Growing a Thriving Shop by Creating Chaos and then Organizing it, Roger Duffy (Part I)-EP 110

February 27, 2024 - 2:03pm -- Selcuk Gulboy
Roger Duffy, Owner of F&F Machined Products

At Graff-Pinkert, I’ve sold a lot of machine tools to successful entrepreneurs, including my guest on today’s show, Roger Duffy, owner of F&F Machine Products. But, just a few people like him really have stood out for their outward ballsiness in business.

Roger says he loves being an entrepreneur because it allows him to take risks, to dive into the unknown, whether that means trying entirely new equipment or even starting new types of manufacturing businesses of which he has no previous experience.

Today’s episode is the first of a two part interview in which we will talk about how you can succeed in business when you’re not afraid to make chaos and clean it up afterward.


Interview Highlights

Roger Duffy started his career as a welder in a fab shop but didn’t like the job. At age 19, he bought a house on a land contract and had to get it surveyed. The surveyors saw his interest and hired him as an apprentice land surveyor. He quickly learned the job and was soon running his own crew. After two years, the owner wanted to sell Roger the business, but at 22 years old the idea of owning a business was something his mind could not comprehend.

Looking for a change, Roger got a job at F&F Machine, a Brown & Sharpe screw machine shop in Elkhart, Indiana. His first job was manually placing parts into a pan for a second operation, a brainless task that almost made him to quit. But as he worked, he learned to fix Brown & Sharpes by watching the company’s owner, Blake. Eventually Roger started working on the machines when the ones nearby his workspace broke down. Blake saw what Roger was doing and was shocked at his natural mechanical talent. Blake took on Roger as a protege, teaching him to set up and work on machines.

Roger liked to stay late at the shop moving and organizing the chaotic factory layout even though his boss told him not to change it. He jokes it was easier to get forgiveness than permission.

Within a year and a half, Roger was setting up jobs himself and making layouts. Blake sold Roger 10% of the company over five years and helped him pay for it with bonuses. Eventually Roger bought the whole business.

Over the years, when customers had issues with parts, Roger would visit and then offer to quote new jobs, which kept bringing new business. The shop grew from 13 to 32 Brown & Sharpes with around 25 people. Roger still has many Brown and Sharpes in his shop today, most of them retrofitted with CNC ServoCams, a technology he loves but that never caught on. Over the years, his shop has diversified its equipment, running Tsugami Swiss, Haas 4-axis and 5-axis CNC Mills, wire EDMs and slant bed lathes.

Roger says he likes taking risks. He wants challenges, to jump into the unknown with a plan to organize later. For instance, he bought his first CNC mill for a job which he only had a handshake agreement. The machine was an Amera-Seiki that he taught himself to run.

Interestingly, Roger advises that it is important to focus on your core competencies when expanding. He says he tries to avoid drifting too far into areas like welding that don’t align with his current equipment. 

I got the feeling that Roger has a constant inner debate. One side of his brain tells him focus on just a few core businesses that he already does well. The other side of his brain pushes an ongoing desire to try doing new types of businesses—to get out of his comfort zone. That is the side that often wins out.

Tune in to the second half of the interview in two weeks, in which Roger discusses buying his 40,000-square-foot building and going into the patio furniture business.

Question: What is one of the biggest risks your company has taken?

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