Building a profitable, growing business demands more than just hard work. It requires insight, innovation, and a willingness to take risks. Any business owner needs to adapt to meet the market’s needs, and those who pivot successfully will continue to thrive.
That is what Jim Carr learned as he grew into his current role as owner and CEO of CARR Machine & Tool. Carr’s expertise in making high-quality aerospace machined parts has evolved since he started as an apprentice in the 1980s. Today, Jim is one of the most recognized thought leaders in precision machine parts, operating one of the country’s most successful and innovative machine shops.
CARR Machine offers state-of-the-art machining for aerospace, defense, semiconductors, and specialty customers. Under Carr’s guidance, CARR Machine & Tool has tripled in size. Today, the company operates from a 15,000-square-foot shop with the latest automated equipment. According to Carr, the secret of his success is his willingness to move beyond his comfort zone and embrace new technologies and marketing strategies to push CARR Machine & Tool to the next level.
Creating a Family Legacy
Jim Carr is the second-generation CEO of CARR Machine & Tool. The company was started by his father, Richard “Dick” Carr. During the late 1950s, the elder Carr worked as a journeyman machinist for Kraft Foods during the day, and building and racing stock cars at night at Chicago’s Soldier Field. In 1972, Carr decided to start his own machine shop in the family’s garage with used equipment. The business quickly became a success, and CARR Machine & Tool was born.
Jim Carr started to work for the company when he graduated high school. Rather than going to college, Jim opted for a formal machinist apprenticeship through the local manufacturing association, getting theory in the classroom at night and hands-on experience in the shop during the day.
I learned how to run manual lathes and mills, welding and just slowly started learning fundamental skills about the industry.
During this period, CARR Machine & Tool upgraded its tooling with newer CNC (computer numerical control) machines which cut job time in half. Soon, the entire shop was using CNC equipment and business grew. This was also when Carr started learning how to manage the company, including HR and staffing. In 2004, Jim took the reins as owner of the company. In 2014, Jim’s son Ryan joined the company and is being groomed to take over the business.
“My dad had great mechanical aptitude and a lot of drive, and that’s how the business became successful,” said Carr. “In that era, they equated working a lot of hours with success; the more hours you put in, the more successful your day. I never really liked the manufacturing culture of that era. I saw how he was running the business and knew I had to change it.”
Investing in a Modern Machine Shop
Carr believes in investing to promote business growth. Once he assumed the leadership role, Carr started making improvements, such as opening a brand new 15,000-square-foot facility and standardizing on CNC equipment. The shop has received AS9100 certification to demonstrate superior quality management for aerospace parts.
“You must invest in automation and technology, even though it’s going to be painful,” Carr advised. “You must push yourself out of your comfort zone into that area that’s not so comfortable. By doing that, it’s going to grow your box bigger.”
Part of Carr’s technology investment included a new ERP system to help run the shop and upgrading their equipment, adding five-axis machining, robotic automation, and coordinated measuring machines (CMM) for inspection.
“Traditionally, we’ve been a low-volume, high-mix, precision machine shop. However, we want to change that to high-volume and low-mix,” said Carr.
We’ve invested in robotic automation for lights-out machining, which will be a big paradigm shift in the future. We want to be able to set the machines up and have them run 16 hours a day – unattended.
Building a Reliable Brand
Carr has also built a strong brand image to attract top-tier OEMs from aerospace, aviation, and medical devices. He also anticipates getting more business from the Department of Defense. Part of the impetus for building the brand was the recession of 2008.
“I had to lay off 65% of the workforce,” Carr said. “It was agonizing, and I said I’m never going to go through this again.”
To expand market reach, Carr started by networking, joining committees and peer groups, and attending networking events throughout the Chicago area. He found he had a passion for marketing and began aggressively promoting his personal and professional brand. In a few years, Carr was asked to join the Board of Directors of the TMA (Technology and Manufacturing Association) and ultimately became Chairman.
“I’ve met a lot of people,” said Carr. “To this day, I have my own personal board of directors. If I have any problems with my company, I can lean on them and ask a question.”
Carr also embraced new marketing channels, such as Facebook and LinkedIn, which helped promote his personal brand as well as the company. When Carr was asked to appear on a local Chicago radio station to talk about social media branding for manufacturing, he connected with Jason Zenger of Zenger’s Industrial Supply, who was also being interviewed. The two CEOs decided to launch a podcast, MakingChips, to inspire manufacturing leaders. That was in 2014. Today, Carr is still podcasting. My True Position is his personal podcast for manufacturing professionals, where he shares actionable insight based on his years of experience.
The Secret to Carr’s Success
When asked what gives CARR Machine & Tool a competitive edge in a tough market, Carr points to three our “Three Uniques” that differentiate us from other machine shops: our people, our technology, and our communication.
“It’s cliché to talk about price and delivery,” Carr said. “If you can’t give your customers price, quality, and delivery, you shouldn’t be in business. CARR Machine & Tool stands out because of our people, which make us different, our communication, which is underrated in manufacturing, and our technology. We are staying on top of technology and pushing ourselves to buy things like the new five-axis automation robotic technology and implement it on the shop floor.”
Carr also recommends focusing on your niche and integrating vertically. “You can’t do it all,” he said. “And you can’t make money by being horizontally integrated. You have to really know what you do well, and you have to stay in your lane, even if that means saying no to customers and prospects.”
Carr also sees a bright future ahead for CARR Machine & Tool. In addition to more business from current aerospace and new defense contracts, Carr sees the pandemic as having a positive impact on U.S. manufacturing. Rather than risking another supply chain disruption, OEMs are encouraging redundancy and sourcing parts locally. A new trend of “reshoring” overseas manufacturing and promoting domestic production will keep companies like CARR Machine & Tool thriving. And new technologies such as robotic automation will increase capacity to meet the growing demand.