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  • As some of you know, I have wanted to stop managing H-M for some time. It's a tremendous strain on my personal life. I want to set up my own shop. In September, September 15, to be exact, it will be 8 years that Hobby-Machinist has been in existence.

    We've seen a lot of changes. In March, 4 moderators left to start their own site. They took some of you with them. So now you have split loyalties. You know who you are. They didn't like my way of managing this place, and thought they could do better without me. They didn't. The only thing holding them together is that they hate me. Their site was down until mid July. That is why I wanted to stay involved on here until they could learn to run this place. But they wanted me to leave right away, without the training part.

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[4]

What machine business have you operated?

[3]
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Jake2465

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#1
I am curious to see what folks have done / are doing for supplemental or full income with their equipment and skills :). The area I live in (Dayton Ohio) has around 140,000 residents and somewhere close to 60 machine shops listed in the phone book. That's just the phone book, so I imagine that there are a fair bit more than 60 shops actually conducting business in some form or another.
I have dabbled with the idea of starting a hobby business, but I think I would rather make it product based instead of service based. I am under the impression that most people outside the machine tool world don't have an understanding of why custom made parts should cost more than 50 bucks to produce. Perhaps that's not entirely accurate.
So, I am currently settled with the idea that if I decide to start a hobby business, then I should do a product and try for e commerce so I am not trying to compete with every other shop in the city.

I would be interested to hear what members have done in the past and decisions that brought them to run a business the way they have :).
 

firestopper

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#2
I've been providing custom metal fabrication, welding services since 1997 and added machining in 2001, I have also maintained a full-time career in public safety. That said, many of my customers are return customers and often will refer new customers. I also manufacture/sell a patented product for the past 15+ years. I only advertise my patented product, all else is word of mouth.


Reasons;
I was frustrated often on the long wait times, failed timelines and lack of quality many machine shops in Tucson offered. As for fabrication work, I got tired of making chump change working for someone else with no control of my own destiny. As far as the public safety career, its always in demand and rewarding, the bonus, it comes with a pension.
Last word of advise, invest in your retirement, no one will take better care of you than YOU.

These days I only take on work that puts a smile on my face in the end.
If one quits then it on them....simple.
Perseverance always prevails!

Turn and burn,
Paco
 

JimDawson

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Offering general machine shop services is a tough way to try to make money, especially just starting out. Most people that I know started out by providing a niche service to a local manufacturer and then branched out as market conditions allowed. Others started out with a product and the machine shop was there to facilitate the manufacture of that product.

I have gone both ways over the last 50 years. Up until recently my machines were there to facilitate building custom automated machines for a wide range of customers and doing some tool & die and general repair work for others, and in the last few years primarily to just justify the shop's existence and support my tool habit :grin: . When my son retired from his day job, we kind of switched over to a product based operation and he purchased the Haas mill and Hardinge CNC lathe that were required for the operation. We are also making parts for a couple other manufactures and will probably expand that in the future depending on the amount of open machine time we have.
 

Jake2465

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Interesting observations.

For the immediate future, I plan to continue college and finish out with an aerospace engineers degree. That is my reaction to providing a way to make a stable living with room for pension and so on.

I don't want to forget about my machines though as I do like to make things. Naturally, the idea of making stuff on the side and getting some extra cash for play money or vacations sounds like a fun thing to do.

I believe I have a fear of living a stagnant life with the degree I am getting. It may pay good enough to base a life off of, but the thought of permanence in a cubicle sounds painful :(. And worse yet, if I ask some of those guys what they do for fun, I am concerned may tell me that they find enjoyment off of playing board games or taking pictures of squirrels and starlings at the local park or something like that.
 

benmychree

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#5
I started my shop in 1973, and ran it until I sold the business about 7 years ago; I had two other shops in town, and did mostly maintainance work and making parts for bottling machines; rent was cheap, and that paid the bills; occasionally a customer would bring in something that was no longer made or in need of improvement; sometimes I'd make more of the item and have it on hand for sale as a product, as time passed more of these items were invented and made in quantity and we made a simple home grown catalog and mailed them out to all the local wineries. By far, the products made much more profit than doing the one off work. I never patented anything, just sold the products for a reasonable amount of money so that others were not tempted to rip them off, and we wholesaled the products to other sellers. The shop is still doing business and seemingly thriving, having developed more new products for the wine industry. I did this with all conventional machines, but the new owner had a CNC lathe and mill, which are used on the old and new products.
 

ChrisAttebery

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#6
Over the last 20 years I have manufactured parts for RC boats, cars and planes and high power rocketry. Cars was a pretty large market and I sold to people in about 70 countries. I got out or radio control about 5 years ago and got back into high power rocketry. I have a small product line and it pays for my own hobbies and tool purchases. Two years ago a friend saw some of the work I was doing for me personal projects and asked if I'd like to design and prototype products for his company. That has worked out well and he keeps me busy.
 

Jake2465

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Over the last 20 years I have manufactured parts for RC boats, cars and planes and high power rocketry. Cars was a pretty large market and I sold to people in about 70 countries. I got out or radio control about 5 years ago and got back into high power rocketry. I have a small product line and it pays for my own hobbies and tool purchases. Two years ago a friend saw some of the work I was doing for me personal projects and asked if I'd like to design and prototype products for his company. That has worked out well and he keeps me busy.
Sounds like it has been a fun time for you :). When I was a little younger, I used to fly planes and helicopters around on a weekly basis. Doing something just for the enjoyment is great.
 

Jake2465

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I started my shop in 1973, and ran it until I sold the business about 7 years ago; I had two other shops in town, and did mostly maintainance work and making parts for bottling machines; rent was cheap, and that paid the bills; occasionally a customer would bring in something that was no longer made or in need of improvement; sometimes I'd make more of the item and have it on hand for sale as a product, as time passed more of these items were invented and made in quantity and we made a simple home grown catalog and mailed them out to all the local wineries. By far, the products made much more profit than doing the one off work. I never patented anything, just sold the products for a reasonable amount of money so that others were not tempted to rip them off, and we wholesaled the products to other sellers. The shop is still doing business and seemingly thriving, having developed more new products for the wine industry. I did this with all conventional machines, but the new owner had a CNC lathe and mill, which are used on the old and new products.
That is an interesting business to be in. I take it that the machines that are used in bottling processes tend to be high maintenance from all the production?
 

Jake2465

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Offering general machine shop services is a tough way to try to make money, especially just starting out. Most people that I know started out by providing a niche service to a local manufacturer and then branched out as market conditions allowed. Others started out with a product and the machine shop was there to facilitate the manufacture of that product.
One thing I believe is nice with producing your own product is that you are the one that can set your tolerances which is a big plus. Where I live, opening up a tiny general machine shop and hoping for profit would probably give chances in the slim to none range, and slim left the building.

Interestingly enough, most of the shops I have seen are small operations which leads me to believe that they are either all making excellent use of the minimal square footage of their buildings, or they are not getting enough work to expand.
 
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[X]Outlaw

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I got into machining as a direct result of model aviation. There was a motor mount I designed that converted a particular model heli from gasoline powered to electric. None of the local machine shops could have manufactured it for me so I started researching how to do it myself. I decided to take the plunge and got a Taig CNC mill. It took me a few months to get up to speed on everything but eventually got my mount made.

That first part started my little side business about 7 years ago. I made quite a bit of those mounts for guys all over the world. Then a buddy of mine who also flies models threw me a job that other shops turned down, a motor coupler for an operating theater bed. Slowly by word of mouth I was getting request to make parts for all kinds of stuff.

I do pick and choose the jobs I take, I tend to turn down the more boring stuff and focus more on those that give me a challenge.

Chevy
 

JimDawson

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Interestingly enough, most of the shops I have seen are small operations which leads me to believe that they either all making excellent use of the minimal square footage of their buildings, or they are not getting enough work to expand.

Or they don't want to expand. ;) Which is my case.
 

Jake2465

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I got into machining as a direct result of model aviation. There was a motor mount I designed that converted a particular model heli from gasoline powered to electric. None of the local machine shops could have manufactured it for me so I started researching how to do it myself. I decided to take the plunge and got a Taig CNC mill. It took me a few months to get up to speed on everything but eventually got my mount made.

That first part started my little side business about 7 years ago. I made quite a bit of those mounts for guys all over the world. Then a buddy of mine who also flies models threw me a job that other shops turned down, a motor coupler for an operating theater bed. Slowly by word of mouth I was getting request to make parts for all kinds of stuff.

I do pick and choose the jobs I take, I tend to turn down the more boring stuff and focus more on those that give me a challenge.

Chevy
That's really neat! Have you ever made rotor heads for them?

I did a little bit of research a while back into the market viability of model hobbies. From what I saw, it does seem to indicate that success is higher if a specific niche is chosen because the big players have price points that are practically impossible to compete with. Web sides such as HobbyKing have probably forced many hobby themed businesses out of the scene. Actually, I heard that TowerHobbies declared bankruptcy this year and sold to another company :(.

So, I guess trying to be everything to everyone is not a good idea.
 

T Bredehoft

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#14
I retired from the Natural Gas Compressor industry in ought ought, spent almost 15 yeas wishing I had something to do. My eldest son built up a business in model flying (rubber band powered) and bought a propeller manufactury. Siince he was gainfully employed I got the job of making things for him. It started out making propellers and necessary hardware, prop shafts, bushings, thrust bearings, (5/16 diameter, three steel balls .080, one .040 disc of aluminum with 4 holes in it and two steel flat washers.) and a couple other items, hinges for the folding props, etc. Since then we've taken on making 10 to 0ne winders, 8 and 30 ounce-inch torque meters and balsa slitters. With the machinery I have, I've started contracting for small machine parts, not enough yet to eat better, but I'm busy doing what I enjoy.
 

[X]Outlaw

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That's really neat! Have you ever made rotor heads for them?

I did a little bit of research a while back into the market viability of model hobbies. From what I saw, it does seem to indicate that success is higher if a specific niche is chosen because the big players have price points that are practically impossible to compete with. Web sides such as HobbyKing have probably forced many hobby themed businesses out of the scene. Actually, I heard that TowerHobbies declared bankruptcy this year and sold to another company :(.

So, I guess trying to be everything to everyone is not a good idea.
Never attempted a rotor head mainly because most stock rotor heads perform just fine and in the event you crash a new head is way cheaper than I would charge to make one.

I usually make parts (not limited to models) that are :

Hard to find
My own designs
Prototypes of other people designs
Work other shops turn down due to complexity

It is defiantly better to find a niche market than to try to be everything to everyone. Sad to see that Tower filed for bankruptcy. In the last few years a good bit of RC companies closed down. I used to fly JR helis exclusively and they closed down this year, Miniature Aircraft USA closed a few years ago and has now been bought over by a German company, HeliHobby closed a while back, brick and mortar hobby stores are almost non existent and hardly anyone learns the skill of building their own models anymore, its all RTF. Multicopters have taken a huge chunk of the traditional Airplane and heli market mainly because of how cheap and easy to fly they are.

Once upon a time I considered opening a hobby store but the profit margins are just too slim, especially if you have to compete with the likes of HobbyKing.

Chevy
 

Jake2465

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I retired from the Natural Gas Compressor industry in ought ought, spent almost 15 yeas wishing I had something to do. My eldest son built up a business in model flying (rubber band powered) and bought a propeller manufactury. Siince he was gainfully employed I got the job of making things for him. It started out making propellers and necessary hardware, prop shafts, bushings, thrust bearings, (5/16 diameter, three steel balls .080, one .040 disc of aluminum with 4 holes in it and two steel flat washers.) and a couple other items, hinges for the folding props, etc. Since then we've taken on making 10 to 0ne winders, 8 and 30 ounce-inch torque meters and balsa slitters. With the machinery I have, I've started contracting for small machine parts, not enough yet to eat better, but I'm busy doing what I enjoy.
Never attempted a rotor head mainly because most stock rotor heads perform just fine and in the event you crash a new head is way cheaper than I would charge to make one.

I usually make parts (not limited to models) that are :

Hard to find
My own designs
Prototypes of other people designs
Work other shops turn down due to complexity

It is defiantly better to find a niche market than to try to be everything to everyone. Sad to see that Tower filed for bankruptcy. In the last few years a good bit of RC companies closed down. I used to fly JR helis exclusively and they closed down this year, Miniature Aircraft USA closed a few years ago and has now been bought over by a German company, HeliHobby closed a while back, brick and mortar hobby stores are almost non existent and hardly anyone learns the skill of building their own models anymore, its all RTF. Multicopters have taken a huge chunk of the traditional Airplane and heli market mainly because of how cheap and easy to fly they are.

Once upon a time I considered opening a hobby store but the profit margins are just too slim, especially if you have to compete with the likes of HobbyKing.

Chevy
My first helicopter was a Lite Machines 110, and then a Venture CP. After that, it was a Raptor 30v2. I don't know if anyone still flies those Raptors anymore, lol.

Seems that it is critical for someone to strategically position himself in a market with so many outside threats taking the market away. I think that would also indicate that there is no such thing as customer loyalty. Whoever puts it out the cheapest wins seems to be the flavor of this era.

I will never give into a quad copter. I like my single rotor head machines.
 

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#17
Do not open on Saturdays, this is when the homeowners and hobbyists are out and about. If the locals know you are open you will get a never ending stream of broken bicycle parts, broken $19.00 beach chairs, door handles, broken wrought and cast iron patio furniture, kitchen appliance parts, truck ladder racks, car roof top kayak and bicycle racks, home plumbing fixtures, fireplace grates and guards, lawn sprinklers, lawn mowers, floor lamps, reclining chairs, BBQ grills, ceiling fans, floor fans, garage door opener components and so on, most all of these people want you to make a part to repair something that they bought simply for it's low price, you can not do so. Just Say No

Then the dreaded hobbyists begin to show up, the local classic (not wealthy) muscle car guys are the worst of this lot, they will expect you to share their own love of 1971 Chevy Camaros, they will want a new alternator bracket made for instance and will go stark raving mad when you tell them that it will cost in excess of $500.00 and tell you that GM sold them for $14.95 when in production 50 years ago.

Then the motorcycle types turn up, most of the young ones spend a good deal of time on the internet and know all about how factory racing motorcycles are made (-: They will ask for a price on a part using all of the advertising key words used in the hobby world, Aircraft Grade Aluminum, CNC Machined, Hard Anodized a certain color, a generous radius in all corners for appearance only, most of these people also have no disposable income.

The same applies to boat owners, cyclists and RC modelers whether it is cars, boats, rockets, planes or robot vacuum cleaners. If indeed you can become well known in one of the hobby industries you may make some cash, this is tough sledding however.

If you can design and produce a proprietary product that people will actually buy in sufficient numbers to make a profit have at it
 

MarkM

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I am trying to do this with a four year plan. No where near ready but moving forward. Where I am there is no production. It s all maintenance and repair. I realize I need something to be steady so I am doing it with a sharpening business along side of it. Doing knives for restaurants, chipper, planer, scissors, drills for a few companies(4 facet) and other stuff as well. At times really just offering a service to get my foot in the door so they know I am available. Concentrating more on the sharpening aspect knowing I am not ready but inching forward with equipment and tooling. The only licensed guy around Works in my favour but not advertising machining at all. Just letting word of mouth do its thing.
Also realize that I need to make some of my own products. One thing for sure most people have no idea what it takes and the expense for good quality accurate machining when most people all seem to care about is the cost not quality. Hit my first year projection. I have to admit at times it is scary at 50 years old. Wasn t going to use the credit card but that went out the window along time ago. Your handcuffed for so long and it s a slippery slope but you have to spend money and lots of it to succeed or else you sit idle.
 

vtcnc

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#19
Do not open on Saturdays, this is when the homeowners and hobbyists are out and about. If the locals know you are open you will get a never ending stream of broken bicycle parts, broken $19.00 beach chairs, door handles, broken wrought and cast iron patio furniture, kitchen appliance parts, truck ladder racks, car roof top kayak and bicycle racks, home plumbing fixtures, fireplace grates and guards, lawn sprinklers, lawn mowers, floor lamps, reclining chairs, BBQ grills, ceiling fans, floor fans, garage door opener components and so on, most all of these people want you to make a part to repair something that they bought simply for it's low price, you can not do so. Just Say No

Then the dreaded hobbyists begin to show up, the local classic (not wealthy) muscle car guys are the worst of this lot, they will expect you to share their own love of 1971 Chevy Camaros, they will want a new alternator bracket made for instance and will go stark raving mad when you tell them that it will cost in excess of $500.00 and tell you that GM sold them for $14.95 when in production 50 years ago.

Then the motorcycle types turn up, most of the young ones spend a good deal of time on the internet and know all about how factory racing motorcycles are made (-: They will ask for a price on a part using all of the advertising key words used in the hobby world, Aircraft Grade Aluminum, CNC Machined, Hard Anodized a certain color, a generous radius in all corners for appearance only, most of these people also have no disposable income.

The same applies to boat owners, cyclists and RC modelers whether it is cars, boats, rockets, planes or robot vacuum cleaners. If indeed you can become well known in one of the hobby industries you may make some cash, this is tough sledding however.

If you can design and produce a proprietary product that people will actually buy in sufficient numbers to make a profit have at it
I have to say...you could have gone on with this rant for 45 minutes and I would have read every word. You had me hooked at “garage opener parts”.


Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk
 

JimDawson

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#20
Wasn t going to use the credit card but that went out the window along time ago.
That reminds me: Don't borrow money to start or expand a business. That has been my rule for 50 years and has served me well. If you can't pay cash for tools and equipment, then you're doing it wrong. Nothing worse than the bank nipping at your heels when work gets slow. Nothing wrong with using a credit card for records management, but don't charge more than you can afford to pay off at the end of the month by either having the cash available or very solid receivables.
 

MarkM

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I agree. Sold off a couple motorcycles but in the end had to get to at least some point to be somewhat functional. Now I have to claw back but can now make some better sharpening equipment and maybe hold it s own for growth in the machine shop as well. Have to be disciplined to not cross the line. Scary today with cnc. Can t compete with that. Have to find that niche.
 

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I admire anyone who can make a buck at this stuff. For me, it’s a hobby and a way to get parts for my R&D project just the way I want them. Trying to be profitable would turn this into a not so easy job instead of a great fun and useful hobby.
 

T Bredehoft

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What's a rotor head (might it be a helicopter part?)

Might I suggest you check out Volaré Products? He makes and sells short (and long) kits for many planes.
 

Jake2465

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One thing for sure most people have no idea what it takes and the expense for good quality accurate machining when most people all seem to care about is the cost not quality.
I would agree. That is also what makes it difficult to make a viable business out of machined parts. Especially if similar parts are already available on a massive scale by China. I was once told by someone that China has become the manufacture of the world. Their bread and butter is pumping out cheap parts at cyclic rates, making cents on the dollar per part. So, there is little hope in competing with that monster because customers only have loyalty to the cheapest seller.
 

Jake2465

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#26
So, the answer seems to be that niche or product that would be considered boutique in nature is the way to go. For the folks that have taken the time to reply, thank you. I think this is insightful and makes sense. A lot of strategy has to go into making sure whatever is made cannot be commonly available with tight margins acting as a barrier to entry.
 

Jake2465

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#27
What's a rotor head (might it be a helicopter part?)
A rotor head as an assembly that houses the feathering shafts, main rotor blades, angel nut, and mountings for other ancillary parts.

That is a nice website :). When I was a kid, I had a Peck Polymers One Nite 28. It was a lot of fun to cut it loose in the park and then run after it and sometimes have to climb a tree to get it down :grin:.

One of my favorite models I owned was a Lanzo Record Breaker. I think it weighed one pound exactly and was powered by a Norvel .074. It was good at catching thermals. Nice plane for lazy Saturday afternoons.
 

JimDawson

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I would agree. That is also what makes it difficult to make a viable business out of machined parts. Especially if similar parts are already available on a massive scale by China. I was once told by someone that China has become the manufacture of the world. Their bread and butter is pumping out cheap parts at cyclic rates, making cents on the dollar per part. So, there is little hope in competing with that monster because customers only have loyalty to the cheapest seller.
We have started doing ''low quality'' machining. As an example, one customer had been getting a part made by another shop that was costing him about $50 per unit. We were able to get that cost down to $8 per unit and still maintain a $150/hour machine time rate. The parts are as dimensionally accurate as they need to be, but there might be some minor tool marks that still show after tumble finishing. One caveat is that he has to buy 30 units at a time because that is what we can fit on a pallet, but at that price point he was more than happy to buy 30 units.

In some areas, it is possible to compete with China. All parts do not have to have a mirror finish nor NASA tolerances.
 

Boswell

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#29
All parts do not have to have a mirror finish nor NASA tolerances.
Jim is right on. As hobby, part of the enjoyment can be making something that is extra pretty, extra elegant and the cost per part is not the driving factor. I am sure my thoughts on this will be a little controversial but these are poor habits for when you want to make money. higher quality that what is needed is wasted time and therefore unnecessary cost. I think the Chinese mfg understand this. You can get high quality parts from China but there expertise seems to be making stuff at the minimum quality that the buyer can accept and not put any cost into the mfg that is not needed to meet the buyers specifications. This is one reason why it is important who you buy imported stuff from. The reputation that old American made equipment is built to last a lifetime is a great testament to the abilities of past engineers and manufacturing companies. But how much added cost is there in a machine that works as good today as it did 100 years ago when production shops need CNC in order to keep labor and time per part low or as Jim points out a part with perfect surface finish when that is not needed for the part to function and not part of the specification.
 

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#30
I assure you that Chinese manufacturing can generate extremely high quality products, at a very advanced technology level. At one time in my career, I indirectly managed a factory in Shenzhen with 7500 line workers assembling 36 track magnetic recording heads. Think of that...don’t think there was anywhere else in the world where that could have been done. They were all working through microscopes, and the quality was impeccable.

Of course now most of my contact with Chinese manufacturing is through Harbor Freight. Pretty easy to forget that you get what you pay for. :)
 
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