Connect with Damon Pistulka
Lisa Ryan: Hey, it's Lisa Ryan. Welcome to the Manufacturers Network podcast. I'm here today with Damon Pistulka. Damon is co-founder of Exit Your Way, where he focuses on identifying and executing opportunities for business owners to increase their business value. Damon worked his way through college and earned a mechanical engineering degree. He started working in an injection molding company where he worked in technical and managerial roles, including designing, building, and operating facilities. Damon managed businesses to design and produce retail store fixtures, custom fabricated metal products, advanced aerospace components, and high-tech devices.
Damon, welcome to the show.
Damon Pistulka: Thank you, Lisa. And that is quite a mouthful. And it makes me realize I have to rewrite that because it's too much, too much to come on. It shows I'm old. That's all it does.
Lisa Ryan: But it shows that you've been in and around the manufacturing business. So you've been working in that area, and that's who listens to the podcast.
Damon Pistulka: When I was in college, I worked my way through college, sweeping the floor in a tool room until they finally started letting me draft and do other things. I was closer to getting out of school. So, I've been in manufacturing for a long time.
Lisa Ryan: Yeah. So please share with us a bit about your journey. As a young man, what initially brought you into manufacturing, and then what kept you there?
Damon Pistulka: I grew up on a big farm. It was in the Dakotas, out in the middle of nowhere, where it was miles and miles from the nearest Wal-Mart - which was about 70 miles away.
We had thousands of acres. We're farming. You have to understand how to fix things. It's assumed that you're going to do that. You're going to work with your hands. So I get to college, and I didn't know what to do. I ended up having a roommate that was in engineering.
And I thought that's pretty cool. I started doing engineering. And the next thing, I was in a mechanical engineering program. Then I worked for a manufacturer. And here I am many years later now. And it's been it was fun. I enjoyed the technical part of it and learning how things are done.
And I still to this day am enthralled by when I can walk through a manufacturing facility and see products being made and touch them when they're done and feel them because it's so much fun to do that. And it doesn't matter. I've been able to do injection molding. We made all kinds of medical products and business products and things that go on doors and all this stuff that you get involved in so many different places.
And then being able to help those companies do that. I was able to go into plants where television plants and automotive plants and tools like Black and Decker type tools were made. Plants where they're making air compressors and hand tools and all this stuff that you go, wow, that's how it drills made. I see all that stuff. And it was so much fun to do that.
I was running companies for people. I was taking the knowledge of how things get done and then applying that in the business setting. It's always been fun for me because when you can get a company working together, everyone who is designing or the people in the office and the people working on the product or handling the product all know what they're supposed to do.
And they're all working together. And it's not we and them and all that kind of B.S. that goes on. You can achieve so much with not a lot of money. And because of the ingenuity that you get when people work together. Diversity brings people together to solve problems. It's so much fun.
Lisa Ryan: That's one of the things I loved about manufacturing in the welding industry. Same thing. You get to see how everything's made because when you look around you, man, everything's been manufactured. And when we think about manufacturing and these younger generations coming into the workplace because they haven't had that same level of exposure, they don't necessarily know how cool and passionate people can get about it. I mean, my manufacturing audiences are some of the most passionate people on the planet about what they do.
But when it comes to changing that conversation, many manufacturers have been doing it the same way for 40 years, the same equipment that they've had in the plant. And this is not how we attract the new generation. So you and I will talk about ways that you've seen your clients and how you've helped people as far as little things that we can do to modernize manufacturing for today and the future.
So, start there, kind of what are you seeing and how are you helping your clients progress and change things?
Damon Pistulka: When I talk about modernizing manufacturing, I don't even pretend to know how to do it on the manufacturing floor anymore. I think that is something that manufacturers are very good at. If you're in business today, you're not a sloppy manufacturer anymore. You've been in business for a long time. Even if you're an OEM manufacturer, you've got to get good at least producing that product efficiently enough to support yourself.
So when it comes to the manufacturing floor, I think there are two things we're selling ourselves short on. So let's back up to the beginning of the question. Modernizing manufacturing to me is about digital transformation. It's not because I think everyone should be doing digital marketing. I think you should be to some extent. But it's not only that. It's the fact that is understanding the generational transformation that we were going through. So we're getting into this quite a ways down the road and understanding that.
What does it mean for our workforce? What does it mean for our customer base? And that's where I talk with more of the clients I'm working with: understanding your customer base and how it's changed over the last ten years because manufacturing and some of the other industries we work with are closely related. It traditionally was Damon's going a salesperson for a manufacturer; he's out meeting with customers. That's what we do.
That's how we sell. Yeah, we got a website. You can contact our phone number that might have been all it was, or it's an equipment list or something like that. We got some pictures of the product, whatever it is. And that's the length of the breadth of the way the digital format was. And that's the sales process. Right, to have x many salespeople or manufacturer's reps or distributors or whoever the heck I'm selling my product the way I did it.
Well, fast forward to today. We've been going through the last how many years we've been talking about baby boomers retiring. I mean, heck, it started ten years ago already. And we're rolling through that. And now it's hitting. When you look at manufacturing, we've got the double whammy in 2021. We got the big jobs to shift that people are talking about; people leaving because it's such an employer's market. They can go wherever they want.
And you've got people retiring at a faster rate than ever before because they sat through the 2008-9 crash when the real estate went to hell. And then they stayed through that. And then we had it covid in 2020, and some people hung on. And now, when people are getting past this, we're going to have even more. But the underlying change that people don't focus on a lot in manufacturing is that the average age of the buying population is not going up anymore.
It's going down significantly. The buying population and the employees all grew up with Google. Most of them grew up with a cell phone in their hand. How are they going to know if they want to come and work for your company? They're going to look up your website, and they're going to be concerned about things that people in my generation never cared about. We didn't focus on your community involvement; what's your larger purpose?
How do you treat your employees? What kind of things are you going to do for me that help me as a person? Think about how you were working in manufacturing. How much time you spent on your cell phone. It's like not only are we looking at ways to add apps because the guys are out in the field or they're on the shop floor, and they can look up a short video, but even they're checking you out on YouTube.
Lisa Ryan: So who do you have that you took your phone and said, hey, what do you like about working here? I love LinkedIn and YouTube, where you have these little short videos on how things are made. Because if I'm a prospective candidate thinking about going into manufacturing, I'm like, wow, I can do that because you're making it look exciting. You're showing them what they can be a part of versus the old website with the phone number and equipment list.
Damon Pistulka: I think the real change happening now in manufacturing that we all need to be aware of and be changing to accommodate people coming to work for us now is cell phone generation. So they want to know what the company's going to do for them. And they also want to know what you expect from them as a company. So they know I don't think that millennials or the next generation, Gen Z know what they want, but they want a sense of involvement and enjoy things. And I don't necessarily think that they don't want to work. I think they want to need to know that, hey, I'm going to get this if I do that. And that's not different. I mean, it's no different than when we grew up. We needed to know.
We weren't as concerned about the environment or the community. So that's a bit more now. But we have to be clear on that. And you have to know that you're competitive because now people can go check out different companies much easier again because of information at their fingertips. In the 80s, when looking to find a job or the 90s, you're looking to find a job.
How the heck did what the benefits were at a company before? We didn't have a place like Glassdoor where people can get on Glassdoor, and most manufacturers are listening, probably only know what it is. But, still, I'll tell you, look at your company, look at Glassdoor, because if you had bad employee experiences, it's probably on there, and you don't even know about it. And your Gen Z and Millennials, they're looking at that before they come to work with you.
Lisa Ryan: I mean, like you say, like, ding, ding, ding, ding, ding. I know you may be driving listening to this or something. So write that down glassdoor.com.
Damon Pistulka: Yeah, it is. It is the place because I've gone to clients that I've started to work with them. I look at their glass stories. What's the last story? It doesn't matter. And it's that. And they said, well, you got a couple of bad reviews on Glassdoor, some negative comments here. Well, years ago, it wouldn't matter.
It wouldn't matter because that wasn't we don't understand those things. But like when you're trying to sell something today, we have to put ourselves in the shoes of that person and make ourselves attractive to that person. That person is different from we are.
Lisa Ryan: Well, and those negative reviews, they can be offset if that company comments and says, we understand what we're seeing and you're showing that you're paying attention to those bad reviews, not going to kill you because we all know that grumpy people leave companies. It's not that big of a deal, but it's in conveying that. Are you a company that people want to work for? Because I agree with you, millennials and Gen Z want to work.
What we need to do is give them opportunities so that they want to work for you.
Damon Pistulka: One hundred percent. You said it much better than I could, and that's the point when you look at modernizing your manufacturing, and again, we're not talking about all in the shop or whatever you're making and that kind of stuff. This is about modernizing for you to be attractive to employees. Modernizing so you can be appealing to customers. So when we look at the customer side of it, to look at these customers that we're selling to, I don't care if you're selling, you're a tier-one supplier, and you're trying to win contracts with a big company.
The average age of the person you're selling to is probably thirty-five to forty-five, right? Those people grew up with a cell phone in their hand. They're using Amazon way more than the 50 plus-year-old person is. And they expect to do business kind of that way. They hope that your business is doing a lot more than the old OK. The system's going to send you the POs. It'll show up when it's supposed to. Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.
They want to be able to look you up online. They want to be able to see what's going on with you. They want to feel a part of your business and understand how you are a part of their business and how you are a part of helping them. And that takes a different approach. It's not a salesman talking to them once every quarter or whatever it is to check-in or them having a good account rep at the other end that's taken that order.
You're sending them some valuable information on the products you use or ways to improve in some other area of their business or how you can make their life better with your solutions or keep them informed on industry news. And like you said, the same kind of approach for people buying from you now or going to buy from you in the future, you have to be producing stuff on YouTube.
You have to be putting some sort of content out in a blog or once in a while. Maybe periodically sending an email of good information out to your customer base or potential customer base. It's not an option anymore.
Lisa Ryan: Right. And when you're doing things for the community, you mentioned earlier how you are showing up, giving back to the community? What is your mission? How are you making a difference that's important to today's buyers, too? So if you're doing something, some people are like, well, I don't want to toot my own horn. I want to be anonymous. I want to do good. But it's in sharing what you're doing in a genuine, authentic way that this is how we're making a difference. You're going to make that buyer proud that they're doing business with you.
Damon Pistulka: Yeah. And you make it the point you make about not wanting to toot your own horn. There are ways to do this and be very subdued about sponsoring a charity event, or you can your workforce can go out and work for a week on some great project. But, again, it's about helping the community focus on what you're helping, not on you.
And it won't look like you're tooting your own horn. It looks like you are so grateful that your customers allow you because we do good work and have great customers. It will enable us to do this for our community. And then you're not too in your own horn. You're showing people how you want to use the benefits of the business relationship to help more people. And like you said, the buyers want to see that because they feel a part of it.
Right. If your customer can feel a part of you helping the community, that's even better.
Lisa Ryan: Yeah, because what differentiates you? You're competing with somebody down the street who's making the same thing. You are. OK, well, maybe I know it's a different quality, blah, blah, blah. However, it's still what differentiates you and having those roles being seen in the community, taking into account who's buying from you instead of that product that you've purchased. What? We've always sold it this way.
Damon Pistulka: Yeah. Look at the difference in retail, right? You have the behemoths like Wal-Mart or Kroger or the big store chains. Right. It could be that the Albertsons or whatever the grocery stores. Why is Trader Joe's or Whole Foods popular? It's a much different market that we're working in. That's a younger market that shops in those. And they're very loyal to those brands because they have maybe a little more community feel to them. You can see it all over, in what you're doing and what you're buying.
People want to know that they're buying from somebody that is not in it for the buck. They're in it to help more than helping the community of the world at large as well.
Lisa Ryan: Right. And I think that's such a good point. So often on this podcast, we talk about the employees and the younger generations and attract and retain the employees. You have a different mindset with younger people who grew up with the cell phone. They think differently. So this adds such a different perspective. So we're taking it even further into the whole atmosphere of our business. So we're not only considering those same technology challenges and apps and videos, but we're also looking to attract and retain employees but also looking at that world of people who are buying from you.
So, such a great way of looking at it.
Damon Pistulka: Yeah, it's you have to put your customers and your employees in your story with you, because if they're not in it with you, then you're competing for air time. But when you can show your customers how they're helping you to do good in the world, and, yes, you're going to make that quality on-time delivery pricing, all that stuff is old news. If you're sitting there on your website and you say, hey, we produce the highest quality at the lowest prices possible, blah, blah, blah, there are 14 million other sites to do the same damn thing.
So, listen, it's, it's not worth your time to put that on there. Put why you're different. We treat people this way. We do this in our community. I was talking to Matt Goosy from Memoir's Machining on a business podcast. Matt does something where he shares 40 percent of his profits back with his employees every year. How many places do that, and how much of a community impact is that?
If I was trying to recruit employees, that shows that he cares about the employees? It's things like this that are amazing. Of course, you still have to make great parts on time and all that. But those differentiators you have are probably not inside the manufacturing floor anymore as they are about how you do business.
Lisa Ryan: If it came down to your best tip for modernizing the whole feel of manufacturing and the buyers and the employees, what would you say would be a step for somebody to get started?
Damon Pistulka: I think it's putting themselves in place in the place of an employee. And looking at your company from that perspective, have a 20 something-year-old person look at your company and that you and you say, what do you think when you look at our website if you are coming to work here? Or have them look at or have someone that's a bit old or look at the same thing from buying from you look at your website, look at all of your social media, look at all your marketing materials, whatever you've got put together, and say what does and how does it make you feel?
Because that is the real, those are the real people that matter. It doesn't matter if you're branding people or your salespeople think this is the coolest flier ever or I'm the best salesperson ever. It's what you're your audience thinks, right? What the people that are going to make a decision based on what you've got there. That's who matters. Put yourself in their position and, honestly, look at your stuff and change it.
Lisa Ryan: Right. And so easy to do. Find somebody to secret shop you. Another thing that kind of popped into my mind to do is go through the process of somebody trying to apply to your company. Try going through your website. Call your company - incognito and see how is the phone is answered. See how you are treated all of these different things? And be prepared for the real story of what's going on in your company.
Damon Pistulka: Yeah, if you've got a great customer that you've done business with or started doing business with. Ask them what's good and what's bad. What are we not doing right? What are the top three things I could do to make what we do for you even better in it? I'll guarantee you it's not going to be around the components you produce; whatever the price, it's around something that you're not communicating well enough.
You could do something better on your website. You could. We need to focus on these things because we have to make it more convenient and more attractive for people to work for us or do business with us.
Lisa Ryan: Right. Well, Damon, as we get to the end of our time together, tell us a little bit about how what you do when you work with your clients and what's the best way for people to get in touch with you.
Damon Pistulka: Yeah, well, thanks, Lisa. We work with clients typically within about five years of some sort of exit from their company. And what we do is help the owners of the companies prepare their company for sale or succession, whatever they're going to do. If they're going to sell their company or succeed it, most people don't realize that only about twenty-five percent of companies get sold. Only about 40 percent of businesses ever make it to the second generation.
And then it's 13 percent of the third. So what that means is there's a lot of preparation and changes that need to take place to sell, sell, or succeed successfully. And we're that guide. We're alongside the owner. We're saying we've been here. We've done this before. Listen, if you're going to sell your company, you can make millions of dollars yourself. But if you're the value in the company, you can't do that.
Other people won't buy it. Suppose you have all your eggs in one basket, one customer. In that case, it's going to be harder to sell your company, or there are different things that we have to work on, making them attractive and valuable to the next person, whether that's a buyer or that's a family member, that's going to take the business over for you. And that's what we do. Our process is typically a couple of years by the time we're done with it.
But we from that twenty-five or forty percent number of selling or succeeding were well over ninety-five percent when we do it so well. And usually, we were doubling or more of the value of the business by the time they do it. So it's, it's a lot of fun. It's something that I used to do when we were working when you ran companies for private equity owners. So I enjoy doing it with our company and the people we work with and internally and externally because we're impacting people's lives by doing it.
Lisa Ryan: And how do people get a hold of you?
Damon Pistulka: Damon Pistulka, first of all, I don't think there's another person with my name in the world. So that's pretty easy. If you can do that, LinkedIn is good. And if you want to do email, it's firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lisa Ryan: Well, Damon, it has been an absolute pleasure to have you on the show today. Thanks so much for being with me.
Damon Pistulka: Thanks, Lisa.
Lisa Ryan: You're very welcome. I'm Lisa Ryan, and this is the Manufacturers Network podcast. See you next time.