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Friday, February 22 , 2019, 2:48 am | Fair 42º


Paul Burri: Hiring ‘Dummy’ Workers

Starting a business sometimes requires thinking outside the box

I once owned a business called Gemini Engineering, which was in the contract assembly business. The idea was that we would contract with companies to assemble and package various components made by customers.

Paul Burri
Paul Burri

A good example is a package of screws in a hardware store. A small package of five or six screws in a sealed plastic bag hangs on a hook. Well, someone, somewhere had to pick out the six screws, put them in the bag, seal the bag and perhaps even punch the hole in the bag. That was the kind of work we were looking for.

Soon after I started the business, a childhood friend of mine came to visit, got interested in what I was doing and offered to become my partner. I had a lot of years of manufacturing and managerial experience, and he had sales and negotiating skills. We thought it would be a good mix of talents. He would concentrate on sales and contract negotiation, and I would be the manufacturing “genius” who figured out how to design and build whatever tool or machinery was needed get the work done efficiently.

He came in one morning with the news that he had located a prospective customer who needed component assembly work done. The company wanted to do a plant survey before it placed an order with us. We had no problem with that; it is smart business to be sure you’re giving your work to a competent supplier. You don’t want to give a big contract to a “garage shop” operation — i.e., someone who is working out of a garage and can’t really handle the job.

The trouble was, we were a garage operation at the time. We weren’t exactly working out of a garage, but the facility we were in wasn’t much bigger than a garage and we had very little equipment, no work and no employees. However, we had the experience and knowledge to hire the people, design the equipment and do the job for the customer. We had to convince the survey team that we could do the job.

At the time, I had a business friend near our facility who had a small manufacturing operation where he was assembling small components for his own particular product. He had several experienced employees, various pieces of manufacturing and assembly machinery and a good supply of components to be assembled.

My partner and I explained our dilemma, and then we made him an offer he couldn’t refuse. We offered to borrow his whole manufacturing operation for the day of our survey. We would move his equipment, supplies and employees into our facility and pay his employees to work for us for that day so it would look like Gemini Engineering was a working, going concern. After the survey, we would return all of his equipment and supplies and put them back in his shop exactly as we had found them. He would get a day’s worth of production for free, and the next day be back in normal operation.

It cost Gemini Engineering three days of hard work moving equipment and supplies and about $600 in wages, but it impressed the survey team enough that we got the contract.

Sometimes it takes a little creativity — and a lot of hard work — to get a business started.

— Paul Burri is an entrepreneur, inventor, columnist, engineer and iconoclast. He is not in the advertising business, but he is a small-business counselor with the Santa Barbara chapter of Counselors to America’s Small Business-SCORE. He can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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