Working in a small business has a lot of perks, but often requires the duties of multiple job titles. My title at Barnes MetalCrafters is “product designer,” but I use that term loosely when people ask what I do. It is hard to describe what I do, because for the most part, it changes every day. I like it that way, and there are never any dull moments. An easy way to change your day or the next five minutes is having certain types of customers walk through the front door.
During the 10 years I have worked at Barnes MetalCrafters, I have seen several customers walk through the door and have developed different profiles of who they are or what they may want. We call these people “walk-ins.” They are not the same type of people who are returning customers. These are the type of people that may be DIYers, or at least think they are.
A lot of fabrication businesses don’t take walk-ins. There are several reasons they choose not to, but people are running out of options to get their custom metal parts or repairs. We have a sign out front stating a minimum price for walk-ins, but that doesn’t mean we always abide by it. Below are a few of the different types of walk-ins I have encountered over the years. Enjoy.
Disclaimer: We treat all of our customers and walk-ins with respect and appreciate their business. Just because the customer is always right doesn’t mean they know what is right or which way is right. I apologize in advance if you are offended by meeting any of the following criteria.
This walk-in customer always starts off by tugging on one side of his pants, pulling them up and saying, “I need a piece of teeein.” This means tin in the South, where a slight drawl is pretty common. I am guilty of this at times, as well, so I understand where they are coming from.
This customer either pulls a crumbled piece of paper out of his pocket with some dimensions, or holds his hands in the air like he’s telling a fish story.
The word tin is never used in our shop, unless it is with a walk-in customer, who usually wants a paper-thin piece of galvanized metal and is probably working near a barn. This customer also tends to be a little older than average. About the thinnest metal we have in the shop is 24-gauge, and that normally must be ordered for a job because we rarely use it. The tin customer will often “settle” for this since it is a little thicker than he anticipated. He is happy, and probably will come back in a year or so for his next project.
You may be thinking this is the same as the tin customer, but you are mistaken. The scrap metal customer is very similar but is trying to accomplish the unknown. He wants this metal for nothing, since he thinks it is scrap. He doesn’t normally care about the size, until he finds out the price.
He says, “I need a thin piece of metal, about a quarter inch, and I need it to be stainless so it doesn’t rust.”
OK, buddy, your price just jumped several hundred bucks.
A quarter-inch-thick piece of metal is by all means not thin, and stainless steel is not cheap. Before we ruffle his feathers, we have to ask, “What are you trying to do?” He knows what he wants to do, but has no idea what it takes to do it. We normally grab a drop that came off the shear or the laser and give him a price. No matter how big or small the piece of metal is, this customer always thinks the price is too high. Remember, he thinks it’s “scrap” metal. Metal is not really considered scrap if you can use it for something else. Scrap metal is in our dumpster.
After establishing a price, we get a couple measurements from the customer and cut the metal to size. We take it to the counter to exchange the part for money.
I would say 50 percent of the time, this type of walk-in then asks you to put some holes in it at certain locations. We then tell him it will be more money. He cringes and gets a little irritated at the price jump. We then ask him if he’s had his car worked on lately and how much he paid to have it done. He usually backs down and lets us go put some holes in the metal for the extra money.
Asking him the size of the hole is another story. It usually ends up being “‘bout the size of my thumb.” This type of walk-in normally ends up with a piece of 16-, 14-, or 11-gauge mild steel or galvanized. We tell the customer to throw a coat of paint on it, and it will be more than enough for what he is trying to do.
These walk-ins come in with different projects varying greatly in the amount of time and effort needed to complete them. Some come with a broken wind vane or chair that needs to be welded or soldered back together. These projects are pretty easy and can be completed that same day.
Others come in with something they have drawn up on graph paper, a bar napkin, or a piece of wood. The graph-paper guys or gals normally are a little more technical than the average walk-in.
One thing I will never understand is how this type assumes he has taken all of the work out of it because he’s drawn a picture. Some say, “Can’t you just use that?” I politely ask for some files that I can use. Most have no idea what I’m talking about, so I say that I will have to redraw the part if it has to be cut on the laser. If we need to use the computer or laser, the price definitely is going to go up.
One customer came in with a string that he used to measure his project. It had a couple of knots in it to get the length more exact. We all got a kick out of this, and his project ended up being completed with a few questions and answers.
Several walk-ins have come in with templates made from paper, wood, and beer boxes. I had a giant piece of wood in my office for days, and the only thing I needed from it was a small picture drawn on the corner.
Normally, people are pretty reasonable with lead-times on this stuff. They have been thinking about their project for a while, so they don’t need it right away. When a customer picks up his project, he’s always impressed. He thinks it’s cool how we made it work and feels like he has accomplished something as well.
The right-now walk-in customer can be summed up briefly:“I needed it yesterday.” We jump through hoops for a lot of customers, but sometimes it is hard, especially if we have never seen them before. Although, a lot of miracles can happen when the price is right.
This customer likes to give a little sob story about his problem and always seems to float in near closing time on a Friday. Welders and machines are shutting down, but the walk-in needs our help to get out of a bind.
Sometimes the customer doesn’t lead us to think he needs it immediately. When one says, “I need it right now,” I usually respond with “right now, right now?” The price always goes up if we have to pull a welder off of another job. Or when I see us making a production run on the press brake, chances are I am not going to stop my co-worker so he can work on a small walk-in rush job. This would require a tool change and completely screw up the worker’s momentum.
The same thing applies to one of our welders working on a stainless steel TIG welding job and the customer expects some aluminum MIG welding done pronto. We understand people get into binds, but trying to get your camper trailer fixed on a Friday afternoon before you begin a family vacation should have been thought out ahead of time.
Some of these walk-ins mesh together, and we usually get a bit of entertainment from each of them. Not to mention some of them dish out some pretty good stories and share a little bit of education. Working them into the flow of things can often be tricky, but it keeps our shop on its toes. Doing a little soldering or fixing a random customer’s part can keep your brain exercised in the shop. Dusting off some old tools or machines that don’t get used as much as they used to is always fun!
I’m sure I am only touching the tip of the iceberg for small fabrication shops like us. Do you or your shop have some interesting walk-in stories? Feel free to email me at email@example.com.