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.
Next is the important part: Having a truck that’s worth visiting.
“I try to stay organized, and have a neat, clean truck,” Tom said. A full truck is key, too. If full shelves don't always work, bare shelves can't help.
“You can’t have enough ratchets … One time, I had 80-some ratchets hanging and I still didn’t have the right one that the guy was looking for,” Tom said.
“If you buy them when they’re on sale, that way you can always pass the savings on,” he advised.
The big occassional sales are as important as the everyday sales.
“I like to sell at least one new toolbox per month, minimum,” Tom said. “I’d like to sell one a week, but realistically that doesn’t always happen.
“It’ll go in flurries. You might be able to sell three in a week, and then it might be a month or so before you sell another one.”
Mentoring as motivation
In the past year, Tom has become a Mac Mentor to new distributors with the company and has found it rejuvenates his enthusiasm for Mac and his business.
“I love mentoring young guys; they get me motivated,” Tom said. He wants to help new distributors get off on the right foot and avoid the common mistakes.
“I see so many young guys coming in, and in six months they’re starting to stumble already,” he said. “You need an amount of self-control when you’ve got $5,000, $8,000, $10,000 in your pocket at the end of the week.” As the business is getting established is not the time for boats and ATVs and other toys, he said.
“That’s not your money, yet. You still have an inventory and truck payment,” Tom advised. “When you get your inventory paid off, then you have extra that you should put back into your business to help your business grow. You should build your inventory up to $100,000, and have what the customer needs when he needs it.”
He watches the numbers closely for the distributors he mentors.
“If he grows inventory too fast, now he’s in a financial bind. If his turn is too slow, he’s in a financial bind. If he puts too much money out on the street, he’s in a financial bind.”
Tom said he doesn’t tell the new distributors what to do, because they are their own bosses. He does advise strongly though.
He helps established distributors with questions as well. He has a running competition with another area Mac Tools distributor, Pete Boldt (the May 2009 Professional Distributor cover story subject). Tom said they talk almost daily and compare numbers and hot products.
Tom was approached by a struggling Mac distributor for advice not long ago, and found that part of the problem boiled down to skipping some shops in his territory.
“I told him to go back to basics,” Tom said. “I told him, ‘I want two new customers on your books, every day. That should be 10 per week. Each one is going to give you $20. That’s going to increase your business. Next week, you’ll do the same thing. Just find one in the morning, and one in the afternoon. That’s all you’ve got to do.’ "
Tom said he’d check back in three weeks; when he did, things were already getting better.
Tom admits being a tool distributor is a great business, if you have the right attitude.
“You can condemn anything. Chevrolet, Ford. McDonald’s, Burger King. Coke, Pepsi,” Tom said. “It’s just what you make of it. That’s where I feel I’ve made Mac Tools, I’ve made Tom Neamon, what it is.
“This is a great business. I thought many times of doing something else, but I can’t find that one thing,” Tom said. “Where can I go and have as much fun as I have? … Making money is an added benefit.
“It’s my show. I want it to be my way,” Tom said. “I have a very loving, caring, giving attitude, and I think that’s part of the reason I’m somewhat successful.
“Make your customer feel wanted, loved, appreciated. Take care of his problems first. If you can’t take care of a customer’s problem, to sell him something else is very hard.
“Be honest; you’ve got to be a man of your word,” Tom said.
“There are tools that I’ll write off. If someone passes away, I won’t go after the family for the balance. … Don’t worry about it. That’s the least you can do for the family.”
At home off the route, Tom hired a neighbor girl to wash his truck, and his wife, Teri, does all the paperwork.
“Teri’s a very big part of my business,” Tom said. “I take the money home, drop it on the desk and she makes all the deposits. She does the weeklies, sales taxes, invoicing, bill paying … any paperwork.”
With her help, he’s able to better focus on the rest of the business.
“What my future is, I don’t know,” Tom said. “I’m happy where I am.”