Editor’s Corner: Why Steve Chambers Is Selling His Business

Oct 4, 2011

Quite often when I’m interviewing a shop owner for an article, I’ll get an idea for another story. In an answer or the chit-chat at the end of an interview, the owner will mention a project they’re working on, an event they’re hosting or an expansion they’re planning, and as soon as I finish the first article, I’m already contacting the owner for another interview.

When I was interviewing Steve Chambers, owner of Lockhart Machine in Jasper, Ontario, Canada, for the September Better Business article about shop websites, he mentioned that he was considering selling his business. I asked him to keep me posted on his decision because that process was something I definitely felt would make an interesting story.

A few weeks later, he e-mailed to let me know he had decided to put his machine shop, equipment, home and the land it all sits on up for sale.

“After much consideration, I feel it is best to put the place for sale now,” he wrote me. “If the right person comes along, we will sell, but if that doesn’t happen for a while, it’s OK.”

Chambers has created a website to advertise the sale. The site has gotten interest but hasn’t yielded any offers yet.

“This is not any type of emergency situation, it would be OK to continue running it for another 20 years if it does not sell,” he wrote me.

Over the next few months, I’ll be checking in with Chambers to see how the sale is going and to talk with him about the logistics and emotions involved in selling a business.

To kick off the series, Chambers shared the history of his machine shop, how he came to decision to sell it and what he plans to do after the sale.

“This has truly been one of the toughest decisions I have ever made. After 28 years of successfully owning and operating this engine rebuilding machine shop, Lockhart Machine, I have decided to change direction. This decision was so difficult because this is my hobby.

Thirty-seven years ago when I started to race motorcycles, I spent the first few years racing in the amateur class, then when I turned pro I realized that I needed some serious horsepower to not just keep up, but to win. I’ve got both Canadian and American national championships under my belt.

Getting that serious horsepower was an adventure because I found it difficult to find the right place to do the job. I did all my own work on my vehicles, including my race bikes, so I decided to study the craft of engine building so I could make my own horsepower.

I was employed in many different positions to not only learn the craft but also how to run a business. I worked my way from the bottom to the top over the years.

My last job before opening Lockhart Machine was general manager of an automotive jobbing parts store.

In 1983 I started this business part time, doing engines for myself and, of course, more and more for others who brought me their engines when they saw how well mine worked. I originally rented a spot behind the local UAP [auto parts store], then bought this real estate approximately 15 years ago. I have always been meticulous, which is required for being a precision machinist. I have been so fortunate to enjoy this occupation so much. I built a successful automotive machine shop on my 20-acre property.

In the early 1990s, the Ontario Training and Adjustment Board hired me to develop the industry standards for machinists in Ontario. I only do the odd motorcycle engine anymore for a bore job, valve job or crank shaft rebuild. Most of my work comes from all the technicians in Eastern Ontario, local garages, bus depots, farm supply outlets and auto or truck dealerships. This creates a steady influx of monthly business from repeat customers.

On top of that is all the work in classic car engines. It seems that as the baby boomers are retiring, they are finally getting that classic car they have always wanted and bringing the engine to me, so I always have a few of these engines to work on in between the guaranteed work showing up from repeat customers.

At any given time I have had up to five employees but currently run with just my wife and me. I am well-equipped to work on all gasoline and diesel engines. Things do crop up that I can’t get parts for or I need a new special tool to do the job, that’s where my lathe and milling machine come in handy. This equipment has got me out of a snag a few times.

Every day is interesting with such a wide variety of things to do. For instance, on any given day I might be doing a valve job on a Navistar 466, punching out a snowmobile jug .030 inches, resurfacing an aluminum cylinder head off a 2005 Chrysler 2.4 and polishing the crankshaft on a John Deere tractor engine.

I do love what I’m doing but the arthritis is starting to catch up with me. I first started thinking of selling my business about a year ago, mostly because of health reasons. We were getting close to completing renovations of the house which, once done, set the date.

This property would be best sold as a package because the business is 200 feet behind the house. The buyer will end up with a nice house on 20 acres of land that could be subdivided to create income and a fully operational machine shop completely equipped. There is no timeframe to make this sale because the business is doing great and I can continue to live and work here indefinitely. 

We have not listed it with a real estate agent yet. We have done some advertising with a national newspaper and used the Internet with a website I developed. So far we have got a few hundred hits on the website but no offers yet.

I used to work around the clock in the machine shop, there certainly is enough business and I find it so enjoyable. For the last six months or so I’ve been slowing down in the evening to give my body a rest. Slowing down is defined as studying website design, creation, publishing, hosting and promotion. I also use this time to address needs for the sale of this real estate with business.

When I sell this real estate with business and home I’m not going to retire. I have already started a new [web design and hosting] business which I will expand with the new found time. It’s called Award Web Design. I’m finding it quite enjoyable as it fits in with my personality of being goal-oriented. Seeing a website work properly gives me the same great feeling as seeing that engine run perfectly after rebuilding it.