Author Topic: Current state of manufacturer  (Read 10036 times)

0 Members and 1 Guest are viewing this topic.

Kenneth L. Walters

  • Active Members
  • ***
  • Posts: 201
    • View Profile
Current state of manufacturer
« on: January 15, 2005, 11:59:57 am »
Anyone know what's going on concerning currently made machines?

In Star's last days the quality of workmanship probably wasn't all it should have been.  Still, even then, Star had orders.

Once Star folded, however, the new owner seems to be completely disinterested.  True this probably would not have been a REALLY big business but it was a going concern.  Other than kill Star off, has the new owner done anything?
former progressive press collector

TDO'NEILL

  • Active Members
  • ***
  • Posts: 52
    • View Profile
Star Reloader
« Reply #1 on: January 16, 2005, 04:03:23 pm »
Mr. Walters
The new owner of the Star Machine Works is doing a fine job. Any one can still get parts or a complete Star Reloader. If it wasn't for him there wouldn't be any place to get a new machine or replacement parts.
I sometimes wonder if the previous owners would still be making loaders given the current cost of wages , various insurances and government regulations.
I am very thankfull he is willing to keep the business going.
To help boost his sales may I suggest that you purchase one and hold a raffle for it at your local gun club. Purhaps your club and he could benifit from your help.
TDO'NEILL

Kenneth L. Walters

  • Active Members
  • ***
  • Posts: 201
    • View Profile
Price
« Reply #2 on: January 16, 2005, 04:18:01 pm »
When I bought my first Star it cost $265.  Almost 40 years ago, that was a lot of money.  Star raised prices twice between then and the end, if memory serves.  The did it to SLOW down sales.  Had too much business to keep up with so they thought that this would slow sales and make the delivery delays more reasonable.  It had the opposite effect.

I think that prices went from $265 to $450 and then $965.  I'd have to look up my old invoices to be sure.

If the new owner is pushing the business it sure aint obvious.  The finest progressive ever deserves someone who is serious.  I don't think that that's happening here!
former progressive press collector

Ross Chesley

  • Active Members
  • ***
  • Posts: 37
    • View Profile
    • http://www.chesleyconsultants.com
StarMachine Works Of Pioneer, CA
« Reply #3 on: January 18, 2005, 01:15:50 pm »
With respect to many points of view, I must agree that the original company was better run.

I sure have something to say about SMW-Pioneer and the way it operates! As a potential customer, and one that wanted to order parts, I could not reach anyone.

This website and forum were created nearing 18 months ago. I went to google.com, yahoo.com, and every other search engine looking for information. What did I find? A reference to a private, heavily moderated Topica forum run by Paul Jones. A few machines sold on Ebay. A few people talking about Star Lubricator-Resizers. Nobody talks about Star Machine Works.

18 months ago there was no website with information about Star Machine Works or Star Reloaders. I was referred to someone that knew Bill Cunningham so I requested more information and a price list. Bill Cunningham printed them on an inkjet printer and sent them snail mail. It was much appreciated, but lacked professionalism associated with a company producing the finest reloaders available.

Shortly after StarReloaders.com came online I decided that it would be great to support anyone that provides parts, information, and assistance to Star owners and recommended this approach for our website. One positive thing we did was to scan the original price list and publish it to the web so people could see it online and contact SMW. I received a call from Bill Cunningham asking about StarReloaders.com and saying he'd been getting more business as the result of our referrals. He wanted me to know they had a website "under construction". It seemed we offered him a positive improvement and also helped everyone.

Within a few weeks starmachineworks.com had a price list in PDF format published to their website. We heard big talk about lots of information and plans that included duplication of the Hulme case feeder and other parts. We were very encouraged and directed inquiries to his website, wrote about him in the forum, and heard back from members that tried in frustration to reach Bill Cunningham. Our follow-ups got no replies via e-mail and we only reached him after many attempts. Not good. Whenever we have made efforts to find out more information on what's happening, we get no replies or updates.  

We have had two reports from customers saying they placed an order and never received the item and had no response or communications. We tried to follow up on them and received no reply or comment.  It seems to me that a reputable company concerned about customers and intent on making a name in the market would be eager to rectify the situation and leave a positive indicator for future customers. To date we have not received any communications from SMW-Pioneer, received any acknowledgements or thanks for our numerous referrals, and never had a concern over lack of communication addressed. Their website is still "under construction" another year later -- how long does a serious company take to put up a few pages and stop construction?


When I look back at Star Machine Works of San Diego, their primary business was not reloading equipment, but they produced many reloaders and of high quality. They printed price lists, advertised in trade magazines, and were reviewed and considered relevant by print publications including Handloader Magazine, American Rifleman, and others. They had a dealer network and were sold by reputable companies such as Gil Hebard. They had confidence from other companies that made accessories including Hulme case feeders and bullet feeders, Shockey dies, Hoag adjustable power bars, Chevron case feeders, and many others. Star even had copycat companies like Phelps and Berdon getting into the business. Of course they made some mistakes in marketing. Turning away customers is no way to success, and not planning for the succession and future of the business was their biggest failure. It is sad to say that the company would have been better off sold to someone that could devote the business sense and resources to market and support customers rather than produce a few parts in a hobby business.

We'd like nothing better than to see a "new" Star. Before anyone suggests someone else get one, why not you TDO'NEILL? Surely you do not find the $1200 price tag too high, and you are convinced they are good quality. How about you get one and do a full review including Rockwell hardness tests on various components, full details on the new dies, and run about 250K cases through it to break it in. Then we'd have the first person I have ever heard of with a new one and something really impressive to talk about.

I was hopeful that in over a year, Mr. Cunningham would join this discussion form and become a helpful person choosing to market his products to over a hundred members and many more that find this website or choose to lurk as guests. Bill Cunningham does nothing to promote his product, website, or assist customers to learn about him or get to know him. It is unfortunate because he is a nice person and I sense there is a real interest in making things work. We could overlook some of the issues as growing pains or understand that he has two jobs. At a point, it is time to choose a master and set priorities and goals to make things work. What is the goal for SMW-Pioneer?

Before we label the new company as a failure, or consider the old one impossibly doomed we should look at the track record. SMW-SD was in business a long time, long enough to get a good reputation for quality and lots of customers. SMW-Pioneer still has their own reputation to build because there are few people that really associate the name with the new company -- Elard Mock and the original company are separate and finished with their work. The new company, and the name Bill Cunningham are just owners of the name and still need to prove to customers and themselves that they have what it takes to be successful. Let's hope at some point they wake up and start taking this seriously. What kind of production is happening? How many new reloaders are produced each week, month, year? Anybody?

An entertaining idea that many hold out for is that a company such as Magma Engineering should have purchased the reloaders. They do a few things right in their customer service and marketing, and would no doubt be more successful in selling complete reloaders.

Success is not always assured, but failure is inevitable if we do not communicate, stick together as Star owners, and expect any company that wants our business to put quality and service first.

Kenneth L. Walters

  • Active Members
  • ***
  • Posts: 201
    • View Profile
Magma
« Reply #4 on: January 18, 2005, 02:25:06 pm »
A while back I specifically asked Magma about making the Star progressive.  Their answer was, essentially, that they were already too busy and just didn't have the time.

This is a wonderful old machine that deserves better than it has recently got.  True it can not be price competitive with machines like the Dillon RL500 or the RCBS Pro 2000 but it could compete with, I think, the Dillon RL1050 or, for that matter, the Dillon RL650.

Why you would buy the right to make this and then throw that opportunity away is beyond me.
former progressive press collector

rbwillnj

  • Global Moderator
  • ****
  • Posts: 1175
    • View Profile
    • Star Machine Works
Current state of manufacturer
« Reply #5 on: January 18, 2005, 04:27:57 pm »
Maybe I was lucky, but I got a hold of Bill the first time I tried to call him, and got my sizing die just a few days after he got my payment.  Its true that he didn't answer my emails, but given the current landscape where ebay or fellow Star owners are the only other alternative, I'm not complaining.

Sure, it would be nice if we could do online shopping, talk to someone on the phone whenever we wanted, and get quick email responses, but hey, Star went out of business more that 10 years ago.  The fact that there is anybody still making parts let alone full machines is kind of amazing.

I have no idea what other work Bill Cunningham does, but I doubt if he could support himself on Star parts and machines alone.  After all, they don't need to many replacment parts.  For my part, I'm happy he is out there, and I hope he keeps doing what he's doing.
Star Machine Works
NRA Patron Member

Ross Chesley

  • Active Members
  • ***
  • Posts: 37
    • View Profile
    • http://www.chesleyconsultants.com
Buying the Name and throwing it all away
« Reply #6 on: January 18, 2005, 06:26:11 pm »
Hi Ken,

I understood Ellard's family did not wish to continue with the business. I also have heard Star had some challenges and we can probably never know for certain all the factors involved but it seems clear that they fell behind the customer demand and enabled Phelps and Berdon to get into their market and sell products, then failed to modernize or really get cooking on their future.

I suspect a part of the cost increases and production difficulties might have been due to tighter environmental and OSHA regulations. I heard Star used to do their own casting and sodium cyanide heat treating out back -- somewhat dangerous and the cost to modernize must have been a major deterrent for the company. They must have farmed out some of the work to specialized companies and that can drive up costs as well as introduce variables into the production.

I think nearly any problem with a company can be solved with a good product and some competent business management that looks to the future and expects to grow the business and be accountable for success. When we look at some family businesses, they start up almost accidentally or by opportunity and are self-funded or driven by the owner's interest and fancy. That's not all bad, but at a point the business becomes accountable to the customer and the ownership must step up and realize customers are the reason there is a business, they depend on you and will not remain loyal if they cannot trust and have confidence in the business.

If Star brought in a few investors, modernized production and established some continuity and set goals for the business, I think they would still be going strong. Ellard wasn't as flexible in consideration of new ideas and it sounds as if he really did not care to share his responsiblity or bring in new people, new ideas, and perhaps change the way the product was made -- that's quite a bit of work at his age. He was a practical and creative fellow happy with his product and not easily swayed by people's suggestions and ideas for improving things. A few ideas were so good he saw their merits. At least he did not see the business close, equipment get sold off, and the company's products split up and left to chaos.

I know there was a specific decision to assure Dillon Precision would not own the Star name or get production of the reloading tool.  I am not sure Dillon would really have wanted to have Star other than for the customer list. I do recall Dillon was once a Star customer and worked out some ideas with Ellard before he started making his own reloading tools. That was a slap in the face to Star, but perhaps it was also the best opportunity for Star to have turned up the burner on their production and business goals. Instead, Dillon proved he knows how to sell presses and people really like his idea of customer service. A customer can pick up the phone and get what they need. Replacement parts and repairs are free.  

With respect to Star there was value in their name, value in their history and the reputation of the original company. Bill told me he has the original customer list and records so I am sure he is in touch with the larger customers that might still use these in a commercial production environment. The fact is that customers are unfortunately shrinking  because the machines and original users are getting older. A few will recall and appreciate the quality and value of the original product and remain skeptical of the new company because we do not hear about their production methods, inventory, or anything else. We hear of one man working part-time and of problems. When faced with these kinds of negative advertising, it is no wonder many people choose the convenience and mass-enthusiasm of more "modern" equipment.

Some people fear what could happen if all Star production was to stop. The fact that people say Star went out of business 10 years ago is really not true. Star of San Diego, of Ellard Mock, of the original production went out of business, but someone bought the name, the customer list, and claims to have had some orientation and assistance in getting started in making parts or machines.

I understand those that support Bill Cunningham out of fear or because he is the only one producing anything that they know of. There is nothing to prevent anyone from producing parts, so all it takes is someone with the equipment and commitment to produce them.

Explore the second option, if you keep your company a secret, put up a website that is 2-years "under construction" and fail to maximize exposure by taking advantage of the web, search engines, or print media, then you will lose customers and interest each year. You can assuredly fail by doing nothing, but to succeed takes work.

I am sure we'd all love to see new Star machines. Has anyone actually seen one or are we only believing they are produced because the price list says so? Has anyone reviewed one and pronounced it wonderful? Has anyone seen one? Does anyone know someone with a new one, and how can we tell the difference between refurbished original and brand spanking new production? Is the quality of the parts better or even as good as original production?

If it is an issue of making money, why not communicate and make things simple and collect orders and make production to order? There are ways to solve the money making side, get investors, get to people that do not know about Star. Most people say they cannot find them anywhere and we all know you could sell nearly as much on a deserted island using the current marketing and customer service approach.

I think about investing in an opportunity to promote and sell a good product and feel good about representing the product. We could sell and promote through small groups, organizations, etc. but the trouble is we do not see Star Machine Works anywhere, we do not feel any emotion or commitment, and we do not see any results or improvements or effort to change the current ennui.

The Star company should understand the basics of marketing, customer service, and customer loyalty. If you do not build it, it does not get built. If you destroy a market it is gone forever. I have corresponded many times and I am sure there is a premium market for Star quality. There must be confidence from the company and more information if we are to build confidence in the company. We need to know what makes a Star Universal better than a Dillon 1050, 650, or any other press. What makes Star a better company? What makes Star proprietary dies better than 7/8-14 dies from every other company? How long will a Star made today last? What about warranty, what about customer service?

I am sure that the original Star was not sold without any marketing materials, without sending units to good shooters or known reloaders and getting their input and statements to promote the product to customers. Since large police departments and commercial reloaders were the start, how many could be convinced to buy them today? How many use them today? What is the lifespan in commercial use? What makes this better than Dillon in commercial use?

Business must be earned and won instead of taken for granted or conceded from lack of communication. If it is an issue of funding or a need for orders, why not publish what is needed and explore all opportunities including the free ones on this website? I would love to be asked to design a free website page and find ways to promote the Star product here! I would only ask that I be kept informed of referrals and updated on what's happening at Star Machine Works -- it is frustrating to see such potential unexplored.

Between those on this list and some with funding, I am sure there is a way to make Star reloading tools competitive in the market place and encourage people to buy new machines, sell machines, and recommend them to others. What would it cost? How many could be produced? It is possible this may never be a full-time job, but what about a full-time commitment to see it succeed, to see it grow, and be willing to see it turn into a full-time job?

The first issue is what makes the Star better?

We can point to use of high quality parts that wear slowly and remain consistent as a major factor. The design of the reloader itself is a solid and proven design.

Once you have quality in design and production, the trouble is nobody hears of Star or considers the company as still in business.

We'd need a marketing plan, and business goals. We would need to know our customers and what they want. This requires communications. We need advertising and promotion to inform and excite everyone to become or remain a customer and to get attention in the media.

I will remain a Star owner and user because I know the presses will last. I am not as confident in the present company.

Maybe we will have to watch the Star name die and concentrate on keeping the product alive. Maybe we need to send a message to Star Machine Works of Pioneer that we expect more information and to see progress and response to communications and to receive updates about what is being done to assure quality control, what's new, and to be confident that there is a commitment and passion for high quality standards that will carry into the future.

I do not think there is a person on this forum or that has used a Star that would not like to see Bill Cunningham and Star Machine Works succeed. I'd be willing to bet there are more people that do not know he exists and think Star is out of business. -- That's a darned shame, and so is the fact that a few minutes a week could not be devoted to letting this forum know what he is doing and what he thinks. It sure could not hurt business any.

Lifetyme

  • Active Members
  • ***
  • Posts: 44
    • View Profile
Current state of manufacturer
« Reply #7 on: January 20, 2005, 11:08:46 am »
Before we carried away and start building new machines, I might mention that I was told during a visit to the San Diego shop just prior to closing that they had sold TWO machines the previous year.  One of the machines that was sold was returned by the purchaser after trying it out.  Star also reduced the price of the machines during the last year or so of their operation.

The bottom line is that Dillon put Star out of business (with a lot of help from Star by refusing to consider any updates on the machine).  I won't argue that a Star is not a better machine than a Dillon but I would be willing to bet that Dillon has sold fifty or more times the number of any one of it's current models than the total unit output of Star Machine Works.

I don't see the Star as a viable project as a newly manufactured product (apparently nobody else does as I don't see any copies being manufactured anymore either) but see it as a unit that will be continue to be used by those few of us that know what they are and love the old machines.  The situation with Mr. Cunningham is not perfect but I don't think there was a long line of potential purchasers wanting to buy the company.  We Star owners are lucky that Mr. Cunningham chose to try to continue the availability of parts and refurb machines on a part-time basis as at least there is some source available now.

Regards,

Bob
Best Regards.

Bob

Kenneth L. Walters

  • Active Members
  • ***
  • Posts: 201
    • View Profile
State of Manufacturer
« Reply #8 on: March 15, 2005, 12:36:25 am »
During his lifetime, from when he designed the machine, until he got too old to build them anymore, all Star's were assembled by Ellord Mott.  As long as Ellord did the work they performed flawlessly.  When he got too old no one else knew how to do the assembly (it wasn't as easy as it might have looked) so qualify fell off FAST.  Maybe Star only sold two machines their last year but if so it was only because Ellord was gone.

Certainly the company failed to modernize.  I talked to Ellord at his workbench which he build in the 20's.  Still they flourished as long as he made the machines.

It seems sad to me that the greatest progressive ever had such an unwarrented death.
former progressive press collector

Paul Jones

  • Guest
Still have $10,000 worth of original Star Parts left
« Reply #9 on: July 13, 2005, 09:16:51 pm »
I have been ill so have not said much lately but I retired in 1979 with several dozen each of the reloaders and the lubers that are now gone and I have three personal Stars left a .38 progressive in excellent condition and two .45acp Universals.  I have 8 new heads, A new die set for .30M1 carbine,  .38 and .45 double Lifetyme carbide ring sizing dies and hundreds of small parts. New operating handles, primer magazines, seating dies, taper crimp dies, nuts, springs and am reserving my replacement primer parts kits to sell with my remaining loaders to give millons round lifetimes.  Have new heavy duty foot long powder reservoir tubes, bundles of 6 3 foot case feeding tubes to fit in C-H rotating case clusters that can be adapted to fit on a Star with a piece of electrical conduit as my Star models are sold. Swivel handles, Star Luber dies, 3 of my personal lubers left.

Lifetyme .45acp 7/8ths carbide dies

Oh everything mentioned is original and NEW with the exception of my own 3 Stars that I reconditioned as the Star Reloader Reconditioning Center and Ira Wilkerson referred customers to me. Rob his son in the 70's could not hold down any job so hung around Star hoping to replace his dad when he retired.  I was good friends with Ira and Rob was jealous of me so I refused to have anything to do with Rob after 1979.  Ira was a great  manager and person.

lots of BE, WW231 and 700X powder slides O and OO and half inch and 5/8ths inch powder magazine base spacers for larger slides. have original Star catalogs and can make copies of all Star literature I received as the top Star dealer in the 70's.

Also Have several dozen original Blue Booklets I wrote for the Star. "How To Live With And Love Your Progressive Reloader" printed for me by the C-H company and placed in the Auto Champ reloaders to keep their reloaders out of trouble with the Champ that I had a hand in designing.  Have hundreds of auto champ parts and caliber conversions and for the C-H 333X and 444X presses.

Have 5 calibers 79 total remaining of the 965 original Saeco 4 cavity Custom precision molds I retired with and they are .30, .32, .38, .41 and .45acp.

Fitz Pistol Grips and Fitz lifetime slip top hunter Red ammo boxes that can be seen in old timers reloading rooms as they never wear out. 50 case capacity.

Also lots of Hulme top plates and no other Hulme parts remaining
Have Brewster 1,000 capacity small primer turrets and dozens of clear primer pick up tubes, Indexers and extra Brewster powder reservoir tubes.

All new and Mint parts ask for lists while they remain
Paul Fitz Jones coffeyn1 at castles.com
PO Box 972 Vacaville Ca 95696-0972