Relationships pay off big for Smith

Sometimes being in the right place at the right time counts for a lot. For Mac Tools Master Distributor Todd Smith, being in the right place at the right time wouldn’t have amounted to anything if he hadn’t spent years laying down the groundwork. Todd’s territory covers the Uintah Basin in...


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Sometimes being in the right place at the right time counts for a lot. For Mac Tools Master Distributor Todd Smith, being in the right place at the right time wouldn’t have amounted to anything if he hadn’t spent years laying down the groundwork.

Todd’s territory covers the Uintah Basin in Utah, specifically the cities of Duchesne, Roosevelt and Vernal. The area’s economy, particularly Vernal, has been in a boom phase, based on natural gas and oil fields, for about four years. Todd, last year’s No. 1 distributor for Mac Tools, has been serving the area for 18 years. For the majority of that time, his extremely rural route has been enough to pay the bills and enjoy what he was doing.

Now that the boom has hit, all the relationships he’s been cultivating are really paying off.

“It just exploded,” Todd said of his business following the boom. “I had my clientele built up and here we went. I was just in. I think that’s probably the biggest trick to my success of why I’ve done so well … through all those rough times, taking care of my customers and being persistent. Even when they maybe weren’t buying very much, I was there, every week, taking care of them.”

Todd said there was a similar economic boom in the area in the early 1980s that he missed.

“I actually started out here when it was really depressed,” Todd said. He got into the tool-selling business after several years as a heavy-duty diesel mechanic in Provo. “People thought I was out of my mind starting this business out here. They said, ‘Man this area is really depressed, there’s no way you can make a business out of this.’ ”

That’s all changing now, and his business is perfectly suited to take advantage of it.

“A lot of these places went from two mechanics to 10 or 12 mechanics, just over the last few years.” And that’s good news at a shop where you already have a strong relationship with the current staff.

The boom in business gave Todd about $1.5 million in sales last year, or roughly $900,000 in Mac Tools purchases. Todd estimates his customer count in the basin is close to 400, and he makes contact with about 250 to 270 of those techs and shop owners each week. He tries to average 250 transactions (total of sales and payments) per week.

“When you get to 200 transactions (per week), you’re going to do a certain amount of business, guaranteed. That’s just the way it’s set up, that’s just the way it works,” he said of his weekly goal. “That’s what I look at, I look at my transactions.”

The biggest part of his business for his transactions, due to the natural gas and oil field economy, is at heavy-equipment shops.

IN THE BIG TIME

Though Todd estimates heavy-duty shops are about 50 percent to 60 percent of his stops, they make far more money for him.

“I do bigger numbers on the oil field end of it, because they’re the ones making the money, right now, so they’re going to have the money to spend,” Todd said. “I think I hit about as many automotive shops as I do big truck shops. It’s just, I don’t do quite the business at them.”

With heavy-duty shops and big machine shops, there is also the bonus of some companies that will keep their techs in tools. At one of Todd’s stops a more rural town, a machine shop pays him monthly for tech purchases. There are roughly 25 techs in the shop, and each month the shop pays Todd so each tech has $100 in truck money. That, of course, doesn’t include any tools the tech may purchase on his own.

“It’s definitely worth stopping there, for that,” Todd said.

Aside from the boom at heavy-duty shops, Todd would like to expand his sales of more big-ticket equipment items to all shops.

“I’d like to do more in the lifts, but that’s quite a competitive market. … It’s a hard thing to try to get that. I guess that’s probably what I lack in more than anything is the shop equipment,” Todd said.

“It’d be fun to see more of it as you go into shops. It’d be fun to set up an entire shop with just Mac Tools, lifts and everything.”

TALK TO EVERYONE…

Todd said there is a shop getting started that he is targeting and keeping the owner aware of all the big-ticket shop equipment that Mac offers. That’s one of Todd’s keys to expanding: talking to everyone at each stop, including the owners.

“The biggest part of the business is always going in. I always go in and talk to the owner, or the lead shop foreman,” Todd said. “That’s always been something I’ve been really loyal to. I think that’s picked up a lot of my sales.

“When you go to a shop, make sure you do business with everybody in that shop. That’s where you get your transactions. If you run and do business with one person here, and run down the street and do business with one person in that shop, and there are five guys in each of these shops and you’re only doing business with one person, then you’re losing a lot of time.

“It’s all about efficiency. … It’s really critical that you be as efficient as you can possibly be, and concentrate on seeing everybody.”

Todd’s tips are valid for increasing sales, but worth little if you don’t enjoy talking to people. Todd enjoys his work, in large part because he very obviously enjoys talking with his customers.

“I get to go out and see people I’ve known for 18 years … we get along good together,” Todd said. He’ll take customers out to lunch often, and treat them ‘because I enjoy visiting with them. I enjoy what I do.’”

…AND LISTEN, TOO

Enjoying being in the shops and talking with people is a main ingredient for Todd’s success. If talking is important, listening is crucial. It can tip you off to a big sale, like a toolbox, or a bigger sale, like a home shop that needs tools.

“I got to know this guy, and he’s buying tools for his house. He says stop by the house before you go home this evening. I stopped by his house, and he spent a bunch of money with me.

“Now he’s getting ready to set up his shop, he’s grown enough, and guess who gets the phone call to take care of him and set up his shop?”B

ut a sale like that could’ve easily been missed. Todd said that without talking to the customer and being interested in his situation, and hearing him talk about his plans, he could’ve missed the whole deal. When the customer called the first time to have Todd stop by his home after hours, “I could’ve said I’m too tired, it’s late, I’m heading home.” Instead he went out and it paid off. He heard what the customer was asking for and was ready to find out more.

“That’s the trick to this business; picking up on those little opportunities that sometimes grow into something big,” Todd said. And there are small opportunities like that available all the time for a distributor willing to listen and put in a little extra time.

“I’ve heard a lot of people say that after 6 o’clock they’ll turn their phone off. … Some of my best sales have been after 6 o’clock,” Todd said. “Somewhere, some guy is doing a side job and he’s using all that money to buy tools. You go by his house, and he has a pocket full of money.

“That’s cash, not payment stuff.”

KEEPING UP WITH COLLECTIONS

Cash on the nail is always preferred in a job where collections can be difficult. Todd said collections are the hardest part of the job for him.

“Collections is your biggest battle. It’s easy to sell the product; it’s collecting the money that’s your challenge,” Todd said. “When I have to, “I’ll say, ‘Hey, I can’t sell you anything until I get some money on your account.’”

He said that figuring out the different types of customers you have is vital.

“Some people you don’t ask for money, they just pay; other people you have to go and hound them. … I think the biggest part is getting the relationship, getting to know your customer well enough to know what you’ve got to do to collect money from them.

“I wish collections were easier to do. … It’s one thing to agree on paying; it’s another to actually get what you’ve agreed on and have that conversation:

‘Hey, step up to the plate. We agreed on this. You’re not going to skip a car payment, why are you going to skip your tool payment? What makes your car payment? The tools I’m providing you with. I should be the first person you pay because it’s those tools that are making you money.’ ”

Aside from the good-paying customers, Todd said the prevalence of credit cards are important to tool distribution.

“Credit cards are a tool man’s dream come true. … Every guy carries a credit card, or banking card or debit card,” he said. And that eliminates the silly excuses, like “the wife didn’t give me a check,” etc.

“We get a two-percent hit, but we get our money on the spot.”

CHALLENGING, BUT FUN

Todd said he likes being around tools all day, the satisfaction of selling and maintaining relationships with customers. But he feels there’s always more he can do.

“I’m competitive, I love to force myself to do better,” Todd said. “There’s always a guy that I want to sell a toolbox to … you know, work on him, get him to buy. That challenge, that’s something I really enjoy.”

He also enjoys the family involvement of the business. All five kids and his wife help with the business. His wife helps with the book work on the weekends, and his younger kids earn pocket money by building tool carts and toolboxes for him (the same as their older siblings used to).

“That’s their job, if they want to have some money to go do something, they’ve got to build a cart.

“My kids are very involved with the business,” Todd said. “That’s something we kind of do on Saturdays. We’ll take Saturday morning, go out and wash the truck and clean up and get ready for the next week. Then we have the rest of the weekend to go to the lake, or go four-wheeling, or do what we want to do.”

All in all, Todd Smith is in the right place at the right time for his business, but it would have been wasted if he didn’t love what he’s doing and spend years laying the groundwork.

Toolbox Sales vs. Everything Else

“I do a lot of toolbox sales … about 25 percent of my business,” said Todd Smith.

But Todd doesn’t sell every box in the Uintah Basin.

“There’s not a worse feeling in the world than walking in the shop and seeing the competition’s box sitting there. … It frustrates me more than anything, ‘Why wasn’t I paying attention to that?’ Surely he talked about it somewhere, and I must not have been paying attention,” Todd said of missing a sale. “Bottom line, I blame myself for losing, passing that sale by.”

He said the key is to always pay attention when your customers talk, even their throw-away comments. Todd said sometimes it’s as simple as a tech putting a new socket set into an overfull drawer and muttering “I’m just running out of room” or “I don’t know where I’m going to put this.”

Little comments might be the only clue you’ll get someone wants a toolbox, potentially before they realize it themselves.

But always look for more business, even when you miss a big toolbox sale.

“If you pouted it up and went out on your truck and drove off … yeah, you’ll lose that business,” Todd said of losing out on a toolbox sale. But look your customer in the eye, even with another brand of toolbox behind him, and say, “Oh good, now I can help you fill that box.” That will break the ice and help the tech spend money with you for the tools, Todd said.

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