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As a tech at a Chevrolet dealership, Joe Gruba became a Cornwell customer largely because he liked the dealer who stopped by the shop every week.
“He was the nicest old guy. I think really at that point is where I kind of wanted to become a dealer.”
Today Joe is a Cornwell dealer, working a route in the Portland, Ore. area. He has made the top 100 sellers-list almost every year he’s been in business, and he was named a Cornwell Top Dealer in 2009, only four years into his career. Although he started in the automotive service industry as a technician in 1981, it was only five years later that he began thinking about becoming a tool dealer.
“I always wanted to go into business for myself. I thought that I was too old to start a shop of my own. There were a few tool dealers that I dealt with over the years, and they treated me well (and) looked pretty successful. I kind of wanted to be that; as successful as they were.”
But at the time he had only been a technician for about 5 years, so he decided to wait; “I had some growing up to do I guess.”
Growing up meant learning about different businesses he would be serving, such as body shops and heavy-duty truck shops. Joe says that Cornwell’s own customer service department and trade magazines like Professional Distributor were helpful, but he also learned a lot about specialized tools from his customers.
One thing he didn’t need to learn was how to treat his customers.
“I conduct myself in a way I wanted to be treated, just like the dealers I did business with when I was a technician.”
That experience helped Joe develop his own concept of Customer Service, which he describes as what happens after he’s completed the sale.
If there’s a problem with a tool Joe has sold, he does his best to make sure the technician does not have to spend time without it. When possible, Joe will repair a tool right there on the truck so his customer doesn’t have to wait for shipping. He’s often successful, particularly with air tools and Streamlight flashlights, because he stocks a few basic spare parts.
“It's easy to put lenses in, or switches. One of a technician's biggest assets is their pocket screwdriver and a flashlight. They're lost without their pocket flashlight.”
When field repairs are not possible, Joe does his best to make sure his customer is able to keep working. “If I have to bite the bullet and take a new air tool off the shelf to give to him to use…that's the way it needs to be. It goes back to how I wanted to be treated when I was a technician.”
Another part of customer service is being there every week, and being on time. On an average day he makes 20-25 stops, but traffic, road construction and weather can cause delays. “These guys, they'll tell you when you're late, even when you're 15 minutes, 20 minutes late.”
Although he recognizes the advantages of visiting large dealerships with many techs, Joe says about 70 percent of his 200 regular customers work at “ma-and-pa shops.” He likes doing business with small shops because when there are only three or four techs at a particular stop, he gets to know each of them better, which makes it a more pleasant experience and easier to keep track of the money. Joe said his turns average only three to four weeks, and he credits that success to thinking about his own experience as a customer.
“You get somebody mad at you, and they're more likely to not pay you. That goes back to the dealers when I was a technician. You can't jump up and down and scream if they don't have that $30 that week,” explained Joe. “But you try to ask them to help you out and have it next week. I don't know, it's just been happening for me. I feel really fortunate about it.”