By: Benjamin J. Gohs, Associate Editor
Congressman Dan Benishek was in Northern Michigan last week talking to business owners and public officials. One of his special stops was the tour of Classic Instruments in Boyne City, where he learned about the maker of unique automotive gauges.
Classic Instruments owner John McLeod and Benishek began the Thursday event by chatting about classic autos. “My brother still has my mom’s ’69 Mustang fast back,” Benishek said. “When I was a sophomore or junior in high school my mother bought this 351, four-barrel fast back Mustang in metallic green.” He added, “This job makes it a little more difficult to take a morning and tear apart a fuel pump.” Benishek also talked about his 1967 Camaro and a classic pickup, and his family’s love of muscle cars.
“Right now the industry is all based around the Mustangs, Camaros Challengers of that era,” said McLeod. “Right now that is our largest growing part of our business.”
McLeod showed Benishek and several Boyne City officials, including Boyne City Manager Michael Cain and Boyne Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Jim Baumann, around the operation, pointing out equipment and applications. “We use the word ‘retrofit’ a lot,” McLeod said. “We like to keep everything like it was, but with new technology.” He added, “We make it look old, but act like new. That’s what separates us from everybody.”
McLeod said his shop has 10 times the business it had when he started it. McLeod talked about the aftermarket parts industry and how there have been difficulties with regulators in Washington D.C. as it pertains to issues like mufflers and smog control. But, he said the Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) has stepped up to help parts producers have a voice.
SEMA is his industry’s voice in Washington D.C. “Because of SEMA they’re answering the questions that everybody never new,” McLeod said. “They’re now our branch, our advocate. We can become part of the answer to the problems.”
McLeod took Benishek through the various departments at Classic Instruments, which keeps internal many of the departments larger companies outsource. “We do all of our marketing in-house all of our own tech support and all of our own sales department,” McLeod said. “Everybody works together … we try to knock down walls and try to get everybody to communicate here easily.” McLeod told Benishek that his mentor Mike Stowe’s biggest goal when the company started was to bring entrepreneurship skills in.
“I was Mike’s first test kid, if you will, on how to bring a young man or young lady in and teach them entrepreneurship skills,” he said. “We’ve put over 100 students, between both companies, in school to work programs locally (and some college students abroad.)” Since Classic Instruments has internal research and development, they are able to create new products as they see fit. One of their new employees, who has been on the job a mere four months, has already created nine new products. “The only way we’re going to keep ahead of the monster competitors we have is being more innovative, more creative and really listen to the customer and what they want,” McLeod said.
McLeod said Classic Instruments does not pre-build any of its instrumentation. “Every instrument is built after the phone rings,” he said. “We guarantee we’ll ship that within 48 hours.” McLeod said this keeps returns under one percent, and ensures a happy customer.
“It gives us flexibility,” he said. “Instead of our competitors (who say) you get it this way or no way. We do it any way you want, it’s the customer’s decision, and we can do it on the fly and still deliver a custom gauge in 48 hours.”