Today, MOJO welcomes a guest post from Anita Berlanga, a principal at Bear Boring, LLC - a contract and custom manufacturer in Wyoming, Illinois.
When I was a little girl, back in the Jurassic Era, my father would drag me to an auto-supply place in what is now known as the South Loop in Chicago – Warshawsky’s. It was a huge, fascinating/scary place, full of pulleys and plugs and Everything Automotive – and these Scary Guys behind the counter. Gruff, cranky – all business. And every one of them knew the auto-parts business like the back of their hands. The guys at the dusty desks all wore ties, just a little too short for fashion. Seriously crabby – but they knew even more than the counter guys did. If they didn’t have it, they knew who did (though that was rare- 1960s Warshawsky had everything). And if the next ‘they’ didn’t have it, it simply didn’t exist.
I miss those guys – and what they knew. I spend a lot of my research time looking for them. And when I find one, growling on the other end of the phone, I send up a prayer of thanks and do the Dance of Joy.
See, I’m Old School enough to know that I don’t have deep supply knowledge – what I DO know is that ‘supply’ is almost always out there – you just have to know how to hunt it down. The Internet is a great and wonderful tool. But! What if you don’t know what you need to ask to get that Next Step Closer to solving your customer’s problem??
That’s where the Guys in the Short Ties (GiST) come in.
In addition to our specialty parts manufacturing we are the go-to company for the weird, the arcane, the impossible schedule: “Help! I need this exotic part. It’s only made on the steppes of Mongolia on Tuesdays in July – and oh! I need it by this Friday”. Our customers come to us because they know I will move mountains to make it happen. The first stop is always the Internet – and why not? It’s easy and I’m good at hunting online – but what I’m really looking for are phone numbers…..because even in the Internet Age, human interaction is still essential to get things done: at the other end of one of those numbers will be a GiST, with a voice like a million Marlboros and a serious ‘whaddaywant’ attitude.
And if he doesn’t have the answer to my question, he will have a number for somebody who does – but only if I’m smart enough to ask him, nicely. And after I winkle it out of him (I’m a girl and not adverse to smooching-up for info), he will grunt and hang up the phone in the middle of my big-time thanks because GiSTs don’t care about thanks – either give them the order or get off the phone so they can get the next customer or get back to the racing form. Half the time they don’t even have computers – just a bunch of dusty parts catalogs, all scribbled over and a chewed-up Rolodex from 1969, covered in ash and soot from a 20-yr, 2-pack a day habit.
Bless that Rolodex and that catalogue. It’s got the next GiST who will tell you that their warehouse has the last box from Jupiter, circa 1981 or their blacksmith ??? (who has a blacksmith?) can make that exotic part and overnight it ( it’s true) but first you need to give them an okay that they can use the generic version of the exotic alloy, Who even knew there was a generic version? I thought that was the alloy. “No” the GiST growls, puffing on his cig “xxx is like Kleenex - it’s the brand-name. “yyy is the actual alloy composition”. JEEBERS! WHO KNEW THIS?
You bust a digit calling your customer to get the okay – he thinks you’re a freaking GENIUS because everybody else gave him the standard 6-8 week runaround – and you are a genius…..because you know the Power of the Guys in the Short Ties. And, as you hunt them like a rare species, you also respect and honor those GiSTs like the National Treasures they are.
Now…I’m not dissing the new crop of sales/supply folks – they do what they can with what they are given, which is mostly the company product database. And it’s a different work mindset now from when the GiSTs were honing their skills . These days, nobody sticks around in any one INDUSTRY, let alone any one company, long enough to amass that kind of network. It’s a damn shame – but it is what it is.
No, this is just a mournful love-letter to the ever-diminishing ranks of Guys in Short Ties. Maybe I’m the last Old School/New Customer they will have – most folks entering the manufacturing biz are way younger than me and do business differently – but I want those guys to know: I Love You! You are the reason my customers love me. So stay around for a little longer, okay?
And please: leave me your beat-up Rolodex when you retire?