Smile. Collect. Sell. These three words are written in permanent marker on the inside of the door of Dave Putits’ tool truck, only visible to him when the door is closed and no customers are aboard. Dave, a mobile distributor for Cornwell Tools in Southern California, let’s these...
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“Start off building your business wide, not deep. Wide meaning get as many customers as you can, and not getting too deep on any one of them. Get as many $20 bills in a day as opposed to $50 and $100,” Dave said. The important thing is to guard against expensive skips.
“I don’t get too many tools, too much money all on one guy. If he moves or I don’t get my pay out of one guy, I’ve got four other guys who will give me the $20.”
Dave also advised that newer distributors should wait on that boat purchase.
“In the beginning, hang on to the money that you’re making, because in about three years … you’re going to go through a growth spurt where you’re going to need that extra capital.” Dave said you don’t want to be in a bind when “new people are coming to you that want to buy tools. … You want to have the capital to run with it.”
“Another important thing is not to buy toys, boats and all that until you’ve been in the business for a while,” Dave said. “Some think because they’ve got a wad of money in their pocket at the end of the week that they’ve made it, after a month, two months or so… but you should hold off on all those RVs, boats and stuff until … you get past your growth spurt, make it up one level.”
Dave said after the three-year growth spurt, there can be more.
“There was another level that I hit at about another three years … the shop owners who now trusted me, and wanted a brake lathe, and two scan tools, and a couple compressors and all that.”
In general, Dave likes to spend about half his collections on the business.
“I order about half of what I collect to buy. That keeps my books balanced, and I don’t get too overextended. And that works out pretty good.”
Though Dave found a business where he doesn’t need to hire employees, he does enlist the help of his family. His two boys help with washing and cleaning the truck and inventory, and his wife, Chris, also takes care of inventory and the financials. She even helps with the books for another Cornwell distributor.
“I work the truck, work the customers, bring it all home to my wife, sit down at the end of the day with the kids and she does everything, the balancing of the books; she also helps other tool dealers with their books,” Dave said.
“I learned this all on the fly,” said Dave’s wife, Chris. “I asked a lot of questions … I didn’t understand this business at all, with all this money in the door. No one tells you what you’re supposed to put back on your truck. …
“In the beginning everything went back into the business and we lived out of our savings account, until about month three. Then there was a little money.”
Chris said the most important part of keeping the business financially strong is budgeting, both for home and business, because they are so intertwined.
“We’re really stringent on our budget; we don’t spend over our budget at all.”
She also said support from Cornwell has helped with business planning.
“Cornwell’s become more advanced on … finance classes, which I think is a spectacular thing.
Chris also has advice beyond the books for other spouses of mobile distributors.
“Become involved. Become heavily involved,” Chris said. “I think the most successful tool dealers have probably the most involved wives. And they can do something simple. I tend to do a lot for David because I choose to—it’s our business. I don’t think that it’s David’s business. I try to make it easy.”
Beyond being involved, Chris said being attentive to the money helps, especially on the domestic side, for building budgets and not taking too much away from the business. Her final advice is to be understanding.
“When your husband’s cranky … you don’t understand the stress that he’s gone through in a day of people not paying him and giving him the song and dance.”
And all the help from Chris on inventory and financials keeps Dave focused on the tools and selling.
“It would take away from me being able to get out on the street selling and collecting if I had to run to the bank to make deposits or take time out of the day to do my books.”
There should be more than just income/outgo in your ledger