The first time I stepped onto a tool truck, I was just beginning my career and the tool man was near the end of his. The white-haired, easy-going gentleman showed me tools I would need as I gained experience and, presumably, a credit history. He asked how I got into the business, and together we figured out he had sold tools to my grandfather in the ‘50s. That’s a connection I’ll never forget, especially since it formed the basis of a warm relationship that lasted until he retired.
The last tool truck I visited was last month. This time the dealer was a year into his career, and I was the one with grey hair. I knew what I wanted and had cash, so it was a pleasant transaction. But I was far from home, so there won’t be a relationship. Still, I have no doubt he would take good care of me as a regular customer. Why?
Contrary to what many people think, selling tools is not easy. The business model requires dealers to risk extending credit to their customers, even though a customer could disappear next week. And because you can’t sell it if you don’t have it, they also risk investing in inventory that might not sell. Minimizing that risk requires research and periodically rearranging the truck. That takes time. Ask your tool dealers how many hours they put into their business.
Then there’s competition. Every tool truck carries products aimed squarely at the world’s most discerning customers: pros who use tools to make a living. Every dealer knows if a tool they sell doesn’t perform as expected, another truck will show up tomorrow ready to take away business.
Every tool dealer I’ve met, from 30-year veterans to new rookies, has stressed the importance of relationships. A brand name says a lot about product, price and warranty, but that’s not the whole story. Repeat business relies as much on trust in the dealer as it does on trust in the product. In this business, the tool is the tool and the price is the price, and a competitive product merely gets you in the door. In the end, all anyone really has to sell is service, a willingness and ability to genuinely help the customer.
How does your favorite tool dealer do that? How does your dealer help you with your tooling problems?
Later this year we’ll recognize mobile tool dealers through a contest. They’ll be formally evaluated on several criteria, but we also want you to tell us something informal about your tool dealer. Send an email to email@example.com and tell us why you like doing business with him or her, and why he or she is different from the others. We’ll share your comments (anonymously) in a future issue of PTEN.