was something that, what am I gonna do about that?

Kirk: So this. Mentor person I'm talking about had a phenomenal machine shop as incredible company and wildly successful, knew what he was doing, did worldly work, like, did work for people out of the country, and did work to levels of precision where you start counting on your hands in the country of who could make some of these huge parts that he made.

Kirk: And so I quickly, you know, respected it and wanted to learn the, you know, the secret sauce and wanted to see what he did and became friends with him and yada yada. And so it gets down to me leaving the job and I, I go to this [00:36:00] fella and I say, Hey, I'm gonna leave my job and I'm gonna start my own shop.

Kirk: And he, he kind of knew this was common because he, he counseled me and he, he's a Hugo entrepreneur and he, he started from scratch too, and he said, You know, well, I knew this day was coming and I said, well, let me, let me kind of hit you with something. I said, you know, I'm getting married. Um, I, I wanna ask a little bit of a reach and see if, see if you can help me.

Kirk: I said, is there anything I could do from you in the short term? Like, I'll clean the restrooms, I'll drive trucks, I'll clean machines, I'll run machines, I'll do maintenance. Anything that, you know, that's in my skillset, is there something I could do? Not really interested in the money so much. Yeah. A little bit of subsistence money would help, you know, if I took pay.

Kirk: But, but could I get on your insurance and have, you know, [00:37:00] something, something just to bridge me till my marriage is, you know, done and I get on, get on my wife's insurance and that, and the guy, the guy at that point in time in his life, he's a big cigar smoker. He's really neat, kind of. Strong dude, you know, and he pulls a cigar out of his mouth.

Kirk: He said, well, Kirk, I don't have nothing for you. And I mean, I, at that point, I I, it was like somebody took a razor blade and cut my stomach and it just hit the, hit the pavement. You know? I was like, like when he made that statement, like, time stopped. And I'm like, oh boy. I thought, I thought for sure he'd throw me a bone and let him, let me do something.

Kirk: Cause he was really busy at that time, and that he could have used me for 5 million things, you know? And, and he paused and that this is, this moments, this moments happening, and it's irking me, you know? And he said, but I want to hear more about what you want to do. [00:38:00] And that moment was when basically I, you know, rolled out like everything that.

Kirk: I visioned a EM B in that time ago. And I said, that's what I wanted to do. And he said, well, I'll tell you what. He goes, for every dollar that you can raise, I'll match you a dollar and help you. I don't wanna own your company, I just wanna help you. I don't want to, you know, I'll guide you. I don't want stock, I don't want ownership.

Kirk: I don't wanna be called the owner. I don't want, I just want to help you. I'm like, really? And he goes, yeah, where are you gonna go find the other dollar? And I said, I guess I have to go convince my dad. And this person had, even though he lived five minutes away or 10 minutes away, say from where I grew up in my father's house, he had no idea who my father was.

Kirk: And my father had no idea who he was other than me just saying, you know, years and theres about each other, you know? [00:39:00] So I go back to my dad and I said, dad, I got this guy. He really knows. He knows what I'm up to. He knows. Right from wrong. And he's, he's really willing to help me. And, you know, here's the situation and, you know, would you help me

Kirk: And he and he, at that point, finally, I got a little bit out of him. You know, he is like, yeah, you know, I, I finally got like a positive movement in my dad, like, you know, supporting my terrible idea in his opinion. So

Sunny: your terrible idea to follow

Kirk: his footsteps, right? So, here we go, right? Here we go. And, uh, you know, at that point, and everybody met up and they were hard on me, and they, they, they, you know, put really strong, um, demands in place about how this whole financing thing happened because, you know, as you know, and people listening know, [00:40:00] It's the, the capital thing's like the big deal, right?

Kirk: It's the biggest problem. Like you can't go to a bank and start a restaurant. You can't, you can't go convince somebody that even though you're knowledgeable, you, you can go buy a a million dollar laser or a $400,000 press break, or even a used piece of junk one. You know, like the banks just, you have nothing.

Kirk: You have no collateral, you have nothing. Right? So these two explained to me like, all right, so we're going to get you healthy enough to deal with the bank and we're gone. Right? That's the goal, is we're, we're a seed and we're gonna get you moving and, and you're gonna pay us back really quick and you're gonna live on subsistence, right?

Kirk: You're not gonna, you know, if you make a little bit of money, it's not for you to go buy a toy. It's not for you to go on vacation with. It's for you to get. off of our, off of our investment. Right. So I bought into that and, [00:41:00] you know, my wife and I tightened our belts and we, we lived very humbly for, for a long time, um, to, you know, about three years, let's say to to work that off.

Kirk: And we did. And then, you know, at that point AEM had been pretty darn and successful and we were in with banks. And at that point, like, you know, I had, I had made some money, uh, off of one big job and I had. I had 50 grand in cash in my, in my bank account, and those guys were, these guys were gone, paid for, you know, and then it was time for me to take the, when we start talking about this risk stuff, right, it's like, here comes the big one, right?

Kirk: The laser. And that's the, that's the whopper in, in, in the fab shop. That's, that's the big ticket item, right? Besides a building, obviously. But you did that right away after

Sunny: paying them back.

Kirk: Yeah, [00:42:00] the next day. Literally like, yeah, I had that 50 grand. And I'm like, that's the next piece of the puzzle, man.

Kirk: That's, if I'm gonna go, I'm going. You know, and, and not having that tool in a fab shop, you know, having that anchor machine and, and it's not necessarily just a laser. It, it could be in, in a machine shop, it's a big, a big mill or a big lathe and, or it could be a c punching machine or it's that anchor that people want to use.

Kirk: To surround you to do business with. Right? And if you don't have that, you're not formal. Right. You're not a player. And, and I just saw it like, like, all right, I can partner and, and go buy laser cut parts from friends and business associates and such and have a supply for that. But people aren't gonna put me on the map.

Kirk: People aren't gonna really let me into their work. Like, or like, for instance, that billion dollar company. Like, there was no way I could go to them back then and say, you know, I'm basically gonna be your broker, right? Like, I'm gonna go to other shops in the Cleveland, Ohio area and get work done and come and resell it to you.

Kirk: That that doesn't [00:43:00] work. You know, that. And, and, uh, so I had to go on the limb for this laser. And, you know, my father, he said to me, he goes, here's this guy. I did a lot of business with him. You call him and if he'll loan you the money, buy it. So I, I call this banker and. , he's a guy. My dad did a ton of business with his banker, and he's the president of a local bank.

Kirk: And I invited him in and, I mean, my, my old shop was at my mentors. It was like a side building and it was falling down. And I, we, we kind of, he helped me build this makeshift office on this building. It was actually in a fire. And we saws all the side of the building off. He bought it outta like a foreclosure.

Kirk: It was like the neighboring property. It was machine shop. And it just sat there for like years after this fire. And he didn't really do anything with it. And he's like, well, we'll Sauls all the front of this building off and put some trusses [00:44:00] on and a garage door and we'll rig up this office for you and that'll be your, your camp.

Kirk: You know. So after working outta my house, I, I got to there and. We, uh, , you know, we, we did the work ourselves, right? Like, I would make parts, I had a press break at the time. I had rolling equipment and welding equipment, and I had two or three guys working for me. And, you know, and when we didn't have work or, or it was after work, you know, we'd lay block or, you know, this person that I was telling you about, my mentor, he had like a lot of resources.

Kirk: He was a farmer and he just believed in heaven, like means to production, right? So he wouldn't hire a general contractor. You just go buy a mini excavator and you do the work yourself, or you know, you lay your own block, you pour your own cement, you know, and, and he, it was such good medicine, it was such good medicine for me to learn that.

Kirk: And, uh, so we, we rig this office on the building. It had a bathroom and an office and that was it. And I bring this big banker in and [00:45:00] I. Man, this is, this is sketchy, man. I mean, he's gonna laugh me out of that building, you know, like, I'm gonna ask him for fricking $450,000, and this is, he's just gonna laugh at me, you know?

Kirk: So he comes in suit and tie, he brings a business banker with him, you know, which would be my relation eventually. And I kind of show 'em my plans, you know, here's what I need, man. I, I got 50 grand and I need this machine, and I'm telling you if I get it, I'm gonna hit the moon. And he sat there in his suit and tie and it was like, you know, some kind of folding table and, you know, folding chair kind of thing.

Kirk: And this guy in the suit and tie sitting there and he's like, you know, Kirk, I did a ton of business with your dad for the last 25 years, and I'm telling you, he took some rest that just scared me. He do, he did things that were so out of bound, you know, and, and pushed. us [00:46:00] in the banking world to do really risky things to, to provide for him as a, as a, as a bank.

Kirk: And, and, you know, the rules were different back then, you know, and he, he just, he went at it all at it. And he would just go to these bankers and I need 5 million, I need 2 million. I need borrow, borrow, borrow right to, to build this big business. And so the punchline of that was he, he told me that little short story and he goes, you know, I see a lot in you that, uh, is just like your dad.

Kirk: And you know, I have no qualms that what you say is gonna be any deviance from that. Like, I know you're gonna be successful. And he looks over at the junior banker, We're done here. Let's give him the money and let's go. And that was, that was that, that was another breaking point where we finally got an anchor.

Kirk: I thought you were gonna

Sunny: say, this isn't even as close to crazy risk as your dad pulled

Kirk: off or something. It, it really, it was, I think, I think it was, but he didn't, he didn't, you know, he probably didn't [00:47:00] want to, you know, let on to that. Yeah. Led on to that where I would, you know, just take it easy. Um, but, you know, again, another, another person that bet on me and, and you know, through, you know, relations and, and proving yourself and, and I stuck to my guns, man.

Kirk: I mean, I, they, they, they didn't have one worry about me, cuz we did. our business really, really grew when we got that anchor. So did you, did

Sunny: you already have people who were like, Hey, if you get this laser, you're gonna get this work, that kind of thing. Like you, you had some relationships you

Kirk: could tap already.

Kirk: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. And, and, uh, you know, when I worked for that billion dollar company, I, you know, in the northeast Ohio area, the network of all the machining and metal fabricators, you know, that they were, they were suppliers of that big company. So I met so many people in that, that segment of Ohio manufacturing.

Kirk: And I kind of started working that, you know, and, and one of the really genuine people I did business with at that billion dollar [00:48:00] company as a supplier, he had a really nice shop. He still does. It's, it's a phenomenal shop in Cleveland and he had a ton of lasers and, and a ton of different. Equipment. And he was, he was a mover and shaker in the biz.

Kirk: A lookup two guy, you know? And, um, you know, I just started calling all the people that I knew that were in that business and said, Hey, I'm, I'm here. Do you have any overflow? Do you got anything that you know, that I can start cutting my teeth on? And I had customer one like we were talking about, and, you know, my, my dad's business, you know, obviously there was some opportunity there.

Kirk: So even though it wasn't his business, I, I earned in and, and gave that company, the company that bought my dad's company fair prices and won a lot of that work. And, you know, it started shaking the tree. But, but that, that business in Cleveland, you know, all those people that I called in that, in that stack of business cards from past experience, like, they all laughed at me, kind of.

Kirk: They were like, yeah, yeah, yeah, whatever. Nice talking to you. Bye. You know, and one guy out of that was [00:49:00] like, get up here right now. And he had a ton of work and. I can't, I can't really talk about the nature of the part of what it was, but, but he, he gave me something that we spent about five years doing 250,000 pieces and there was 11 strokes in every part of a press break.

Kirk: And I literally wore two press breaks out, making all these parts for him. And it was a blessing for him because he didn't have the sources in house and it was a tough part. And we kind of took off like a splinter cell and. and, and made the parts for 'em. And it, and it was another one of those strategies that, that I developed into our core values of like, you know, this was a pain in somebody's butt and they really could have done it themselves in house.

Kirk: But I realized like, if you solve a problem for somebody, there's opportunity. Did, did you think at all,

Sunny: like maybe we were not gonna be able to do this or not gonna be able to do it? Well, like that's a pretty big jump in complexity for you

Kirk: at the time, right? Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah. And, and, you know, press breaks were really changing then.

Kirk: And then I, and I bought, like with that [00:50:00] seed money I bought pre laser and pre all this stuff. Like, I, you know, I bought this really sophisticated press break at the time and had a, had a piece of the puzzle that really northeast Ohio didn't have at the time, you know, and, and so I could go prey on tough parts, right?

Kirk: And that, and that's kind of that proposition that I did for that guy in Cleveland. And he said, get up here. You know, come see this. Here's the part, you know, you know, we're, we're not succeeding at making these in-house and it's really difficult. And so, . I sat down with his team and his team didn't really know me at this point in time, cuz I never really showed up at that place much.

Kirk: I was just a customer. Right. It it in the billion dollar company world. And we, uh, we sit down this meeting, there's this company's, it's, it's formal. They do business with, you know, a lot of walks of life, bigger companies and, you know, they got a big staff, right? It's not, it's not a little job shop. It's a successful well manicured job [00:51:00] shop at this point in time and at the top brass of this company sitting, sitting in this room.

Kirk: And the owner wasn't there. He just said, show up and gimme your stuff. You know? I know I, I know you're a smart guy. You can, you can figure this shit out, you know? And uh, so I sit in that conference room and the management of that company's like, basically the only reason why we're doing this is because we were forced to, and you're gonna fail at this.

Kirk: I'm like, Okay, well, I'm gonna take this stuff. I'm gonna load these blanks up in my truck. And I worked like day and night. I made tools, I did everything in my power. I'm like, I am gonna prove those assholes so wrong. And I worked tirelessly and I took 'em up a perfect part, and they all were like, chin on the ground.

Kirk: The owner's like, give 'em the work. So, you know, again, that sweat equity that never given up, never quit and, you know, do or die kind of thing, you know, it, it, it paid off. And it [00:52:00] was that anchor that again, it went into leading to making that $50,000 that it was telling you about. Like, all those pieces start coming together as the business starts launching.

Kirk: Right. So, and then obviously further progressions, you know, we're, we're kind of out of the gate at that point. So in all

Sunny: that tornado, what was the first. Gut wrenching, almost vomited in the toilet moment for you.

Kirk: So we borrow the money to get the big laser and we get it there, or we we're not, we don't get it there.

Kirk: The banker story happens, I negotiate a re, like a purchase for a machine tool with, with a machine tool company that I'm phenomenal partners with now. And they saw in me like, you know, this is a guy to throw a bone and they, you know, I had a limited amount of capital and they, they let me, they let me get the most for my money and gave me a really good machine and flexible financing and all that.

Kirk: And so [00:53:00] I fly up to their corporate headquarters and negotiate with this and my mentor. , you know, not my dad, my other mentor, he's, he's a wiz at buying this stuff. And he, he's given me all these sidebars, like, here's how you hit this angle and here's how you, you know, talk about, you know, break this bread on this part of the deal and this part of the deal.

Kirk: And he, he gave me all these little inside things of like, you know, I went to them probably a lot more astute than they expected of as a first time machine tool buyer. Sure. And, and it paid off. Right? And, and, but I go up there, I negotiate the machine to purchase and I fly back home. And I threw up for three or four days.

Kirk: Why? Because like, what the hell did I just do? I'm like, you know, and, and my wife and I were like, you know, I'm like, if this goes wrong, like this is, this is bad, right? This is lose your house stuff. This is. , you know, the world crumbles real quick and you know, [00:54:00] bailout is not in my wife and i's DNA and, and asking, you know, like, it would, we would have taken our lickings if that wouldn't have worked out.

Kirk: Like, you know, that was definitely not like, we're gonna take a huge risk and know that there's some kind of backdrop with the people we know in family. Like that wasn't happening. So obviously it's

Sunny: not the same risk as the laser. Right. Didn't have the same kind of confidence about it, didn't know exactly how it was gonna play out.

Sunny: Yeah,

Kirk: yeah. So, so, you know, I'm, I'm like, I, I don't, even though there's a lot of work in northeast Ohio for this machine, like how am I gonna get it? You know, how am I gonna book it? It's very productive. Like, and, and the payment, I wanna say the payment was like 14,000 a month on that loan. And I'm like, you know, I start reflecting on that.

Kirk: I'm like, that's a lot of parts. And by the way, like I have to pay electric and I have to put GA pay gas for the laser and staff and, and forklifts and trucks and diesel. And I'm like, [00:55:00] I'm, my head just starts spinning with all the costs that are playing in my head. I'm like, holy mo, how am I gonna do this?

Kirk: But after, after the, um, the vomiting stopped, , you know, I focused and stepped on the gas and we quickly outgrew the building and went into the next step of, you know, going, going into a monster building. And at the time that was oh eight and the world was crashing. Not doing great. Yeah. And there was a company that was right up the street from my dad's company.

Kirk: It was one of those companies that, you know, could have been a candidate to buy and they were. They did powder coating, and it was kind of like a, it was an, it was an older business that did, they made a product and the product kind of got replaced by something called the computer hard drive. It was a [00:56:00] data, it was a physical document storage product that they made.

Kirk: And so their product died and they, they kind of decided, well, we gotta eat machines and we got the, this nice powder cutting line and we're just gonna be a, we're gonna be a job shop now. So they, they had some job shop customers and one of 'em, which was my dad's company. And so I had to spar with these guys all the time, and they, they didn't know their costs at all.

Kirk: It was, it was just annoying as hell to compete with them because you're, you're. Sparring with somebody that's like, not sane, right? You're you're trying to win business and somebody doesn't know what they're doing against you. And, and it was so difficult. But long story short, they, they go out of business and we knew they were gonna go out of business.

Kirk: And my, you know, my, it, when we were looking at buying a business, my dad and my accountant, I wasn't privy to it, but they, they went to, they went to lunch with this company and the, the guy that owned this [00:57:00] company slid the books across the desk at, at the lunch desk, you know, they were eating lunch. And my dad's accountant flipped through the, the books real quick and slid 'em back across.

Kirk: He's we're not interested. And I get a phone call after this lunch and there he said, Kirk, they'd have to pay you to take that business there. There's no way it's gonna last. Right? Well, somehow, some way they last like five years. You know what? Yeah. So, so our, uh, our. situation is, is I'm using this company as a supplier for powder coating cuz I don't have my own equipment.

Kirk: And that's a, that's a big enchilada in the, in the, in the fab businesses. You know, vertically integrating, putting your own powder coating lines. It's a seven figure thing now. Easy. Mm-hmm. , you know, it's, it's a big investment and back then it was still like a high six number of an investment. And so his job and work out to them and [00:58:00] their plant manager calls me and I had a relationship with him and he is alright guy, but he just didn't know how to cost parts.

Kirk: That was my big beef with them, . And uh, he said, Hey Kirk, he goes, , they just let me go, do you need a plant manager? And I'm like, I'm sorry, what happened? He goes, they can't meet payroll. And they just let me go. And this guy's, you know, he's in his late fifties at the time and pretty neat, decent, knowledgeable guy.

Kirk: And he's, you know, he's thinking like EM'S growing man. I, you know, they just let me go and these guys are moving and shaken. Maybe I could get a job there, right? So, so he hits me with that and he's like, you know, could you give a job? They just let me go, you know, they can't make payroll. And I'm like, um, Ken, I don't have anything for you.

Kirk: Thanks, bye. And I call my dad's account and I'm like, Hey, these guys are going outta business. And he's like, what, what, what? And I'm like, I'm telling you like they can't make payroll. And he's like, go down there, get in front of that owner and ask him what bank he's at. And I need to know, like right now, [00:59:00] like if they're foreclosing on, I need to know right now.

Kirk: So, . I call, I haul down there. I'm like, Hey, are you going outta business? You just let Ken go. I got a phone call about it and he's like, oh yeah, I'm gonna lose my house. Like it's bad. Like, okay, maybe help's available, like, who's your loan with, you know, da da da da. So my accountant gets ahold of the bank and this is a wait.

Kirk: So things, things are like, you know, it's bad, right? The bank tank financing Yeah. Is hemorrhaging, right? The, the foreclosures and the dirty laundry and real estate is, it's all time high bad for banks, right? So we get ahold of the banker and Is this true? Is this true? Is this true? Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. Can I have the loan documents?

Kirk: So we get the loan documents and my account was really savvy and smart guy, and he reads through all the loan documents. He goes, you can buy this building for 1% of what they owe. You can assume their loan. There's a clause in here. [01:00:00] and he found this clause and . We go to the bank and we say, all right, either foreclose on 'em or we'll assume the loan.

Kirk: And they're like, you're willing to do that? And we're like, absolutely. So I wrote 'em a check for like, it, it was like 1.3 million. So I, I, I wrote 'em a check for like 13 grand and took over their payments. And then, then the bank had like an auction and, and got rid of all this World War II crap that was in this building.

Kirk: And I, and I had a nice building that's, it's two miles from my house and, uh, in a really nice industrial park. And there's this powder coat line in there, you know. And so the bank's like, oh, I'm in this auction, and all this stuff's, you know, you can occupy it afterwards, and da, da da, da da. And I said, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa.

Kirk: Wait a minute. Let's talk about this auction. I said, you can get rid of all the World War II junk, but the powder coat line stays. And they're like, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa. No, no. This guy owes us like 600 grand plus the real estate, da, da da, da da. We're selling everything that's not bolted down. I'm like, You just hit the needle.

Kirk: [01:01:00] That's bolted down. That's a fixture of the building. It's, it's, it's not, uh, it's not something you can unplug and put on a truck and you know I'm gonna be a little bit stubborn and tell you like one, you're not gonna get crap for it at the auction cause it costs a quarter million dollars to move it.

Kirk: Two, it's busted up and outdated. And three, I'm not buying the building if you don't give it to me . So we sparred a little bit with the bank, but we got the powder cut line for free and bought the building and we move a e m over there and we start going and going and going. And mind you, this powder coat line's really not functionable.

Kirk: So we didn't run it. And I just left the lights off in that kind of part of the building and we just focused on what we did. And I found another place to job the workout to. And it took about two years after we moved and I saved up a quarter million bucks. And then at that point we. , we took that quarter million bucks and shot it right into the powder coat line and, you [01:02:00] know, made it world class and brought it back up to speed.

Kirk: And, and again, it's that, that anchor, right? That like you gotta have these things to, to play ball in, in northeast Ohio and we put this powder coat line and back in action and have it all under, you know, that one-stop shop kind of theory. And, and it moved our business up another notch. So these things just keep happening and you know, here we are.

Kirk: So here you are.

Sunny: What's next? How do you see the future for you, for AEM, for manufacturing, for everything. Well,

Kirk: that's, you know, why your company and my company are, are, are on the move, right? So technology has, has just sh just really hit some incredible strides in the last five years and. The economy's been really good for metal fab, and, and you know, if you have a shingle up in the [01:03:00] MetaLab and machining business, you've done well.

Kirk: And, um, you know, we've been a benefactor of that and we've been able to reinvest in the state-of-the-art stuff. And, you know, I, one of the things my mentor taught us, you know, don't keep stuff around very long. You know, keep shooting your money back in, reinvest in the business, reinvest in the business, have the latest and greatest, you know, produce at the lowest cost you can.

Kirk: So we have lived and died at the last five years. And, and the sleeper of what's happened is what plays into you and you and I, and, and we've elevated all of these capacities in our business and our brain hasn't changed at all. And that brain is, is is your product. And so now I've seen like, you know, What, like probably 40% increase in growth in the last three or four business years at [01:04:00] most, you know, maybe three business years.

Kirk: And so we're, we're just running SCDs and SCDs of volume through our shop. That's just, you know, these big machines. They just, the new fiber lasers and new press brake technology and welding technology and laser welding and machining, all the stuff we're in. Like, it just gets faster and more and more and more and more.

Kirk: And where we're at is the software is, it's just, we're crippled, right? We cannot, the, the, the machines and the factory have overcome, uh oh what we do, right? We can't feed the machine, we can't feed the factory because we sat on our heels a little bit too much with, with software and our process. So that, that being said, like, you know, um, Why I'm here, why am, why I'm betting on fulcrum in the vision I see for the future.

Kirk: What is that vision? [01:05:00] Well, we need to elevate the capacity of serving the sh serving the factory floor, right? We have to, we have to seize opportunities from our customers and quickly format them into the pipeline and feed the shop to process the work. And the, the great team that I have of staff from front to back of my company, um, works tirelessly to to, to do it.

Kirk: And we've, we've all worked too hard the last few years with. You know, covid headwinds and material supply chain headwinds and just all the curve balls that everybody's been thrown in America the last few, few years. But that neglect has just been like brute force jamming stuff into the, if my shop's a meat grinder, [01:06:00] we're jamming stuff in the meat grinder and not doing it fluidly and, and not doing it smoothly and, and doing it painfully.

Kirk: And, you know, my vision and dream is that your product, you know, takes away the pain and, and gives us that conduit to, to really, you know, double the business. You know, we, we have to put a platform in to double the business because the machine tool world stepped up their game so much. The demands from the customers are fiercer and bigger onshoring, you know, all these things are happening like super fast, but we gotta get this nexus, we gotta get this brain in place.

Kirk: And, you know, we're, we're betting heavy on our relation to, to build that. And I'm so excited about it, you know, and I'm so excited for, you know, the factory of the future and, and to show, show the world what, what we're up to. I, [01:07:00] I don't want to unveil the secrets of what we're doing. Sure. And I, and I'd love for your product to be a strategic, you know, hidden thing in Northeast toilet nobody knows about, but the cat's gonna get outta the bag.

Kirk: And, and, you know, hopefully we're ahead enough and, and hopefully that others aren't as risk, at risk tolerant of, of what we're doing because, you know, doing a brain transplant on a 16 million company is not easy. And. . You know, I, it's not, I've watched our customers, you know, in, in your space, like my big customers, you know, hundreds of millions of dollar companies in, in all different types of manufacturing.

Kirk: I've, I've watched 'em put in sap, Oracle, and, and like they have, it literally puts 'em out of business. You know, like it's such a big thing to pop the brain out of a, out of a company and put a new one in. And, you know, when we get past what the, the, the journey you and I are barking on and, and get it, [01:08:00] get it on the highway and cruise control it.

Kirk: It's 70. Man. I, I can't wait to give you a high five .

Sunny: Yeah. Can't wait for that either. Kirk, thank you for coming and sharing your story. We really appreciate it. Yeah,

Kirk: thanks for your time and thanks for becoming a great partner to us. Awesome. Thank you.


The Capacity Podcast is where small, vitally important manufacturers finally tell their stories. Hear how small business owners, entrepreneurs, and operations leaders overcome challenges to build amazing manufacturing businesses. Hosted by Fulcrum CEO Sunny Han. Listen to every episode on your favorite platforms or watch on Youtube.

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