You worked on Fellows equipment for a long time before you started selling it, didn’t you?
Yes, I did. I went to work for Perry Technology when I was 17 years old and a junior in high school. Even though I started out basically shoveling snow off the sidewalks, I eventually worked my way up to designing special tooling and machinery. We also had quite a few Fellows gear shapers on hand, and I started by running them and setting them up, later taking them apart and putting them back together again in order to learn everything about how they worked.
I spent 15 years there, and the last five in particular gave me a solid foundation in the gear business as I got more deeply involved with Fellows machinery. It was a great education for me, and it allowed me to start my own business in 1995 with confidence. I decided to focus on Fellows shapers because that’s what I know best, and because they’re such fantastic machines. We completely retrofit all of the Fellows machines that I buy with new Fanuc controls, and these things will run forever. They’re real workhorses.
The recession we’ve just passed through has everyone watching their expenditures very carefully. You’re in a position to save them a great deal of money.
I can think of one new gear shaper that’s going for around $450,000, while one of our comparable retrofitted machines would be half that, so that’s a savings of more than $200,000 on a single piece of equipment. There’s a lot you can do with that kind of money, especially these days. Another thing I can tell you is that we’ve held our prices steady for the past seven years, long before the recession began. I do everything I can to keep our prices as low as possible, such as buying machines and controls in large quantities so that we can pass those savings along to our customers, and our lead times are reasonable as well.
We have 8-10 machines being retrofitted at any given time, whether they’re on spec or not, and we have around 300 machines in inventory right now, so we can generally ship fairly quickly. And since about 65 percent of our revenue is repeat business, I think our customers recognize how far we’re willing to go to meet their needs and requirements.
Are you seeing gear companies looking to expand their capabilities and enter new markets?
Definitely, and I consider that to be one of our real specialties. If someone wants to bring a process in-house, or begin offering a new service or product, we can provide a turnkey package including the equipment, tooling, training, and any followup assistance they require. We have helped companies tool up to enter new markets time and again. We’ve just done that for a company that supplies parts to Sikorsky Aircraft, for instance, and even though we’ve always focused on job shops no company is too large to care about the bottom line these days.
We just shipped a machine to GE, as an example, but I like to think that has as much to do with the quality of our work as it does taking advantage of an opportunity to save so much money. This year marks our 15th anniversary, and we’ve remained steady and dependable through good economic times and bad. There are more than 150 of our machines out there in the field, and we stand behind each and every one of them.
I’ve traveled quite a bit searching for good deals on this equipment, and I think it’s safe to say that we have the largest inventory of late-model Fellows gear equipment in the world. So when our customers call us we always have stock to pull from, and once we’ve had the opportunity to show them what we can do we’re pretty confident we’ll see that customer again.