Miami-based Cornwell Tools dealer J.R. Lopez has been running a tool truck since 1994; prior to that he was in sales of fax machines and copiers. When he started out, he was the only Cornwell dealer in Miami-Dade County.
J.R. liked the immediacy of Cornwell’s interest in him and the closer relationship he felt with the company following his interviews with some different brands.
“The day that I went to pick up my truck in Burlington, Wisconsin, I drove to Wadsworth, Ohio, to Cornwell. The president took me and my wife to dinner,” J.R. said. “It’s like a family relationship. It has always been kept that way.”
From that familial corporate relationship, J.R. extended it in building his customer base.
“I started learning about the business and getting familiar with what it is all about, grew relationships with customers,” J.R. said. “I have customers that have been with me for 15 years and I still sell to them. They’re loyal to me. A lot of people say that there is no loyalty in this business, but that’s not true.”
J.R. builds on that loyalty through friendship and openness in his business.
“If you earn the trust of your customer and the friendship of the customer, that customer is going to continue calling you. If you are open to them … to understand what they need.
“Sometimes you cannot provide the tool at the right time or at the right moment because you might not have it in the truck,” J.R. said. “When I can get the tool locally, I will go out of my way to get that tool for the customer, because of how that customer has been to me, has paid his dues in this relationship throughout the years.”
Some shops I stop at and some shops I don’t. The advantage to working at Cornwell is you have control; you can pick and choose your customers. By you selecting your customers and reading them, you can avoid having skips. As a salesman, you learn to trust your judgment.
Though even screening cannot ensure every customer is perfect.
“I once caught a guy stealing out of my truck,” J.R. said. “Instead of yelling about it, I went to him very calmly, put my hand on his shoulder, looked him straight in the eye and asked him, ‘Have I ever failed you? Because if I have ever failed you, I want you to tell me.’ ”
The customer paid in full for the stolen product.
“One day I met the customer again and I said, ‘Forget the past.’ To this day, he’s one of my best customers.” J.R. credits that continuing positive relationship to his being calm with the customer and giving him the opportunity to do the right thing, and the following forgiveness of the episode.
“Learn how to read the customers and learn how to relate to them,” J.R. said. “In this business, you have to be many things; you have to be an artist, a salesman, a bill collector, a technician, a pastor, a marriage counselor, a lender” and more.
J.R. said being an artist on the truck is about being creative, whether it’s in the layout of your own flyers and promo pieces, making up contests and the like.
“When you get creative, you create things like a raffle I did last year. I made flyers promoting a raffle of a barbecue grill and passed them out to all of my customers. I had my daughter take video as I was raffling it and we put it up on YouTube,” J.R. said (www.youtube.com/watch?v=2rt9y9Zr8JU).
“Enthusiasm and being excited about what you know and what you can provide is important. … This is a sales job; this is not a number-taking job,” J.R. said. “What happens to people out there, they crash. They go and take orders.
“You can’t take orders in this business. You have a big truck there and you have a product to sell. That’s it.
“Every shop is different. Every shop you have the smart guys, the mediocre guys, you have the guys that walk on your truck and only eat your candy, the other guys who are always complaining about the economy and high prices. You just treat them like they are. … But we cannot let ourselves be managed by what other people think.
“When a guy asks me for a discount, I take off my glasses, look him straight in the face and ask, ‘Do you see a non-profit organization?’ ‘Obviously, no, so don’t ask me for discounts.’
“I am out here to make money,” J.R. said. “We have a business to run, a family to take care of, duties, goals.”
After relationships with customers and corporate, J.R. said product knowledge is his focus.
J.R. has been reading Professional Distributor “since the first day. That’s how I learn. … If there is something out there, take advantage of it.”
Whether it’s training at the annual tool show or regional meetings, having the right catalogs and manuals on the truck, or even just talking with customers, J.R. said having information is key.
“One thing I have learned through all the years, if you do not know a tool, do not be afraid to ask the customer: ‘What does it look like?’ ‘Where did you get it?’ ‘Can you give me a part number?’ Get as much information as you can in order for you to make the sale.
“Product knowledge is the essence of this business.”
J.R. cautioned that, for the tool dealer, product knowledge is not just about what a tool does; product costs and margins are equally as important.
“Always take into consideration your cost; how much you want to earn from something. For example, I get items on promotion from Cornwell. Last November, we had a meeting and smoke machines were on sale. Someone from Redline Detection came in and gave us CDs and explained what the machine was all about. So I took advantage of that and in the month of November, I sold eight smoke machines.
“I sold the first one to a Martino Tire store,” J.R. said. From that sale, he got four more sales with other Martino Tire locations. “I took advantage of that first sale to earn others.” J.R. helped spread good word of mouth on the product through the other locations, having them talk with the happy techs at the first store.
“It’s not only the sale. You take a product, learn about the product, become knowledgeable about the product, show the product and then you can sell the product. That’s why I think I was able to sell so many of them.”
J.R. also takes advantage of promo pricing and sales to create packages.
“If I get an item on sale — and it is very important in this business to know your product costs — you can create packages.” He shrink-wraps packages of tools together based on pricing, and helps to move slower-selling goods.
Tool shows are a good place to expand your product knowledge, he said.
“You have to take advantage of the tool expos to learn about new tools, the companies that manufacture the tools, get good pricing, get time for training and get to know the dealers and share stories.
“I put a little money aside, maybe $2,000-$4,000, for buying at the shows,” J.R. said. “You can take advantage of the vendors’ specials on the show floor … you can get a great deal.
“I never thought I was going to have to put so much money out there to make the business work. … I’ve learned to be conservative,” J.R. said. “I don’t put as much money out there, but at the same time I try to earn high profits” by watching margins.