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When Giants Collide: The Greg Medford Podcast Featuring Anthony Marfione of Microtech Knives

This episode of the Greg Medford Podcast is a must-see! Two of the largest knife makers in the industry discuss everything from business to personal stories in an intimate podcast at Bladeshow 2022 at he Medford Knife and Tool booth.

Podcast Transcript:

Greg Medford: Hey sports fans Greg Medford from The Greg Medford Show live here at Bladeshow in Atlanta, Georgia 2022. I’ve got one of the godfathers of the modern knife making industry, not to blow too much smoke up your ass but Anthony, I call you regularly one of the most talented designers and innovative guys in the business. I admire your business. I love the finishes on your knives. I love the thoughtfulness of your packaging. I love the whole zeitgeist to your look, and it's got that really stylish Italian coolness to it, and I think you're a badass for pulling it off. And when you do that, you get darts in your back from everybody chasing behind you.

Anthony Marfione: It's true. This is true, but I appreciate the kind words.

Greg Medford: No, they're true and they're heart felt, and I mean it. I get slayed, and I hear you get slayed, and I always say hey man this is a tough gig being out in front and what you do.

Anthony Marfione: Dude, I mean it's like that anywhere you go. I mean you know when your kind of leading the pack in that direction -- yeah you get some darts putting your back, but like anything else you know I don't get nearly butt hurt as much. You know, when you know if somebody defames us then we're going to go after them in a big way. But you know we appreciate the comments, suggestions, you know we get razzed a lot. I get that, but you know no, in a bad way. I mean, we always do. But you know for as long as they're continuing to buy the knives, we're going to continue our customer service. And, uh you know we're just going to continue to try to do better. Because like I was explaining even though, you know, my time in this industry will be short, you know, eventually I'll pass, you know, but the boys will take it over even with my son Tony, you know. I was thinking the other day, you know, I wouldn't redo it if I had an opportunity to go back and relive my life. I would do it all the same. There are a couple little things I probably would like to omit from my life and relationships.

Greg Medford: I got a couple little I’d like to delete.

Anthony Marfione: Yeah, you know like I could do that with one or two relationships I could omit without causing a paradox. I would definitely go back and wipe that out.

Greg Medford: Yeah, you don't want to you don't want to crack the space-time continuum

Anthony Marfione: I know right, but nevertheless I mean you know you see what my son Tony is doing at Heretic, doing really well and stuff. So, you know that the name is going to live on, you know. So hopefully those expectations can continue to be met. You know, we've made mistakes. I've made a ton of mistakes along the way. Maybe all my decisions are not the best ones, but at the time it seems like a good thing for us. You know, but in in the meantime you know the company's still expanding we're still trying to find better ways to manufacture I mean, you know what it's like here.

Greg Medford: Yeah, it's a thing about leadership though. You know we can't pause and second guess ourselves. You can do a little bit of that like in the bathroom, but other than that you got

to be a boss. You got to keep going.

Anthony Marfione: And it's good. What really makes, like I say, Microtech successful not so much my vision Susan’s vision at first, but it's the people that we have. You know we got a little over 180 full-time people right now we got some good people. You know it wasn't always that way. It's always like I remember dreading going to work. It's like God, I can't work with this guy or this guy, right. You know the old tony used to throw hammers through the wall. Now new Tony can't do that anymore no because HR will have my ass, right. But um, you know we got a good core of people and that's been probably the biggest part of our strategy is being able to get ourselves surrounded with like-minded people and it's not always easy.

Greg Medford: That's the toughest thing I’ve noticed it too because, when people say, “hey, why don't you just get a second shift going,” and I go, “man, it's 12 years to get these 50 people

that I like.” You know, I’ve heard some numbers nationally like it takes eight hires to get a great stick.

Anthony Marfione: Um, I’m going to say that that's pretty close.

Greg Medford: I think it is too, we're probably five.

Anthony Marfione: But our, you know, for us it's a little different because we go through such a vetting process it makes it a little un… and it all depends on how you vet like we had one, I won't mention names, but she was a horrible HR lady before Melinda came in and that department was just horrible at getting people and retaining them. You know, so the vetting process just didn't simply work for us, but now it's a culture. So, you know I’d say for every new hire we get on here, I mean we don't have a very big overturn rate at all. You know, we try to empower our people we try to get them in the right positions, you know, and a lot of times you do have to take that chance because you think about it, Greg, I mean you and I, it doesn't matter. We didn't wake up one day and we were born doing this right. We put a lot of work into it work into it. There wasn't no YouTube and only hands. OnlyHands, no just kidding. Um, but you know all these different things to go learn, how to do this stuff. We had to go. We had to go figure it out for ourselves – a lot of problem solving. So you know I think part of our biggest claim to fame is just finding those people that have that motivational skill to want to do better, you know, because a lot of guys have come at me like, “you know, Tony, you're so hard to work for.” and I was like, “Why? Because I expect you to show up on time?” oh yeah, “I expect you to do your job, or how about not being on your phone, you know, during my time.” and I’m the bad guy? Yeah, so you know… it's just, it’s changed how we approach things.

Greg Medford: How many employees did you have when you wrote your first employee manual?

Anthony Marfione: Oh my god, maybe the first employee manual -- I had to because I almost… You know, I didn't even know what unemployment was until a couple people collected. I was like, “You actually get money if you get fired or quit?” it's like, I didn't know that. I didn't know that. So, as we grew, maybe ten oh okay ten.

Greg Medford: we had our first employment with 40 people

Anthony Marfione: Holy Jesus Christ!

Greg Medford: Yeah, and when we did it you know we handed out to everybody it was like this momentary culture shock with everything. I’m like, “Guys, I got to have these rules. It can't be like whatever Greg says.”

Anthony Marfione: Right, and it's the same thing. But it's a culture. It's a culture and like I said, most of them get it. If they can't, then you know we can move them on.

Greg Medford: Let's talk knives for a minute. So, what do you see cool or any emerging trends in the knife business?

Anthony Marfione: You know what's going to be really hard to say. I mean, I think any amount of innovation, because as you've always known I’ve seen a lot of companies go through explosive growth and new design and everything else. You know, even for us back in the day. We have some models that still stick and resonate within our line. I mean, the Socom Elite or the Socom of 1996, are of course noticeably different than the one of 2022. But it's like kind of like that Ford f-150. You know, the one that was made a hundred years ago and versus the new model. So, I believe in, that upgrade you know. But these SKUs that last 20 years or better, you know, with that innovation behind manufacturing and materials, I think if you got a couple really good SKUs that stick, then stick with it. I mean, you were just talking to you know Tim Reeve. Look at the Sebenza. Look at what Chris did with that. It was very simplistic shit, and they wrote an entire freaking chapter of knife history with those pieces. So, I think I think part of that is, I think for companies it's hard because you walk in here and you see so much new stuff. And it's like you get even folding knives, I mean you could put all the folding knives out on this floor man, and they would all blend in, you know. So, I think like, even in looking at your line, I could tell your line from arm's distance away. I know right now, Medford Knives. So having that ability to continue to innovate but also keep your DNA, I think, is super important. So, for us, you know, yes, some things have manifested a little bit differently from how we got started. I think with most of the core we understand where our place is.

Greg Medford: How do you feel about, uh you know, I think one of the hardest things as you grow is one managing the talent, and two maintaining the quality. And, if you're a ball buster, you have to be a lunatic fringe to keep the quality, or it all explodes off the table.

Anthony Marfione: That's our that's our biggest expense and our biggest programs at Microtech is quality control.

Greg Medford: I feel like as we get bigger, I think our quality is getting better because the mistakes are so expensive that you have to get them right.

Anthony Marfione: You have to. You have to manage it because it's one of those

things, you know, with run times and anything else, you overlook a run time on a switch, you could scrap a couple shifts worth of parts in a hurry and it could be something as a mundane dimension that could be checked with a set of calipers, or you know a micrometer. You know, now we're looking at systems that are all optical. So, it's catching things, we can't see. So, a lot of things that we typically we don't run into like that thing, “Well, hey the guy was an operator and ran all these parts and now we got to go back and fix them.” So, we've got some optical stuff that we can’t see bro. You can't see it till you get on the bench and that's the stuff that we're really emphasizing. I think probably Microtech's biggest proportion of our expansion is expanding our ability to quality control what we're doing, because as it gets bigger it could get so out of control. It can hurt you in achurry and it's expensive. Especially when you get into scrap and blade materials, raw materials that are big money.

Greg Medford: we had 20 sheets of steel go out that had to be plus or minus a half thou and they came back four thou out of tolerance.

Anthony Marfione: Oh my God, i'm having a stroke.

Greg Medford: I know! So, the flat grind company says, “Hey, what can we do to make it right? We'll just get some more materials.” I go, “Well hey, listen, it was a hundred thousand dollars’ worth of materials and yeah and it's four months to get it right now, and I need this by tomorrow.”

Anthony Marfione: Because that's the thing, even if you could write a check, it's like you can’t replace it. You can't replace this material.

Greg Medford: It's almost like life that gets sucked out you, you know.

Anthony Marfione: An that’s the biggest thing for us, is that's where we emphasize kind of from day one. I mean, I should be I should have a battleship and a big cargo boat and all these things. I invested all in the equipment because that was part of the issue. We never really planned on having a big machine shop. You know, when Susan and I started, “Like okay. Hey man, this guy's making the blade. You know Chris is doing this. This guy's doing that. This is great! You know, we're going to assemble them in our living room.” But the problem is we started running into those funnels where you would have an OEM vendor or something that would fail and then you'd have to go, “Okay, well. This guy needs to get paid. Greg needs to get paid for grinding the blades. You don't want to hear anybody’s shit about your screws or this or that. So that's like…

Greg Medford: No. The machine still must go.

Anthony Marfione: Yeah, so we started collecting equipment to be able to cover the gaps and that's how Microtech got in the business of machining.

Greg Medford: I know. Same with me because I wanted to have partners who helped me with this stuff, and I found very quickly you must do it yourself a lot of times.

Anthony Marfione: And don't get me wrong. We do have a couple great OEM shops, you know, within North Carolina, and up in PA, and a few others that really help with the surplus. Because it's like the same thing right now. I mean, we're struggling in three areas. We're struggling with space of course. We must, you know, continue to team build strategically and then, you know, materials. We did a little something I did a little something outside of the box when all this Covid shit's hit, you know. It was ambiguous with my wife it was my partner at the time because she didn't want to really see this. She didn't want to.

Greg Medford: So, did you start buying extra stuff?

Anthony Marfione: oh F***ing like mad, dude.

Greg Medford: I’ve been hoarding for two years.

Anthony Marfione: I spent all my money on m390, titanium, aluminum, we struck deals for months and everybody laughed at me. They're like, “You're crazy.”

Greg Medford: Well listen, I drove my mom crazy in accounting because I was like, “Hey, I want a million of those bearings. I want a million of those races.”

Anthony Marfione: And everybody's looking at you going with the F***? are you mad?

Greg Medford: But now I’m kind of like, with all the supply chain, I still have everything. I’m like, I can't go 30 days waiting for something. It would put you out of business almost.

Anthony Marfione: For us it would be it would be catastrophic. Yeah, you know. So, if you can't get raw, you can't get some of these things.

Greg Medford: Oh, we got steel. My mom is like, “You know we got a lot of steel.” I go, “Mom, I got to, uh listen, I need to sleep at night.” So, I’ve got extra stuff piled up.

Anthony Marfione: I’ll tell you what, Greg. Out of anything, you're 100 right if anything spooks Marfione in the middle of the night it's running out of steel. It'll never happen. I mean, we'd have to have a major catastrophe because what Bohler does for us now is a stock ‘X’ amount in Austria and they stock ‘X’ amount in Boston. And we stock ‘X’ amount so what it's an overlap supply because of space but we always have that rotation. Because you think of a mill doing a billet it could take 24 months on a good day. So, we always have several in place. Several billets in play and it's heavy on us, bro, because all our residual profits, you know, and I must do it, but I could cover myself for a 30-month period if the mill stopped.

Greg Medford: Well, what spooks me is the manufacturing in Europe, and the United States, turns its gaze back to acquiring here instead of in Asia. And it's going on right now. They're vacuuming up everything because companies like Boeing, GE, and Morton they turn their gaze to acquiring materials here and we can't compete. They get it all. Yeah, they do, and it spooks me. That's the number one thing that kind of keeps me up because if Boeing went to CPM and said, “Hey, I want it all” it would kill the whole knife industry or it could happen with Airbus and Bohler, I mean, you know, it just depends on what the shift of mentality.

Anthony Marfione: I mean even though we're using the m390 exclusively right now we've always tried to keep our avenues open. And that was a big heartbreak for me. The neat thing is when trump was in office, you know, we fought hard to get that 100 percent Made in the USA label with everything labeled, you know. A lot of people break my balls. They're like wow

Tony's running to China. Tony's not running to China. Yes, I mean, we're doing a little bit of work with Rike Knives, and stuff like that, which I get a little bit of scrutiny for, but it's not my meat and potatoes, you know. They already told me, “Hey we're having a hard time getting materials.” I’m like, “Join the club, bro. I mean, join the club. If you can't make it, it's okay. You know if they're quality.” But that’s the same thing, kind of, what we're battling back at home. It’s just making absolutely 100% sure that we have viable resources moving forward. That's a trick, dude.

Greg Medford: I have a couple of ideas and I kind of wanted to talk to you about

them but away from this mess.

Anthony Marfione: I got you man.

Greg Medford: All right, last thing. A little less serious - what's with all the hot chicks your booth man? Give me a little breakdown on this, because I hear two things. Guys come here for the Marfione Bladeshow Special and what's going on with all hot over there? I had the hot chick award for a while, and then you got it. What happened, man?

Anthony Marfione: You know uh we started looking at programs about a little over a year and a half ago because we wanted to start working a little bit towards women, you know, using our knives. So of course, you know we tagged up with Jamie Villamore which does a really nice job representing our brand, and stuff like that. Yeah, I mean, I’d say we got a pretty a uh, well-rounded selection of beautiful women working. Why not, you know? If I got a beautiful woman behind the counter that could manipulate these knives, shoot, and carry themselves well -- I think it's a good thing. I think it's a good angle for us for sure, you know, working with like Kat from the Woman Warriors. They slay it as far as getting these knives and the message out to women, and the real ladies…

Greg Medford: Hey, who's the ginger? Is that your girlfriend?

Anthony Marfione: No, it's not my girlfriend. Okay, no comment.

Greg Medford: All right, hey, listen. I'm just kidding. I know you got a lot of stuff to do, and I appreciate you coming over here and saddling up to chat with me. Our podcast, you know, it's mostly politics. It's a little bit of knives. You know I’m probably, when I punch out of this, going to be doing something, you know, running for some national office. So, I love talking…

Anthony Marfione: I’ll totally vote for you, man. And, I just want to say that, you know, I know that we, you know, are in a big competitive market you know. Remember I mean we got 180 people; you know. We have 95,000 square feet of freaking space. We're expanding here in the US. We aren’t going anywhere. But I support American industries--especially guys like you. So, I give you the freaking kudos for doing what you're doing at home and you're always going to get our support in that in that realm and that and that's the biggest thing that we

Expect, is we don't mind the competition.

Greg Medford: I love the competition. I love the competition right here.

Anthony Marfione: We just don't like it when we get guys that are like hey you know all “USA Made”, all veteran owned, all this stuff and it's not true. So, I’m going to warn them.

Greg Medford: You’ve got to call that out when it's worthy of calling out.

Anthony Marfione: I’m going to be calling some people out here shortly and, um, I never go into a dog fight unless they know I'm going to win. That's all I’m saying. I don't mind them doing what they're doing but you got to be transparent about it. If you're going to step up and do that kind… you better tell people where these knives are being made.

Greg Medford: God, who are you going to are you going to out first?

Anthony Marfione: Ah, you'll see.

Greg Medford: Oh my God.

Anthony Marfione: Yeah, this is off record.

Greg Medford: Is it anybody I know?

Anthony Marfione: Yeah.

Greg Medford: It's not me. I’m the real thing.

Anthony Marfione: No, you could make your stuff States. I could quantify by going to your factory. I got guys that are like, “Oh, our factories are all over the USA.” And I’m like, “Yeah, ok dude.”

Greg Medford: Yeah, okay I’ve seen some picture-to-picture, side-by-sides – guys doing knockoffs of your stuff that looks like the parts are interchangeable.

Anthony Marfione: It sucks man. Yeah, and that's another big thing that we battle is we

must battle from an intellectual standpoint from outside -- it's like whack-a-mole, bro.

Greg Medford: Yeah. No, I get it. Listen I really appreciate it. You know, it's funny customers always like to pit everybody against each other. Oh, I'm this guy or, I'm a that guy, or I'm this guy. I love that you came over and took time out of your day I know you got a lot of stuff going on I really appreciate it.

Anthony Marfione: Awesome, and I hope that when you get down to North Carolina, let's get together. I'll get you on my podcast. We'll have some grace and some fun maybe awesome maybe cook some food or something.

Greg Medford: Yeah, I'd love to. All right, I appreciate it. Thanks, Anthony. Hey, you guys that's Anthony Marfione from Marfione Custom Knives and Microtech, here we are.

Anthony Marfione: Thanks.

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