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"Jerky sales are good," he said. "It is a nice consumable, because it goes." At one shop, he said he can count on selling about six packs a week. "Once they start on it, and they like it, then they start to look forward to it." At one shop, while Dave was with one customer, the other four techs on the truck were gathered around the jerky packets sorting through the flavors, recommending some and asking after some missing ones.
Beyond that, the rest of Dave's stock seems fairly balanced between hardlines, power tools, etc. "If you're in the business, you have to carry at least one toolbox on your truck," Dave said (he has three). "Toolbox sales are one of the biggest things right now that I think other distributors are holding back on right now, which ends up in a hole on the truck that techs will notice right away."
He also carries a lot of sockets and socket sets, including several of the very large sockets needed in heavy-duty and agricultural shops, several of which are on his route. "The investment can be steep, but this is an area that can't be waited on," Dave said.
"When they need these, they need them now. If you call around until you find one, you've lost the sale. When they need it, they don't care what they pay for it."
Of course, of all the things Dave stocks and sells, "the most important thing I sell is myself," he said. "It's about service," whether selling against another truck, parts jobbers or the Internet. "My dad told me I should put a sticker on the outside of the truck that says, 'I sell service. I also have some tools.' "
After the sale
Selling service (and tools) is only part of the job. Dave has some advice for new distributors not to oversimplify what they do:
"It's a very simple job, but if you want to be good at it, it's the hardest job you could have. It looks easy from the outside, 'Oh, I get a tool in, I sell it and collect the money and then go back and buy more tools.' There's a lot more to it if you want to be successful.
"Generally, the younger guys just think, 'I've got to get the sale, got to get the sale,' ... and they will do anything to get the sale; they lose hard and bad." That's why many new distributors don't last past a few years, he said.
What follows the sale is continued customer service and the collections. "I can sell to everyone on this route," Dave said. "Not every guy on this route has the ability to pay for it."
Payments is where things become clear on whether you've done your proper job pre-evaluating customers, Dave said. It's as bad to shoot too low as too high, he said.
"I know I've lost some money, but it's OK to lose some money because this business is based on giving credit to those who are not necessarily credit-worthy. ... If you shut a new customer down at $50 credit for fear of losing money, you may be missing out on even more. Most customers are probably credit-worthy to a couple hundred dollars—at $50 you just shot yourself in the foot.
"Most guys have at least $20 a week to spend," Dave said. "Now, if I give him a $100 bill, and he can't keep up with $20 a week, I know where his credit is—less than $100. ... But if the tech comes back with $50 the next week ... I know I can start moving up his credit line.
"If you know how much your customer is worth, you don't have to worry as much about loss," Dave said. "As long as a customer pays you the appropriate amount every single week, that customer can never owe you too much money."
How customers pay isn't a matter of having the right route, Dave said. "Good routes and bad routes don't exist. It's the person behind the wheel that influences the customers on a route," whether it's buying habits, paying habits, demeanor on the truck, etc.
Managing customers is not the hardest part of the job though, for Dave. "The hardest part of the job is managing time closely enough to balance work and family. The hours are enough that you end up eating and sleeping this job if you're not careful.
"Out here [on the route] is the fun part," Dave said. "When this becomes work is when you're at home" doing bills, ordering, paperwork, checking orders and inventory, and managing the business part of the route.
Tips on offering credit to customers.