Working together for success

Rick Hodges, of Watkinsville, Ga., has been a mobile tool distributor for nearly 20 years, the last nine as an independent covering Athens and the surrounding area. He went independent in order to grow his business, and with sales last year near...

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I took a back corner of my truck, and I basically dedicated it to ISN stuff, just a small section, for about a year,” he said. “Then I sat down and realized, out of that little section, it had become 50 percent of my sales. That kind of told me what people were looking for.” 

The realization became a major influence for him to go independent.

“Compared to what I was used to, the fill rate is a lot, lot better at ISN. When you order, you're pretty much going to get it.

“I'm on a program where if it's new, and I think less than $300 or so, they just ship it to me. I don't need them to call me or ask me about it, I just want X amount. Of course, Greg's been great about knowing what I like and what I want on my truck.”

Rick considers Greg’s efforts one of the best assets to his business.

“Greg follows up on everything. He's to the point and doesn't waste a lot of time,” Rick said. “When he retires, I'm done.”

Apart from Greg’s stewardship and ISN’s fill rate, Rick and Krissi enjoy ISN’s annual tool expo. And particularly the boat they won last year.

“They always treat us very well; it's a lot of fun,” Krissi said.

“We used to go just the two of us, but now that our kids are old enough to go off on their own, we'll bring them. They go to the parks all day, and we just go and mingle and shop. Usually he shops and I keep a book—at every booth he just says what he wants and I mark it down and we turn it in. It's definitely a partner system on that.”

Going to the tool expo “does jog my memory on the good items that I've totally forgot about,” Rick said. “I always go thinking, ‘This year I'm not going to spend that much money.’ And I walk away spending $20,000.

“I think a lot of guys are afraid to buy inventory,” he said. “I know you've got to take some money to buy it, but I've taken a lot of chances. At one point when I wanted it to grow, instead of worrying about the money, I just ordered. … The day I started that is the day my business went from decent to really taking off.”

In fact, Rick’s truck seems packed with tools, top to bottom and front to back. And no toolbox in sight.

“I actually do a lot more toolboxes than people realize, I just don't load them on this truck,” Rick said. “I have them all drop-shipped.

I've known these guys for so long, most of them. … I always tell them, ‘Look, I'll drop-ship that box in, and if it's not what you're looking for, I'll pick it up and I’ll sell it to someone else.

“I've never picked one up.” And that saves Rick the time of moving boxes on and off the truck, and gives him that much more room to display other tools.


Independent advice

Rick hasn’t regretted going independent starting with his first stop minus a flag.

“Really, it went better than I expected,” Rick said. “I set up a worst-case scenario and I knew I could survive on that. But actually, my business went up.”

Communication was key to the switch.

“I passed out a letter to all of my customers telling them exactly what I was doing, where I was going to be for two weeks, how I was going to handle it. When I came back, I knew after the first stop I went to that it was going to work. I remember, I called my wife and said, ‘It'll be OK.’

“One of the big mistakes I think most independent guys make—why I took two weeks—is some people will be leery when you're gone,” Rick said. “I swore I would not come back out until this truck was right: all my decals were professional, plenty of inventory.  I didn't come out looking like I'd be gone tomorrow. 

“I think a lot of guys, instead of just going after it, pick at it and think, ‘Is this going to work?’ It won’t, unless you really go after it,” Rick said.

Rick and Krissi also credited to their software provider in easing the transition.

“I've got All Software (now AllSoft Technologies). Al Larson was really good to me, especially in the beginning. I could literally call him up and say, ‘This is great, but I need this.’ And in a few weeks I'd have an update.”

AllSoft solved one of Rick’s perceived deficiencies of going on his own.

“Everybody said that there would be two downfalls for going independent. One, the computer program, which is not a downfall, it's awesome (using AllSoft).

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