Experience Sells

In 20+ years, Matco Tools distributor Chip Thurston has dealt with down economies more than once


In 20+ years, Matco Tools distributor Chip Thurston has dealt with down economies more than once Matco Tools distributor Chip Thurston has been at this for awhile; he’s seen ups and downs in the economy affect his business several times since he started selling tools in 1987. He has some solid advice for any distributors on weathering out the storm. “Service is my big thing. That’s...


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Matco Tools distributor Chip Thurston has been at this for awhile; he’s seen ups and downs in the economy affect his business several times since he started selling tools in 1987. He has some solid advice for any distributors on weathering out the storm.

“Service is my big thing. That’s number one in my book,” Chip said. He added to watch your bills and purchasing and buy smart, but outstanding service is the primary goal.

“I really pride myself on [service]. I try not to forget any little thing. If a guy needs a little thing, you might spend 15 minutes on looking up a number,” Chip said. “It’s that little stuff that really counts, and it comes back to you.”

He considers this economy worse than any he’s sold in since he started, but good customer service is essential all the time anyway.

“Even when things are good, there’s heavy competition,” he said. “You really need to up service when it comes to competition,” whether it is other trucks, parts stores selling more tools or the Internet resellers and eBay.

The Internet is a huge problem for mobiles, Chip said. “So I try to educate my customers that I provide a service, and a payment plan. The warranty issue — I take care of it. If it’s just a repair issue, I still take care of it. That’s just the service part of it. They need to know that I provide a service, and you pay a little extra for a service.

“They can’t call eBay when they have a question about a special tool.”

Another of Chip’s concerns related to the economy is that he would like to have more money on the street right now.

“My turns are pretty decent … my biggest concern with this economy is not so much the collections, but I want to get more money on the road, so I have more to collect.

“The guys that you want to do business with are being conservative,” he said. “But you just make sure you’re reliable, there every week, punctual. And have a good attitude. That’s the big, huge thing. Even if you’re having a bad day, crying on the inside, still be smiling on the outside. Keep your service level up.

“Guys need to be able to count on you.”

STARTING OUT

Chip covers shops in and around Lansdale, Pa., a half-hour west of Philadelphia. Prior to that, he was a mechanic — until his Matco distributor found out he was looking for something new.

“I wanted to get my own business going. I was really looking for a shop,” Chip said. “They ran this by me, and I liked it. And here I am. I was really hungry to do something on my own.

“It was a little scary in the beginning. I was young. Not really an outgoing-type guy, but you learn to talk to people. Rejection is a hard thing. I experienced that a lot in the beginning.”

Almost worse than straight-up rejection were the “We’ll sees,” Chip said.

“You get that, ‘We’ll see if you’re here a year from now.’ Well how do they expect me to stay in business if they don’t come on the truck?” Chip asked. But you have to show up every week to gain the business, he said.

“You’ve got to do it, but you keep it short and sweet. Plant the seed. Just smile, say ‘You guys need anything?’ Alright, see you next week. Be polite. They’ll probably come around quicker than six months.” It is awkward to deal with, Chip said.

Now, 22 years later, Chip has built his five days up to about 500 customers he’s seeing every week in everything from one-man shops to multi-bay dealerships.

Chip said every day is different for him, and he spends one to two days a week calling on second- and third-shift shops.

“I prefer a late start. I set my days up that way. … Like the last two nights I worked, I worked until one or two in the morning,” Chip said. He follows that with a late start, but on that day he still doesn’t get home until about 9 p.m.

Chip feels his business is a bit unique because “everything wrong seems to work for me.”

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