Iowa distributor finds key to hardlines

New Cornwell Tools dealer (just under two years in service) Doug Loerts already seems to have a pretty good handle on tool sales in Western Iowa and Minnesota. Doug has already landed in the Top 20 dealers for Cornwell, and is in the Top 10 for hardline sales. Unlike many mobile distributors...


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New Cornwell Tools dealer (just under two years in service) Doug Loerts already seems to have a pretty good handle on tool sales in Western Iowa and Minnesota. Doug has already landed in the Top 20 dealers for Cornwell, and is in the Top 10 for hardline sales.

Unlike many mobile distributors though, Doug wasn’t a former tech. In fact, he’d never even been on a tool truck until a few years ago when his twin sons started their votech training and needed to get setup with tools for classes.

“Eight years ago, one went to Iowa Community College and the other became a WyoTech student, so we bought two sets of tools. At that point in time, I’d never been on a tool truck,” Doug said. “We didn’t understand what a tool truck was, and we were pretty much mind-boggled.”

Doug said that Cornwell was a big help in starting out with his limited experience not only as a dealer, but with repair tools.

“Their customer service people are top drawer. As far as I know, I call and ask a lot of stupid questions, and I’m sure the gals in the office go, ‘Oh no, it’s him again,’ ” Doug said.

While he went from boggled by to driving a tool truck, Doug used his background in sales to help with the transition. He is an agriculture program graduate with 24 years of experience at a co-op and six years of sales experience with hardscape landscaping.

All of that helps him with the heavy concentration of farm shops and implement dealers on his route. The experience with his boys going to votech helps him with the school stops. He credits a big part of his hardline success directly to the large number of ag and votech stops he has.

“I’ve got a lot of farm shops. Some farm shops are pretty big,” Doug said. “When they’re ready to buy, farmers will spend a lot of money.”

Doug does have a balanced route though, including independent auto repair, body shops, powersports, salvage yards, heavy duty, ag shops and farms, and new car dealerships. He said the diversity has helped him through the economy. He also splits his route, which has helped him expand his customer base.

SPLITTING TIME

To cover a large area of Western Iowa and parts of Minnesota, Doug expanded his original route into a two-week split.
“I started that about two months into the deal, I see twice as many guys that way,” Doug said. “Everybody’s getting pretty comfortable with the fact that if they need something, to just pick up the phone. I’ll figure out a way to get together.”

Doug has more than 1,000 customers on file, and better than 600 are active customers. He feels the split route is good for customers who seem more ready to buy every few weeks rather than every week. It helps keep with his style, and both he and customers have adapted well to the pace, he said.

“I’m pretty low pressure, and it seemed like every week was too often,” Doug said. With the split route comes an emphasis on staying consistent.

“I try and be within the same timeframe every week, so the guys know that I’m going to be there,” Doug said. “It’s gotten to the point that if I’m running late, I’ll get a phone call, ‘Are you coming today? You’re normally here by now.’ ”

If he is running behind, he doesn’t like to just miss shops since that would make it a month between stops. Instead of just missing one or two, he’ll call ahead to some lower volume shops and check if they need anything.

“If there’s something they need, I’ll swing in and take care of them. If not, I’ll catch them in two weeks,” Doug said. “They do expect contact.”

Even with the split route and the number of customers he is getting to, Doug still sees he’s not getting to everyone he can, which puts him in the position of evaluating how he might work in a new stop here or there. Expand the day? Drop a customer whose buying has dropped off?

“There’s more business out there. I’m still finding shops. … The problem I’ve got now is, anybody I’ve got to add, somebody’s got to get dropped,” Doug said. “And then, trying to fit it in where I can get to him before his shop closes, or figure out when he’s around. And, we might get it to work, we might not.

“It might have to be one of those deals where, if you need something, give me a call.”

Of course, a split route makes collections unique as well, trying to keep customers on a five-week turn. The business is such that it feels natural to the tech to only make payments when the dealer is there.

Doug tries to setup techs on payment schedules that keep them near the five-week turn, though he admits his average is definitely higher than that. Some customers are better money managers than others, he said, so for some he runs their credit/debit card every week. Others make the “double” payment the weeks he’s in the shop. And many are the same as everywhere and need constant reminders about keeping up.

GETTING PAID

After his other sales jobs, Doug knew collections tend to be the toughest part of the job.

“I’ve always said for every job I’ve had … I wasn’t going to do a job where I was going to have to do any collections,” Doug said. “Man, did I go the wrong way.”

Doug said that collections on his route are definitely more complicated than he’d envisioned, but that “sticking to your guns” helps. He said he walks a tightrope between being stern vs. adversarial with customers on payments, because if he’s not stern trouble can start.

“I have a tendency to be a little easy … the minute you let the guy go, he just opened up the payments to re-negotiation. … You’ve just become an easy target,” Doug said.

“If you do do that, you’ve got to make darn sure that you do get them to double up next time, and not just fall back to the same payment.”

Doug shoots for $1,000 per day in sales and collections as a break-even for everything (truck maintenance, tool payments, living expenses, etc.) He said he recently had a scare during a short week that included a $300 day. “I thought, ‘Is this the beginning of the end?’ ”

Fortunately, he talked with Del Postma, a dealer in his region who is consistently one of Cornwell’s top dealers. Del told him, “August is terrible, you just get used to it.” Doug said that was great to hear, because he hadn’t been a dealer long enough to know that.

“When I thought about it … there’s a lot of vacations, everybody’s trying to squeeze their family vacation in before school.

“I’ve learned to hate holidays. Holidays kill two weeks. The week before, everybody’s saving up for the holiday. … Afterwards, they’ve all spent too much. So, collections are down those weeks.”

LEARNING CURVE

Doug takes to heart everything he can learn from top dealers like Postma and DMs, whether over the phone or at district meetings. He said he tries to learn as much as he can at the monthly district meetings to avoid repeating others’ mistakes. Combined with his sales experience, that keeps his learning curve lower on the business side. The tool side is another thing.

“A lot of times, I don’t know the answer right up front about [some tools], but I can find it out,” Doug said. “Diagnostic tools are an area that I really struggle with.” He added that A/C, specialty tools and electrical system tools were tough for him as well.

“I never mess with A/C,” Doug said. “One of my boys does a lot of A/C work, so it’s not uncommon at night for me to pick up the phone and ask for help.

“As far as basic tool knowledge, I can see where having been a tech would be really, really helpful.”

Doug’s biggest friend during the day is his tote bag. He likes to have four or five products in there every day (along with sales fliers and the big tool catalog). The tools in the bag aren’t necessarily on promotion at the time, and do range in price.

“It’s amazing, the $10 to $20 items, those are things a guy will pick up on a whim. Those are things I always try to throw in the bag,” Doug said. “If I sell that 10 times during the day, that’s 10 percent of what I need [to break even].”

As important as the initial toting-and-promoting is, “don’t ever walk back into the shop without the tote bag,” Doug said. Even when you’re just going back in to hand out receipts, have the bag, he said. Someone will have a follow-up question at many stops, and having the bag can lead to another sale.

Doug is doing well at being a Cornwell dealer considering his recent introduction to the business. He works hard at learning and not overcomplicating things.
“It’s pretty simple I guess. My philosophy is just to treat people like I’d like to be treated.”

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