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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Jim’s always willing to sell tools. He’s had guys jump on the truck looking for tools when he’s stopped for gas, or even while cleaning and stocking the truck in the motel parking lot at night in Gillette.

Mondays in Casper are a bit different (Jim recently moved his best Friday stops in Casper to Mondays to eliminate one day on the route and up his family time). Mondays are a big day between his route and stocking the truck for his three days in Gillette.

“I usually don’t get off the truck on Mondays until 10:30, 11 at night,” Jim said.

Daily goals include selling about $1,000 a day in Casper; in Gillette, “I do a two-day thing; if I can hit $6,000 by my first two days, then my third day is gravy.” He averages about $3,200-$3,500 per day in Gillette.

Not that topping $600,000 in sales was easy.

“Initially I was just selling the tools, and everything kind of got way out of whack. We were selling tools — I could sell the hell out of tools — but collecting the money was hard.

“If the day ends up that I collected more than I sold at the end of the day, that’s fine. I had a good day.”


Jim doesn’t see any specifics to improving sales, beyond getting tools into the techs’ hands and making sure his customer service is beyond reproach.

“The main thing for hardlines and [power tools] is just getting the tool in the guy’s hand and letting him look at it,” Jim said. He saw, initially, that techs in Gillette weren’t very familiar with Cornwell’s products.

“I’d just get [tools] in their hand to look at, and then they’d see that it’s really not different than anybody else’s,” Jim said.

“The main thing is to listen to the guys. That is a major issue,” Jim said. “When I was a mechanic, the tool guy would come in, you’d ask him about something and he’d say he’d check into it and he never did. … That’s kind of a pet peeve of mine.

“If a guy asks me about something, whether it does take me a week to find out, or I cannot get it, I at least go back in and tell him. … But, I always try to follow up with guys and let them know.

“It’s mainly customer service. That’s the main thing. It’s what’s got me in the door in so many shops; just taking care of the guys,” Jim said. “You’ve got to take care of them. Even if you take a little hit here and there on some stuff, make sure you’re taking care of them.”

There was a hardship to overcome initially in Gillette for Jim, and that was the quick departure of another brand’s mobile. He said many techs were smarting from the fact they had broken tools from that brand, and no recourse since he’d left his truck to go work in a mine.

“I had to show them that I’ll be there every week, do the things I said I would do,” Jim said. “I got over that [hesitation] pretty quickly — quicker than I thought.

“Now I’ve established a good rapport with the guys. It just took off.”

He said the other tool trucks in Gillette mainly concentrate on the area’s mines.

“But I’ve found kind of a niche to a certain extent; as [the other tool trucks] concentrate more on the mines … I kind of became the go-to guy in town,” Jim said. “I’m doing all the business I want to do right now. More business is great, but I’m just … filling the niche in.”

One key for Jim, even when there is steady competition in town, is to watch his mouth.

“I don’t badmouth anybody. I’ve owned Mac tools, I’ve had Snap-on tools, I love them, they’re good tools … Cornwell is good tools … if [a customer] buys a Snap-on box, I’ll tell them it’s a good box,” Jim said. “But badmouthing the other brands doesn’t do any good.

“All you’re doing is telling your customer, ‘You’re a dumb-ass. You went and bought a stupid tool from another guy.’

“Techs are smart enough to know what they want. There are things that they like and they don’t like. I was that way,” Jim said.

“I don’t know if there are any secrets to what we’re doing,” Jim said. “I know a lot of guys are talking about the economy slowing down — the best salesmen are the ones who are selling while everyone else is having a hard time.

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