Machine Shop for Sale

Reflections on the why, the how and the final outcome of selling my machine shop.

I opened the doors to Staub Machine in 1975 when I was just 25 years old and very naïve. My mission statement was simply to support myself, my wife and family to come. The business began in our one-and-a-half car garage where it was easy to work extended hours—when I had a job to complete. We suffered through some difficult years when I was investing in the business yet borrowing on the line of credit for groceries. After 10 years, the business turned out to be reasonably successful. I hired employees, purchased equipment and embraced technology. As the business became more profitable, I was able to provide health insurance and profit-sharing benefits for the employees. When the years turned into decades and I was looking back on 30+ years, two questions kept coming up: “Where am I headed?” and “What am I going to do with my machine shop?”

I struggled with this dilemma for 10 years, never finding an answer that made sense. I did not have a child or an employee who fit my idea of a logical owner. In 2014, I took an entrepreneurial leadership course at the University of Buffalo for business owners. I was the oldest student with the most business experience. I met mentors and reactors, and I formed a bond with 23 classmates. The experience inspired some serious reflection. After a day of careful consideration, I made a very hard decision: It was time to sell Staub Machine. The next day, during a Chamber of Commerce tour of our Hamburg, New York facility, I made the announcement that I was going to sell the business. I shocked the employees. A number of them tried to get me to reconsider, but I was committed to a transition plan. It seemed like everyone was asking me why I was selling. I had a simple answer: I sold because I wanted the business to continue. I realized that I did not have the stamina or the desire to work 40- to 60-hour weeks. I did not have the drive that I had when I was younger, and it was beginning to show. I needed to move forward with the sale for the good of the business.

During the process, I sorted through potential buyers and interested parties, and I learned that money was not my driving force. As I became better aware of what was important to me, I realized that money was taking a back seat. I wanted the business to remain similar to how I operated it, I wanted a home for my employees, I wanted continuity with my customers and the opportunity to work with the current vendors. For me personally, I wanted a landing spot. I began to screen the buyers by looking for a local investor, good leadership, someone who was a generation younger and someone smarter than me.

I had met Joe 20 years earlier. He worked for a small manufacturer in the area. We became friends and shared a mutual respect for each other. He had entrepreneurial aspirations, eventually controlling and buying the company for which he worked. Later, he and I served on each other’s advisory boards. He had confided in me years ago that he loved our operation, and during the search for a buyer, he raised his hand and expressed his interest in Staub to everyone at the table. I had always respected him and considered him the most honest person I knew, so I decided to put my total faith in him when he named the sale price and began driving the sale/purchase process. We shook hands on a deal, and he began working in the office without compensation a year and a half to learn about Staub.

After a few months, Joe came to me and enhanced the deal on which we had already agreed. He began making decisions and interacting with employees as I backed out of the way. Almost two years after the handshake, the sale of Staub Machine was finalized in January of 2018. I went to work the next day like nothing changed, and for most outsiders, there is no difference. We have the same staff, customers and vendors as before, but I am now treated as a consultant, and my business card says “Founder.” Joe encourages me to take time for myself, allows me to be a part of many decisions and lets me keep my office. My days are split between some design work and consulting on new jobs or diagnosing shop problems. I also have my own kingdom in the shop: the manual engine lathe and Bridgeport milling machine.

I cannot imagine how the decision to sell and the transition could have gone any better. I got everything I wanted. With an owner like Joe, I am also committed to making this business even better. Finally, there is one thing that Joe said to me that I cannot forget. He said, “Tony, if you want it, there’s a place for you here for the next 20 years.”