Though Mac Tools Master Distributor Joe Poulin is based in Portland, Maine, his influence on the company's brand spans the states through his work as a mentor for new distributors and as an instructor in company training pieces.
Joe is a high energy guy, as almost anybody needs to be to excel in this work, and has been giving his all to his business and Mac for nearly 10 years. He started as an employee with the company and sold that way for nearly three years before buying his business.
As far as Joe is concerned, being on the road and helping shop techs do their job is close to the best job he could have.
"I like the interaction with the customers; I like not being tied to an office cubicle," Poulin said. "This gets me out, involved in what's going on in the world."
For Joe, it's just not really work.
"The interaction with the customers is great; there's always something happening. …. I'm a firm believer that if you enjoy what you do, you truly don't work.
"We all don't want to get out of bed in the morning, but once you have that cup of coffee and you get going, you just put a smile on and have fun."
Once Joe does get his Dunkin' Donuts iced coffee though, his phone is ringing off the hook and he loves it. From helping customers to advising and mentoring other distributors with their questions, Joe seems to spend as much time with his phone as with his live customers. And he always has an answer for people (as long as they aren't being negative).
"Negativity spreads like wildfire," Joe said, and he looks for people who want to make things better rather than dwell on what's wrong — whether they're Mac distributors or customers.
Joe is adamant that distributors need to create a solid relationship, from day one, with any new customer. It's important that the distributor maintain an upper hand in the selling and collecting, so that the tech never feels like he can pull a quick one.
"If you become consistent, you train them," Joe said. "If you become inconsistent, they're going to train you — and then they run the truck. You can't have that."
Joe said the consistency should start with each customer the first time they buy something. Before that first sale with any tech, having The Conversation is imperative.
"Selling is truly easy; it's going back and collecting your money and doing it tactfully so that you don't upset somebody, but that all begins when you sell," Joe said. "You have a conversation about how the money is going to be collected.
" 'This is what I expect.' 'Can you do this?' 'Will you do this?' OK."
Joe said the distributor's follow-up on The Conversation is to show up when expected, and ask the tech to do the same. Besides The Conversation, Joe said it is vital to know your customers. Know what they want, what they like, what they need.
And especially what they can afford.
"When you're putting money out there on the streets, you just can't be loading people up and thinking you're the man," Joe said. There's a certain amount of responsibility in knowing what your customer can afford, Joe said, and if you drown him in a toolbox and tools he can't afford, pretty soon he's ducking you and getting further behind.
"If it's in their toolbox and it's moving around this state," Joe said, "I've gotta chase it. That's the money I'm using as capital."
Big spenders are fine, provided you know they're good for it every week.
"It's nice to have those big players, guys who hand you $100, $200 a week … but you just have to be cautious," Joe said. "You can't do it to just anybody, you've got to do it to people you've had a relationship with and you know that he isn't going to stick you."
Joe said he's seen people lose focus on the customer relationships to target the money.
"They're worried about keeping their sales numbers up, but if you put your sales numbers through the roof and collections keep going down, you're going down.
"It's crucial that you be mindful of what you're putting down and what you're bringing in."
Don't give it away
Another of Joe's keys to the business is to use your head when evaluating new things, whether it be a new stop, new tech or new promo.
"I have to go where there's money," Joe explained. "I can't go to where they're good people but they can only afford $10 a week. … This is an expensive truck, and I go to the best customers.
"If I'm going to ride around in this truck and carry this inventory, I need people who can pay for it."
That means some stops, like those with higher turnover or less experienced techs, may get missed. When he started and was working with less inventory on a smaller truck, "I was wanting to deal with everybody. And there's nothing wrong with that, but you've got to deal with the people who can afford to pay you," Joe said.
Joe tells new distributors during mentoring, "I want you to figure out what your truck is worth, and I want you to figure out what your inventory is worth. And when a guy hands you $10, I want you to divide that into how many $10 bills it's going to be [to pay for your truck and inventory]. That's how you start picking out your customers."
Though sometimes customers may pick you, as when there is turnover at a shop. "I like to see someone leave a shop that doesn't do a lot of business with me, because I get excited for the next guy," Joe said. But there is a risk. Sometimes it may be the people leaving are among your top customers — and that little bit of change could upset a business that doesn't maintain enough balance from tech to tech and shop to shop.
Once he's picked his customers, Joe likes to keep the selling straight-forward with few gimmicks and promos.
"Over the years I've tried a couple different things as far as truck promos and I've talked with people who do different things, and this is how I look at it: We're in the retail business, so is Home Depot and the grocery store, Walgreens, and they all do promos. …
"I come by on a weekly basis, I take care of any needs, and they have my cellphone number and can contact me day or night … it's never shut off, and that has a dollar value to it. I'm taking care of them; I'm bringing them a product that's going to make their job easier.
"I don't want to be known as the guy who's always giving something away," Joe said. "Free is not a word I like any of my customers to use." The industry itself has been driven too far into the free zone, he said.
"I think we need to get away from the customers always thinking they're owed something because they bought something," Joe said. "Does their customer stand at the service desk and say, 'I paid $2,000, I want free mudflaps.' They would look at him like he had four heads."
From the ground up
Joe often adds ridealongs to his busy schedule, as he trains new distributors for Mac. It's his way of ensuring new distributors are getting as much help to succeed as possible.
Joe mentioned he would have a potential new distributor with him the following week, as well as one from the previous week who was in Columbus, Ohio, at the Mac HQ for week-long training/orientation.
His first lesson for a ridealong is The Conversation.
"He has no money on the street, but when he sells that first tool he has to have that Conversation of what he expects. And if he sticks to that, he's gonna take off and skyrocket.
"But if he starts selling and selling and selling and he stops having a conversation," Joe said, "then people are not going to know what he expects anymore." And then come the problems for a distributor, rookie or veteran.
"This whole Mentor program started up here, we now have a Masters program, where they took distributors [with] a good business and they said, 'How about you guys talk to [new distributors] over a 32-week period?'" Joe said they'd talk at least once a week, often more, and the results have been quite strong on both sides of the mentoring relationship.
"Not only did that take off helping those [rookie] distributors, but every one of the 12 [mentors] in the first group saw their business grow 10 percent over the prior year just by talking with people. They say teaching is the best way to learn."
And all that's without having met each other.
"Three of the guys I had done, I'd never met them until the next tool fair. … So that's pretty cool to impact somebody's life and business like that," Joe said.
Joe also was instrumental in creating a new route in his Portland area by carving away some of his territory he wasn't able to service enough, and getting other Mac distributors there to do the same. They now have a new territory that helps keep the brand focused and active throughout the region, and the original distributors are freed up of some time they can use to focus on their traditionally strongest customers.
"It's exciting; I love bringing people in like that," Joe said of Rodney Boynton, who has now been a distributor for Mac for just over a year. He even partnered with Rodney to organize a combined Macstravaganza selling event for their customers.
Using Mac programs
Though Joe helps Mac by mentoring and training other distributors, he finds that the company has programs in place that make his job easier, too, including the Mac Card, the Macstravaganza program and the annual tool expo.
For their Macstravaganza show, Joe and Rodney set up at a local karting track, which provided some extra interest on previous events held in hotel conference centers.
"Rodney and I had our show last night, and we've already had conversations on what we can do different next year and maybe totally new and different taking it to the dragstrip and tying it in with a whole day up there," Joe said. "You always have to try different things to see what works. … We're looking for feedback from the customers."
The biggest bonus to the event for Joe is that customers "see products they normally wouldn't see on our tool trucks," from the large toolbox setups to capital equipment and diagnostic tools.
In addition, they brought in reps from Motorvac, OTC and Robinair to talk about their products and offer items for door prizes and more.
"It's a great way for customers to come in, have something to eat after a long workday, and, under low pressure, look at new products," Joe said. "And it's more one-on-one."
Mac helps with the Macstravaganza by providing product sheets with show prices that include 10-percent off, and even additional incentives for using a Mac Card or being a first-time Mac Card user.
"So some people, theoretically would get 35-percent off," Joe said. "So how do you beat that?"
And Joe is a big supporter of Mac Card for the collections weight lifted from his shoulders for big purchases.
"It really frees us up because with our old system, we were responsible for collecting the money. … So, obviously it kept you aggressive because you had to go collect the money, even if that meant going to repossess stuff.
"But now we can focus on selling, and that's where we should be," Joe said.
Another bonus of the Mac Card is with shop owners.
"If times are tough for me to go out and sell something that's $800 or $1,000 more, this really helps when I can offer them six months no interest, no payments," Joe said, and combined with the Macstravaganza, "I can offer them 10-percent off for the buying and another 10 percent from the show.
"It gives us more leverage to approach a shop owner at the end of the year … to make some purchases for the write-offs," Joe said. "Then we can also offer the six months of no payments and the extra 10-percent off."
Then at the beginning of the year, Joe looks forward to the annual Mac Tools tool expo.
"It's just a great way for distributors to go there and recharge after a year of wear and tear … they're trying to bring people back to the basics. They get a chance to talk with the vendors, tell them the good and bad that they've seen with some of the products … They get to find out what's new and Mac has a chance to have everybody under one roof and say this is what we'd like to do."
And besides the classes, meals and show floor, the conversations are again important.
"It might be that 10 minute conversation you have with a distributor who's 1,000 miles away from you. He tells you how he does something different in his business, and you do it, it saves you time, it helps you work smarter, not harder … it pays for the trip. Sometimes it's the simplest things.
"Everybody does things a little different," Joe said. "And I like having those conversations. That's how I improve my business."
When it comes to give and get, Joe practices it both with Mac and at home.
"I firmly believe … that I wouldn't be successful without my wife allowing me to be who I can be to the fullest, because she runs the household while I'm doing this job," Joe said. "After I finally came to that realization … now I always clean off the supper table, I pick up around the house a little bit before I go back out to the tool truck. If there's a ball game, my truck is sitting outside and it's shut off while I sit at that ball game and watch my kids.
"If you get tunnel vision, it's hard to see outside those lines. And it hits everybody at a different stage. That's my challenge, and I'm getting better at it. But I think that's my biggest challenge.
"You know, if you're happy with what you do then you never really work, but if you're not happy with everything, then it's not going to work."
Joe Poulin has a lot going on, on the job as a distributor/trainer/mentor, as well as off the job at home with family, volunteering with search-and-rescue teams for stranded hikers and too much more to list. One thing he does that blends both his job and homelife is to supply lobster to the Mac-sponsored Doug Kalitta NHRA team for several races each year.
“We had our first year with Mac Tools on the side of Doug Kalitta’s dragster, it was a one-team show at that point it was just Doug and Connie Kalitta. It was at the tool fair, the car was there set up, and we were standing outside waiting to be seated for dinner and we were talking about the race prior to that and he saw my nametag and said, ‘You’re from Maine … you have lobsters out there.'
“So we talked for a little bit and it came out that the next time he won, I would next day airmail lobster. … Well, they started to win a couple so I started next-day airing lobsters, you know you open your mouth you gotta back it up. So I wasn’t sure who was getting a lobster so I talked with a good friend of mine, and said we’re going to go to the Englishtown race and we’re going to bring lobsters down … it just started to grow from there.
“I’ve been doing that for six years now, going to two races. It’s just a fun time. Some things you just can’t put a price tag on. … It’s something to look forward to … they’re extremely thankful, and Connie Kalitta said to me, ‘I can’t thank you enough for what you do for the team, bringing everybody together.’ ”