If hammers were cellphones

I was running a little ahead of schedule one day and decided to stop into my local Verizon store to have them take a look at my phone. Upon entering the store, I noticed they had a new system for arriving customers: step up to the greeter to state your name and the reason for your visit. You are placed on a list in order of your arrival; everything will hopefully go smoother for everyone.

After being logged in, I find myself cruising all the new models that are being offered this month (at least it seems they change that frequently). Soon my name is called and I walk over to tech support for help. While standing at the service desk, Alan from sales comes over to say hello and see if I am OK. Alan has been with them for a long time and I prefer to deal with him when updating plans or a phone; he’s a straight-shooter and all-around good guy.

As with a lot of conversations in today’s climate, he eventually asked, “So how has it been out there for you?”

“It could be a lot worse, but I am holding my own, thanks,” I said (my typical response).

Out of curiosity I query him on how the cellphone business has been through all of this, and I got more than what I expected. With a grin, he placed his hands on his hips and said, “Well, I will put it this way … not much really ever changes with a hammer.”

My head tilted to one side, as if I were a dog that just heard a car stop in front of the house.

“It has been crazy and to add to that we have the new Droid releasing tomorrow; people will be waiting at the door when we show up to open,” he added. Our conversation concludes shortly thereafter when the tech signaled I am all set.

If Alan had said, “We are swamped,” it would have allowed the conversation to eventually slip away into the abyss. But, wow, what an awesome response … I could not clear his answer from my thoughts, not only was it in the simplest terms, it created more questions each time I recalled the conversation.

Certainly Alan used that analogy because of his knowledge of my profession, but could it have also exhibited a general perception of our trade? The bulk of my questions were not from concern as to why he might think of me as simply a hammer salesman, but rather was his answer unknowingly sending a message?

It may be silly, but does it ever seem to our customers that we have a core business of tool storage, hardlines, and, “Oh, by the way, I sell other stuff as well …”? If that were true, than customers might be making some shop purchases without even considering they could get it from the weekly tool guy.

“I didn’t realize you handled/carried/sold …” How many times have you heard that from your customers? Consider every single one a clear indicator that you’ve dropped the ball. Your customers should know about everything you can stock and order for them.

Our industry may not change at the rapid rate of the cellphone industry, although it has its moments. Because of the vast product offerings, it would be inconceivable to market tools in the same fashion as they do with cellphones. Mobile trucks still need to be marketed for distributors to be of any use (read sales and profits). Our marketing can be as simple as a conversation or even the daily tote-and-promote routine. Our base is pretty much the same week to week, so while we are not trying to capture the public at large, there is not as much need for commercials or mailings to whet the appetite.

In the tool world, we talk about having a proper turn with the accounts and to stay mindful of going wide not deep with customers to minimize sharp swings in our bottom lines. With that in mind, could it be said of our inventories as well?

With so much to offer, should we ever go deep with just a few products?

If there is a perception that we sell just screwdrivers, hammers and wrenches, could it be the fault of how we stock our trucks and the product that we tote and promote?

Are you guilty of staying too deep with a core group of products?

Be mindful that all of your inventory and toting procedures are a form of marketing!

We have at our fingertips a huge selection of products to sell, maybe it is time to seek out the different!

Joe Poulin is a mobile tool distributor based in Gray, Maine, for Mac Tools. Send any comments or feedback you have for Joe by e-mail to brendan@pten.com

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