Travelling a little further afield, in this month’s Starrett dealer spotlight blog we chat with Jiří Karas the CEO of bandsaw and blade suppliers,KARAS. Based in the Czech Republic, we find out more about the company he single-handedly founded at the young age of 19-years old and learn how he developed and grew the company, with the help of brands like Starrett to make it the truly European-wide company that it is today.
Jiří, tell me a bit about yourself.
I live in Mýto, a small town in the Plzeň region of the Czech Republic. I’ve been married to my beautiful wife,Alena for 14 years and together we have two children, Jiří who’s 14 year’s old and Matyas who’s 9.
Sport is my favourite hobby. During the winter months I love snowboarding and snow kiting, while in the summer I enjoy cycling and running. I find being physically active year-round is a great way to get rid of stress.
Who do you work for, how long have you been with the company and what’s your job title?
I am the owner and CEO of KARAS pilys.r.o since 1999.Based in Mýto, KARAS is made up of three facilities; our office-based house, a welding shop for welding blades and a stock room for storing holesaws and accessories which we export across Europe, as well as larger machines for sawing, lathes and machines for metal and wood cutting industries. Our site covers quite a few square metres, but at present we are looking at options to expand.
In terms of our customer base, we do a lot of business in Germany, as well as Slovakia, as our countries and languages are very similar. In the past, we sent quite a lot of bandsaw blades to Denmark, but nowadays we also sell a lot of machines to the Baltic Republic’s, like Latvia and Estonia and occasionally we sell bandsaw machines to France, Bulgaria and Romania.
To our advantage we are well placed in the middle of Europe. We’re very well connected to transport routes, being situated directly between Prague and Pilsen, so for our customersit’s great as we can provide fast delivery.
Tell us a little bit about your role in the company?
We currently have 19 people working for KARAS.I manage both the sales and production team and help provide that personal service for our biggest customers and suppliers.
It can be quite a stressful job with good and bad days, but I cannot imagine doing anything else. Sometimes it’s hard, but when we pull through these tough times, it is great to be able to celebrate our victories. I feel lucky to do a job that I enjoy and take pride in.
What’s your favourite aspect of the job and what do you enjoy the least?
Business has been my life since I was 19-years old. I like what I do and do what I like.
I always wanted to get into sales and when I set up the company in 1999, there was just me and my car. I had to take out a small business loan to get started and took each step as it came. Along the way I’ve really invested into and grown the company.
2008 was a big year for us, as it’s when we met Ivor Hughes, Starrett’s European Sales Manager who retired in June this year. We met him at a trade show in Brno. Up until this point we were exclusively a Czech company, but through meeting Ivor and subsequently the Starrett team, they helped us to become a pan-European company.
"The Starrett team helped us to become a pan-European company"
Is there one person alive or dead who you would love to talk with or meet, and why?
I would love to meet Ivor Hughes again and I hope it will happen soon. On the other hand, the person who’s no longer with us would have the be Frank Sinatra, as I would love to hear him singing live.
Do you DIY yourself? What is your biggest project?
Yes, I love working on and improving old cars. The latest project I have taken on is a ŠkodaFavorit Blackline, which was my first company car. I did 200,000km in it and I still enjoy driving it, much to my wife’s despair. My goal is to improve its engine and repair a few parts on the body.
What’s your favourite tool and why?
Bandsaw machines and blades because it’s unbelievable how effective they are, and the thickness of their cuts really impress me. Take for example one of our customers who works in the nuclear plant industry – they use these blades to cut titanium and other very hard to cut materials and when you see them using these very thin metal blades, it’s simply incredible.
Tell us about your relationship with Starrett.
Our cooperation has been ongoing since 2008. It was and still is a dream come true to work with the company, as I have learned so much and enjoy working with the team. I would like to specially mention ChristianPresident of Starrett Brazil, Felipe our new European Sales Manager, Robert McKechnie Commercial Director, Graham Munro from Technical Support and Shirley Horne from Customer Services, plus so many others.
Two or three years ago, I was sitting in my office when I heard the doorbell ring. These older American people, from Nebraska came in because they saw the Starrett and Karas brands on our sign on the street. When I asked them about their purpose for the visit, they started explaining how Starrett is an American brand used in all their DIY shops and how they were here in Europe looking for ancestors of the Karas name. It was great to be able to introduce them to my team, talk about Karas and Starrett and in the end we found out that we shared the same ancestors from the 19th century, who were based at a nearby village. As always, it was great to see how Starrett and Karas offered great synergies.
When I met Doug Starrett, CEO of Starrett at a trade show I told him this story. I was very impressed by his attitude to everyone. Given his importance, he really took the time to chat to people and actually listen to what they had to say – it was a real pleasure for me.
Would you recommend Starrett to a friend or colleague?
Many of my friends are already using Starrett blades and holesaws, because they look good and perform very well.
Tell us more about the type of tools your company stock?
We stock 1,000s of metres of bandsaw blades, including Starrett’sIntenss, Intenss Pro and Advanz lines of metal cutting and hard-to-cut blades, Woodpeckerwood cutting blades, as well as meat cutting blades, including the Carcasskutter andMeatkutter. We stock almost every line of Starrett bandsaw blades,as well as their Fast Cut, Deep Cut and Diamond hole saws.
We are also the best-sellers of the Czech producers of bandsaw machines and have the biggest stock of machines in the country. We also sell machines for small production and have a very good connection to Holzmann company in Austria, producers of wood working machines.
What challenges do you think lie ahead for the industry and what do you think can be done to overcome these?
As a company we tend to turn negative situations into a positive. Every crisis is a gift for us, like in 2009 when we bought one of our competitors. Even in the present climate, under a global pandemic we are doing even more business, since adding new lines, including bandsaw blades for the food and wood industries.
For more information about KARAS, visit: www.karas.cz