Early Morning reflections on the many people that helped us get here.
March 11, 2023Thank Yous
It's 4:30 AM on Friday, the anticipated launch day of our website. Like many mornings, I've been awake for a bit. This isn't the first time. Often I'm able to go back to sleep right before the alarm goes off shortly after 6, but not today. This morning I've got too many faces running through my mind. The faces of the dozens of people that have helped me get this project to today. Most of them were simply encouragers for whom I am so very thankful. My wife certainly is owed the biggest thanks. You need to know that I initially dreamed of putting a waffle iron into production over 23 years ago. We have experienced several ups and downs with the economy, jobs, and businesses during the last 2 plus decades. I just could not shake loose the idea of producing a waffle iron. She gently offered on several occasions, "Maybe its time to look at the waffle iron again."
Times were different when I first explored the idea of producing a waffle iron. I would have had to have a distribution network. Every step along the process, someone would have wanted their cut. To be modestly profitable, it would have been a very expensive piece. As an interesting note, on an inflation adjusted basis, our waffle iron is less expensive than many of the waffle irons made and sold in 1900. Being able to sell direct to the consumer as well as advances in manufacturing have made this possible. I know that I will leave out someone; if I fail to mention you, please know that it's really early, the coffee has not yet kicked in.
Janet and Harold are a precious couple at our church. They have been Tony encouragers for years. They saw the potential for the waffle iron project and encouraged me far more than anyone else aside from my wife, Heather. In getting the project off the ground, I knew I needed to get help from others, so I networked. I talked to many, many customers in my appliance repair business. If I saw cast iron on their counter, I knew they were a user and I would strike up a conversation. (Literally hundreds of customers were screened for professional knowledge about metal or pattern work with out their knowledge of my intentions.) One day I struck gold. Buck had been in the metal stamping business for nearly 50 years. Totally unrelated to casting.... but he knew a guy. You need to know that I was embarking on this project with a shoe string budget. I had to find people doing this as a hobby / side work to be able to afford it. I simply could not afford foundry labor rates at this point, nor could I get any design firm to take me seriously and return phone calls or emails about the project. There was simply zero traction in the formal industry. I'm sure their thoughts were something like, "yeah, another dreamer with no money wanting to make something in cast iron...." And they were 96% correct. I did have a very few precious dollars. Well, Buck introduced me to Ronnie. Ronnie runs an HVAC company and years ago managed a foundry that used to operate in this area. Ronnie introduced me to Doug, a semi-retired pattern maker. It was time to start taking action.
My first concrete step was to formalize our artwork. I needed to at least get something on paper. Kerrie Beth, whom I first met as a student at the school where my wife teaches and children attended, produced our first 2d renderings. She is a delightful young artist. Incidentally, even though I have missed many self imposed timelines with this project, it looks like I'll get to give her her waffle iron at her wedding in a few weeks. She is really excited about that. I took her artwork to Aaron, man with talents you would not believe. He is simply really good at soooo many things. Yes, he operates a CNC (computer numerically controlled) router to cut out 3D designs. He operates them really well. One reason he operates them so well is because he BUILDS his own CNC routers. Who does that? He was very gracious as a contractor (saw my vision, way under charged me,) and has been an encourager and friend since we met about 2.5 years ago. He converted Kerri Beth's art into a 3 dimensional plate that Doug could incorporate into a pattern for our initial pattern prototype.
Ronnie made many trips to Alabama to Johnny's foundry to attempt to pour prototypes with our pattern. Many were poured, 1 finally came out that was decent enough to bring to the public. Looking at it now, compared to what we have, I am so thankful to those of you that backed us. That one prototype was like that old '66 Mustang that kid in high school drove. It looked great from 50 feet away. But as you got closer, you realized the body work and paint weren't quite right, but he sure was proud of that Mustang.
My nieces husband, Trey, shot the video for our Kickstarter video. Trey did a fantastic job. Unfortunately, Kickstarter put a link on our campaign page to defund Police. They would not respond to my emails, so I terminated the campaign. We regrouped, and migrated over to Indiegogo. During this migration, a friend, Stan, who runs an advertising agency, stepped in to help me out. I can not say enough about how helpful he and his team were in helping us gain traction from an abandoned campaign. Alexa, Chad, Conrad, Matt, Zachary, and several of their family members helped get our videos and other material ready. (We had to reshoot the video because we changed platforms.)
I really need to give a huge shout out to Ned, Jamie, and Casey at BuzzyWaxx. When I first brought this idea to the public, Ned was kind enough to call me on the phone and chat for a while. He introduced me to the others. They were fantastic about helping me make contacts and provided gentle guidance with the online community. I will never offer an inhouse brand of seasoning. I know there are also other great seasoning products out there. But I will forever be a fan of BuzzWaxx because of the friendship, support, and guidance that they have provided me. If you have ever thought of purchasing their product, please do so. They are wonderful, wonderful people.
After the campaign completed, it was time to go find a production foundry. Most turned me down over the phone. And that was a good thing because they new there strengths, and a waffle iron was not one of them. One foundry I visited produces the castings for 2 boutique skillet manufacturers. It was a great leaning experience in many ways. Firstly, I learned about the high reject rate for their process in making skillets. That particular visit impressed on me the importance of finding a foundry that doesn't just accept me as a customer, but has the absolute best match in capabilities.
As a side note, we did make a visit to OSCO, formerly known as Ohio Stove Company. They were very professional and enthusiastic about working with us. They gave us a 3 hour tour of their facility before taking us into the conference room to discuss how our design could fit into their capabilities. They have a wonderful heritage and like the idea of helping with The Great American Waffle Iron. They also asked me to fully understand their processes to make sure we were a good fit together. Furthermore, they told me that if I ever thought that they were not a good fit, that they would help me connect with folks that would be. Osco is a heavy foundry, though, and we eventually realized that we would have to alter the design significantly to survive their automated processes.
I finally met up with a fellow that knows a lot of foundry people. He helped me make the connection with the foundry we came to work with. We then hired a design firm that took my previous art and prototypes and graciously created an engineering design from what had been an analog design with very little documentation. foundry work is a lot of science and some mysterious art, though. Even with wonderful computer modeling, we still had challenges with the ball and socket joint. We had to make 5 or six modifications to the pattern (tooling used to make the sand molds.) The pattern shop at the foundry was very patient and persistent. They have now produced both the Great American Waffle Iron, as well as the tooling and a handful of proofs for our Jeweled Skillet.
I also need to thank our supporters. You truly have earned the title of "supporter." I would love to mention several dozen of you by name. My memory is still getting in gear at this early hour, though, and I know I would remember many more after I hit the "publish" button. Our audience of supporters has supported us monetarily, and we certainly would not be here without that monetary support. But honestly, the personal encouragement to persist has been immeasurable. Those that know me, know that I like finding solutions to problems that seem quite difficult, I am extremely persistent, (sometimes described as stubborn.) I LIKE finding solutions. There were some days, though, that I truly wondered if we would be able to complete the execution of this project. Your encouragement has been wonderful. I can not express enough my gratitude for your support. We look forward to bringing many more products to you over the next several months and years. Thank you for your support, and encouragement.
Appalachian Cast Iron