Selling from the top down

Stepping onto Phoenix-based distributor John Ozenich’s Mac Tools tool truck, one thing becomes immediately obvious – he knows what he’s doing. Everywhere you look on his truck, he’s got award plaques on display. Within 10 months, John became a Master Distributor and hit the Gold sales...


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Stepping onto Phoenix-based distributor John Ozenich’s Mac Tools tool truck, one thing becomes immediately obvious – he knows what he’s doing. Everywhere you look on his truck, he’s got award plaques on display. Within 10 months, John became a Master Distributor and hit the Gold sales level that he kept for three years before going Platinum (where he’s stayed since).

The Mac Master Distributor attributes his rapid rise and continued success to his customers, who seem to like what he’s doing. Part of that can be traced to his sales/service background, which he said is the key to his business – making sure the customers know you care about them and their ability to do their jobs.

“My case is interesting, I’m real proud of it,” John said. “I was the first Master Distributor in Arizona. I was the first Toolbox Expert in Arizona. I was the first Platinum Distributor in Arizona. I was the first certified field recruiter in Arizona. There have been a lot of firsts for me in this company. This company has really treated me well, but I’ve taken advantage of a lot of opportunities.

“If opportunity is knocking, and you’re not answering, it’s your own problem.”

John will freely tell you that selling tools is easy. He keeps a fairly laid-back approach with his techs, foremen and shop owners, and he is sure to check in with all of them at every stop.

“In my opinion, it’s easier to build the business from the top down, then the bottom up,” John said of talking with everybody at each stop. He said that’s the best way to get the purchase order “corporate” business, one of his business’ cornerstones.

“One of the most important things to me is working at the owner, supervisor, foreman and corporate level … Get the POs,” John said. At one of his many heavy-duty shops, he pointed to the tire guns, A/C machines, racks and racks of shop-use sockets that were purchased by the front office. “There’s nothing better than a PO.”

To get the front office, John tries to talk with those folks every week (and without fail for a new stop.)

“It’s got to start early,” John said. “For a new shop, a new supervisor, foreman, change of ownership, etc., I always go see those guys pretty much first thing.

“Of course you’re going to sell to the technicians and so forth, but if you go in and you only go after that business, that’s all you’re going to get. If you can work at the corporate level, and these guys then are using the Mac A/C machine, they’re using the Mac-branded sockets, they’re using the Mac breaker bar. …” then they’re that much more likely to buy Mac hand tools, toolboxes and more “because of the brand recognition.”

“It’s interesting, when corporate buys, the guys on the floor buy; but there’s also somewhat of a vice versa there,” John said. “The supervisors and owners, they see who these guys are doing business with.” John said he’s had owners tell his customers, “Have the Mac guy come see me.”

“Then you make the deal; get the PO,” John said. “And you don’t have to chase anybody for those payments.

“Some guys make a quick run through the shop, just ask the guys what they need at the mechanic level, and then they’re out of there,” John said. At a John Deere shop, the foreman once explained to John:

“You know why I do business with you? Not only are you a decent guy. You’re the only one who comes and talks to me. There’s probably five trucks that come through here a week, and you’re the only guy who even says ‘hi.’ ”

SELLING IS EASY. COLLECTING, HOWEVER …

John’s experience prior to joining Mac six years ago included training at the Motorcycle Mechanics Institute in the late ’80s, and, more recently, doing worldwide sales and service on printing equipment. The mechanical and sales background has been important to his success on the tool truck.

“I’ve never had any real professional sales training, but you get a feel for how people act and react,” John said. “Of course, I know the names of all the tools. … I think that’s really helped me out.

“But selling’s easy,” he said. “I can almost stand here and do nothing. Guys will come in and see what they want to buy.”

Of course, selling is only half the job.

“Collections can be a bitch,” John said.

He emphasized that the majority of customers are not a problem. “I take care of these guys, they take care of me,” he said. In fact, his loss percentage has normally been around 1 percent, though more recently it has crept up near 3 percent of the business.

“You have to worry about the guys that get fired, or laid off these days,” John said. This is another area where it is good to stay in regular contact with the front office, for advance notice occasionally on coming personnel changes.

With recently fired/laid off techs, John said it’s important to stay loose in working with the customer.

“Personalities mean a lot in this business,” John said. “Time’s are a little leaner than they used to be. Any edge you can get helps out.”

When it comes to getting an edge, John advised that now is not the time to ratchet up your collections on customers, despite the pinch you may be feeling. Avoid phrases like, “This isn’t enough, I need $30 instead of $20.” But if someone is willing to drive their future earnings away for a little bit more right now, John is “perfectly willing to take on those customers.”

John even adjusted the starting time of his route to accommodate the collections side of the business; he starts later (around 9 a.m.) and works later (between 7 p.m. and 9 p.m.) than many distributors. His first concern was that showing up first thing is frowned on by foremen who may have just made the day’s assignments and then “here’s the tool guy.” The other is about more general timing.

“Really, the bottom line is, after you sell tools, you’re in a way a bill collector. A lot of guys don’t want to see the bill collector early in the morning,” just after getting to work, John said. “It takes time for them to get their day going.”

There’s also an overall benefit to John’s business in starting later — fuel savings.

“It’s easier on the traffic too. I used to do that early morning thing … I was getting jammed up in traffic half the time,” John said. “This is clear sailing in and out of the city.”

HEAVY MIX

Though Phoenix is, of course, a major metropolitan area, the majority of John’s route is heavy-duty shops, above 70 percent. He feels this ratio was a benefit to his business as the economy has slowed.

“Trucks are still running. It’s faring better than automotive repair, where they’re waiting for someone to come and need work done,” John said. “With a fleet shop, they have to constantly make repairs and do maintenance on all the equipment. They’re running all the time.

“And if I need any new shops, these days I look for heavier equipment.”

John said that having a few heavy-duty shops in the beginning grew by word-of-mouth. “Guys from other shops would come up and say, ‘Hey, we understand that you’re a good guy and you’ve got the bigger tools on your truck. Can you stop by?’ It kind of grew from there on the heavy.

“These guys know each other at the shops,” John said. “They know who the good guys are; they know who the bad guys are. It’s good to be a good guy. They’ll tell their friends.”

A critical part of being a “good guy” for John is warranty issues. Don’t give the customers any “hassles or B.S.” You want customers to know you care about their jobs. “You want customers to say, ‘Hey, buy from this guy because if it breaks he’ll fix it on the spot. He’ll warranty it on the spot. … I built most of my business on that principle.

“I try to do as much of the tool repair as I can on the truck. Whether it’s an impact, the valve in an air hammer, what have you,” John said. “My feeling is, if you can do the tool repair, guys notice that stuff. ‘Hey, your friendly competitor wants to send this thing away for a month, but you did it right on the spot.’ I think that helps.”

John listens to his customers when he stocks the truck for heavy shops. All you have to do is ask techs what they need and what you should carry.

“These guys will tell you too. They’re always happy to share information, and show you all the stuff they’ve got. They’ll open any drawer and proudly display any of the stuff for you, no matter who’s name is on it.”

For John, really talking with customers (not “to” customers) is key to the business. “Interaction has got to count for something. I think it counts for a lot.

“I feel like I’m doing as well as, or probably pretty much better, than my friendly competitors out here. I just keep getting up in the morning and going to work. Keep trying, that’s all we can do.”

And John is getting recognized for it, by his customers and Mac Tools.

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