No one ever expects to hear that a husband and wife team who just turned 30 can own their own business — let alone a business that manufactures products people use every day.
Many years before our time, my husband's great grand¼father operated a lawn mower repair shop out of an old, converted barn. He and his two sons served local patrons by sharpening mower blades and fixing starter clutches. Over the years, the company changed, and Lander Inc. did everything from plastic injection molds to complete rebuilding of metalworking machines.
The business saw its days of prosperity start to decline, and the doors closed in the mid-1980s. It was not until Bill Lander, 27, was laid off from a machine shop that this building once again saw the light of day. On Jan. 1, 2001, he opened with no money, no customers, and a $48,000 loan on a used CNC lathe. Five years later, we have moved from that barn to a 3,000-square-foot building in a local industrial park. We employ seven workers and offer health insurance and a 401k.
As great as all that sounds, it didn't just happen.
Long hours were spent, some customers left unsatisfied, and some bills were paid late. That's the only way we knew. No one teaches you in school how to manage your personal checkbook, let alone to balance the general ledger. This was merely an opportunity that we poured our hearts and souls into, and still give 200 percent every day. We still work long hours, we have more satisfied repeat customers, and now we aren't afraid the electric company might shut off the lights.
Manufacturing is not a dying trade. Everything around us is manufactured, from cars to a prosthetic leg. Machine shops are no longer dark and dingy. But the average age of a skilled machinist is 50 because the “image” of manufacturing has sent so many young people away from the field.
Why are we so different?
First, we are youthful, energetic and passionate about manufacturing. We don't wait for the phone to ring; we go out and make sure it rings. We embrace new technology and seek out methodologies such as Lean Six Sigma to ensure our customers get quality higher than they expect. We listen to the customer — then make it happen. When we don't have an answer, we ask those around us and learn from their successes. We want to create our own futures and those of our four children. We understand no one is more responsible for our financial stability than we are. We care about how our business impacts the community and seek ways to make it better. We are deeply concerned about the future employees of our business and want to scream from the roof¼tops: “Come, look at us, we are different.” My greatest hope is that there are other people who feel as we do about this business.
Remember this: When our family told us we were crazy, they were right. When the bank told us we would fail, we prospered. This business of manufacturing has a history that is older than we are, but right now it is the youthful, energetic and passionate “kids” who are creating a new chapter.