Looking forward to more automation - NJC Machine's Kevin & Amy Graff
TMA members Kevin & Amy Graff of NJC Machine
The more manufacturing automates, the more work NJC Machine Company will have. That's a key reason why Kevin and Amy Graff bought the 38-year-old company a year and a half ago.
“The more the world automates, the more they will need the type of components we make at NJC - high precision, high tolerance components,” Kevin said during a recent visit.
Kevin and Amy Graff bought NJC Machine from its previous owner in March 2016 after Kevin worked for years as an operations manager in Barrington Amy's expertise complements Kevin's in administrative work, including payroll, purchasing and human relations.
“You're only going to get so far working for someone else,” Kevin said. “You buy a company as an investment. Then you work hard to get a satisfied customer base that will stick with you and grow with you. You do whatever you can to grow a legacy for your family.”
Kevin's interest in manufacturing stems back to the late 80s, when he studied die making at TMA. He, along with hundreds of classmates at the time, finished the course with a die making certification. The company he was working for at the time paid for his training. Kevin says he realized how good he had it when he met up with his high school peers that went on to college. They were struggling to find jobs and pay off their college debts.
“They tell young people that college is the only way to go,” he said. “That couldn't be more patently false. Machinists can make six figures with no debt.”
“The company I worked for put me through TMA training, and even back in the 80s, I was earning $45k. We would do tours for local high schools and the first question the students would ask is how much money I made. I told them they could make a good living in manufacturing, and they wouldn't have to wear a tie,” Kevin said.
While working as an operations manager and customer service manager, the Graffs dreamed of owning their own business. When they found NJC and decided to invest in it, they depended on the company team to stay on while the company changed hands.
“My style of managing is different from the previous owner, and we had to learn how to work together, but things have worked out well,” he said.
Kevin and Amy plan to double NJC's work over the next 12 years – if the government's “heavy hand” allows them to do so.
“One of the biggest impediments to buying and taking over a company in Cook County is the heavy handedness of government on business. It's like Cook County, Chicago and Illinois have made every effort to make the business environment as unfriendly as possible,” Kevin said.
And finding a workforce eager to work and learn what manufacturers need to know isn't easy, either. “We're struggling to find people with appropriate life skills, let alone math or algebra … ” he said.
Despite the challenges, the Graffs are looking forward to the coming year as they're expecting a baby in the near future. Amy said she plans to still be involved in the business' while spending more time at home with the new addition.
With all the changes in the last year, issues have come up that surprised the Graffs. Kevin and Amy are especially grateful to the TMA network , which, they say, has been an “outstanding resource” in helping them get through tough obstacles. TMA's Commercial & Marketing Service – Special Interest Group – (CMS-SIG) for short – is the service TMA's VicePresident of Membership Engagement Kent Gladish provides the association's members.
“I've tapped into the CMS-SIG 17 times,” Kevin said. “It's great. All you do is blow out an email to Kent with your question, and you get so much better advice in the special interest group of TMA members.”
Gladish says over 700 TMA members participate in the online loop he's developed over the years, in which experienced manufacturers share expertise on topics from unique customer-vendor relationships to decent pricing.
“It's one of TMA's most valuable resources,” Kevin said. “It's hard to place a value on it.”
NJC Machining is located at 8338 47th Street, Lyons Illinois 60534 or on the web at www.njcmachine.com.
By Fran Eaton. Published first in TMA's January 2018 News Bulletin.