Specialty tool use may be somewhat infrequent compared to other tools techs use daily. But because the right specialty tool has the potential to save a lot of time and hassle, they are still toolbox essentials.
When it comes to buying the right specialty tools, shop owners and technicians look for quality, innovation and efficiency.
"Productivity is key," said Joe Marconi, owner of Osceola Garage in Baldwin Place, N.Y. "If it's a time-saver, you've got to factor in the cost and know you're going to get a return on your investment. That's the name of the game."
TECHS WANT ROI, REGARDLESS OF BRAND
Even when a repair seems especially unique, chances are there's a tool out there that can get the job done.
"Brand's not necessarily important," said Marconi. "It doesn't have to be a Snap-on or Mac … if it's a time-saver, it's got to be purchased."
Joel Anderson of Bonfe's Auto Service & Body Repair in St. Paul is also quick to buy the tool that will get the job done regardless of brand.
"Even though I might not have ever done anything with the tool, if I know I'm going to need it at some point in time, I'll just buy it," said Anderson.
Of course, many techs buy specialty tools as the need arises.
"If I've got a problem and I need a tool to get it done, and it's going to happen more and more … and [the tool's] going to pay for itself, I'll go out and get one," admitted Phil Cook, owner of Carolina Car Care in West End, N.C.
Across the board, techs in the market for specialty tools do their research. They look through Professional Distributor's sister magazine, Professional Tool & Equipment News, and go online to see what's available. And most of the time it's not about getting the best deal.
"As far as money goes, I've learned to accept that [cost] is what it is," Anderson said. "I might shop around a little bit for common items that I know all of the distributors carry, but when I think specialty, I think of things like a specific socket that you're only going to use on this car."
Anderson's favorite specialty purchase is a tool he bought more than a year ago, but just used for the first time recently. It is a socket made specifically for screwing off the oil filter cover on Saturns.
"Saturn's new oil filter has a plastic cap that screws the filter into the filter housing instead of the filter itself screwing off the vehicle," said Anderson. "[This socket] is shallow so that you have the proper clearance to get it into a tight place; it's specifically just for that oil filter cover that you need to screw off. That's the only thing I use it for."
Marconi listed "all the tools that have helped in replacing a timing belt," as being exceptional additions to his toolbox.
"Timing belt tension tools, removing pulleys for the crankshaft … anything that has to do with performing a timing belt job and increases productivity will make the job easier, more efficient and will make you more money," said Marconi.
KNOW WHAT'S AVAILABLE
To be successful in specialty tool sales, distributors really need to be
well-versed on the new and innovative tools that come out.
"He needs to know what's available and have the complete package — the service and the understanding of the tool," said Marconi. "Many times I'll see a tool in PTEN and [the distributor's] never heard of it. When I tear out the article, they'll say, 'Oh yeah, I could get that,' but they don't have any feedback. They should be knowledgeable about the products.
"They should read all kinds of magazines to see exactly what's on the forefront of new tools. This way, when a technician or shop owner asks them for advice on a tool, they at least know something about it. I find that's often lacking [with distributors]."
A simple "I haven't seen it yet" won't suffice when a tech inquires about a tool he's seen.
When a jobber has no feedback, Marconi said "you end up forgetting about the tool and consequently, he's not going to make the sale because there's nothing to keep the momentum of your excitement."
A TOOL IN THE HAND IS WORTH … A SALE OFF THE TRUCK
best way to keep them thinking about that new tool? Supply them with a little background
knowledge, rather than simply handing out a flier.
And a little show-and-tell is even better.
"For the people who don't get the magazine, and for those people out in the trenches, if they can actually put their hands on the tool and see the benefit of it, they're going to buy it," said Cook. C
ook appreciates that his distributor is able to help him out with not only the sale and service, but research.
"When he gets [new tools] he's always real sure to tell us about them rather than just handing us a flyer," said Cook. "Especially with specialty tools. Most of the dealers are real good about saying, 'I've got this tool and it's for this car,' and they'll ask 'Have you come across this yet? Have you needed this yet?' So they push them, because they know we need them."
Though it may seem a rather small and infrequent sale, most shop owners and techs won't think twice when confronted with a tool that will help with that one, vital repair.
Buying specialty tools is "like when [a newer model] computer comes out and it's a lot of money," said Cook. "Other guys will ask, 'Why did you buy that? It's going to come down in cost.' I say, 'Because it makes me money now.'
"That's the way I try to look at it. If I can keep on the front end of an industry that keeps changing, I'm one step ahead."