Charter Matco distributor Doug Broom says he got into the business backwards. He started as an independent before joining the brand, whereas many independents get their start under a flag before branching off.
The former Ford mechanic bought his business in 1972 from an independent looking to retire. When he asked for advice, his father said to investigate it and “work for yourself.” Doug bought the entire business, Ford Econoline van, inventory, accounts receivable, etc. for $10,000.
“That wouldn’t buy half of a quarter of a shelf today,” Doug said.
He took that business and grew it, and after several years he saw a Matco Tools truck on the road and inquired with the company and has been with them since.
“I don’t rely on Matco to carry me, but it’s nice to be associated with a company rather than by yourself,” he said. Doug doesn’t just use the company for support, he’s served on the Matco Distributor Advisory Council for 14 years where he said distributors can give feedback, good and bad, and things can change for the better. Doug said ordering processes, feedback and R&D on new tools, returns and more are places the MDAC board has sought improvements.
Doug’s route covers more than 500 tool customers in the greater Springfield, Mass., area; the customers are Doug’s favorite part of the job. “I like seeing my guys every day,” Doug said. “Most of them are good guys; [the business] is like having 500 friends all over the city.”
Doug tries to see all those friends every week, even when it’s hard on his schedule.
“On Friday mornings, I’m up and out by 5 a.m. to see third shift customers before they go home,” he said. “My competitors don’t hit any of these third shift stops.
“I go there and I own the shops, because I’m the only guy who will take the time to show up at 5:30 in the morning, rain, snow, sleet or whatever,” Doug said. “They’re loyal to me and I’m loyal to them.”
That kind of loyalty extends to all his shops, regardless of situation.
“I have some shops that only get paid every other week. I stop there every week,” Doug said. “You can’t just come when the checks are out.” Techs are smart, he said. If you only show up on payday weeks, they’ll figure you care more about their money than servicing them, he said.
A full truck
The Realtor’s key sales mantra “location, location, location,” becomes “inventory, inventory, inventory,” in Doug’s business. This top tenet of Doug’s business is immediately obvious when boarding his truck.
“I’ve got a lot of stuff ... there’s not much room in here,” he said.
Inventory is key to me,” Doug said. “If a guy comes on the truck, and he’s got to wait to get a tool, 50 percent of the time he’s not going to wait,” and that’s a lost sale. “When they’ve got to have it, your inventory is important.
“There’s no wasted space anywhere in this truck.”
You’ve got to keep your inventory varied as well, Doug said, because the business is changing.
“Years ago we were running around with socket sets and wrench sets—it’s not flying anymore. You need to carry new stuff [to make a profit].”
It’s tough finding what will continually sell, he said.
Doug has additional storage shelves filled in his basement, and a 10’ by 30’ storage shed with bigger stuff, shop equipment machines, toolboxes, etc.
As a mobile since 1972, Doug tends not to tote-and-promote anymore. Over his time as a distributor, Doug has built rapport with his customers that they don’t need him to bring extras into the shop to entice them out the truck. They already know they should be out there every week.
“It’s OK for young guys getting started, but my tote bag is out in the parking lot,” Doug said.
Doug also advises newer distributors to take lunch every day. Sort of.
“For new guys building their routes, I advise them to stop at McDonald’s every day, even if they pack a lunch. Stop at a fast food spot during lunchtime each day and guys will come to the truck and ask, ‘Hey, can you stop at my shop?’ “
This works not only to add shops you may have missed in developing the route, but can bring more loyal customers since they’ve sought you out.
Doug can’t imagine how hard it would be for anyone else to work for him. As the business owner and sole employee, he is tough on his crew; expectations are high and there are no excuses.
What Doug likes least about his job, actually, is being the “chief cook and bottle washer” reponsible for everything. He estimates he spends 1-2 hours each night after the route is run working on inventory, ordering, repairs, returns, stocking the truck and everything else that needs to be done. But he accepts no excuses.
“I don’t want customers tripping over boxes because I didn’t take time to put away tools each night,” he said.
And his “no excuses” attitude towards his business improved his salemanship when he was without his truck for eight weeks. He continued doing the route with his personal pickup and found he survived ... by going back to basics.
“Without my truck to rely on, I had to carry things in and really sell again. Everybody should have their truck go down, at least for a week, sometime ... it wakes your ass up.”
For Doug, right now is a good time to be more alert in the business.
“The biggest problem I’m running into is that there are too few new guys coming in. I’ve lost seven car dealers within the last year, including a 100-year-old Cadillac dealer,” he said. “That’s money that’s not coming back.”
This is where no excuses and keeping inventory updated are key for Doug.
“My customers are aging, they don’t need basic socket sets and basic screwdriver sets,” he said. So it’s up to Doug to keep them interested by keeping the new tools coming to the truck so they have a reason to keep stepping up to look around.
Turn $1.05 into $2,500
One part of the inventory on Doug’s truck is a healthy stock of repair/replacement parts for tools. He likes to be able to fix broken tools asap for customers. Sometimes that is immediately on the truck, other items he takes home to fix and return the following week. His last resort is to send in broken tools, knowing that will take longer than if he can fix items himself.
“I carry lots of parts to do quick fixes, and, boom, [the tech] is happy,” Doug said. He replaced three screws in one customer’s air tool to get it working like new again.
“I just gave him three free screws at 35 cents each to me, and he’s happy. Then he starts asking about when the next tool fair is, he wants a locker for his Matco toolbox. That’s 35 cents times three, to $2,500.”