In mid-Wisconsin, right along Lake Michigan and a bit east of Green Bay, independent distributor Andy Mastalir (Tech Tools & Equipment) has been selling tools to area techs, factory workers and farmhands for about seven years. Based in Kewaunee, Andy takes a bit different approach (easily visible just by looking at his tool truck, err, trailer) on a route that gets him away from the city and calling on factories and farms as much as repair techs.
He knows that on any given day, at least during planting and harvesting seasons, his customers may be more likely to be in the field than in the shop, especially depending on the day’s weather. Andy said the relationships he builds are important to keep the irregular stops current.
“Some days you go in there, you’ve got four or five mechanics in there — other days you go in there and there’s nobody in the shop, everybody’s out in the fields or working somewhere else,” Andy said. “You’ve got to work that into how you do your business.”
Andy said the occasional missed customers are usually one week, and most will get their accounts current when they’re in the shop during Andy’s scheduled time the following week.
“They understand that I’m in a business, they take care of me. I understand that they’re in a business, and I can’t expect that when they’re running at 10 o’clock at night to harvest, they’re going to find their checkbook to pay their bill right away. It’s part of the relationship.”
Another seasonal factor to Andy’s route is that he covers parts of Door County, a summertime tourist destination.
“It’s good for our customers, because they get a lot of customers who come in that aren’t normal, local people, so they get a lot more opportunities that they wouldn’t have the rest of the year,” Andy said. “The only bad side of it is, it’s not something they can rely on 12 months a year for their business. They’ve got to be ready to take advantage of it when it’s there.
“You also want to watch out to make sure you’re ready to work with them on that,” he said. That could mean adjusting your stop during busy times, being flexible with special orders if they have a vehicle they’re not used to, or anything else to keep the shops from turning someone away.
Andy divides his route stops into four categories: Cars (repair shops/dealerships), manufacturing/factories, implements (farms/tractor dealers), and motorsports (motorcycles/ATVs/small engine shops). Each has definite unique traits.
“I’ve got a couple of factories that I stop by; that’s totally different from anything else you do because you walk into a big, huge place and you go through catching up with each guy on an assembly area … it’s a great way to see 50 guys in about an hour and a half,” he said.
Andy said another advantage to the factory stops are that, generally, the economic cycles are “up and down at different times than what the rest of my segments are.”
Adding the small-engine repair side of his motorsports segment, “there’s a mix of everything, every day,” to keep Andy busy.
One thing that immediately stands out for Andy is his tool trailer in a world dominated by tool trucks. The truck-and-trailer is similar to the setup of the distributor he bought the route from, though he upgraded the trailer in 2006. Andy feels having the fifth-wheel trailer and a pair of trucks equipped to haul it cuts down on potential downtime.
“The whole thing about this business is face time. You can’t be down,” he said. “If somebody has a van body, and they have a mechanical problem with any part of that truck, they’re out. They’re home. There’s no way to move that to another truck and drive again. You don’t have a second truck, most cases.
“There’s practically no reason I need unscheduled down time. … It’s happened more than once where something’s come up and I’ve literally pulled in, dropped my trailer out on the street, gone and got the other truck out of the building, hooked back on here, rolled that truck off the street and literally, I was back up and running in 10 minutes.