Starting our own product line
For over 30 years CMI has been designing and building tooling and running production for our customers. Along the way we have come up with different ideas to make things easier and save time. From these ideas we started to develop our own line of products. Some of our products pertain to our industry and some came from different experiences outside of our industry. At first, we began selling our products on Ebay and Amazon. When sales began to take off, we developed an eCommerce site to showcase our products and sell directly to the customer.
Navigating Our First Trade Show
CMI attended our first trade show that included having our own booth and it brought plenty of learning experiences. As much as we tried to prepare, there were still some things that were a total afterthought.
We were just another shop that hadn’t done anything like this before with plenty of questions. Not every show is the same but we wanted to tell you what helped us, what we did right, what we did wrong and some takeaways.
The show was at the Haas factory outlet in Fairport, New York. It was a demo days event that had some of the new Haas machines as well as other companies around Upstate New York. Our table featured our Quick Change Pallet System, Speed Torq Handle™ and Inline Indicator Holder.
(This was the first setup the day before the show)
The Speed Torq Handle™ was our biggest draw and it was what brought most people over to our table. Once they were at our table we were able to demonstrate that it is a speed wrench and torque wrench all in one with a preset amount of torque. We did the demonstration on a vise we brought with our Pallet System in the vise.
The challenge in selling our own products is how to get the word out. Amazon and Ebay are helpful, as there are millions of people that search for products on their sites every day. But the ability to talk about one product and have it lead into a discussion about another product helped make the conversation feel more organic and less like a salesman.
Issues After Setting Up
The first problem we had was actually our table layout. The Indicator Holder is the smallest part we had and it was hidden by the vise and during our demonstration of the Speed Torq handle™. Thankfully we caught the over site quickly and moved it to the left side. The flow of traffic generally came from the left of our table and it was the first thing people saw.
The Speed Torq Handle™ still had the most color and was the main draw but we gave people more reason to talk.
A few other smaller points we didn’t think of until after the show:
- Having more color on our table
- Bringing a table cloth with our logo
- Two vises for two demos when the table became crowded and some people couldn’t see
- A catalog of all of our products. We directed people to our website but quite a few wanted a hard copy of everything.
- Due to the size of our table, at times, we couldn’t always show everyone how the Speed Torq Handle™ or Pallet System worked. A video on a loop could have been helpful for the people in the back.
The entire show was full of other machine shops and business owners in our area. We were able to meet, interact and develop relationships with local people. At CMI we are tool builders as well as running production. We would ask what someone made and how our products could be an inexpensive alternative to fix a problem they had. In the process we discovered that some smaller shops didn’t have the ability to make more complex fixtures that we could make for them.
As great as the show was for demonstrating our products, we were also able to show the wide range of products and services to offer. By networking with other companies in our community, they were able to put a face with CMI. Offering them solutions and tips to their problems worked better for us over trying to just throw products at them.
While we were able to introduce our products to a previously untapped market, we also had another learning experience: you can’t please everyone. Our Torq Handle™ currently comes preset at 8 and 12 pounds of force. This is just so someone can’t change the preset amount of force and another person can use it and unknowingly over torque their part.
We were brought plenty of helpful comments about having a 4 pounder for work with plastic parts. Because of this we created a four pound Speed Torq Handle™ to tighten more delicate parts.
On the other hand, we had a couple people looking for 50+ pounds of force. This is when we realized that having this audience to test your product in front of you was imperative. Due to the type of work we do regularly, we felt that 12 and 16 ft/lb was the most appropriate place to start. But after meeting with hundreds of other machinists, we discovered we were limiting our potential market.
Because of the information and feedback we received, we have added a 4 ft/lb Speed Torq Handle™. This type of interaction with customers can be beneficial to any company, because you're letting the market tell you directly what the problem is and they’re asking you to fix it.
Taking The Leap
Deciding to finally get a table at a trade show was something we went back and forth on for the last few years. Most of our products and services early on were done through relationships from previous work and the early days of CMI. Going to a show was nothing new, but being on the selling side was a whole new experience for us. However it was quite a learning experience.
There were still oversights when we put everything together. From table layout to missing information on our business cards and a list of other previously mentioned oversights. But with that came plenty of ideas for the next show to help build on the foundation that we already have.
It also helped open the door to products we didn’t originally think about. When developing the Speed Torq Handle™ we were worried about getting more pressure. We felt 12 pounds wasn’t enough but afterwards most felt eight pounds was to much. Because of this we created a four pound Speed Torq Handle™. After spending so much time working and designing a product, it is easy to get tunnel vision. Someone on the outside may have a different perspective.
For everything mentioned above, our first trade show was a success. We made mistakes, were unsure at times and probably would do things a bit different the next time around. But building relationships, networking and having a place to show our products outweighed the risk.