In a business where rapid turnover is expected, independent mobile distributor Lynn Bazile stands out. Not only has he been an independent tool distributor serving the tri-county area around Orlando since 1990, but prior to that he had been a stand-out distributor and field manager for a branded truck for a decade in the Jacksonville area.
Lynn’s Orlando area covers a general boom market, where the theme parks are always growing, and Daytona and all its attractions and events are only 40 minutes away.
“It’s always been a pretty boom area,” Lynn said. And that helps the local economy.
“More than tax returns, we’ve got the Daytona 500 … spring break and all that influx of money, so it’s really busy,” Lynn said. “As far as the (U.S.) economy being slow—some of the shops are slow. But they’re still buying real well, if you’re a little bit more creative on your sales.”
Lynn feels the growth potential, not for a geographic area but for independent mobile dealers in general, is huge.
“It’s a great business. Unbelievable,” Lynn said. “There are no boundaries as far as growing your business. … The biggest problem is there are not enough hours in a day to keep it all going.”
Lynn sees the tool business in a more open light than many, with experience as a branded dealer, field manager and nearly 20 years as an independent. He also was a shop owner and mechanic prior to selling tools.
He was driven to the mobile dealer business by a “really bad” mobile that serviced his shop in the late 1970s.
“I asked, ‘What kind of money are you making?,’ and he said, ‘$60,000,’ ” Lynn said. I told him he must be kidding, and I convinced him to let me ride with him for a day.
“He picked me up at 9:30 a.m., we were done by 3 p.m. … I checked him out and he did make that kind of money. And I knew I could do it 10-times better than him.”
So Lynn and his wife, Ann, and the family packed it in on a new home and strong business in Wisconsin and moved to Florida for Lynn to begin selling tools.
He was right about outselling the distributor he knew. As a dealer newsletter from his brand at the time states, he was the 1980 rookie of the year in sales at $342,552 (which is roughly equivalent to $860,000 in 2008 money).
From there, he became a field manager for most of the 1980s, troubleshooting other distributors’ businesses before going back out on the road as an independent. His best advice today still relates to that bad dealer he had when he was a shop owner.
“The biggest thing about being an independent is having excellent time-management skills,” Lynn said. “You really, really have to work on that. … I’m in and out of the shops fast. You get so spread out and you get people in the books … time-management skills and running your business properly are key.”
Lynn must have his time management in check, as he has nearly 900 customers to see every week, and just shy of 500 that are carrying balances. Couple that with weekly collections in the area of $14,000 and it’s obvious Lynn knows this business front to back.
“The biggest thing is you need to learn how to ask for money,” Lynn said. “You have to know how to do it without offending somebody. It’s something you develop.
“The other thing I really concentrate on is profit margin,” Lynn said. “I concentrate on collections—cash flow and margin is very important. … That’s something that you have to concentrate on at all times.”
Lynn targets his profit margin at 45 percent, that way “I end up with 39- to 40-percent profit. … We don’t charge these guys any interest, so you have to make money.
“And there’s an awful lot of money to be made. When we give a good service, we need to be paid for it.”
Service is an area Lynn prides himself on, and sees as key to being a successful distributor, and especially as an independent. He fixes air tools for techs, regardless of brand, to keep up good customer relations. He’s always willing to swap out a tool so a tech isn’t waiting a week for a replacement.
In order to best service his customers, Lynn seeks superior service of his needs. For Lynn, one big difference for independents is the ability to choose who you do business with as a customer; where you buy tools. Whereas you need to be a stronger businessman without some of that help from a brand, you do get freedom in choosing inventory, from what and how much to supplier.
“The big difference is you can go where you want to go,” Lynn said. “Being an independent is exactly what it means: I’m an independent dealer, I can associate with any brand of tool.
“I do all my business with ISN,” Lynn said of the Florida-based warehouse distributor. “I do 100 percent of my business with them; they are about the best place you could do business with. … They take good care of me.”
As an independent mobile dealer, “you have to be hooked up with a good (warehouse) distributor,” Lynn said. “I can’t stress enough how good ISN is. … I spend $35,000 to $40,000 a month with them.”
With the help of a good warehouse, “you could be an independent anywhere, if you knew what you were doing, and be very successful at it,” Lynn said.
And having a good warehouse distributor helps you take better advantage of the business, Lynn said.
“There’s plenty of business around. You have to have good sales ability because you have to sell yourself,” he said of being independent. For branded trucks, he said the tools are almost pre-sold, making it tougher on independents, which necessitates more salesmanship and service.
Lynn tries to collect about $2,000 to $2,500 every day, and to keep sales within about $100 of collections. His daily target is about 200 customers and 25 stops. And in relating to his time-management goals is consistency—trying to be at the same shop at the same time each week.
“There’s just so much business out there; an incredible amount of business,” Lynn said. “But you have to be there consistently, at the same time every week. Each and every week they depend on you to be there.”
Another key component to Lynn’s approach is keeping current with new tools and other innovations, including talking with techs about what they need or want, and reading trade magazines for the aftermarket like Professional Distributor and sister publication Professional Tool & Equipment News.
“I search the tool catalogs looking for new things,” Lynn said. “And PTEN, etc., I search every weekend for new tools.”
When he finds new tools his techs have asked about, or that he knows they will want, “I’ll buy 20 or 30 of them—then I’ll push myself to sell them, and sell hard.
“I just had little mirrors with lights on them, extension mirrors,” Lynn said. “I bought 40 of them and they were gone in two days.”
Lynn keeps a box of specials on the truck to highlight those 20 to 30 items he’s pushing at any time.
“Make yourself sell more; become more of a salesman,” Lynn said. He is keen to point out that badmouthing other products is not the same as good salesmanship.
“Never badmouth the competition’s tools—you can badmouth the guy’s work habits, the price of the product. … But never badmouth the quality of the product. Never do it.
“With a mechanic, you don’t know everything he’s got in his toolbox. He could have four or five different brands of power tools, whatever. If you start knocking that stuff, they won’t agree with it,” Lynn said. And then you’re hurting your reputation.
As an independent, Lynn sees one big difference, and advantage, that he has from some of his competition. He is not pushed to sell toolboxes (though he does sell some toolboxes, and he said tool carts are a huge item right now). Instead of devoting shelf space on his truck to a toolbox or two, he’s able to stock more hardlines and power tools.
“As an independent, you kind of do it in reverse. You concentrate on selling the hand tools and the air tools,” he said. “They can have all the big toolboxes they want … you can make a lot more money on the other stuff.
“If you’ve got all these toolboxes out, then you have to collect the money for them. You sell a guy a $10,000 toolbox, and he’s pretty well tied up for the next three to four years, and you can’t hardly sell him any hand tools.”
Lynn estimates a big part of his business is in consumables, like grinding discs, and that about 20 percent is in air tools. Along with that, his route is a majority of heavy-duty truck shops; yet nearly 15 percent is body shops.
Though there are many tool distributors that tend not to stop at body shops, Lynn said the reputations for most body shops have increased greatly.
“Body shops are good business,” Lynn said. “I found that bodymen really make a lot of money. They make more than mechanics do; I cash out paychecks, so I know what a lot of them make. They buy a lot of expensive tools, expensive grinders—they have a lot of special tools to work on these cars.
“Body shops are really, really good business. Mostly air tools and bits … but they have a lot of special tools: doorskin tools, drills for all this new metal and high-strength steel. Bodymen work on commission, so anything they can buy to make their job faster, they’ll pay.
“They’re not afraid to spend money,” he said.
Based on his time in tools, from branded truck to field manager to independent, Lynn has a more comprehensive view of the trade than many. He sees the current market as a strong one, where customers are more educated about new tools and the distributor’s job is made just that much easier.
“The customer is a lot smarter buyer these days than he ever was—way more informed,” Lynn said. “They’re way more conservative than they used to be.
“These guys are smart, they know the value of tools, they look for the value. They’re pretty smart consumers, really.”
Though the end user is smarter about tools and value, you still have to approach the business as a business, branded or not.
“You have to be upbeat, you have to be professional, you have to look decent,” Lynn said. “People like to deal with successful people, not some guy that’s hanging around, telling jokes, in blue jeans… They like to deal with a real professional.
“It’s a real simple business, really,” Lynn said. “Being an independent is a really, really good business.”