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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“I really don’t consider myself a salesman. I consider myself a mechanic that sells tools, and I’m happy with that title, and that’s how I actually feel. I can show guys how to use the tools,” he said. “But I’m not a pushy salesman.”
He even tends to avoid the tote-and-promote.
“Some of my customers want me to come in and show them everything, spread it all out. It’s just not my technique or style,” Chip said. He added that he found he had a tendency to forget or miss a tool after displaying his wares, “something gets left behind or I’ll get distracted by another tech calling me over.”
He counters that by carrying less in and keeping closer track on what he does.
“It’s just the way I am,” Chip said. “I can deal with my weaknesses and figure them out.”
One unique thing an outsider will notice about Chip’s business is his truck — it’s the same one he bought in 1987 when he started out.
“I love this truck … for an ’87, the front’s pretty modern looking yet. It’s still going, 22 years. It’s still pretty solid,” Chip said. “I like the walk-in vans. You don’t have to jump out of it,” and back in at every stop.
Chip is considering buying a new truck, but is waiting out the economy. His Precision only has 171,000 miles on it.
“The only reason I’d buy [a new truck] is probably because the fuel economy would be better. And image. I had this [repainted] about six or seven years ago … For a year, guys would say, ‘You finally got a new truck,’ ” he said.
“With tough times it’s even harder to make a truck payment. … I keep my money in inventory; try to get it out on the street.”
Like many distributors, Chip takes advantage of deals from Matco throughout the year, and especially at the annual Tool Expo, and stores overstock in his “garage/warehouse.”
“Extra stuff from the expo, I try to stock up on a lot of stuff that I’ll sell over the year. You can’t carry all of it on the truck,” Chip said. He makes a special effort to take advantage of any deals he can find in consumables.
“Hand soap. Our hand soap is awesome. I’ll get more of that [at Tool Expo], because it’s a consumable, like the gloves. … Jerky, it’s worth having it.
“And the Redback shoes that we sell are awesome,” Chip said. “I keep a few sizes. … Once I get a guy in them, they always come back for more. Majority of the guys are getting two years out of them. The Redbacks are just fantastic.”
He always keeps a toolbox on the truck, though he admits the toolbox sales are “cyclical.”
“It just seems like it’s something in the air. All of a sudden, it’s box season, and they’re all talking about a new box. … But guys are watching their spending right now.”
When it comes around to “box season” again, Chip has a tool cart in the garage that can move onto the truck, and he also has pictures on his cellphone of used toolboxes available from his inventory.
Besides consumables, and outside box season, Chip estimates the bulk of his sales are in pneumatic tools and hardlines, particularly specialty tools.
“Special application tools, I keep a lot of that stuff … guys usually call me first when they need something. I want to make sure I have what they need.”
It’s one thing to carry the right tools; it’s another to collect after the sale. You need to have a good relationship with your customers, yet minimize your time with the problem ones.
“I’ve met a lot of great people, that’s probably what I really look forward to, seeing certain guys,” Chip said. “Of course, there’s a handful of ‘I can’t wait until we’re done,’ people, too. But I’ve met a lot of super people doing this.
“Some guys are just tough, always wanting discounts. Or they don’t want to pay you.”
Chip said he had a tough time with skips and non-payments in the beginning.
After being “burned” several times, “you kind of learn from that. Then you get a little wiser,” Chip said. “I read people. I want to meet the guy, talk to the guy and see where he’s coming from. And if seems like he’s going to be a risk, I’ll hold him off. Right away he wants to start an account, and he has nothing to put down. That makes me a little leery.