Keeping it simple

Stan Klimek, a Stanhope, N.J.-based independent mobile distributor, runs his USA Tools tool truck on customer service, tool knowledge and with the help of flyers from the warehouses he uses.

The flyers are key to Klimek saving time while also selling longer, and in setting his top tools to stock or watch.

Of his most important tools to carry, Stan said “anything that is on promo” in the flyer. For instance, a recent flyer had radar detectors among its specials and he counted at least five techs that had ordered one within less than a week. Radar detectors certainly weren’t in his sales list prior to being a flyer promo, he said.

“Flyers save you a lot of time,” Stan said. The busy distributor has condensed his 300-plus customer route from five days down to four. With a flyer, there’s no talking about benefits and displaying the products, he said. “Leave a flyer, come back in a week and take an order for $100 or $200.”

Stan said flyers are an essential part of starting or expanding the business. In the process of checking out new shops, picking up business cards and arranging stop days and times, “be sure to leave a flyer with the shop manager or foreman,” he said. That gives your potential customers a chance to get to know your tools before you’ve even spent a lot of time with them.

Stan primarily uses WTD Supply in New York, but also does some business with OE Place in Rhode Island. This helps with flyers, where both are on bi-monthly schedules. He hands them out in alternating months, which gives his customers monthly circulars from him.

He does enough business with WTD that his drop-ships are freight-allowed, which gives Stan the advantage of not having to stock everything, like some cordless tools and sets. He ensures customers he can almost always get them what they need.

“For cordless stuff, I usually ship it direct or bring it with the next week. If a guy wants a $500 set of Milwaukee drills and impact guns, he usually is OK to wait a week,” Stan said.

Does not compute

One of the truly unique things about Stan’s business is, in today’s wired world, he does not use a computer. (Insert shocked gasp here.)

“I don’t have time,” Stan said of using computers in his business. “The computer was actually holding me back.”

He did use a computer on the truck for a few years, but found that he was quicker as a low-tech distributor, utilizing daily sheets, order pads, a clipboard and organized filing system.

With the computer, “I’d have to go in the shop, do the transaction, come back to the truck, type it in, go back in and give them their receipt,” Stan said. “Without, I just go in once. All the going back and forth just about drove me crazy.

“When I broke into the business, [dailies and order pads] are what we used,” Stan said.

With his tool sales experience, Stan said he understands where using a computer is advantageous for tracking inventory and swiping credit cards. He prefers cash or check to avoid losing service fees on “little $20 or $50 payments.”

It was tougher with younger customers to get away from just wanting to swipe a card, he said. But for just taking cash or check, “I’ve kind of trained my customers to pay that way.”

Many would think that eliminating one of the main payment methods would hurt business, but Stan’s sales remain high. For 2010, his numbers are about 50 percent over 2009, he said.

“I’m just enjoying it,” he said of being well established on his route. “I’ve got so much on the street, I know I’m going to collect $5,000 or $6,000 in any given week.

“Most of my customers I’ve known for a long time. This is my 31st year in the tool business. I’ve got a good reputation; I do my best to take care of my customers. “

He also credits part of his 2010 upturn to equipment sales in spring (drop-shipped from WTD). Though he does not necessarily recommend it, his equipment sales are helped by him carrying the purchase for shops at no interest.

Broad-based experience

Stan’s route has been a natural progression. He started as a branded mobile distributor, switching to DM and RM roles, then to working for SK selling to mobiles. He then went back to being a mobile, but on his own route.

Stan estimates he has put close to 100 tool dealers on the street through recruiting, and his best advice to all of them was to watch margins. A close second was time management; Stan even did some time management lectures for tool dealers.

“I think that’s why I can effectively see 300 customers in just four days,” he said of his current route. Some of his timing tips include:

Take a bird’s eye view of your route and watch how you work with or against traffic. It’s always better to make right-hand turns. “Just that could save you up to an hour or an hour-and-a-half a day.”

Train your customers why you’re there: For business. “You want them trained to be reaching for their wallets when you walk in, not hee-ing and hawing about their payment.”

Set your business up for the next day when you get home. Put away inventory and arrange special orders. Don’t plan to do it as you go the next day.

Stan cautions for any dealers thinking about going independent to be aware of what their reputation is now as a mobile distributor.

“That won’t change … just where they buy tools from. It’s not a catch-all fix to your route,” he said.

If your customer service is below average, or your shelves are bare or you never get there at the same time each week, customers will expect the same regardless of the picture on the side of your truck, he said.

But if you have stellar customer service, timeliness and inventory, customers will still expect that as well.

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