You get the feeling after spending time with Matco Tools distributor Mike Pridgeon that he will be successful in whatever he puts his mind to. In fact, the San Diego area distributor has already been successful at much that he’s done, whether it be freelance photography, motorcycle racing, golfing or running his own repair shop.
It’s that wealth of experience that helps him relate to his customers, wherever their outside interests might lie. Though he’s been a distributor for just a year, he pulled a solid number in 2008 with above $300,000 in sales (above even his own first-year goal), and has set his goals for the next two years to continue to increase that.
Mike said that being a shop owner for nearly 20 years has helped him develop his truck and sales style around the good examples that came into his shop. He started wrenching in his early teens at his dad’s shop. In fact, he had a Snap-on truck account before he had a driver’s license.
Though the learning curve was short for Mike, he did find some things that surprised him in becoming a distributor.
“It is a bit of a ball-and-chain … You don’t work, you don’t get paid,” he said. “With the other business that I had, I had a little bit more freedom.” The freedom came from being able to stay away from the shop on occasion and still have income. There’s no comparison, though, in working for yourself with no employees, he said.
EASY DOES IT
One important lesson he learned in his own shop experience was taking a different approach with a tech behind on payments, which is beneficial in several ways. Mike gave the example of one distributor who he banned from his shop for hassling a tech who fell behind by one payment. Shouting ensued and the whole workday was then disrupted in the shop, at least for that one tech.
“How would you like that angry tech working on your wife’s brake job, or doing a tune-up?” Mike asked. And how does that make you look in the shop? Will those techs be more or less likely to buy from you in the future, and know they risk the same treatment for one bank error or bounced check?
Isn’t it better to be respected in the shop for being a level distributor, willing to work with a tech within reason? Ugly incidents are never isolated, even within one shop. Pretty soon techs all along your route will have heard about a fight or yelling match and re-evaluate their buying habits on your truck.
Instead, Mike said, do your best to get in with the boss of the shop (whether it’s the owner, foreman or a lead tech). If you and the shop’s lead dog are on the same page, many times the other techs are following suit from him whether it’s socket sets, screwdrivers or toolboxes.
“Everybody kind of follows suit of the boss … that’s why I really focus on the bosses when I go into these shops. I talk to those guys before I talk to anybody, nine times out of 10,” Mike said. “You get him on your side, and he will speak highly of you at that shop.
“The opposite will happen if you don’t get in his favor … you’re going to have a hard time breaking into that shop.”
STRIKE A BALANCE
Like a yogi, Mike does have his work and life broken down to a single, all-important mantra: Balance.
Without it, he said, everything falls apart. With it, you can achieve anything.
“With everything in life, in a single word, Balance,” he said.
“And if you don’t have balance, you’ll hear about it from every end. Balance at home, balance your checkbook, balance with your diet.
“Everything in life is about balance, even engines. If you don’t balance a race engine, or a motorcycle engine, it’s going to shake like a paint mixer. But that’s the same thing with life in general. … Balance is the one thing that I try to make sure I have, and my wife tells me when my balance is off. ‘You’re spending too much time at work.’ Or, ‘Don’t you have to go to work today? You’re bugging me, just go!’ ”
Balance is evident in Mike’s inventory too. His truck is clean and obviously well-stocked, but customers can walk through and have sight-line shopping on every shelf. There aren’t bare spots, but no shelf is overcrowded either.
“I have more inventory at home that I could put on the truck, but if you can’t display your inventory right, I think that’s a detriment to you,” Mike said. “I know guys that have probably $120,000 to $150,000 worth of inventory on their truck. But the problem is, if I put $140,000 worth of inventory on my truck, it’s really like having $80,000 worth of sight line.
“You’ve got to display your inventory so guys can look at things easier.”
And you’ve got to change the inventory around every so often as well, Mike said. “I go through a spring cleaning and a winter cleaning — every six months basically, where I’ll move stuff around. Some guys will come on the truck, and even though it may be the same inventory, it’s in a different location. They’re so used to going on the truck and seeing that one area, and then, ‘Oh man, you got a bunch of new stuff.’
“A couple times a year you have to do that, rotate inventory. That’s something that I learned from owning other businesses.”
Having a little bit less inventory on the truck doesn’t mean Mike is shorting any customers, though. He has more inventory in storage at his house and is more than willing to make special trips to get a specific product to a tech the next day, or even have his DM pick it up and drop it off ASAP.
Mike also is sure to take accurate notes at each shop to stay on top of his techs’ wants, special orders and even just their lives in general.
Mike said he always takes notes on “weird stuff — things that I would probably forget. As soon as I leave, I’ll put a little note in there to myself on kids names and stuff.
“It’s very important when you have a new birth. ‘How’s the baby doing?’ ‘How you liking changing diapers?’ It relates you to that tech, but it also relates you to the rest of the shop, because they’ve been hearing about it all week, all month. I can’t even put a price on that.
“That, I think, is what separates good tool guys from guys that are just mediocre. I know, because I owned my own shop. It was important when guys would remember my name, or my wife’s name. Little things.”
One tech related to Mike that his girlfriend just the day before had passed out at work and the resulting tests at the hospital found she was diabetic. He made notes of that in his computer for that shop, and now will follow up on that, asking how she’s doing each week.
Probably the most unique part of Mike’s approach to the job is his good relationship with some of his competing distributors, one in particular. He said they have a “don’t mess with” pact regarding customers, to the point where they sometimes will tip each other to problems with skips or techs needing warranty work on the other’s tools.
“That’s a healthy business relationship … if you are cordial and nice,” Mike said. “He will call me and say, ‘You got me,’ if he sees a new Matco box at one of his stops, and I’d do the same to him.”
“You know, there’s some distributors out here that take the Cornwell and the Matco hats and throw them on the doorsteps so people can step on them.
“How disrespectful is that? I mean, why are you trying to ruin a good hat?” Mike asked.
Rather than get all riled up about the competition or spend time bashing the other trucks at his stops, Mike is content to meet his 300-plus customers’ tool needs by talking about what he can offer.
“I feel that if you’re doing your job correctly, it’s going to reflect on your sales,” Mike said. “And there’s only so much that you can do in our economy today. Where it was before, if you just wandered around the shops you’d make $1,000, $1,500 a day. When I first got into this business, it wasn’t anything to sell $6,000 or $7,000 a week.” Now, getting above $5,000 in weekly sales is becoming more rare, he said.
So instead of using the small amount of time you have with each customer bashing the other brands, it’s a chance to relate for a little bit and continue setting the standard for tool sales to come.
“I’m not a high-pressure guy,” Mike said. “I have a good time with my guys, and they like to come on my truck and just hang out for a few minutes. If they see something they need, they’re going to buy it. Bottom line.”
Balance happens when content techs are buying from a happy tool distributor.
Putting business first
San Diego-area Matco Tools distributor Mike Pridgeon has a wealth of business experience, so it’s probably not surprising that he put the business ahead of himself in year one on the truck.
He made all his sales goals for the first year. So, according to the deal he had with his wife, he was going to start shopping for a new Harley-Davidson motorcycle. Until he thought about it.
“I was going to buy a new Harley, but with the economy and the way things are going, I thought it was a smarter move to buy a new truck than to go buy a $30,000 motorcycle.
“It was a pure business move. … I decided the truck would be a smarter move. I think it is, too. It would be a lot harder to buy the truck after I bought the Harley. I’m more successful with this truck because of display area, just my weekly revenue that I make on this ... I’ve got something that can prove the purchase.
“It’s the truck I wanted from the beginning, but (went with) starter inventory on a starter truck.. … I was ready to move on.”
Reinvesting in business in this economy is the right way to go — to move forward.