Don’t let his laid-back approach fool you — Brian Gallagher, an independent mobile tool distributor (Ironman Tools) in Savannah, Ga., is anything but. How else can you account for the guy who is running three trucks (with a fourth on the way) and still finds time to be a board member in the Independent Mobile Tool Distributors Association and spend time with his family?
Yet to spend a day with Brian and watch him interact with customers, you might wonder how he does it. He doesn’t sell with a full-court press; in fact, it’s hard to catch him selling at all. Instead, what you observe is a distributor who’s at ease with his customers who obviously find it easy to buy from him.
“I guess I don’t see myself as a salesman,” Brian said. “The tools will sell themselves. Once in a while, you’ve got to coax somebody a little bit — if their balance is running low, ‘Hey, you need to buy this.’ But most of the time, it’s pretty laid back and pretty easy. I’m not aggressive.”
Not that it was always “laid back and easy” for Brian. He readily admits the first few months in the business were hard. Especially psychologically, when “you realize that’s your money walking off the truck.”
“When you’re first getting started, you need every stop … every $20 bill you can grab,” Brian said. “But it’s scary; you’re sitting there handing out your money, hoping they’re going to pay you back. … That was probably one of the scariest things I ever did when I bought this thing. Guys are taking tools off the truck, and I’m thinking, ‘That’s my money.’ ”
Brian has turned the corner, though, to where he is at ease on the route. Now he looks forward to all his interactions.
“It’s about having fun with the guys; dealing with the customers,” he said. “You know, it’s taken me four years to get good customers … they’re a blast. Every day there’s something different. That’s one of the best things about this job; it’s never the same thing. Every day is always different.”
As a former tech, Brian figured he had a slight advantage when he decided to start selling tools. He realized quickly that his own toolbox barely scratched the surface of what tools were actually available.
“I thought I knew everything about tools … I didn’t have a clue,” Brian said. “When it came to some oddball thing … the guys would point me in the right direction.
“I do still think [being a former tech] gives you an advantage over someone who’s never worked on cars.”
One of the unique things about Brian’s business is that he is adding trucks on the street so that Ironman Tools blankets Savannah. In addition to his own truck, he’s already added two other trucks and a fourth is on the way.
“It is exciting. It’s a lot more stress than I thought it would be,” he said. He does credit the help he receives behind the scenes from the independent distributor he bought his truck/route from, and who also helps train Brian’s drivers for the other trucks.
He also credits the IMTDA (see sidebar) with helping research how to get his second and third trucks up and running, especially regarding inventory and stocking questions. Brian’s first truck was already stocked when he started out; starting a truck from scratch was a new experience after just four years in the business.
“I had no anticipation of it growing this fast, this quick,” Brian said. “But other guys have had multiple trucks over the years.” That’s where he finds another good source of information. He talks to other distributors at all the shows he goes to, including AAPEX, and figures if he can draw five valid suggestions from each conversation, he’ll be ahead of the game.
Money is always an issue, though.
“It’s definitely costly, having to stock the other trucks as big as this one; stocking a 20’ truck is a lot of money. But a lot of [IMTDA] supporters have been helpful, and helping us with some deals, to make some things happen so that it’s a little bit easier on everybody.
“International Toolboxes has been phenomenal, with the help they’ve given us, coming up with deals for [IMTDA], and specials.”
While it’s been stressful getting the other trucks up and running, it’s been a relief at the same time for Brian.
“My days were so full, when the other truck came up, it was like, ‘What a relief,’ ” Brian said. With his daily load lightened, “I could spend a little bit more time with the customers,” which most would admit is a great way to increase business over the wham-bam sales model.
Don’t force it
The forced, make a sale at any cost was not an approach Brian liked. In fact, he doesn’t think the sales side of the business is terribly difficult to begin with.
“The selling is not the hard part. The hard part is collecting the money. The second hardest is making sure you give good customer service. Which, at times, that can be a difficult challenge.”
That’s not to say Brian hasn’t had some sales challenges. When he first put another truck on the road and visited shops unfamiliar with him, it was a tough go.
“I walked into an existing business,” Brian said. “Doing that other truck has opened up my eyes to a whole new level of this — starting out fresh.
The first day I took it out to another part of town, and we didn’t sell a thing. Couldn’t sell a thing. … And I don’t want to force it on people.”
But, of course, forcing a sale isn’t something Brian does. With good reason.
“If I have to force them to buy it, then I’m going to have to chase my money down, and I don’t want to do that. … I want them to come out and buy from me because they want to buy from me, so I don’t have to chase somebody down.
“Every time I force someone into buying something, all I’ve ever had to do is chase them down. So I make a habit of not forcing people to buy stuff.”
And once you’re chasing money, it’s not long until you’re dealing with skips.
“It was hard to stomach the first guy that skipped out; I just don’t get upset about it any more,” Brian said. “If you let it bother you, it’ll eat you up, and then you’ll be chasing bad money and leaving good money on the table, and you’ll go out of business.
“I’m easy to work with. If the guys just keep in contact with me, I’m OK with that. As long as they keep in touch, send some money when they can – I can live with that.”
For those skips that don’t get resolved, Brian does have a unique approach.
“I’ll 1099 them,” he said, referring to the tax code. “1099 is like claiming it as income. … It’s my money, and they didn’t pay me back, so they stole it. At the end of the year —like an employee almost — I’ll 1099 [their tool bill] as income. Because they didn’t pay for it, so if it was a $1,000 bill, that’s $1,000 that got added to their income.
“Let them deal with the IRS. I already wrote it off as a loss.”
Brian does use one technique to his advantage that is similar to the general philosophy of a flag truck. Like a brand-name distributor will typically purchase all (or most) of his tools from the brand, Brian tries to buy from a set group of warehouses and companies. It simplifies many areas, and increases the quality of customer service to him.
Brian has seen the most benefits come from “M. Eagles and Medco … and Ace.” He said he’s been buying from Ace since he started.
“At M. Eagles, you get to talk to the owners,” he said. “When you call up, Mike usually answers the phone, or Howard, 90 percent of the time. … They’ll work really hard for you. They want to earn your business, and they’re not after all your business. … It’s kind of cool, that they’re not trying to shove things down your throat.
“They’ve been in the business a long time, and that’s definitely one thing that helps.”
He found the billing from both M. Eagles and Medco easy to follow.
“Medco does a premier program too. … It’s free to join their program, as long as you’re an actual independent dealer, and you get a discount immediately.”
But Brian’s biggest accolades are for his association with Genius Tools. He’s signed on with Genius to be the exclusive Genius distributor in his area.
Before bringing Genius on his truck, Brian said his biggest sellers were pneumatic tools — as much as 20 tools a week. But, “until I was carrying the Genius line, I didn’t know you could sell that much hardline.
“I was kind of leery of doing all Genius,” Brian admits. “One week, I had some GearWrench and S-K, the next week I showed up and it was all gone. Everything was just Genius.” Customers can be funny about little changes like that, he said.
“But I sold a little bit of the Genius here and there,” Brian said. “It worked out pretty good. They make a pretty good product.”
Brian sees the Genius Tools brand as a “saving grace” for his business, not only due to the quality of tool that’s made for good word of mouth, but the pricing.
“You’ve got to double your money, minimum,” he said. “That’s the tricky part on that question.” With Genius, it’s been easy to make that money and more, he said. But that leads to some consideration for the other trucks in Savannah for Brian.
“You have to be somewhat respectful to the other trucks, you can’t just go in and kill them,” he said. “You have to kind of stay in line … You don’t want to go in there and sell something that’s $200 cheaper.
“I’ve had dinner with some of these guys. … It’s all business during the day,” he said. “I try and get along with everybody, but I do my best to respect them and not pull into driveways where they’re at, try not to badmouth them.”
Brian sees the other trucks as friendly competition, and even works closely with a couple of the other branded distributors on occasion to help customers. He sees the parts stores and online tool sellers as the tougher competition.
“The parts stores ruin the markets for us. That’s one difficult thing,” Brian said. Mobiles can’t compete on price with places that can get enormous quantity discounts, he said, and then sell to techs at just above what his cost his for smaller buys.
Brian concentrates on “good service with a smile,” and stresses to his customers that his warranty and service extends only to the tools that he sells. “I’ve lost too many big deals to parts stores.”
Brian does have a strong business going in Savannah, regardless. There’s no other explanation for his multiple trucks doing so well and his strong footing in the area.
Brian Gallagher credits much of his success as an independent tool dealer to the Independent Mobile Tool Distributors Association. He also serves on the IMTDA board.
“I love being involved in IMTDA. I wish I had more time with it,” Brian said.
“There is a lot of fun. And there’s a lot of seriousness, too. Buddies telling you, ‘Hey, watch out for this. Or, ‘You guys run across this problem?’ … You get to help people out, you get to learn from what they know. … You’re that much further ahead.
“One of our focuses this year is to grow the membership and have more participation, so everyone can find a good deal somewhere.”
For more on the IMTDA, go to www.imtda.com.