When Professional Distributor profiled independent tool distributor Art Ellis in the May 2007 issue, he was running three trucks to cover a three-county area around Charleston, S.C. In addition to his own main route, he was financially backing two other trucks.
Recently, Art said he is back to being a single-truck distributor again.
“I don’t want any more of that multi-truck operation,” he said.
Art said that there were some inconsistencies between inventory and money that led him to part ways with one of his dealers, and other circumstances led his other dealer away from the business.
“I found that if you are trying to run your route and you’ve got total trust in somebody else in your truck with your money and you’re not keeping a pretty close eyeball on them, they may be tempted to do some things they shouldn’t be doing,” Art said.
Art said it got to the point where he didn’t have enough time to run his route efficiently, have enough time at home for his wife and oversee the other dealers. He isn’t bitter regarding the experience, but has learned several lessons he’s willing to share with other dealers who want to run multiple trucks.
“I wouldn’t recommend it if you’re going to try to run your route and let them run theirs,” he suggested. “For anybody that wants to go the multi-truck route, my strong suggestion is, park your truck,” and spend more time with your guys on the road and taking care of inventory and the other areas of the business.
“When it’s your money and you don’t look out for it, somebody else will,” he said.
“Business is slower than it has been; I’ve been in it going on 18 years, and this is the slowest that I have seen it,” Art said of the down economy. “But it’s not dead by any means, it’s just not as good as it used to be.
“New car dealerships, down here, you can forget about it. The guys aren’t making any money, they’re not buying tools and every one of them is looking for another job,” he said. “My money is coming from the good independent shops and heavy equipment stops and logging companies.”
Art is bullish on the aftermarket and the tool dealers’ role going forward in turning things around.
“I really believe … that this is going to be a good year for the tool industry,” Art said. “Especially independents.
“People aren’t buying new cars, they’ve got to fix their old ones,” Art said. “They’re not taking them to the dealerships for repair — they’re taking them to the independents and to the guys that are [doing repairs] in their backyards and home garages.”
And the twist there, Art thinks, is that those moonlighting techs will be forced to buy extra hardlines and other product to keep at home for the extra work. (Perhaps cordless tools will see an uptick with the shadetree mechanics who don’t have compressors at home?)
“I think the tool dealers who keep the right attitude, branded or independent, will get the business,” Art said. “If they take care of customers, in the long run, the customers will take care of them.”
Read Art's profile story from May 2007 here: Independent Tool Dealer Keeps Three Trucks Moving