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Artisan Grinding - In The News

Looking through to success

Joe Cogliano II, Dayton Business Journal, Jan. 21, 2008

Taking a walk through her shop, Carolyn Buechly looks in on some of the work in progress.

 

The president of Artisan Grinding Service Inc. points to a machine finishing off an order of molds used to make caps -- caps that will go on window-washer fluid reservoirs in car engines -- while several other machines buzz along, fine tuning pieces of various sizes.

"We do parts," said Buechly. "It could be for anything and a lot of times we don't even know what it's for."

 

Not seeing a finished product is the nature of the precision grinding business, but so is its dependence on machine and tooling shops for revenue. When that industry took a nosedive several years ago, Artisan hit hard times with flat sales and profits in the tank.

So, Buechly did a gut check and decided her company could weather the storm. She refinanced her home for a cash infusion and reshaped the business by running with fewer employees and cutting supply costs, ordering only what was really needed.

 

While she wouldn't disclose specifics, Buechly admits losses were significant in the company's 2005 fiscal year. But within two years, Artisan made a complete turnaround and was netting as much in profit as it had seen in losses. Sales from 2005 to 2007 increased 30 percent.

 

 

Artisan's success is a bright spot for the machining and tooling industry, which has seen its share of companies shut their doors. Buechly, like many others in the industry who survived, had to restructure the business in order to make it work.

 

After peaking at 28 employees in the 1990s, she trimmed her workforce to 11 through attrition. Having fewer workers gives Buechly more breathing room when work slows while keeping her under a regulatory threshold of 20 -- which means she doesn't have to pay for some government mandated employee benefits.

 

For example, by having fewer than 20 workers Artisan saves money with lower Medicare premiums and labor costs that go along with Cobra reporting requirements.

 

Artisan also stopped ordering large stockpiles of supplies, like the grinding wheels used in the machines. And when she was told it would cost tens of thousands of dollars to upgrade computers to do tasks like payroll, Buechly found a way do to what she needed -- manually entering figures like updated tax rates -- allowing her to use the same computers and software she's had for years.

 

"A lot of companies have gone out of business, so clearly Artisan has taken the right steps and they've hung in there," said Dave Dysinger, president and chief executive officer of Dayton-based Dysinger Inc. "Which is what it boils down to: having the stamina through those really difficult times so you can rebuild when the economy is back."

 

Dysinger, a long-time industry veteran, likens Buechly's situation to the tough times his company went through in the late 1990s. Dysinger peaked at more than 110 employees at several facilities before dropping to 15 workers at one site by 2001.

 

"You have to take everything out of the company that's not contributing," he said. "I know Carolyn and how determined she was to succeed. It would have been easy for her to quit and say 'I've had enough' but she didn't do that."

 

While Buechly took an active role in cutting costs to boost profit, she attributes the jump in sales to simply getting the job done. Artisan doesn't advertise or have a salesperson -- although it tried both with little success -- but the company still has many of the same customers that came around when the business first opened.

 

"Our customers come to us," she said. "We have a very good reputation for quality and service at a fair price."

 

Buechly opened Artisan Grinding with her first husband in 1977 on North Dixie Drive in Dayton in a 4,000-square-foot building. Business boomed quickly and in two years the couple moved Artisan to Stanley Avenue, where it operates today in a 14,000-square-foot facility.

 

Buechly, who took over the company in 1987, competed nationally in ballroom dancing for almost 20 years and still looks at ease as she walks through the shop floor.

 

The good news for the future of her company: Its service should be around as long as parts and molds need to be made. On the downside, a help wanted sign has lingered in the Artisan lobby for years because Buechly finds it tough to recruit skilled workers when she needs them.

 

Those hiring woes led to another major business change.

 

At one time, Buechly wouldn't consider hiring people who quit the company, but she's changed her tune and brought back several former workers.

 

Buechly admits she took it personally when a worker quit, now she looks at rehiring as a business decision.

 

"I know what I'm getting when I hire someone who's been here before and they know how we do things here."