Wrench sales are a-turnin'

Screwdrivers, wrenches and ratchets are no small sale. In fact, they make up a technician's fundamental arsenal — much like an artist's brushes or a chef's knives.
And while the cost of hand tools can be significantly smaller than, say, leak detection equipment, power tools and toolboxes, they are usually purchased more often and in greater bulk.

Here's what shop owners and technicians had to say about how they purchase their hand tools, and what you as a distributor can do to win their business.

Lending a wrench

Brian Symons, a technician at Bonfe's Auto Service & Body Repair in St. Paul, Minn., likes to try before he buys. Sometimes he gets his inspiration from a neighboring bay.

"I buy a lot of sockets and wrenches, and usually purchase once a month," said Symons. "It kind of depends. If I come across something that I've needed to borrow from a coworker a couple times, more than twice, then I write myself a note to buy it. If I don't think I'd ever use it again I wouldn't even think about buying it."

Technician Jimmy Bielarz of Chicago's Nortown Automotive also adheres to the borrow/buy philosophy.

"If I get a car in where I need to borrow a tool from somebody, and I borrow it more than two times, I buy it. That means that I'm definitely using it," said Bielarz.
And distributors shouldn't back away from the seasoned vet who seems to have everything.

"I've been in this profession for about 35 years or more, and I almost have everything out there, especially when it comes to hand tools," said Dan Walker, owner of Dan's Auto Center in Oakhurst, Calif. "But if there's a specialty tool that can really do a super job, and make my job easier and faster and more profitable, I'd be really interested."

Any tool that makes their job a little less harried qualifies as a good purchase.

Like Walker, Bielarz is particularly in the market for any kind of specialty tools, ratcheting wrenches, hard-to-reach area tools and anything special that will accommodate today's range of vehicles.

"We use a lot of specialty tools [in our shop], mostly for Asian, European and domestic cars," said Bielarz "Anything to make the job easier, more accurate. If you don't have special tools, you can't get the job done."

Judging a tool by its cover

As with many tools in a technician's toolbox, it's true some techs will consistently buy the same brand of hand tools. But they say that's not the most important thing.

Walker said that when it comes to buying his hand tools, for the most part he's brand-loyal. But he added, "What also really means a lot to me is the way a piece of equipment looks. It may seem unusual, but I've seen some equipment that looks kind of hokey … and it may be the world's best equipment. I've also seen tools that look good but don't work well. But if it looks good it will grab my attention.

"Part of the reason for this is that some of our equipment sits right out here in our shop, and can usually be seen from the waiting area." said Walker. "And if it looks like a cheap piece of equipment, customers notice that. I like a good-looking piece of equipment, as well as the quality and offerings it has."

Get their feet on the truck

What's the best way to initiate hand tool sales?

Successful mobile distributors carry lots of tools on their truck and are always ready to field questions about what they carry. The key is: don't wait for them to come to you. Show them what you can offer by carrying in tools and flyers — they'll appreciate the extra effort.
"When [distributors] come in, they give us flyers and we look at the flyers, and they let us know well, 'This one's on special,' etc.," said Bielarz. "Flyers, bulletins, emails … things like that."

Also valuable is a distributor's knowledge about "special sockets, or something very particular to certain vehicle models," said Bielarz. "It helps if he generally knows which one to get, what's going to help you."
After techs know what's available, it's time to get them to the show floor.

"I love it when they come in and say, 'Hey, we've got a new item available,' " said Walker. He said that when distributors mention they have some other new products, it's enough to get his attention and get him on the truck.

"There's this one tool guy who's recently come back into the profession," said Walker. "He's what I'd call 'old school' in that the way he has his truck set up is immaculate; he has a beautiful rolling piece of art driving down the road and everything's clean, dusted and well-lit in the truck … and it just makes you want to buy."

Quality and warranty

When good quality meets with an admirable warranty, it gives the buyer peace-of-mind.

When looking to spend their money on hand tools, "quality is the first thing, and second is its serviceability," said Walker.

"Usually a guy's word-of-mouth will go further than the name stamped on the side," said Symons. "I'm looking for something that's reliable. Usually the bigger-named companies warranty all their hand tools that are not air tools; they usually warranty them for life. If they break, they'll give you another one."

All of our techs found that bad purchases were usually a result of poor quality — the old adage, "You get what you pay for."

"You don't want to spend money on a piece-of-crap tool that's going to break on you," said Bielarz. "Anything that's got a good name brand, and that's got a good guarantee … that's what we're looking to buy."

Back-up is much more than a warranty. Symons said that his buying decisions were based "sometimes 25 percent on the guy selling you the tools. … If I had a problem with a tool and he took care of it for me, and helped me out in the past, then I'd continue to buy tools from him.

"But if it's somebody that sells tools and doesn't seem like a real nice guy," said Symons, "I'm not going to buy tools from him. Personality counts."

In the know

As a guy who's been in the industry for a while, Walker said these days he finds he doesn't need as many hand tools. This makes him feel bad sometimes when the truck pulls up, but he said he just directs the distributors towards the younger guys in his shop. He appreciates their effort, and especially enjoys when they can tip him off to what's hot in the industry.

A little insider information "does help because it sparks my interest, and it shows that they're up on what's the latest and greatest," said Walker. "Sometimes I'll go to trade shows and I'll see the latest and greatest out there, and I'll go back next week to my tool vendor and say, 'Hey have you heard about so-and-so?' and they'll say,

'No, I haven't heard about that.' …

"I really like the ones who have kept up on what's out there and can actually tell me what's new.

"I have another tool vendor that I really like," said Walker. "He comes in with all different brands of tools … goes way out of his way to get us something. We'll call him up and say, 'Hey, we're interested in this particular tool,' and within a day or so, sometimes within an hour, he'll come back with an estimate … this guy really goes to bat for us."

It pays for distributors to remember, even in seemingly small sales like hand tools, that a grateful customer can become a loyal customer.

"We have other tool vendors that, you know, you give them a really small order … something really small, and it's like their attitude is, 'Shoot, that's not worth my time, I want you to check into that $4,000 piece of equipment.'

"But what happens is the guy who went out of his way for that $12 hand tool is that one that we look to when we want to get that $4,000 equipment."

Now that's a great pay-off.