If the Frank Bacon Machinery Company ever decides it needs a corporate motto, one likely candidate might be: “What’s Next?”
For the past 70 years, Frank Bacon Machinery has been in business in and around Detroit. Its focus has shifted through the years, from stamping and grinding units to today’s sophisticated tensile and compression devices. But none of it would have happened had Frank Bacon not retired from the Marines at the end of World War II, moved back home to Michigan, and wondered, “what’s next?”
Today, John Stencel IV, is president of the mechanical testing business his grandfather Frank founded in a one-room office on Detroit’s 8 Mile Road in 1953. He describes Frank Bacon as a voracious reader who foresaw Detroit’s emergence as the hub of America’s postwar auto industry, and who taught himself the basics of the machinery business he knew would be an integral part of that development.
“He figured Detroit would become a haven for machinery manufacturing,” Stencel says. “So he read all he could and taught himself the business from the ground up. After he started his business he became one of the earliest members of the MDNA.”
Much of America’s used machinery sales business is strengthened by deep family ties. Third-, fourth-, even fifth-generation operations are not uncommon. And each generation faces its own set of opportunities and challenges.
“A lot of people who get into this business are a family member or know a family member,” Stencel says. He recalls his transition from Saginaw Valley State University to the working world in the spring of 2010 this way: “I graduated from college on a Friday and started that next Monday.”
He went to work for his father, but gets his grounding in the machinery business from both the Bacon and Stencel sides of the family. And the MDNA is nothing anyone had to explain to him.
“I’ve been around MDNA people since I was in diapers,” he declares. His father is a past President of the MDNA, and John IV started as a secretary of the Detroit/Toledo chapter and quickly moved up to be a representative on the national board. He currently holds positions as a national board director-at-large and chair of the MDNA’s public relations committee.
Frank Bacon Machinery is in a third-generation location as well — all at different addresses along the 8 Mile Road corridor. It opened a 30,000-square-foot remanufacturing and storage facility four years ago, and still maintains a 10,000-square-foot testing lab and storage location as well as a 50,000-square-foot warehouse in Detroit.
Two years ago, the company introduced its own line of new tensile and compression equipment — the Frank Bacon Machinery line. In addition to the new, used and remanufactured equipment, the company also offers engineering services, calibration, testing and training to its customers.
And what’s next? Rest assured, at Frank Bacon Machinery, somebody’s already asking that question.
If you want to know how the machinery sales business in and around New York City has changed over the past half-century, David Valitt can tell you.
“You either evolve or die,” is the way Valitt describes the approach that took his business from its roots in the bustling machine district streets of Manhattan’s lower east side to stops on Long Island and, finally, across the Hudson River to New Jersey. As Machinery Values, Inc., has evolved — and prospered — Valitt credits the Machinery Dealers National Association (MDNA) with having played an important role in the process.
“The camaraderie is important,” he explains. “By being in the MDNA you’re finding new partners. You get together with other members, discuss your business trials and tribulations with them, and discover. in the end, that you’ve made some very close friends.”
He says many of the dozens of used machinery concerns that left New York City for greener nearby pastures recognized that membership in the trade organization brings with it the assurance of personal and professional integrity, ethical practices, and practical knowledge.
“They competed and worked with each other in New York and now they’re at the core of the MDNA today,” he says.
Valitt became part of the MDNA in the early 1990s, after he graduated from the State University of New York at Oneonta and joined the business then owned by his father, Gene Valitt. It wasn’t long before he stepped up to the leadership ranks in the MDNA’s New York/New Jersey Chapter. He now serves as its vice chairman and as a member of the MDNA’s national board of directors.
Valitt can recall the days when machinery was offered for sale through print catalogs. But Machinery Values, established in 1971, was not left behind when technology brought improvements and efficiencies to not only the equipment, but to the way it it is sold.
“The Internet leveled the playing field,” he says. “Using Ebay, YouTube, LinkedIn, Instagram, and websites, the larger and smaller dealers now have the same sales reach.”
Machinery Values offers its customers standard and CNC machinery of all sorts, including tooling, grinding, milling, routing, and lathe units and an array of cutting devices. More than 1,000 pieces of new and used equipment are displayed in the company’s 150,000-square-foot warehouse facility in Harrison, N.J., just nine miles from the Big Apple.
Valitt was determined to put all the company’s equipment sales and service under one roof, and says what he has learned from friends in the MDNA helped make that happen.
“We just evolved in the business,” he says. “We went along with the times.”
Welcome to “The Women of MDNA,” a series of posts where you’ll meet some of the remarkable women in our industry. Their contributions to machine sales in general, and our association in particular, enhance our organization and our industry on a daily basis. That’s especially true for Kristen Reeves, a relative newcomer to machinery sales, who’s making big strides as a sales representative at Automatics & Machinery in Longmont, Colorado.
How did you get involved in the industry?
I’m huge Denver Broncos fan. I came out to Colorado to visit my brother and cousin. When I told them that I want to live here, they told me that I need to get into machinery sales industry. I told them that I didn’t know anything about the industry. “We’ll teach you,” was their reply.
That conversation led to an interview with Steve Beck, President of Automatics & Machinery. He’s been a member of MDNA since 1990 and was willing to teach me about the industry. I think he saw that I wasn’t afraid of learning technical details. I have come to specialize in high precision turning and multi-axis CNC Swiss. I learn new things every day about the details of what I’m selling—not only from doing a little homework but also learning from end users and other dealers in this industry.
How has your company benefitted from MDNA?
It’s great meeting people in the same industry and learning about their experiences. I know that if you’re in MDNA, we already have a connection. There’s a huge trust factor there. We’re all part of the same group and follow the same code of ethics. Most recently, I went to the Weekend with the Pros event. It was a great opportunity to get to tour local companies and see their warehouses and operations.
What is the value women bring to the industry?
I think women bring a comfort level to the process. My customers appreciate that I’m there to build a relationship with them. It’s my philosophy that if they trust me, they’ll come back. So I’m really focused on the future as much as the current sale. Once I establish a relationship, it’s long-term, and I pride myself on repeat customers.
What advice would you give other women in the machinery sales business?
I think it’s important to focus on customer service throughout the entire process and handle any issues along the way. That can include getting shipping quotes and preparing the machine for shipping. When customers see the completed process, they’re usually happy with the result. You have to build the trust factor. Mean what you say and say what you do.
What do you like best about the industry?
I really enjoy establishing a relationship with the customer. It allows me to build their trust and find out their specific machinery needs. In general, it’s a male-dominated field, so when I speak to customers on the phone, it seems like they really listen, and that helps me build rapport. I really take the time to educate myself when it comes to the specific models. When a woman understands what they’re saying on a technical level and can go into detail, they are sometimes surprised and think it’s impressive.
I also enjoy teaching and training newcomers to the machinery world. Most recently I have been working with Steve’s daughter, Alyssa Beck. I see a lot of families in this industry, so it is not uncommon to find new generations joining the industry. Alyssa has been a great addition to our team!