Keith Dickinson – Dickinson Manufacturing Solutions

There is a special type of magic that comes with working with your hands.  Something that cannot be duplicated by sitting at a desk or hanging out in a boardroom.  As a former mechanic, I have an appreciation for the professionals of the world that get their hands dirty to make their money in business.
Keith is one of these professionals.  In this buisness podcast episode, Keith Dickinson takes us on the journey that he has taken from learning the skills needed to become a master machinist onward to owning his own manufacturing business that creates incredible items for their customers.  Items that you and I may live with everyday and not even notice.
The skills that are needed to become a great machinist combine the head, heart and hands.  Keith illustrates this point proudly as he tells the story of his business and shows how he cares for his employees and clients in a way that very few companies do.
There is something incredibly moving about having pride in your work.  Keith and his crew have it in spades.
Visit Keith at:

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Authentic Business Adventures Podcast


You have found Authentic Business

Adventures, the business program that brings
you the struggle

stories and triumphant successes
of business owners across the land. Coming

to you actually onsite at Dickinson
Manufacturing with Keith Dickinson here.

We’re typically at the Sun Prairie Media Center
underwritten by the Bank of Sun Prairie,

but it turns out this place is cooler,
so we’ll just run with that.

Today, we’re welcoming/preparing

to learn from Keith Dickinson,
the owner of Dickinson Manufacturing.

So, Keith, how are you doing today?
I’m doing great.

This is cool.

I’m excited
because the last time I was here,

you had machines on this side,
but I don’t think you had anything here.

So that was prior to 2014.

Yeah, it’s been a while.

We started in 2005, OK.

And this space had the wall going
all the way and 30,000 square feet.

Three thousand square.
Thirty thousand.

I wish.
Yeah, I know.

A 30 by a hundred.

And then in 2014 we added up the space and
it’s about half of what we already had.

So we’re in like forty
five hundred square feet.

Yeah. That’s cool,

so you guys are growing?

We haven’t added any space since 2014.

And we didn’t add any equipment this year.

So we’re not I wouldn’t say
that we’re growing, but we’re stable.


Well manufacturing business
in 2020 I imagine that’s

that’s okay.
Stables good.

Plus this can’t be cheap.


Well they’re not

totally crazy expensive but. I mean you got
space, you get operator, you got

the machine itself, care
and feeding all that jazz.

Well I, I’ve heard that
machining in general is one of the highest

capital equipment investment
industries that there is.

So that’s perfect segway because I want

to ask you, how did you
end up in this business?

Well, how far you want to go back?


15 years in a day I suppose. OK.

So I’ve been a machinist
all my adult life.

You went to school for it?

No, but I was very, very, very fortunate.

I started on the East Coast. OK.
Right after high school I joined

the service and I was
in the army for three years.

When I got out, I moved from Wisconsin

to Connecticut,
where my girlfriend at the time

So I got a job out there as an industrial

X-ray repair technician.
Industrial X-ray repair technician.

OK, so was that

trained by the army then
when you’re in there?

No, I was actually
in multi-channel communications.

Oh, wow.

But they were still big
words. We got wires, it’s all good.

They asked me, what makes you think

that you could be an industrial
X-ray repair technician?

And so I told them, look outside,

I drive a 57 Buick Roadmaster
and I keep it on the road.

So maybe I could do this job. How hard
can it be? So, exactly.

So they taught me and I was
a repair technician.

All right.

And that’s where I first
saw metal being cut.

And when I saw metal getting cut,

the hair on the back of my neck stood up.

Oh, my God.
Love at first sight.

I said, that’s what I’ve got to do.
Oh, nice.

And that was back in the day when

pretty much all companies, you know,
were trusting enough to give their

employees keys and say, come in and fiddle
around with the equipment if you like.

Just be careful.

So I’d come in on my off time and I’d make

candlestick holders or who knows
what, just to have fun. OK.

And then I got married and I was going
to I needed to make some more money

and they weren’t willing to give
me as much of a raises I wanted.

So that’s what sent me out
to find a machining job.

All right.

So I saw one in the paper one morning
and they said and I called them and they

said, Do you know how
to read a Vernier calliper?

And I said, sure.

And they said, do you know
how to read a micrometer?

So, yeah, no problem.

So they said, well, can you
get to an interview by 10:00?

Yeah, I’ll be there.

So I talked to my boss and he said,
yeah, sure, go get to the interview.

So this is like 8:30
in the morning.

So I run my ass down to the library
and look up vernier calliper

and I look up micrometer and I found
out what they were and how they worked.

All right.

And I went to the interview
and got the job nice.

And then I trained under
this guy Lou Baumer.

Eighty two year old man at the time.


And taught me machining like nobody
could have taught me machining.

He had 60 years under his belt.

All right.

So that’s where I learned
the basics of machining.


And from there, I just went
on to different places.

And again, I was fortunate.

I went to a shop where I did a lot of R&D

and research and development
and and building equipment.

All right.
And then I ended up moving out

of Connecticut and ended up
at Lockheed missiles in space.

Oh, yeah, great.

That’s a pretty good job.

I would have stayed there except for they

stopped doing their
manufacturing in Austin, Texas.

Oh, all right.

But it was very interesting
and I learned a lot.

Connecticut to Austin,
Connecticut to Austin.

Then we were we were making a remotely
piloted aircraft, small aircraft.

So how long ago was this?

This was in the late 80s.

Early 90s, OK?

And then they lost the contract.

So they laid everybody off.

And I found myself at another company
making parts for Applied Materials.

You know who they are?

They make the machines that actually
make wafers for, like, IBM.

Oh, interesting.

So they would like

they would make the milling machine
that then I would buy I’d be IBM.


And then I’d make my product
on their machine.

Oh interesting.
OK, so that’s Applied Materials makes

the semiconductor machine and I made
parts for those pieces of equipment.

OK, so I had some, I had some very,
very good mentors and training and from

from from Texas.

I ended up going to California

and machining for about a year and a half
and then brought me back to Wisconsin

and we started the business in 2005.

So why did you decide to start a business
versus just finding another job?


So what happened in my career,

although I had some very,
very good training and I always.

Worked my way up to the top,

I was the lead in the research
and development department at Lockheed.

Yeah, but then I lost my job anyway.
All right.

So I had no control over if
I was going to have a job.

I love it.
I love it.

So now nobody can sell this place but me.
It’s on you.

You hold it.

And if I make correct decisions,


glean the benefit of that.

And if I make bad decisions, well,
I guess I made bad decisions.

That’s right.
But they’re all on me.

And every time you work yourself
to the top and machining and you have

to go find another job,
you usually take quite a pay cut.

All right.

It’s just the way it happens because each
shop has their own way of doing things.


And so you’re not as valuable
coming off the street.

So they would say, sure,
you got to prove your worth.


So you kind of got to start
over all the time.

All right.
So you’re the typical competitor.

Do you are they basically a size
like this or their monstrosity?

Machine shops?
It’s a mix.

There are some big production machine

shops and then there are some small
shops that are probably close to mine.

OK, so there’s a variety
of them out there.

All right.
But one thing that they don’t have.


Is the diversified experience
that I bring to the job.

I like it because I’ve been able

to machine pretty much in the name
of the cross across the United States.

And each time that you move to a new
environment and the type of work that I

did building mock up
of satellites at Lockheed.

Yeah, pretty cool work.

And I and I got exposed to that.

So a lot of the tricks and a lot of the
ins and outs of machining that let’s say

a guy is stays in one job
for 20 years at one place.

You wouldn’t see those different styles.

And sure, they’d be so focused on this.

A new part comes their way
and they’re try to learn.

So interesting.

So at the time I started the business,
I had twenty five years of experience.

All right.

So you were married at the time
that you started the business?

I was my first wife.

Debbie passed away in twenty seventeen.

Okay, I’m sorry,
but we started it together.

In twenty five

actually to back up just a little bit.

I had talked to one of my friends
at a party about starting my own business

and it was my dream
to start my own business.


And he said you should
talk to my older sister.

She’s here at the party and she knows a
little bit about starting up a business.

So I went and talked to his sister, Mary.

His name was Bill Harris, my best buddy.

So I went and talked to Mary.

And Mary said, if you’re serious,
you should go talk to score.

So I found out who Score was and I went
and I talked to them and it’s free and.

Yeah, and they gave me some advice
and they impressed upon me the need to

actually develop a business plan,

which I had no idea how to do this because
I’m just a graduate of high school.


But I went to the software store
and I found a cheap program.

And I plugged it in my computer and I went

hammering away at it
and it took me about six months.

Oh, wow.
OK, well, I didn’t do it full time and.


And actually I had to back up a couple
of times because the program was smarter

than me and I’d get to a certain point
in the program entering the data it asked

for and it would say alarm,
red light, don’t start this business.

It will not work.

So I had to adjust some numbers
and so it worked OK.

And then once it worked,
we printed it out and we went out

to the banks to look
for a loan to give me a loan.

I need to buy a fancy machine.

And they said, no, no.

I asked for one hundred thousand
dollars to get it started.


Which isn’t a ton of money when you
think about no commercial banking.

No, that should be like a sure sign here.

Sometimes they want to look
at a loan below 250.


So so all I need is one hundred
thousand and I can get this baby going.

So the first bank I went to

on my advice is if somebody says no,

that just means you need
to go see somebody else.

That’s right.

So the first bank said we can
give you thirty thousand dollars.

I said, OK, let’s see,
I can buy a third of a machine.

That doesn’t work now.

So I went to the next bank and it happened

to be somebody that my wife knew,
her boyfriend, her husband.

And we went in and saw him and he said,

what you how long have
you been doing this?

And I told him and and he said, that’s
all you need is one hundred thousand.

That’s all I need.
He said.

Go make a machine shop, better answer,

and neither one of them read my business
plan that I spent six months on.

Not at all.
Not at all.

They didn’t look at the
financials or anything.

They glanced at the fact that I had won
them all right.

And I discovered at that point and I think

somebody had already told me this,
that documents for you.

Because that that says that,

you know what you’re trying to do
and at least you have a plan.

And for them to get all involved in it,

the nitty gritty of one hundred thousand
dollar loan, I didn’t think they didn’t

want to waste their time,
but it was disappointing.

I think I did so much work,

at least take it home at night
to tell me you read it right.

I even printed it out with colors.

There’s pretty colors
and graphs and everything.

It’s 29 cents a page, actually.
That’s funny.

So I got my loan, all right.

And I first went and looked
for the machinery I was going to buy.

Mm hmm.

So I found the house machine, which you’ll
see that I’ve got all hosses.

I noticed that today.

And they’re built in California.

OK, it’s medium price point.
Mm hmm.

It’s not the highest.
Not the lowest.

I had run a machine, a machine
in Texas since Greensmith.

So I had experience in the machine
that I it was really a workhorse.

So I kind of believed in the product.
Mm hmm.

So I ordered the machines.

So now the.

But they take a while to order.

They they don’t come in directly.

So I had like three weeks to find a place

to put them because I thought that
you just go to a realtor and they just

find you a car that was going
to say three weeks is not


So now I got machines on the way and I

start looking for a place
to put them a property.

And now I’m running into Headache’s.

Yeah, I’m fine in like one place
that hadn’t poured their cement yet and I

had to read their lease,
which I don’t read legalese that good.

But I did find the paragraph that says

even if we don’t pour your cement,
you still pay rent.

Oh, I said, really?

I don’t think that works very much.

Another place

said I said, Is this zoned
for what I want to do?

They said, Yeah, we think it is.

Well, oh yeah.

Yeah, I need a yes.

Well, you can check with the city of LA
and I did.

And they said, oh no,
you’d have to get a variance.

And that takes about three
to four months if you get it.

So that was a is on the way.

And then I ran into Mack McCallan, OK,
and that’s the building that I’m in now.

Want to make McKellen’s buildings even

the same spot for 15 years,
15 years we’ve been in here.

And we love it.

We love it.

So he saw me that same day
and it was on a Saturday.

And he’s the owner.
Yeah, that’s remarkable.

You usually don’t see the owner.

You’ll see a real estate
agent or whatever.

And he showed me the lease.

He showed me the place.

I said, is it zoned for M3
for what I want to do?

He said, it’s not in the least,
but I will write it right there

and I’ll sign it,

signed it right there.

And I signed the lease that day.

And he he even told me if you ran
into a bind where you didn’t have a place,

if you didn’t rent this
place right right away,

if we don’t have it cleaned up for you

in time, we’ll have a place to store
your equipment until you can get going.

Yeah, he’s very cool.

Max is no longer with us.

Unfortunately, he passed
away a couple of years back.

OK, but his daughter
runs the business now.

I know his daughter,
but I can’t place her name.


So cool.

So that’s how we got in this place.
Very cool.

In 2005, huh.

And my wife quit her job

and as soon as you started the business or

to help me start the business and I
of course had to quit my job.

I don’t suggest that

if you could have an income coming

in while you get started,
that would be beneficial.

Doesn’t hurt.
But she quit her job.

So you can imagine when
we first started out,

we were bleeding
financially out of both sides.

Sure, we had the bills here and we had our
bills at home and no income to cover

either one or someone
to back up one step here.

So you decide you want
to go off on your own.

How did that conversation
go with your wife?

You’re like, hey, funny story.

I want to go off on my own.


I think the advice that I got

from my sister really helped
because it was scary.

I talked to her and said, I want
to do this, but this is scary stuff.

Mm hmm.
And she said to me,

Keith, do you make a product for somebody
else who sells it right now?

I said, you’re darn right I do.

Every day I go to work, I make something.
They sell it.

Mm hmm.
She says, What makes you think that you

can’t still make it and sell it yourself
to your question.

And I said, you know what, I can.

And I had the confidence
in my background and

in the work I was actually doing locally
that, you know, that I had the skill set

to be able to make
whatever came to my door.

Very cool.

So that helps to be,

you know, some people might start
a business where they’re like a management

professional, but they don’t know
how to actually do the work.

Oh, those that kind of a person.

I kind of feel for them if things get

tight because who’s going to jump in
the saddle and ride and make it happen?

Whereas because I’m the one
that knows how to do it,

not so good on the business side sometimes

that I see more often, but I see
extremely kind and I’m and I’m not.

And I admit that people will

I’m sure those people that would say,
no, that’s not how to do a business.

Don’t start a business like that.

Like, for instance,
I did not go out and find my customer base

first and then start the business
and develop it around them.

So I went out and did the other way where
you make it and they will go, Oh yeah.

And that’s kind of what we did.

And so through a lot of
fliers and actually what got us going

in the beginning was a we
had an open house, OK?

And that generated enough interest
that the people that came in and I was

able to talk to one on one,
tell them my experience,

they were willing to give me a chance
and start giving me some work.

And so that was in the.
I’m sorry about that.

No way.

And so that was in we actually
started in August of 2005, OK,

we were down to our last dime

by December end of December,
and every business worth its salt

that starts up should go down
to their last dime, I think.

Well, then, yeah.

And then
and here’s something that happened

that that was beneficial, though,
is that because we started in August,

taxes for the year, we were able to
write it all off as a business loss.

All right.

Because we had started the business
in August of that 2005.

So tax return time, we had a big
chunk of money coming back in.

All right.
That’s a good thing.

And so that, you know,

if I was to look at it again, I mean,
I would if I was starting a business and I

knew cash flow might be an issue
and you’re you’re working for somebody all

this year, I would stretch it out kind
of towards the end of the year,

start your business and then, you know,
you’ve got a huge refund or you could get

a big refund based on if you still
have losses in the business.

During that year.

Especially when there’s big expenditures

like one hundred thousand
dollars to get you going.

That’s interesting.

So who are the people that you brought

in for your open house and how
did you get them to even come?

Because they know.
You know?

Well, the one one shop did know me because
I was working at a at a shop that was

doing work for a customer
that knew me personally.

And and of course, we gave them a flyer
and then we just looked up all

of the industrial users in the area
and we and we sent them a flyer.


Maybe kind of a little fancy card and said
open house color, everything or color.

It was even color.

And we got a pretty good turnout.

And it was what got
the business started to flow.


And by by that beginning of February, this
place was starting to pay for itself.

That’s not bad, this place.

But I still have I still
have nothing to bring home.


business has paid for the business.

The business was paying for itself, sure.

But by the end of February,
it was actually paying for itself.

And I had some money to take home

and things started to stabilize
on that side of the equation.

All right, that’s cool.

So when your hundred thousand dollar loan,

did you include some cash
for your daily living?

I did.

I did.

For cash, cash flow for the business.

But nothing I didn’t really for me because

I didn’t anticipate my wife deciding
that she wanted to quit her job and.

On board, that was no was a surprise.

Oh,funny story.

And yeah, at the time, I mean,
she was just so excited.

She just wanted to come
on board and that’s cool.

Said, Hey, honey, we’re in this together.

That’s admirable, right?

Well, believed in you will
swimmer will drown together.

That’s right.
That’s yeah.

That’s super cool.

So from a marketing standpoint, did you
like this open house thing is intriguing.

Did you mail them?

Did you go door to door to these places?

Did you call them up?

We mailed them, OK, we mailed them

and then we did some follow up phone
calls to make sure that they got them OK.

And then we kind of got an idea of
who they might be sending.

All right.

And again, it wasn’t
that that was just the catalyst.


Then what happened is
that word of mouth took over.

Oh, that’s good.

And these engineers,

because we primarily do work for engineers
who design the work that we build

and and they have a pretty
good networking system.

I’m sure I’m not in it.

So I don’t know exactly.

But sure, we constantly have

people that would call us and we’d say,
where did you get our name?

And it would be another engineer
that’s having work done here now.

Oh, right.
Sure, that’s cool.

Yeah, that’s super cool.

So it just spread kind
of like word of mouth.


Through through this area
that there was another machine shop.

Mm hmm.

Not just another machine shop,
a world class machine shop.

I like it.
Not the cheapest machine shop.

Sure, but the best machine
shop for machine shop.

That’s probably a better thing.

Well, I would think so,

especially if you’re going to put
my component on your one million dollar

remotely piloted sub that’s going
to work under the oil rigs in the Gulf.

You don’t want that to fail and lose your

one million dollar piece
of equipment, right.

By saving two hundred
dollars on the component.

You know, it’s interesting.
I was reading or I am reading a book about

lean manufacturing and they’re
talking about Ford and the whole

oh my gosh, my mind is blank.

Whatever came before lean manufacturing.
The assembly line.

Assembly line.

And all the machining
tolerances back then.

Tolerance is probably
a very loose term for that.


Because once they get the parts and then
they had to have somebody else work their

magic to make those parts
fit with the other parts.

It was just that was just accepted.

And Ford is like, no, no, no, no.

Clean that up right now.

Mass production.

Oh, my gosh, this is an easy term,
but so is interesting.

Stuff like that has evolved.

And I imagine there’s some things

that you’re building that are
just crazy type tolerances.

Well, it depends on what you call crazy,

but all my machines will hold positioning
of to ten thousands of an inch.

All right.

In my world, that’s crazy because a human
hair is about four thousands of an inch.

OK, so one tenth of a hair.

If you could split a hair into ten pieces.


That would be for ten thousands of an inch
and my machines can hold half of that.


How do you even measure that.

Is that the micrometer of culture.

That seems like too precise for that.

So we have micrometers that will measure

that, that will measure OK,

that, that fine because I see when you’re
adjusting those is based on tension,

the plus or minus, I would just pressure.

Well, that’s why we would have
to train you for a while.

And I’m sure, you know,
you’d get the hang of it.

It just doesn’t happen.

It doesn’t happen overnight.

OK, and speaking of training, you met
some of the people that work in the shop.

Have some good everybody.

We got the most excellent people
and all of them have been trained here.

That’s going to be rare, though.

I mean, let’s just shift
into employees, right?

Because employees for me have been
a headache over the past year.

It’s been like with calls on call, right.

Nine and a half years.

I’ve been fighting employees
for eight of those years.


With dodgems fund employees
pretty much the same.

So here’s my perspective on that.


and you’ll hear there’s a little angst
in my voice when I talk about it, OK?

Because whenever I hear companies say
not you, right.

Machining companies or manufacturing

companies say, you know what the problem
is, we don’t have any trained workers.

Oh, my question is, are you training any.

And what happened was,

I believe

at least this is what I saw throughout
my career in the late 80s, early 90s,

shops were still in training mode.

They in other words,

they were they were bringing
apprentice along and they continually

doing training continually and.

Then that all stopped in the mid 90s
and in the 90s,

somebody in corporate decided, hey,
you know what, that costs money.

Well, yeah, it costs money, right.

But now we’ve got trained workers.

Yeah, it also makes money.
Yeah, exactly.

So and it’s a double edged,
double edged sword.

Short term.

Short term, it costs more money,

but also short term,
you have people that are learning.

So now they’re hired

from the head down,
not from the neck down.


And and they’re when you’re learning,
it’s a more enjoyable experience than just

sitting and putting a widget in a machine
because you are making progress.

Happiness, right?

So all of my people, my people,

all the wonderful people
that work for this business.


Have been trained from

the base, the basics from cutting stock
on the saw all the way to programming.


Where in my day to be a programmer
you had to have a college degree.

Oh I didn’t have a college degree.

I was kept out of it for quite a while

and still I went and got
a software package my own.


And taught myself how
to program figure it out.

And then I did get lucky and I landed
a job where I got to do some programming,

OK, and and that’s how
I know how to program.

And I thought if I ever have my own shop,
everybody gets to program nice.

So it’s a well-rounded

then they become
well-rounded in their trade.

And it’s not a machining job.
It’s a craft.

Oh, I like that.

It’s craftsmanship.

These people put out work
that the first thing the customer says

ninety nine percent of the time is, wow,
that’s what you like.

Look at that.

Mm hmm.
And then the next thing they find is

that guess what, everything fits together
presently even better.

That’s correct.

And so the quality is there.

The craftsmanship is there.

They they grow into this career, complete

enough that they’ll probably compete
against me someday or you know,

we have had some employees that
we’ve trained and then they get good

enough to where they can go
out and find another job.

And you could try to match
the wages and the benefits.

But what you can’t match is
another environment, right.

That their culture.

And they’re looking for and they’ve gone

off and looked at that and I’ve
even had some come back.

So my recommendation to anybody that finds

himself in that situation that, oh,
I don’t want to train anybody and build

them up because they might leave me,
let them leave.

Don’t burn the bridges.

Guess what, if you’re doing
what you should be doing,

you probably have to come back to you.

Make a valuable workplace environment.

And the three things that we built,

there’s three things that make
you’ve already heard this.

One, three things that make
a business successful.

People, people and people, people,
people, people all day long.

And if you build the people,
you’ll build the business.

And that happens on the customer
service side, too.

Oh, absolutely.
It’s it’s it’s a business about people.

Most are, regardless of what the even

certain business owners may not
may not be aware of that.

Look at the construction industry now,

still, generally speaking,
terrible customer service.

And I know we’re trying
to figure out how to fix that.

I mean, just us see me as a consumer

and some business partners and I
mean certain areas of construction.

Sure is a tough nut.

Yeah, tough nut.

I want to ask you about your first

employee so your wife
comes on with you, right?

She didn’t do machining, right?

OK, so who is the first machinists
that you brought on besides yourself?


my wife was out at lunch one day, OK?

And it was like a

light bar foodbartender there.

I was complaining about his job
and he and I was busy.

I needed I needed a hand.

And so you were at this bar?
No, I wasn’t there.

Just my wife was there.
Oh, your wife is there.

OK, having lunch.

She talks to the bartender and the guy

comes down and meets with me
and he goes, yeah, I’d like to work here.

All right.

No skill, you know, as far as machining,
no background, no background at all.

And so I only had two
machines at the time.

I had this have three.
All right.

And I had the T.L. one, which is
the machine, the laser at the end, OK.

And I had work for both of them.

And of course, that can
only be in one place right.

At one time.
So I.

Locked him in over on the lathe and taught

him how to run the late night,
and he started running the way for me.

Very cool.
Yeah, just off the street,

essentially the bartender skills
and whatever other background he is

and an attitude to learn
that you can’t you can’t teach that.

I will take the right attitude.

Versus all the skills
you learn to learn that.

Well, they had

some some,

you know, like in one of these technical

colleges and now you’re
God’s gift to machining.


And actually, when you get in here, you
find out you really don’t know very much.

But a person with the right attitude

in this environment,
you wouldn’t believe how fast they learn.

Oh, I bet.
Yeah, you have for personality.

You can train the rest.
Yeah, exactly.


If we could have done them when they’re
four years old, you can train first now.

Somebody else had that job.


So like within a few days he’s
off and running or an hour.

Well no.

I mean you probably have
four basic operations.


The job’s already set up a
basic operation.

You can teach in about four hours.

And by that time, they can
start to make parts OK.

And it’s we’re not talking about
critical, difficult parts.

No trouble yet.

But then there’s a career, right?

And then they start learning from that.

Push this button, make sure
nothing bad and stuff like that.


So you can send them to work
there and they let me know.

Red lights.

better not be any red lights.


so do everything right.

There’s no red lights so they
can stay with you for a while.

So I had my first employee
then I, I hired two more.


And that was all in the first
year after the first year.

OK, because by that,

by the summer of the first
year we added another machine.

Nice work was picking up.

I hired a new person and by I guess
summer the next year.

So it was two years in.

I had three employees.

Except for

so one day

two of them come talk
to me at the same time.

Oh they’re both leaving.

Not a good thing now and.

I felt like physically,

if somebody punched me in the gut, right,
just when you think he had it figured out.

Oh man, I thought I had to figure it out.

Mm hmm.

And it was physical.

And I that night I talked to myself and I

said, I’m never going
to let that happen again.

So how am I going to make sure
that that never happens again?

I was just going to ask you.
You figured that out?

All right.

Here’s the silver lining.

What we can do best in this
environment is train people.

So I’m going to key in on that.
You’re leaving.

You’ve been trained.
Good luck.

I’m a proud papa.

I get to hire again.

Oh, I get to train again.

And we bring somebody on and we train

again so that it doesn’t do
that to you right there.

So and and I’ve lost
people over the years,

but I got some great people
that have been here a long time.

Mm hmm.

In fact, one young fella
came to me and he he’s

showed what he’s worth.

And after he was here about two years,

I said, you’re going
to be my general manager.

And he said, what’s the general manager?

Do I go?

You’ll figure it out.

You’ll figure it out, sir.

And ten years later,
he’s not only been the general manager

for ten years, but he also became
a principal, a partner of mine.


In this this last year.
Very cool.

So at a very young age,
he’s he’s a partner in this business.

Partner in this business.
That’s awesome.

That’s going to make you feel good.

Oh yeah.


that way.
I can maybe retire someday.

So twenty five.
You set the business a few years later.

The economy had a little bad day.

2008, 2009.

The end that affects your business.
Oh wow.

The end of 2008.


It was like a light switch got turned off.

No more RFQ request for quotes.

Oh no more.

Nothing, no phones rang.

So we started cleaning up the shop and
doing some things that were left over.


And thinking this is
just a temporary thing.

Well, you know, I probably should have

reacted to it sooner,
but it was my first downturn.

It’s hindsight.

So then

we found out that there was

in the stimulus package
that they offered in 2009,

there was very little for manufacturing.


but I had been a member of the Chamber
Greater Matterson Chamber of Commerce

for some time and kind
of knew the folks down there.

And I called down there and I said,
is there something in there for me?

And there were smart enough
to point me in the right direction.

And there was a thirty five thousand

dollar loan available
that would pay for the

the payments on your capital equipment.
All right.

And it was it had to be paid back,
but it was zero interest, zero fees.

It was free money.

OK, and then there was a time period where
you didn’t have to pay it back and then

you could pay it back over a long period
of time, which we paid it all back.


But at the time that thirty five thousand
dollars paying those loan payments

on the machines
gave me the cash flow to keep some people

on board that I wouldn’t have
been able to keep on board.

All right.

So we had some rolling
layoffs during 09, OK?

And so 2009 was very educational to me
because I learned how to run a nonprofit.

But we made it.

Yeah, we made it where there were some
shops that went out of business, I bet.

And it was really tough coming
out of the back side of it.

Even when the work
started picking back up,

the the the customers

were taking advantage of it
because it was so much competition,

they could get their products for less
money and shorter in a shorter window.

So now we had to make everything
twice as fast for half the price.

All right.
Which we did.

And we we worked our way out of it.

And by 2010,

midway through 2010,
I think things started picking back up.

OK, and then hello.

Twenty twenty or thirty thousand.
It was bad.


Yeah, that’s interesting.

So how are you guys faring.
I guess so.

Is manufacturing as a whole.

Let’s start with that figuring.

Let’s even look at twenty eighteen.
Twenty nineteen.

Was manufacturing doing OK.

Yeah, I think so.

I mean, everything’s been pretty stable

and we’re a very small company, so,

you know, we we don’t feel the impacts,
you know,

on a large, large scale.

But we do feel when like
when oil prices drop.

Mm hmm.

Energy companies quit investing
money in renewables and or in R&D.


and so then any overflow work comes back

into their own shops or if
it retracts, so there’s a

like a domino effect that that that can
affect the work that we’re doing.

All right.

Now, 2008, 2009 was

was pretty weird because actually
everything shrunk at the same time.


That didn’t happen this
time in two to twenty one.

It’s been weird.

It actually going in to 2020 we had
we still had orders pretty solid.

And then when covid hit

we thought we’d see a downturn

immediately, but it didn’t
happen immediately.

And we were deemed essential

because we’ve got customers that
do have contracts with the government.

Mm hmm.

So that work that was still in the
pipeline, it stayed pretty strong.

Oh, nice.
Yeah, it stayed strong.


But then it started to weaken and it
kind of dropped off about a month ago.

And we actually did have
some layoffs a month ago.


it was only about from what we saw,

as long as everything keeps trending
the way it is, that it was about a

six weeks of slowdown and now things
are starting to pick back up again.

OK, so we’re hoping that it keeps trending

that way,
although now we’ve got a presidential

election to deal with, which is fear
and uncertainty in the markets.

And companies have a tendency
to to pull in and.

Yeah, a little bit just
a little bit before.


Thing about it is, is that they
can only hold on so long.

And when they finally let loose I think

twenty, twenty one should
be a pretty good year.

All right.
That we’re hoping to be OK.


They can’t guess they can’t stay
in a holding pattern forever.

No sooner or later are you
going to take off or land.


This is how it rolls.

So what have been some of the biggest

challenges outside of the whole covid
thing in 2008 would have been some

of the other challenges that you
didn’t necessarily anticipate?

Well, one and I hate to hit on a certain

industry, but, you know, so I won’t say
their name, but their initials are bank.


All right.


For no reason at all.

You can find a bank that all of a sudden,

even though you’ve been paying everything
and you’ve been doing everything the way

that you’re supposed do,
they can start to make things difficult.


And then you just have to go down
the road and find another bank.

So again, I would tell anybody.

Yeah, exactly.

And look, they’re making money off you.

So you are the customer and don’t ever let

them make it feel like it’s the other way
around because they are very intimidating.

Because they hold the cash.

But they hold the cash so
that they make money off of you.

They hold some of the cash,
the bank down the road hold.


So that’s that’s one thing that
that I’ve discovered through the years.

And even in the startup,
I learned my lesson right off the bat.

But then through the years I thought I

would be able to establish
a relationship with a bank.

It would last like it does with my
customers for fifteen years, I’m sure.

And that didn’t happen.

I can’t put my finger on exactly why,
except for

there is something to

the fact that young

aggressive bankers come in and they’ll
pretty much give you what you want.

They’re doing such a good job,

they get promoted and they get
shipped out to Phoenix or something.

All right.
All right.

And then the rest of the bank gets a hold
of it and you get treated like a no.


Instead of that personal relationship,
just another loan kind of thing.

Yeah, exactly.

So that’s that’s one thing
that’s been surprising to me.

But I mean,

we’re doing great with who we’re
with right now, and so everything’s good.

But again, I think you should always kind
of keep an eye all

over your back to the fact that if you
even if you have a good relationship,

it wouldn’t hurt to keep another
relationship on the side.


Just as a backup.

Mm hmm.

It’s interesting how business works

in comparison to romantic
relationships, right?


I mean, business,
you always have to have a side.

The romantic ones that’ll
just get you in trouble.

Yeah, business that’ll probably save you.

Well, I don’t know anything about that.

You’re probably the expert on that.

So the business side, I
don’t even know where to begin.

And the romantic one.

Yeah, it’s interesting that
that’s just the way it is.


The other things,

you know, that are a little bit
of a drawback is working with customers

on research and development projects
is really rewarding at best.

But at the same time,
eventually they do go towards

the production market
and then you lose that business.

Oh, gotcha.

So, you know, we had
to prepare ourselves for that.

The other thing is,

is sometimes we feel bad that we
can’t be everything for everybody.

But it’s not possible.

And and if if you’re looking
to buy a Porsche or Mercedes,

you wouldn’t go to a Ford dealership.

And expect to spend the money that you
would spend for a Ford and get a Porsche.


So but people will try to buy
the Porsche for the money.

You know, everybody wants a deal.
Yeah, right.

And and sometimes when we hear because
we’ll quote a job and it’s Porche prices,

but you’re going to get
a Porsche in the end.

Mm hmm.

Yet other companies might
give them a price.

That’s a lower dollar Ford price.


we have to and they’ll come back and tell
us, hey, we could get it for this.

And we have to say, well,
sorry, we can’t do it for that.

Because the amount of effort and work

that we’ll put into it,
we’ve got to get paid for that.

And so we just have to realize we
can’t be everything to everybody.

And that’s that’s kind of hard sometimes.

But you want people to say yes.

Because if they don’t,
that’s zero money for you.


So you can’t sacrifice your quality
to be somebody, right.


Yeah, I would I would rather not take
the job on than to try to cut all

the corners necessary in order to make
it at the price that they want to pay.

So I pretty much have to say
I’m sorry, I can’t help you.

Yeah, no.

And you wouldn’t believe how many times
that the goal for that other option.

And then we’ll get a call six weeks

from then and they’re
in a real rush for it now.

And they’re willing to spend the extra

money because they gave it to another
shop who did not perform on it.

And now not only are they six weeks
behind, but they’ve got a hassle.

They’ve got to go through with returning
that ad or whatever they have to do.

And then they got to get into our queue
where and we try to help them out

and speed things up if we can’t
afford brokedown fix or repair daily.

That’s right.
That’s funny.

That’s awesome.
How are you marketing your business now or

how you marketed your past
business for the past five years?

Bankers don’t want to hear
this because we don’t market.

Oh, we don’t market.

Well, it markets itself.
So word of mouth.

Word of mouth.
OK, yeah.

Yeah, word of mouth.

And that’s kept us in business.

Plenty of business for fifteen years.

The occasional podcast interview.

Well here we go.

I should have, I should
have mentioned that

this is our first advertising that we’ve
Jerrell Dickinson Manufacturing Solutions.


That’s cool.

That is impressive that you’ve been
able to run for fifteen years.

It’s just word of mouth
from pretty much the start.

It sounds like a start
except for a few flyers.

That’s crazy.

Yeah that is interesting.

So what’s, what’s going to happen
in the future do you predict to knock down

some more walls and some more
stuff or is this a good size.

It seems like every industry there’s an
ideal size for a given type of company.

So are you above below within
the Goldilocks where you sit there?

I believe that right now we’re the right
size for the niche market that we’re in.

All right.

Now, that being said,
I am going into like a semiretirement.

All right.
And yes, I’m.

Are you really?

Oh, all right.
Oh, five years.

I’m going to be in a beach.
Yeah, exactly.

And and so a lot of the decision making
I’ve already passed on to my partner.

Oh, wow.
And it just depends on what kind of a mix

he wants because he’ll be bringing
the company into the future.

OK, and I, I refuse to micromanage it.
All right.

He has to make the decisions on it.

And right now I would believe that we are

about 80 percent, 20, 80 percent R&D,
one off short run production, OK.

Twenty percent production.

OK, if he were to change that mix,

for whatever reason,
he decides, if we went more towards

the production side, I believe he may
need more space and more capacity.

All right.

And again, he may want to do something

with advertising that I didn’t want to do
and go a little bit more nationwide.


And and, you know,
pick up the business Soman.

So it’s kind of it depends
on what he wants to do.

All right.

So I’m going to leave that question
for your neck and for your next podcast.

All right.
Can you interview Rick Edwards?

That’s cool.

How soon is this happening there?

Well, I’ve actually started this year,
except for covid messed it all up

when I was going to be at the beach today.

But when I was doing as I was I was

working, you know,
essentially working one day a week.

And I’d be available to come in if they
needed me for the rest of the week.

But then we had some people
out because of covid.

And so I ended up coming
in a little bit more.

I don’t get on the machines
and make anything anymore.

OK, so I’m I’m here kind of just as a as

a resource and to help out
Rick in managing the place.

But yeah.

And a little bit of clothing.

But other than that I’m sure they all do
the they they do the important stuff

15 years you earn there,
you built them big business.

15 years.
I’ve been machining

business long time.

That’s a long time for anything.

So I wonder
how the machines here have they evolved or

changed in the past 15
years or is it pretty much

a drill like I see a three and a half inch
floppy on this guy

and my my wife’s got embroidery machine
that came in for three and a half floppy.


And I remember saying to her,
it’s a three and a half floppy.

What do you do with it?

And the repair guy was like,

let me tell you a story about these
files and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.

And he justified the three
and a half floppy my guy.

So is that essentially the same
story with this stuff?

It is.

you’re right.

So as they evolve, because this is
a 2005 model, OK, it’s got the floppy.

But if you look over here, this is
a 2014 model and it’s got the USB.

Oh, OK.
So that is just jumped, right?

All right.

And you can actually have them Bluetooth.
I sure do.

All kinds of crazy stuff now.

OK, whatever the technology is.

But it’s not going to be
on a two thousand five machine.

but yeah, we even ran into some problems

with getting the three
and a half inch floppy.

We had to go to a company in California

that’s still just to get there,
just to get them.

You can buy them anywhere.

No, and that’s fine.

But our but our computer system and our

programming system
is state of the art fact.

We just ended up putting in a new
server over the weekend.

My GM is all the IT stuff and.

So what happens is that is only for

just transfer from back and forth.

And then the rest of it is
backed up on computers.

OK, but it’s so interesting
because it blows my mind.

I was even saying this to myself today.

I’m trying a little website.

And now when you compare now to two

thousand five Internet speeds
now, it was like a thousand times faster,

like, why do I have to wait
for a website to load it?

I shouldn’t have to wait
because we’re fifty six K back in the day

was lightning and now we’re at one
hundred meg up and down on the low side.

Why are we waiting.

It seems like the,

the software always seems to be outpacing
the speed of the hardware by a factor.

So when I see a three and a half inch

floppy like this one and half meg,
is that enough for the file?

But maybe it is.

So it must be.

That’s a good question.

It’s not it’s not well,
for some programs that we do a lot more 3D

machining, which is pretty big, so this
machine wouldn’t be tasked with it.

Gushin But, you know, this is an example.

A lot of this is not a lot,

but some of the stuff that we make is just
a square block with some holes in,

you know, so that doesn’t take
much data at all to produce.

This is kind of sexy.
I don’t know, man.

This chunk of steel,
you can see what you guys did.

That’s impressive with
the threads on there.

Holy cow.
Yeah, I think I could make you

into a machinist if you feel
like that looks like a mechanic

and stuff like this.

Osia, you know, it’s funny this
this weekend I’m with my buddy.

He’s got a kid that’s about
the same age as my kid.

So they’re off playing and they’re like,
hey, when you guys play Legos with us.

So they play Legos with us for about five
minutes and they run off, my buddy and I.

Playing Legos for two more hours,
and he had some kind with gears.


And I’m staring at it just like I
hate Legos and forever is cool.


Just trying to get all those years
to work and stuff like that.

Yeah, it’s interesting because when you

work on your business, so to speak,
you’re doing more behind the desk,

you’re banging on the keyboard,
all that kind of stuff.

You don’t get to do the mechanical stuff.

And I find that I have to have my car

hobby in order to keep
the mechanical brain.

Well, that’s the craftsmen in you, too.

I think that true craftsman needs to be
able to make something out of something

else or improve something
that they have with tools.

And it has to be tangible.

Yes, not something in the

virtual world.

An engineer might be happy working in his
virtual world all day,

but probably I’d rather metal
totally, you know, only going.

You can see it.
Yeah, you can feel it.

You can see what.
You can measure it.

And yeah, it becomes something.

I think that’s why I
never got into software.

It’s trying to find a bug in software.

I would just have the hardest time.
Oh sure.

Finding the problem with the part.

It doesn’t line up.

You can clearly see what’s going on,

but maybe the software
person feels the same way.

Just the opposite I suppose.

So at any rate.

So you’re how do you feel about walking
away, I guess retiring from this?

Is that a good feeling
or is it a is it tough?

Oh, man, it’s tough.

It’s like ignoring your baby chick.

I mean,

what is it’s in good hands.

And I’m really proud of all
the work that they’ve been doing.


And so it’s been
I’ve had to have a few conversations

with myself, OK, about how do I feel about
it and how, you know, and I tell you what,

it’s it’s getting easier as I is I is the
more conversations I have with myself.


I’m not going to talk myself out
of it because I’m going to retire.


And I’m going to go fishing and I’m going
to do the things that I want to do.

But I’ll never I don’t think I’ll ever

lose the connection,
which is a beautiful thing to

the shop goes on and I’m
always welcome back in here.

And I think I might even get
a phone call once in a while.

The old man still has a few
tricks up his sleeve.


that’s awesome.

So if you were to give advice for someone
that was considering starting a business,

let’s just start broad and then we can
work into machine broad business advice.

What would you give someone something

that you wish you would have
known fifteen years ago?

And this is probably not new advice,
but if if you have an idea and you believe

in it strongly and you’re willing
to do whatever it takes, go for it.

Don’t let anybody stop you.
I love it.

That’s cool.

And don’t let don’t let
the banks say no, no.

Listen to what they have to say.

You may have to tailor it and and shave
a little off here or there, but don’t go

at least shopping around.

Let’s see what else.

You know, I

I really, truly believe that it helped me

that I knew the business
before I started the business.

And and I think that’s very helpful

because it adds that passion level.

You have to really be passionate
about it, to be able to

to be able to stick through some

of the hard stuff that you’re going to go
through in the beginning

and then don’t get discouraged
even when it looks a little bit dismal.

It’s a little bleak.

Talk to other people that have
been in business that helps a lot.

Yeah, I would suggest becoming
a member of the Chamber of Commerce.

All right.

I think that relationship has helped me,
especially in the hard times.

Because, you know,

when everything is going along good,
you don’t need help from anybody.

But as soon as it gets a little bit rocky,

boy, I take advice
from just about anybody.



What are you guys doing over there?

You don’t want them to say,
who are you exactly?

Been a member.
I’ve been involved.

Blah, blah, blah.

Instead of just being I’ve been

in my little hole trying to get a nut
job, I’m having a hard time getting in.

And then the other thing is, is that

of course, it all depends on your

philosophy, on how you
want to run your business.

Mind is one philosophy, which was people,
people, people and train, train, train

so well, not train, train, train,

but you have to train to get as a catalyst
to get them thinking on their own.

And I take no credit for where

these people are today with their career
because they’re fantastic.

They blow me away.

But I taught the basics or we
taught the basics of business.

Once they have those basics,
they got the tool kit and they start

putting the tools together
and put notches on their belt.


And then what’s really

crazy neat is to watch them
figure out a new problem

with the tools in their tool kit without
you helping them by the hand to do it.


And now you have a person that’s
really well on their way to

being fulfilled and and starting
to perfect their career.


And be able to hold
their head high and go.

I am I am a world class machinist.
That’s cool.

Yeah, that’s impressive.

There’s something to be said about
having passion for the job, right.

I think so.
Instead of just punching a clock.

I think so.
I think that I think at least when I was

before I started my own business, the
shops that I worked for that treated me

as just somebody to plug parts in,

that’s what they got back.

You’ll get what you pay
for and you get what you nourish.

And and and the shops that held me
in a higher esteem to be able to think

on my own and and where
where you work for somebody

that you would never even call a boss
because they’re a mentor and a coach.

That’s key.

And then then you know what?

Then you get everything out of me.

That’s what works for me.
All right.

That’s what tickled my fancy.

Somebody’s actually wanting my opinion and

and and listening and and letting
me think and letting me share.

And that’s that’s kind
of more of a complete job.

Using the hands,

the heart and the brain.
Everything. Instead of just the hands,

Exactly, that gets old after a while.

It totally does.

But, you know,
you can even turn that into something

where you’re using your mind
if you turn it into a dance, I call it.

OK. So what we call a door slammer, a job

like we have over here where
the cycle time on this part is like

twenty seconds or thirty seconds,
boom, boom, boom, boom, boom.

But if you think about it and you use

the most efficient body movement,
you can even turn it into like a dance.


And so it can become satisfying
that you’re it’s choreographed.

And then once you have that baseline,
you can change the dance.

All right.
But if it’s done differently every time,

you can’t improve on something
that is done differently every time.

Then it’s chaotic. There’s no baseline.

All right.
Yeah, that’s clever.

Like adding an extra moves to your
the four step, right.


As long as you get the four step down,
you can tweak and have some fun with it. You betcha. That’s cool.

That’s cool.
What’s a business advice would you give

to someone that was considering
starting a machine shop?

Don’t do it in Madison, because
the competition is real stiff.

Machine shop.

So I would just I would just say that,

you know, I wouldn’t get
I would start small like I did

about one hundred thousand dollars
will get you into enough machinery.

Will it still?
Oh, yeah. OK.

I think it will.

And and I wouldn’t skimp
on the place, though.

I would leave yourself room for expansion.

Because if you’re not going
to grow it, don’t start it.


And and you don’t want to be moving
in your first 10 years,

I can’t imagine moving one of these
machines would cost. It’s expensive.

I mean, yeah, it would it would
be expensive to move the shop.


It would have to be well
worth it to do that.

Mm hmm.

So I would start small, you know,
with a couple of machines maybe,

but I would do
quality state of the art machines.

I would not start with something old.

Because the thing is,
is when you first start out

the customers that you gain,
you cannot afford to disappoint them.

So you can’t go, oh, my machine went down.

No, not in your first couple of years now.

No, it has to be.

I can do that for you.

You’ll have it at this date
with this level of quality.

And this is how much it costs.

And you got to follow through with that or

you’ll you’ll lose them
before you got them.

Yeah, it’s tough to grow,
especially by word of mouth that way

in the fifth, sixth, seventh,
eighth, ninth, tenth year.

Maybe they’ll understand an excuse.

Something happened. Maybe.

But in that, maybe.

But in that first two years,

I think you have to be able to perform
on time and every time.


yeah, that’s about it.
That’s cool.

That’s cool.

Keith, thank you so much
for being on the podcast.

Yeah. It’s been awesome.
Thanks for having me.

This time went fast,
but this is impressive.

I just like sitting here in this,

you can just smell the must be
cutting oil or something like that.

A little cutting oil. OK.

And that metal and stuff like
that, I miss stuff like this.


The office doesn’t have this at all
so that’s just how it is.

OK, yeah.

It’s good times.
This has been Authentic Business

the business program that brings you

the struggle stories and triumphs and successes
of business owners across the land coming

to you from Dickinson Manufacturing,
which is just a cool place, right?

How would you like people to get a hold of you?

How would be the best way?

They can look us up on the Internet or
they can just call us at area code:

608-222-3489. 222-3489, awesome.

And you do stuff nationally
or is it mostly local?

A lot of it’s local to engineering
firms or companies that are local.

But we have customers in California
and in Texas. So, across the country.

All right.


I don’t know if anything is going
to Canada, although our products that are

going to our engineers are
actually sold all over the world.

Oh, really? Nice.
All right.

Well, there you go.
What’s the website?

The website is

Gotcha, and Dickinson,

this is funny because I kept
calling your name wrong.

Oh, right.
Dickinson, D-i-c-k-i-n-s-o-n.

Ok. I got it good here.
Like I don’t know if I have it right here.

Yeah, that’s funny.
So this is Keith Dickinson.

Keith, thank you so much
for being on the show.

You’re welcome.
Thanks for having me.

Find us airing at 103.5 Wednesdays at 1:00 p.m.,

Sundays at 2:00 p.m., as well as

Past episodes, of course,
can be a found morning, noon, and night.

The podcast link found at

If you’re listening to this on the web,
please like, subscribe, and share.

And that’s all we got.

Thanks for listening.
We’ll see you next week.

I want you to stay awesome.

And if you do nothing else,
enjoy your business.




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