Today we’d like to introduce you to Jim Carr.
Jim, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
I started in the family manufacturing company in 1978 after being encouraged by my parents. Shortly after starting I began a formal, two years, machinist apprenticeship. I worked on the manual machines in the factory for about six years when my father tasked me with implementing CNC (Computer Numerical Control) machinery in our company. It was highly successful.
For the next decade, I worked and managed the operations of the family business and segued into administrative roles; Procurement, Quoting, HR, Business Development, Sales, Marketing and PR. I literally learned the family business from the back door to the front door. After years of encouraging my father to create a business succession plan, we did, and in 2004 I became President and sole shareholder.
Running a small business is challenging as we wear a lot of hats in our day to day. I kept pushing through those roadblocks; recessions, employees, customers, vendors and more and in 2007 we had our most profitable year.
But as we all know the Great Recession came along – it hit us in the 4th quarter of 2008 – and we had to layoff 60% of our workforce. It was not pleasant and it was gut-wrenching to one by one tell my veteran employees, who I cared about there was no work for them. I vowed I would never let that happen again so made a decision to start working on the business rather than in it. I reached out to our long-term manufacturing association – the TMA and started learning about marketing and networking. It was out of my comfort zone but knew if I pushed myself the rewards would come and they did.
I was encouraged to join committees, peer groups and attend industry-specific networking events around Chicago. I met like-minded people that ironically all shared the same pains and stories of my decades in the business. I became friends with these peers and created a small, personal Board of Directors with them, people that I could trust and could ask anything. It was and still is one of the most rewarding experiences in my business career.
I found I had an innate ability and passion for marketing and suddenly found myself mingling with these professionals too. We would share our frustrations, successes and technologies with each other which helped me grow my personal and business brand – which I found out are together as one. As my networking evolved, I was asked to join the exclusive TMA Board of Directors and in my third year was voted by my peers to move into the executive chairs, culminating into Chairman, the highest Board level position. I was humbled and accepted.
Through this networking platform, I was presented with an opportunity to be interviewed on a local Chicago AM radio station and share my marketing savvy and wisdom with their audience about how I was using social media to brand my manufacturing company – nobody was doing it at that time. Also at my interview was Jason Zenger, the President of Zenger’s Industrial Supply.
My company was a premier vendor who was buying industrial cutting tools from his business for years. We had never met but knew of each other. Jason was there to add to the discussion about what he was doing differently as a third-generation business owner at his company.
We hit it off.
Shortly after our interview aired he called me to ask if I had heard of or listened to podcasts. I said yes, I knew of that media but was not actively listening. Jason said, “I think we have a deep knowledge of our industry, we are not competitors, are highly connected to the community, have a commanding presence and no one relevant in our industry was in that space.” Suddenly a light bulb in my head went off – that a-ha moment – I had felt that feeling when I started using social. I wanted to be the trailblazer and this seemed like a fairly low-risk proposition.
The only caveat was I would only do it if it was well structured, thought out and quality was the overwhelming key. We planned for a year doing research on the average American commute, joined online podcast communities to learn tips on what other successful podcasters were doing, hired professional voice talent and sound editors and at the onset of 2015 released our first show. It was immediately well-received and in two weeks we were on the iTunes New & Noteworthy List of Podcasts. A few major trade publications did some articles on us and of course, we used our social media savvy to target our audience. We were on our way.
What we didn’t realize is that although our mission was to equip and inspire manufacturing leaders, with the hope that we could garner some thought leadership and interest in our respective manufacturing companies, major brands that sold to our audience started to notice us and inquired about advertising on our show. We were excited but didn’t know how to react. This was strictly a grassroots project and neither of us knew much about this space. Of course, we accepted and the rest is history. We are new an income-producing, bona fide brand, that is known among our community and we have lucrative contracts with some of the largest players in our industry.
The next step.
We are definitely busy people, me running my manufacturing company, conducting interviews and shows with Jason and to retain the level of networking that helped me grow into what I am today. It’s not easy but as my father always used to tell me: “Jim, if it was easy, everybody would be doing it”. He couldn’t be more right.
Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
For CARR – The multiple recessions, especially 2008. Dealing with employees, cash flow, finding new customers and retaining them.
For MakingChips the Podcast – implementing a grassroots project.
Shifting gears with the business model and coordinating busy schedules.
CARR Machine & Tool – what should we know? What do you guys do best? What sets you apart from the competition?
For CARR – we are a low volume, close-tolerance precision machining facility that specializes in 3 and 4 axis machining. We are known for communication, quality and delivery.
I am most proud of implementing core values into the company, creating a mission and vision statement and shifting culture. I took baby steps and I was shocked to see how fast the culture changed.
What is “success” or “successful” for you?
If my employees are happy, I am happy. We all work together as a team, we all have unique talents and when we work together – as a band would – we harmonize well together and the magic happens.
Culture creates happiness and a healthy work environment will create wealth and success.
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