Tool renegade likes being in charge

West Branch, Mich.-based independent distributor Don Oestrike doesn’t like to tell his customers 'No.'


West Branch, Mich.-based independent distributor Don Oestrike doesn’t like to tell his customers 'No.' West Branch, Mich.-based independent distributor Don Oestrike (Renegade Tools) doesn’t like to tell his customers “No.” He’d rather put in some extra time with phone calls and research to find whatever has been requested. And that’s one of the reasons he said he likes to use Medco...


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West Branch, Mich.-based independent distributor Don Oestrike (Renegade Tools) doesn’t like to tell his customers “No.” He’d rather put in some extra time with phone calls and research to find whatever has been requested.

And that’s one of the reasons he said he likes to use Medco. If Medco doesn’t handle something he needs, “they’ll suggest where to look, they’ll give me a phone number … because that’s one thing, I try not to say ‘No,’ ” Don said. Despite the added phone calls and research, he wants to always be the source for his customers.

Being the source is especially important to Don, where in some areas of his territory he competes with up to seven other mobile tool distributors.

As far as having seven competitors, Don feels it keeps him on his toes, and he said he benefits from being “the old man on the block,” among the group. Don has 17 years in as a tool dealer, the last four as an independent (though he’s bought from Medco through all 17 years); prior to tool sales he was a collision repair tech and instructor.

One of the benefits of going independent for Don was taking control of his territory in terms of where he stopped. He reduced his route geographically to save hours of “windshield time” every week, without taking a hit on sales as he added more shops that he used to pass by. In fact, he’s got more customers now.

“I’ve centrally located myself, to where my house is about a half-hour away from any day’s route,” Don said. Which means he can get special orders to a tech who meets him half-way, before or after a day’s work, in just 15 minutes.

Another benefit for Don, is he doesn’t feel as “pushed” to sell to every tech at every stop.

“I haven’t had a ‘bad’ customer in close to two years,” Don said. He attributes it to being able to take time to evaluate new potential customers instead of feeling pushed to sell immediately.

“I didn’t like that,” he said.

CHANGING ROUTE

As far as types of shop, Don stops everywhere: marine, body shops, independent garages and more, though his stops have shifted over his time selling tools.

“Today’s market is totally different than 17 years ago,” he said. “In Northern Michigan, we’ve lost nearly every factory; in West Branch, I used to spend a whole day in the industrial complex, and now they don’t even have an industrial complex.”

In the changing economy, he said he’s seen several dealerships close, which put many of his customers out of work. But he did find a silver lining here: “Several techs have opened their own small shops after not finding jobs,” Don said. “I find I’m dealing with a lot more one- and two-man shops.”

The economy didn’t just change his stops, but how he stocks his truck.

“When the economy went south, I also changed a little bit of how I stocked the truck,” Don said. “You don’t necessarily have to have three of everything all the time.

“Stocked to the gills is nice, but make sure you’re properly anticipating your customers’ needs,” he said.

Stocking the truck is one of the biggest things that changes with becoming independent, Don said. For instance, finding a toolbox line to carry.

“I’m trying out the Extreme line right now, because they look similar to what the competition carries,” Don said. “That’s one thing about being independent, it’s hard to find a good toolbox line.”

“That’s one of the good things about Medco, is they can set you up to use one of four different lease companies,” for customers who are making bigger purchases like a toolbox or equipment like a fluid exchange machine, he said.

STOCKING THE TRUCK

“I use Medco for my advantage because they give me information I need. I can call them anytime, and they were there for me when I went independent. They helped suggest and stock the truck with a starter inventory,” Don said. “Being independent, I like that the volume of what I can sell, what I have access to, is quadrupled.”

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