Based out of Atascadero, Calif., independent mobile tool dealer Lynn Stokes keeps busy during the week providing service and tools to repair and body shops, and the occasional airport, on the state's Central Coast with his West Coast Tools truck.
But that's not enough for Lynn, a self-described "rebel with a thick resume."
"Being independent and not being under the pressure of a corporation … I like that a lot," Lynn said.
The former yacht captain and real estate agent (among several other professions) is also on a mission to help independent distributors gain moral support and buying power through his recently formed Independent Mobile Tool Distributors Association (see sidebar).
When customers board Lynn's truck, they are met immediately by options for tool storage, a selection of donuts, fresh coffee and more. Lynn believes in a low-pressure approach to selling tools to his techs, citing a need to establish a rapport with them. He's seen other mobile tool distributors in his area start off high pressure with potential customers, only to burn out of the business quickly.
Lynn's "laid back" approach seems
to work to, as he has diversified sales across the main items: storage, diagnostics and hardlines.
"Tool storage and diagnostics go to about 25 percent each; the hardlines and accessories would encompass the other 50 percent. … I've sold a ton of Mountain tool carts."
His route of approximately 350 active cusomers includes stops at a National Guard unit, the San Luis Obispo airport (both on the commercial shops and at individual hangars on different days), dealership repair departments, independent shops, body shops and a few machine shops.
"I used to do Hearst Castle, which is California Parks and Rec," he said. But the government stops' "budgets are getting so bad, they're having to get permission to get fuel. And then, too, to try to get paid from state agencies is time-consuming." Some other repair facilities he does not frequent include tire and quick lube service centers.
"Turnover's too high" at these shops, he said. After you may have made some stops and sold some tools, "you come back in and the tech's gone and you have to try to find them." Skips are one area where Lynn hopes IMTDA can help the independents through conversations and posting some accounts on its website. "And by using SkipCheck.com."
One thing Lynn does not have on the truck is wireless internet. He uses his laptop to take information, and has preloaded programs to look up different tools and equipment from S-K and other companies when techs have questions. When customers use credit cards, Lynn prefers to run the cards at home off his regular connection "to keep people from getting information they shouldn't."
"I have a regular credit card terminal sitting on my desk. I get the credit card number, and expiration date, and my copy of the receipt, and then when I get home, put in the numbers and I'm done. "I make a fast report, and it goes in the filing cabinet. … That way the credit card numbers are only in two places: They're in my bank bag in the truck, or in the bottom drawer of my file cabinet."
Lynn likes the autonomy of being a distributor, and of doing it independently. "Probably the best thing is, it's a challenge," he said. "I like a challenge. And you don't know what's going to happen."
The mobile business is not for everyone, Lynn said. "If you put a 20-year-old kid in an 18-foot truck full of tools, money, and no supervision, sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn't. Not everybody is self-motivated where they can work without supervision."