Family Business uses Smart Growth Strategy

Think about how hard you work at your business day in and day out, and about how nice it would be to have some extra help on some days — like, say, if you had a cousin in the tool business. Well, you do.

He's in New Jersey.

The family-run M. Eagles Tool Warehouse (slogan: "Now you have a cousin in the tool business"), a warehouse distributor based in Newark, has been in the business for nearly four decades serving aftermarket and mobile jobbers. Steven Gering, along with his sons Howard and Michael, runs M. Eagles, and Steve has been at it since he bought the business 36 years ago.

And, more recently, they are expanding their reach to jobbers through a new facility set to be running in Charlotte, N.C., by the time you read this. Steve
credits the company's growth to his sons and their customer service.

GROWING CONCERN

"Since the boys came in, we became a player," Steve said. "The business has changed, and they've made it change. They've done really well with bringing in new customers — now we have customers all over the country.

"We've really outgrown this building," Steve said of the Newark headquarters. "And so instead of expanding this location, we decided to branch out into another location to better service our customers."

The new Charlotte distribution center is set to serve all of M. Eagles' customers throughout the South. The added 32,000-sq.-ft. warehouse gives the company the capability to provide one-day shipping for much of the East Coast, and two-day service to most locations east of the Mississippi River. The company will also expand its customer service department in Newark to accommodate increased business from the expansion.

"Our business is growing, and we've taken smart steps to achieve this growth. The steps so far have been through the boys on the telephones and the www.eagletools.net Distributor-to-Distributor website." But the emphasis remains on the company's personal touch.

"We do a lot of business out of this building," Steve said. "What we've created is a niche and a customer base, because we're personal."

A PERSONAL TOUCH

When distributors call, they know they can talk to Howard or Michael and they will have the answers, Steve said. And they're always available if a customer rep has to relay a question.

"Mike and I are on the phone all day long with mobile jobbers," Howard said. "It's a personal touch from the family business.

"We have a great staff here. I can probably tell you 20,000-plus SKUs when a customer calls, and a lot of us are like that; we know about a particular product that jobbers are asking for."

Howard believes that one benefit of the small, family-run approach is the ability to move quickly on new products, both in accepting them and getting them out to the jobbers.

"Because we're a family business, I think vendors feel they can rely on us," Howard said. "We can process new products in real time, getting it ordered, in stock, on www.eagletools.net and off to the jobber. And we are in touch with what our customer base is looking for. After hearing about the product, I will give [vendors] a quantity to ship to us immediately so we can be first to market — which helps us in relaying new products to our customers, giving them something to go out and promote."

STREAMLINED DECISIONS

All three Gerings agree that this underlies one of M. Eagles' strengths, that companies don't feel the need to be approved by a committee before getting into their warehouse because any of the three can OK a new line coming in.

"[Mike and Howard] can make a decision; they have the authority to make any decision that they feel is good for the company and good for the customer," Steve said.
"Factories come to us first because it's not a committee," Howard said. "They just call us up" and we can OK an order immediately and turn right around to get that to our jobbers, Howard said. This demonstrates another advantage of their family-run business model.

"Customers really trust us," Howard said. "I have customers that I don't even have to tell them that I'm shipping a product, I can just send a new product to them." Howard said they really get to know a jobber's business through the phone. "I can send out five or 10 of a new product to certain customers, depending on my judgment.

"I've never really seen a return on that product coming back; it's actually that guy asking two days later to order more of that same product."

GETTING THE WORD OUT

Besides sending new products out to certain jobbers, M. Eagles also gets the word out through quarterly catalogs, fliers and real-time tracking of inventory and accounts online at www.eagletools.net.

The 156-page, full-color catalogs are packed with new tools and information, and are supplemented by fliers.

"It's almost like every six or seven weeks there's a catalog coming out," Michael said. "Plus a smaller eight-page Eagle Scoop which has new products,
specials and hot buys that we picked out to be in there."

There's also a spot for new products on the website, as well as other specials to interest mobile distributors.

"We have something called our 'Top Picks,' which is a list of weekly specials," Howard said. "We also have a new product section that's tied to the new product [spot]" for the specials they're able to be first to the street with.

The website also helps jobbers reach their market with targeted fliers.

"We have something called a 'Custom Flier,' where the customer can go onto our site, pick a product of his choice, create a retail price and come up with full artwork and ad copy" to create their own flier, Michael said. Though the M. Eagles retail flier for the

distributor will include between 30 percent and 35 percent margin for the jobber, the customer "can go out and make his own single-sheet flier and put his own retail price on there, and sell it for the price he wants.

"So we're not limiting that distributor with our retail price."

They're also not limiting the jobber when it comes to returns, trying to process credits within a week.

"I tell [our customers] we're not going to have the best price on every product … but our pricing is fantastic across the board, and we are selling our customer service," Howard said.

"As much of an investment as we have in the customer, they have in us," Steve said. "It's a two-way street, really, and it's been good over the years and we're still here. And we plan on being here a long time."

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