Sunday, January 28, 2001

Creativity is a key to success

Used-machine seller uses humor to keep profits up

By Jenny Callison
Enquirer contributor

        Ask Bill Molloy a question about his business, and you'll get a wealth of advice and explanation in return. The president of Mohawk Machinery Inc. is totally focused on the realities of making a living selling used machines.

        As the number of manufacturing plants in the United States decreases, the challenge of profitably disposing of their machine tools increases. Many of Mohawk's competitors have gone under; a local example is the recent demise of Eastern Machinery in Bond Hill.

        Mohawk is still turning a profit. But Mr. Molloy's determination and creative salesmanship have also played essential roles in the company's continued success. He said that in a competitive field, players must find a way to stand out.

[photo] Bill Molloy, president of Mohawk Machinery Inc. at the company's warehouse in Woodlawn.
(Tony Jones photo)
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        “You must be remembered if you want to be successful” is Mr. Molloy's credo. And he's not afraid to appear an oddball if that means making a sale. “People say I'm hokey, and I feel I am.”

        As an example, the company president produces his business card. Instead of sophisticated graphics, the card displays his caricature.

        “If we're one of several companies at a bank negotiating for a deal, and everybody puts his business card down on the table, the bankers will pick mine up and comment. I never see them pick up anyone else's card,” he said.

        Mohawk's advertisements and catalogs are full of puns, cartoons and homey sayings. Caricatures of all the company employees line the office and are sprinkled liberally through the firm's printed materials. Gadgets and gizmos (not to mention gifts of jelly beans) greet visitors to the plant's lobby, reinforcing the president's dictum to “be different, be remembered, be unique.”

        “We use a lot of humor,” he said.

        Humor may be the grease that keeps Mohawk humming, but advertising is its source of energy.

        Printing and mailing catalogs is a major expense. A typical Mohawk catalog is 96 pages and costs 60 cents to mail within the United States and about $1.35 to send to Canada. To minimize waste, the company employs someone full time to update the mailing list. Mohawk mails its advertisements and catalogs to 85,000 manufacturing companies, down from almost 136,000 some years ago.

        Mohawk is also on the Web these days, a part of the business that Mr. Molloy willingly delegates to the younger generation of managers, including his son-in-law Scott Splane. Customers who log on to the company site can browse its inventory, request a catalog, view featured machines and Internet specials and learn a bit about the company's history.

        Unlike some of its competitors, Mr. Molloy said, Mohawk's catalogs and Web site show the price of each machine it has for sale. That's not to say that the company doesn't occasionally run specials. Recently, it took a page from retail merchandising and ran a “red tag sale,” offering some of its inventory at cost. Potential buyers could check out the sale machinery beforehand on Mohawk's Web site.

        There's a big difference between Mohawk's presence on the Web and that of dot-com machinery brokers, Mr. Splane said. Some big companies that are liquidating their machinery sometimes opt to sell direct over the Internet through dot-com companies.

        According to Mr. Splane, the “dot-commers” often know little about what they're selling and have never seen the machines themselves. They can't answer questions fully and usually don't offer guarantees. But because they don't have the expenses of storage, staffing and advertising that dealers do, they can operate on a much smaller percentage.

        “They've crippled us,” said Mr. Molloy, who nevertheless predicts that dot-com ventures will fade from the scene, as a few have already done.

        Meanwhile, Mr. Molloy and his staff emphasize Mohawk's strengths: its assessment expertise, on-site inventory of about 2,500 machines of all kinds and the ability to purchase complete packages of machines or even entire companies. Sometimes, the goal is not liquidation, but preservation.

        Said Mr. Molloy: “I understand my grandfather bought a broom factory in its entirety and sold it, one of the first big deals he had. That was our introduction to buying entire plants. We bought one in Evergreen, Alabama, that made trucks and shuttle buses, and sold it to a manufacturer in Indiana that made mobile homes and wanted to expand in the South. We actually saved the town.”

        Mohawk, originally called Economy Machinery Co., was established in 1888 by John Flynn, Bill Molloy's grandfather. It passed to Mr. Flynn's daughter, Mary Flynn Molloy, who operated the business with her husband, Joseph.

        Bill Molloy signed on after serving in World War II and brought his cousin Wilbur Harpenau into the picture as well. When the elder Molloys retired in 1952, the young partners renamed the company “Mohawk.”

        “Back in 1888, a lot of tool companies called themselves "Economy.' And it was so exasperating, to avoid mistaken identities we decided to change the name,” Mr. Molloy said. “We named the company after the (then) Cincinnati hockey team, and the fact that we were located in the Mohawk district, near Central Parkway.”

        The enterprise employs 21 people and occupies 10 acres in Woodlawn at 10601 Glendale Road. Wilbur Harpenau is deceased, but his children, Joe, Mike and John, are involved in running the company, as are Mr. Molloy's children, Steve, Sue, John and Michaele Ann, and son-in-law Scott Splane.

        Diversity is a key to Mohawk's success, its president said.

        “Other companies will specialize in just one type of machine, and when that market collapses, they are out of luck. But our variety has been our secret.”

        Mohawk can be reached at 771-1952 or on the Web at


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