Mining for profits in a niche town

Cornwell Tools distributor Jim Ray covers a big part of Wyoming — more specifically, he splits his time between Casper and about two hours north in Gillette.


Cornwell Tools distributor Jim Ray covers a big part of Wyoming — more specifically, he splits his time between Casper and about two hours north in Gillette. Cornwell Tools dealer Jim Ray covers a big part of Wyoming — more specifically, he splits his time between a day in Casper, where he lives, and three longer, busier days about two hours north in Gillette. Jim has been selling Cornwell products since February 2006, following nearly 30 years...


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Cornwell Tools dealer Jim Ray covers a big part of Wyoming — more specifically, he splits his time between a day in Casper, where he lives, and three longer, busier days about two hours north in Gillette.

Jim has been selling Cornwell products since February 2006, following nearly 30 years “off and on” as a tech and shop foreman. He’s also had stints as a Realtor, an engineering student at Arizona State (“I golfed more than I studied”) and more.

His route has two main differences from the majority of mobile tool distributors. First, he splits time in two distant cities, and second, he spends about 90 percent of his time with construction and heavy equipment shops. Most of the shops in Gillette are on the edge of town, which has Jim driving more from one end of town to the other all day long, rather than hitting a string of shops near each other.

Between one day in Casper and three days in Gillette, Jim has about 250 active customers, the majority are his heavy-duty customers in Gillette.

“I’m just used to those guys … it’s a comfortable environment for me,” Jim said. “I can go in and talk to any of the guys, sit down and give them a hard time; I’ll walk in sometimes and I see what they’re doing, and I’ve done it and give it to them, ‘Oh man, how’d you get the gravy job?’ ”

On Tuesday mornings, Jim leaves Casper at about 4:30 a.m. to get to his first Gillette stop by about 6:30 a.m. He works a full day, stays in a hotel that night and the next, and drives home Thursday nights to get home about 10 p.m.

“You get into a rhythm of doing it; I miss being around the kids and being home every night. In terms of what I’m doing … I could have worse jobs where I’m out of town more,” Jim said.

“In Gillette, 90 percent of my stops are construction and heavy equipment. And they’re mainly the guys that do field service for the mines. … There’s probably close to 15 to 20 coal mines in the area — real large mines — and I haven’t even, at this point, ever touched them. But I service all the guys that do.”

Jim credits his success in Gillette to his familiarity with the heavy equipment shops and the area’s demographics.

“The [heavy equipment] mechanics are a lot younger up in that area; the pay is incredible for them — they’re coming out of high schools, tech schools, and … have no tools and they’re getting thrown into these service trucks and getting paid anywhere from $25 to $30 an hour, and these kids buy tools,” Jim said.

“Consequently, I cater to those guys a lot.”

In an abbreviated 2006, Jim’s tool sales were about $428,000; his 2007 sales were $648,000. These sales are mainly a result of his work in Gillette.

“In Casper, it’s a whole different animal; the demographics are actually slightly reversed,” Jim said. “Your average tech is anywhere from 35-60 in Casper, and they’re all already pretty well tooled-up.

“Most of the stuff in Casper is more like truck dealerships, over-the-road trucks. … I do very little of the auto shops.”

Casper also features one Cornwell dealer already, who recruited Jim into the business.

AN AVERAGE DAY

“For Gillette, I fire up Tuesday morning [in Casper] at 4:30 … and I just run until, Tuesday evening at 9 at night. I’ve got second shift customers servicing the mines,” Jim said. “I go back to the motel; clean the truck. Usually in that timeframe up there I’ve received a shipment … and then at night I clean and stock the truck until about 10:30 or so.

“Then I get back up at 4:30 again … to be at the field guys’ shops, because they leave early in the mornings. A lot of them will wait for you until about 8, so if you start about 6:30 and hit a couple of shops, you get 15 to 20 field guys taken care of.

“I do the same thing the next day. … I don’t take lunches; I just hit all the stops. I know what shops take lunch from 12-1, and some take 11:30-12:30, and so I fit that into my schedule.”

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