Tipping Point Ch. 04


By eleven that morning, we had the cobbled-up part ready to install and I got right to it. I took a while to wedge it into place, but with a bit of tapping and wrestling, we got it on the shaft. Without having to put the entire machine back together, I found a way to test the jury-rigged part. Sue, Fred, and I all breathed a sigh of relief when it chose to cooperate. We had our temporary fix. There were high fives all around.

As I reassembled the shrouds, I reset the clutch on the machine so that it wouldn't jam again. I don't know if it was ever adjusted properly, but at least if there was another jam it wouldn't stress the control arm too much. I showed Sue and Fred what I had done and why. Neither of them knew that there was a clutch adjustment.

"I'll call you when that part arrives, Stan," Fred said. "I'll be more confident if you install it."

"That would be expensive, Fred," I cautioned.

"Normally, yes. But I have a couple of other machines I want you to look at when we both have the time. I could use your assessment on their condition. I'm trying to decide if I should replace them or fix them up and keep them. I'd value your opinion."

"Okay, that makes sense," I said happily.

By two o'clock, I was packed up and ready to leave. I handed Sue my smock and threw the disposable hairnet in the garbage can. She walked with me out the exit to the parking lot after she got her purse. Before I could get beyond the door, she grabbed my arm and pulled me into her for an unexpected surprise. I got a very long, passionate kiss from one Sue Palotti. When we broke, I quickly looked around to see if anyone had witnessed the moment.

"Don't worry, Stan. No one can see us here. I just wanted to thank you for coming so quickly and helping me out. I think you're going to have a very good business in the near future, and I'm going to do everything I can to make Winston Candies your favorite stop," she grinned.

"You already have. Maybe, when I get my life straightened around, I might want to ask you for a date."

"I'll be waiting for you to ask," she smiled. "Now, let's get you to the airport. I think you said Dallas was your next stop."

We made the quick trip and kissed again before I got out of the car. I watched and waved as she drove away and thought just how unusual this last twenty-four hours had been. I had no business kissing Sue, but I didn't feel very guilty either. Maybe the hint of Sylvia's possible cheating was in the back of my mind. Still, I didn't feel I should be getting involved with my customers on a personal level.

I caught a four o'clock flight to Dallas, unfortunately arriving in rush hour. I drove with the slow, heavy traffic north to Plano, arriving at the hotel just before seven. I checked in and decided to have dinner in the hotel restaurant. I wasn't tired, but I was looking forward to a relaxing evening watching TV. I phoned Tommy just before nine o'clock his time and chatted with him, catching up on the day's events.

"Dad ... uhhm ... Jilly and I checked on Mom on Tuesday night. She went out and we followed her. She went to an apartment building, but we couldn't tell which unit she went to. We hung around for an hour or so, then went home. That's all I know. I made a note of the address, in case you might recognize it. We couldn't get into the lobby. You need a key for that. I guess we didn't learn very much."

"Playing detective isn't easy, is it," I said with a smile. "Was she dressed up again?"

"Sort of. We couldn't really tell for sure. Anyway, we'll try again tomorrow night. It will be interesting to see if she goes to the same place."

"You don't have to, Tommy. We might not learn anything this way, but ... suit yourself. Just don't do anything to get in trouble, okay?"

"Yeah ... okay, Dad. When are you coming home?"

"I'm likely home tomorrow night, but I'll let you know if I'm delayed."

We said our goodnights and hung up. I sat there in the chair for a while, wondering just what Sylvia was up to. I was in no position to hire a private investigator, so it was unlikely I was going to find out very much unless either Tommy or I got lucky.

It didn't take me long to get the two machines in question tuned up and running to specification. Plano was the home of Autowash Soap. They produced dishwasher detergent, but lately had entered the soluble soap tab business. Their machines were old, reliable horizontal wrappers, but not very fast. As their business increased for this new segment, John was wondering if they would be able to keep up to the demand. One big Walmart order might swamp them. I promised I would write him a report on their capability.

Once again it was a case of the settings being adjusted and adjusted again, and then adjusted once more. The result was that the machines were so far out of spec that it was a wonder they were working at all. I reset all the controls and wrote down the settings for each of the machines on a piece of paper and copied it on the Xerox machine. I gave the original to John and kept a copy for myself for future reference. He looked at me with a sly grin and thanked me. He knew what I was telling him.

I was on a plane by four o'clock with arrival in Cincinnati at seven-fifteen that evening. I could take Friday off and still have enough billing to meet my needs for the week. I also had two e-mails that I received from customers looking to see when I would be available to visit them. I sent off replies before boarding the plane, hoping it would mean more business for next week.

I arrived home to an empty apartment. I assumed Tommy was out with Jilly, so I unpacked my bag and made myself comfortable with a beer and the evening paper. My first week in business for myself was very satisfying. Now it was a matter of finding enough sustainable business without running myself into the ground again. In my dreams, I wanted to have to hire someone to assist me with all the business I would create. In my dreams.

Friday morning I wrote my report to John Mankowitz in Plano. I suggested a maximum weekly output for the machines, allowing a bit of downtime for normal servicing. The good news from their point of view was that there was only one size of film, so the machines never needed a size change. They had a variety of private label printings, but all the tabs were the same dimensions. The bad news was that they were rapidly reaching the capacity of the two machines. They were really an ideal candidate for a high speed dedicated machine.

I sat back for a moment as a random thought entered my mind. I knew where there was an idle machine that would fit the bill for them. One of my newer clients in Minneapolis had been gifted with just such a machine, but had no use for it. They had once asked me if I knew of anyone who might want to buy one. They would sell cheap to get it off their books.

Well, here goes nothing, I thought. I mentioned the machine in my e-mail to John, telling him that it would be available immediately, would give him the capacity he needed now and for the foreseeable future. It would need some work done on it, plus an installation, but I had looked over the unit myself and I was sure it was in good working condition. Would John be interested?

He called me before noon that morning. "Hell, yes. That sounds like the answer to an old man's prayers. How much do they want for it?"

"Not sure, John. I'll phone them this morning and find out. Then, I'll work out an estimate for crating, shipping, and installation. I can service it once it gets to your plant. It's a good machine, it just doesn't fit what they need."

"When I talked to the sales manager this morning, he let me know we've got another new customer coming on next month. I think I'm going to be out of capacity unless we work a shitload of overtime. That will kill any profits," John moaned.

"Understood. I should be able to get you an answer and costs by Monday. If you go for it, I can get it to you within a week, and we can have it up and running before the New Year."

"Okay. I'll give the accounting and management people a heads up so this doesn't get bogged down. In the meantime, thanks a hell of a lot, Stan. You sure know how to look after your customers."

He was sounding a lot more optimistic when he hung up. I was too. I was now in the machinery trading business. The thought also crossed my mind that John would only need one of the two existing machines for back-up in case of problems. That means there might be one for sale. I might just find another customer with a need for that piece of equipment if I was lucky. I was getting in the entrepreneurial spirit with this new business. Why not find unused equipment, recondition it, and sell it to a customer in need? Could I even offer a warranty on used equipment?

I got on the phone to Viking Nutritional right away. Yes the machine was still available and for sale. Yes they would accept any reasonable offer, provided it wasn't below the book value. I would have to guess at that number and I didn't have a clue where to start. I got on the internet and looked up the used equipment dealers, trying to find out what a similar machine would sell for. It didn't take long.

I took the closest model to the one at Viking and making a wild guess, cut the listed price in half. If I was right, these machines sat around a long time before selling, so the margins had to be pretty high. I hoped I was right. I called my contact at Viking back.

"Dave, I can offer you twenty five thousand for that machine, as is, where is. Can you live with that?"

"Yeah. I'm okay with that. To be honest, I'm just happy to get it out of here and off our books. How soon do you want it?"

"I've got to arrange crating and shipping, but if all goes well, I should be able to pull it out of there next week. Is that too soon?"

"Nope. Suits me fine. Who am I selling this to, by the way? Not a competitor I hope."

"No. It's a soap manufacturer. It's for wrapping those tabs that you use in your dishwasher. Listen, I better get a confirmation and a purchase order to you pronto. Is there anything else I haven't thought of?"

"Nope. You get me a P.O. and we're in business. We'll look after the credit check on this guy. I assume he's okay?"

"Yeah. Long time customer and not slow pay."

And that was it. John had a purchase order in Dave's hand that afternoon for the machine. All I had to do was to work out the shipping and installation costs. For that part I could use my old F & C contacts. I was on the phone most of the afternoon gathering the information I needed to run the estimates. Just to be on the safe side, I added some cushion on the installation. The crating and shipping were known costs and there wouldn't be any surprises.

I heard Tommy come in the door and looked up at the clock. It was almost six. I had been on the phone and the internet all afternoon setting up this sale. It was worth the effort. I had solved two customers' problems, made a few dollars for myself, and was promised the support of Viking Nutritional for future work. My third official customer.

I told Tommy all about the fun I had today, not having to leave my home office once. I'd be away for a while a couple of weeks from now when Viking's machine arrived at Autowash, but I would be looking forward to earning a nice fee for setting up the machine.

"You're really enjoying this, aren't you?" Tommy said with a smile as we ate supper.

"Yeah. I'm actually having fun and making money at the same time. Now I know what my old colleagues were talking about when they said they wished they'd gone out on their own sooner. I'm also thinking about maybe getting into the reconditioning and resale of machines. Not right away, but if I can match up sellers to buyers, it could be very profitable."

Tommy was smiling and nodding. "Yeah ... you're having fun all right."

We talked some more about things in general. Tommy was getting himself prepared to start the classes at South Ohio Technical. It was mid-December and they were only three weeks away. Then a thought struck me.

"Have you seen your mother lately? Have you talked to her?"

"No ... actually I haven't done either. I guess I don't know what to say to her."

"Tommy, I don't want you to cut your mother out of your life. She's your mother and you're her son. That will never change in spite of what I do about our marriage. When you get married and have children, she'll be the grandmother. Nothing will change that."

He looked at me, not happy I guessed by the look on his face. "I'm not sure I can face her right now ... you know. I'll be pretty pissed at her if she's cheating on you."

"You don't know that, son. Give her the benefit of the doubt. It won't hurt to talk to her. Let her know you're okay and talk to her about your plans, just like we did tonight. Maybe she'll open up to you where she wouldn't to me. You won't know unless you try."


My thanks to ErikThread and DaveT for their editing and technical skills. Any errors are mine.

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