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When Tom Neamon, of Arcade, N.Y., became a Mac Tools distributor in 1988, he received a couple days training and hit the road running.
“Jeff Bush was my very first customer. I remember him very distinctly. He wanted a pry bar,” Tom said. “We both went out to the truck, I told him he ought to be buying the two-piece set because you could always fall back on the one. I sold him the two-piece set … I realized it’s kind of easy if you just put the tool out there in front of them.”
Tom readily admits he had struggles in the beginning like most distributors. By about his fifth year, he became “the average distributor.” His business “really got going” in the past five years, he said. This he credits partially to his regional manager, Mike Button.
“He’s a huge, huge part of my business,” Tom said. Button keyed him into more “bulk selling,” where he now concentrates more on volume, mass selling one item at a time and rotating it. Instead of ordering a few of several items and wondering “what am I going to sell,” Tom said he can get “Ten, 20, 50 of an item and get selling.
“You know what you’re going to sell,” Tom said. “After a few months, I was like, ‘Wow, this is so much easier.’ "
Selling became so much easier for Tom, that he credits the new approach to helping sustain and improve his business through the economic downturn of the past few years.
“By selling smarter, not harder, I was able to cruise through the bad times,” Tom said. “If you don’t have the product, you can’t sell it.
“I like to be some place in the neighborhood around $8,000 to 10,000 a week,” in sales and collections, Tom said.
His rural route helped his business weather the economy. The former dealership service manager travels more than 700 miles a week to see all his customers big and small (about 300 total).
“If you’re driving these kind of miles, you’ve got to make it worthwhile,” and sell to everyone in a shop, Tom said. When monthly gas bills climb over $1,000, you can’t drive past money.
“There’s a lot of windshield time … out in the rural country; I stop at everything,” Tom said. “A lot of people drive by junkyards. I have a big handful of farmers. … A majority of my customers are mom-and-pop stops. Those are where the real money is.
“I like to get close with my customers,” Tom said. “I have two customers right now that have asked me to be their best man in their weddings. … It makes you feel good, like you’ve done something right.
“If you friend a customer, they’re going to feel comfortable buying from you. Then you’ve got to know that customer: what he enjoys, what he dislikes.”
Get customers on the truck
Tom does some tote-and-promote, but feels it’s much more important to get techs onto the truck.
“I love truck traffic,” Tom said. “If you take product in the shop, you train your customers to be in the shop. They’re only going to see the five or seven items that you bring in.
“Get them to the truck, they’re going to see [potentially everything],” he said. “I entice the customer to come to the truck; I train them the best that I can.”
Of course, when he’s at shops that can’t make it to the truck, he’ll bring some tools in during his stop.
But to get techs used to coming out to the truck, he turns most questions into a reason to climb the steps:
“Do you have …?”
“Well, let’s go out to the truck and find that.”
“How much is …?”
“Let’s go see that on the truck.”
“Well, let’s go out to the truck and get your receipt.”
“Week after week, now they know that they’re going to go to the truck,” Tom said. But don’t make it seem forced, that you’re dragging them out.