On his own, but not alone

Matt Sledge is more than a one-man show in Murfreesboro, Tenn.

Matt Sledge is more than a one-man show in Murfreesboro, Tenn. If you were at the 2008 ISN Tool Expo in June and attended the distributor panel, then you already know a little about Matt Sledge, an independent mobile tool dealer from Murfreesboro, Tenn. Matt was the youngest distributor on that panel, had plenty to say and plenty of energy for the...

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“They stop hearing the pitch, and it takes [time] for me to run a cycle on something, and actually get paid back what I’ve invested,” he said. The money comes right back for those who pay in full immediately.

“But then, somebody’s going to put it on their account that already owes $300, and it’s going to take a little while for that [money] to come back in.”


Matt buys the majority of his tools through ISN, and some from Medco. He touts his relationship with salesperson Knight at ISN as key.

“The reason I do business with ISN is because of the relationship I have with the one salesperson,” Matt said. “I talk to this guy, all day, every day.”

Last year, Matt’s tool sales were near $375,000, about $75,000 more per year than before he went independent. He does admit that before going independent, he was already selling a lot of competing brands.

“My last year … I realized I was making more money selling independent then selling the [branded] stuff.

“And I’m not interested in working for anybody. That’s the reason I got out of that, I wanted to be all driven by myself. … the direction, it’s different,” Matt said.

Being the main driver, and the lone employee, in his business is what attracted Matt to the tool business to begin with. After saving investment money, he started looking into different franchise opportunities.

“I was looking to buy an oil change place, looked into buying a Subway franchise. And all these things with employees started hitting my head. If you’ve got an oil change place, you’ve got $7-an-hour guys working for you, so they’re going to make a mistake, which is going to cost you money in the long run. Subway, you’ve got all this food stuff going on.

“I started looking for a business that I could buy, that would pretty much run on just me. A guy that bought a motorcycle from me, came in and said, ‘Man, you need to get into the tool business.’ ”

After about three months, “I drove to Alabama to look at my first tool truck. When I saw it, I was like, ‘That’s me. I gotta do it.’ ”

He paid off his truck in less than two years and was solid with his tool account within a year. One thing Matt does not like is debt.

“I don’t think it takes a $100,000 tool truck to make $400,000 a year,” Matt said. “I know a guy who spent $115,000 on a tool truck. That depreciates. I can buy a house for $130,000 that goes [up].

“I paid $20,000 for this truck,” Matt said of his second truck since coming into the business.

When it comes to filling his truck, he likes to keep it full, packed, with tools, even at the expense of the space required for toolboxes.

“I hate toolboxes … tying somebody’s money up and then it takes them so long to pay for it,” said Matt. “If I could fill my truck up with nothing but shelves, I’d rather just sell tools.

“But I kind of have to do the whole toolbox thing,” Matt said, which is in fairness to his customers that look to him for a choice beyond the franchise brands’ boxes.

“I do have good customers that want toolboxes, and I do have good customers that are going to pay for them. I don’t need to cut them short of not having that service,” Matt said. “And I have done pretty well with Mountain and their toolboxes.”

As far as actual tools go, Matt looks to order the same amount as he sells each week. Because space gets tight in an 18’ truck, he keeps some overflow tools at home, and more at a customer’s shop.

“Between my home and that shop, I’m only about 10 miles away from replacing anything I might need at any time,” Matt said.


Even though everything else is going well, there is one main downside to the business for Matt.

“The only thing that would ever drive me away from the tool business is the collections. … I guess it’s the let-down of thinking that you’ve got a good relationship established with somebody, and them not following through with what they said they were going to do.

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