Catching up with...Art Richardson, Cornwell

Last time Professional Distributor talked with Cornwell Tools distributor Art Richardson, he said he was having a good year.

“It almost turned out to be a record year,” said Richardson. “It ended up being a good year, we were profitable and sales were OK.”

The year 2008 wasn’t so fortunate. Due to Rhode Island’s high unemployment rate, the entire state has been having a more difficult time keeping people employed.

“I’m not going out of business, but it’s been a very difficult year,” said Richardson. He expects a double-digit decrease in sales from 2007.

Richardson understands it can be a tough market, and keeps his head up as he continues to sell.

Richardson understood the business when he decided to start selling tools. He previously owned a chain of auto parts stores, and decided to try and get a hold of some of the tool selling market share in his area. Richardson began selling tools independently along with running his chain of auto parts stores.

“There was a transition from where I went from parts to tools, and it was a gradual thing … probably four or five years as an independent tool dealer,” said Richardson. “I was a parts guy that sold tools, and then ultimately, I became a tool guy who sold a few parts.

After his transition from parts to selling tools, Richardson joined Cornwell in 2003.


With fewer techs turning wrenches, Richardson’s business is ultimately affected. In order to stay busy and make profit, he turns to more unconventional shops to sell tools.

“If a heavy-duty person calls, I’ll try to give them every opportunity to put them into the rotation,” said Richardson.

Adding more heavy-duty stops to the route requires more preparation for different stock on the truck.

In April 2007, Richardson noticed a decline in car dealership sales. From the looks of it, the trend continued as Rhode Island dealerships continued to keep more cars on the lot.

Richardson sees this as an opportunity for repair businesses, especially small shops and tire shops, to offer their customers different preventative maintenance options.

“I think the best opportunity for us is in diagnostic tools and new tools like tire pressure monitoring systems and updated scan tools because the guys in the industry need those tools to be able to do whatever repairs come through the door,” said Richardson. “It’s not necessarily elaborate kinds of repairs, just normal things need more sophisticated tools.”


With Richardson’s master’s degree in business, he still continues to teach marketing classes 15-20 hours per week at Bryant University as a qualified instructor.

Richardson hopes to see a more dominant online presence for him and other tool distributors soon. It would be difficult to start and maintain a website himself, but Richardson feels his brand might be able to contribute some kind of Internet-based sales for each territory.

Right now, it can be difficult because of the dominance of undercut prices from the Internet. To compete with online sites, Richardson uses a few tactics.

“I’ll try to match the price and I’ll try to exceed the service,” he said.


Even with a bear market, Richardson continues to remain optimistic about his business.

“You’ve got to be professional, you’ve got to be energetic, you’ve got to be positive,” he said.

“You can’t get involved with nay-saying, because that’s too easy to do.”

Even in this market, Richardson finds ways to keep his customers coming back.

“You have to work hard at making your customers as loyal to you as possible, and creating that by providing good service, and not falling into the negativism, because that won’t solve anything.”