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Machine Shop Tips Be Careful What You Wish For!

One day many years ago I found myself sitting in a Purchasing Agent’s (PA) office, thinking to myself that there were so many other places I would rather be. The PA shuffled papers rapidly around his desk as if he were organizing the rest of his day, like I wasn’t even there. I fidgeted in my chair nervously waiting for him to start the conversation. Every moment was going by so slowly and it was becoming unbearable.

My mind wandered back to about 4 months prior to this meeting. We had sought out this customer, the one where this PA worked. We sought them out because our shop does awesome work, we are a company of high integrity, and we work hard for all our customers. We were a much smaller machine shop in those days and we always wanted to land that really large customer that would take our company to the next level. I think every company has these hopes and is always looking to engage such a customer. They see it as their ticket to the big time.

Well, one day this happened to us. It was the most awesome feeling. It was like the business equivalent of winning the World Cup. I think if you ask anyone in any business there is no better feeling. Anyway, the first day a large order came in from our new customer, we were so happy. We started to get going on the jobs. We received the same size order the second day, and then the third, and then the fourth day, and so on. By the eighth day, our smiles had disappeared and the realization sunk in that our ability to deliver on the existing purchase orders was not going to happen, and that further purchase orders were just meaningless numbers. We tried really hard to fulfill what we could but it was not enough. We were basically sinking. We attempted to stop the purchase orders, and tried to delay them, but it did not help. We were done.

So there I was in front of this PA. He finally looked up and said, “How did we get to this?” I had rehearsed a reply but in the moment, it did not seem relevant anymore. What basically came out was, “We did not have the capacity to meet the purchase orders that you issued. We had no idea how much business you were going to send us! My vendors can’t even keep up with me!” It all seemed so lame. My answer upset me. I felt foolish. Then the PA looked at me and said, “I guess you and I both picked the wrong vendor!” I was stunned as these true words sank in.

Today we are a much larger company. We have learned from this mistake. We do not look at a potential large customer like a winning lottery ticket anymore. Instead, we prepare ourselves and carefully examine if our capabilities allow us to meet the obligations of each purchase order. To engage a new customer is a huge responsibility and you need make sure you can handle it.

This experience made us a better company, and taught us a valuable lesson. I still see many other companies who are looking to land that really large customer. They make promises that they most certainly can’t meet. They do not realize that one day they might just get that large customer, and once that happens, they are going to fail.

If you do not plan ahead for when you do land that big contract, you will not be ready for when it happens. Then you will be in the same position that I was many years ago. Truer words have never been spoken, “Be careful what you wish for!”