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At the Top of the RPM Range

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Craig Haslem first got into the engine building industry while working at a NAPA store in Berea, OH. He worked as a counterman in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s until he was asked to work in the machine shop at the location.

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After just a week, the guy who brought him into the machine shop seriously injured his back and had to leave. Craig was on his own, but not for long. After three quick months, another NAPA store in West Park, OH asked Craig to take over its machine shop. Craig jumped at the opportunity and ran the shop for 12 years.

In 2005, a lot changed for Craig and his family. He lost his father and inherited an Office Furniture and Supply store. Although Craig had little interest or experience in running an office supply store, he decided to pursue it. After 8 years of ups and downs, Craig was itching to go back to what made him most happy – engine building and machine work.

In 2012, Craig was hired at a machine shop in North Olmstead, OH. However, getting back into the business wasn’t all Craig had remembered it to be, at least not here. Living nearly 30 miles away in Medina, Craig had a long commute and some of the ways the machine shop did business didn’t sit right with Craig, so he made the decision to go out on his own and start a shop.

“I hated to leave and felt bad walking away, but I had to give my own place a try,” he says. “I’m glad I had the experience I did running the office supply store, because I got to understand the difficulties of running your own business. Had I not done that before opening my own place, I don’t know if I would have succeeded.”

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Craig left the North Olmstead shop in 2015 and opened RPM Engine and Machine in Medina, OH in August that same year. With a new building and a $60,000 investment, Craig was up and running. Now, just about a full-year later, his shop is seeing strong business.

Since his time at NAPA, Craig says that a few of the area stores have been closed down, and a good portion of that work has been coming to RPM Engine and Machine now. In addition, RPM gets cylinder head work from local dealerships, which has been a boost to the business. He does crack repair work and full rebuilds as well.

Craig has done a few builds for racing applications and has a drag race engine currently in the shop, but that’s not his primary focus.

“I prefer to work on muscle car engine builds and antique/restoration type work,” he says. “I like doing the jobs that most people aren’t willing to put in the effort, and more importantly, the time to do. Now that I have my own shop, I can allocate the proper time to doing those kinds of jobs and doing them right.”

While Craig has the ability to take in race, performance, marine and motorcycle work if it comes in the door, he’s got enough business each month that he isn’t relying upon having to work on anything and everything that comes his way. And if he isn’t comfortable working on a certain job, he won’t try to fake his way through a job.

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“I pride myself on being as perfect as I can be in my work, and if I don’t feel comfortable with a certain job I won’t try to pretend I can do it,” he says. “I’ll recommend they go somewhere else. But the jobs I do take on, I make sure to do them right. I do all my own machine work and I sharpen my own cutters. I don’t have any CNC machines. I’m an old-school machinist and you have to know what a good machine job feels like, which is hard to teach.”

RPM Engine and Machine has a number of machines on hand to do all the work coming through the door. RPM has a thermal cleaning machine, shot blast machine, flywheel grinder, cylinder head pressure tester, Rottler boring bar, Winona cylinder hone, Bridgeport mill, TCM seat and guide machine and a DCM seat and guide machine.

“If I have the machine and the ability to do a job, I’ll do it,” he says.

While Craig’s shop has been busy in just its first year, Craig doesn’t advertise his business. He does have a website (www.rpmmachine.net) and a Facebook page, but the majority of his work comes via word of mouth. It also doesn’t hurt that dissatisfied customers from other shops come to Craig at RPM to fix poor-quality jobs.

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“So many shops or DIYers these days seem to think ‘good enough’ is all it takes to run a business,” Craig says. “There is a difference between good and good enough. Also, a lot of shops don’t seem to take the time to properly clean parts, and that is 50% of the job. I make sure that all the jobs that I do here are professionally done and are high quality. I don’t want customers coming back to me because their engine fell apart for reasons it shouldn’t have. I want them to come back because they loved the engine work I did for them.”

Perhaps its this mentality and a good business acumen that have helped Craig make RPM a success in its first year, but often times in this industry, the work speaks for itself and success follows.

“People told me it would be years before my business would be profitable and that I should be prepared for that, which I appreciated, but I have been fortunate in that RPM has been profitable since day one, and that was my biggest hurdle in starting this business.” ν

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