Aaron Bergman has been selling tools and equipment for Matco Tools for seven years in the Bloomington-Normal area of Illinois, following his brother, Kevin, into the business. Kevin has been a Matco distributor in Champaign-Urbana for 18 years.
Something about the Bergman brothers works in tool sales, as they are a key part of one of Matco's top districts, and have been in the top 10 Matco dealers numerous times. (In fact, Aaron hasn't been out of the top 10 since he started in 2001, finishing fifth, sixth, sixth, third, ninth and eighth.)
Kevin said that he and Aaron had discussed Aaron becoming a tool distributor for two or three years before he made the move from hog farming.
Aaron said he did a ride-along with Kevin for one full week "before I decided to get into it — to see exactly what was going on," Aaron said. "The first year, Kevin helped me get financially in this thing."
Kevin told Aaron, "We'll do whatever it takes to get you in. If you want to work under me as a Distributor Plus, that's fine; if you want to try to go it on your own, that's fine, I'll help you wherever I can.
"And he decided to go it on his own, which worked out.
"He found a good used truck," Kevin said, "and I financed the inventory to fill the truck … and he's done very well."
But the job was far from easy, even with the help from Kevin.
"Even after riding around with him for a whole week and I decided to get into this; it's a whole different game once you get into it. … it's a complex business."
"We've got two different personalities," said Kevin, "but both our businesses work. We both sell our tools.
"There's no one good way to run it. Everybody's got to get into their own comfort zone and he's an awful hard worker, he really busts his butt," Kevin said of Aaron's approach.
As for Kevin's entry into tool sales, he joined Matco after work as a mechanic and service manager.
"I didn't want to be a flat-rate mechanic at 60 years old," Kevin said. He researched other tool companies, but felt Matco was the best fit for him.
"I was determined to be self-employed by the time I was 30, and we actually started business a couple months after my 31st birthday.
"It's not the easiest thing to get into right off," Kevin said. "It takes a few years to get things rolling. Fortunately for me, it all fell together well, and took off pretty good."
Learning to sell
Kevin has an easy manner with the techs in the shop and on his truck, almost laid back. But his approach does work, and has evolved over the past 18 years.
"I've never considered myself a salesman," he said. "If you're looking for a salesman who's going to go out and say anything he has to to make a sale, that's not the way I work. If I can't run the business honestly, then I'm going to have to find a new line of work.
"I treat everybody the same; I price everything the same," Kevin said. "I set up a scene where I don't lie to the guys. I'm honest. … It's a whole lot easier on me to be straight-up with them and do it right. And it pays off."
Kevin has built his territory, which now includes a Distributor Plus franchise, through hard work. He maintains that early success directly related to carrying tools into the shops to interest the techs.
"It was stuck in my hand, I'd be carrying that tote tray when I first got in business. There's no question that's what makes a great business, and once you get established and you're the only dealer in town … the sales just kind of come.
"The first seven or eight years or more that I was in business, I carried that tote in every day with five items to every mechanic, and that's what built my business and that's what made it work," Kevin said. "Absolutely it should be done."
Like Kevin, Aaron also said it's less about technique and more about plain hard work. And support from other distributors, and the customers themselves.
"I didn't really learn to sell," Aaron said. He considers himself more'service' man than salesman — "giving customers the options and benefits of the tools they ask for. I have been educated in the tool industry by my customers and my brother. The first year I was on the phone constantly with my brother.
"I just put my head down and do the best I can. My goal is to see everybody every week at the same time. Everything will fall in line," he said. "I just go do the best I can and work to take care of everybody.
Aaron admits, though, that his approach wouldn't work for everybody, and he does tweak it himself from time to time.
"Everybody's different; every distributor's different. … I want to learn from other distributors; that's how our district is. It's been the No. 1 district the last couple of years, and we plan to be No. 1 again this year. We feed off each other."
Kevin adds that believing in yourself and your product is also key to sales success.
"In my opinion, the reason that my business has done well, is that there's no doubt in my mind that I can offer more to the customer than what the other guy can. Whether right or wrong is immaterial. … In my mind, I am confident that I can do better than he can. I know that I can give him a better product, I know that I can give him a better price, and I know that I can give him better service.
"Even if I am wrong, it doesn't matter, so long as I believe that, that makes my sales go better, and I think the customers pick up on that, too. That's the reason it's gone well for me."
Adding a truck
Kevin's route has been so successful that he's been able to add a Distributor Plus in his territory. He saw that as he became busier, there were still shops he wasn't getting to, and felt Champaign-Urbana would be better served if he decided which shops went on which Matco routes. So he added a franchise.
"It's actually two separate franchises that I own; it's two completely separate routes. His route could have a distributor in his own truck, just the same as I do, or he could be a Plus like he is," Kevin said.
"He works hard for his money, but I own the truck, I own the inventory, and he works for me."
Finding the right person was important.
"He was a mechanic on my route, and I talked about getting another truck for a long time, because I had more than I could possibly do.
"We got Chris up and running and he's been on fire ever since. … He just loves it.
"If I could find another one of him I'd put another truck on, but chances of that are 20 in a million, finding a guy that strong," Kevin said. "Bottom line is, he works his butt off for me, and that's of course what I need.
"My goal this year is to have Chris in the top 30, which he's well on his way for that, and I'd like to be in the top 200, which I am right now, but I won't be in the top 30."
Big ticket sales
Beyond adding a truck, one place the average distributor can increase revenue is in "larger items," as Aaron calls them — toolboxes and the like that may take more time in the actual sale and delivery than tools, but deliver more margin.
"I sell a lot of tools all the time, this is just like a bonus for me," Aaron said, regarding a large sale of tools and an expandable cart to an up-and-coming tech. "A toolbox sale is like a bonus.
"He's a new guy starting as a mechanic …and now is moving up … I'm just helping him out and doing the best I can, treating him right," Aaron said about the $4,000-plus sale. He's watched the tech move from a car wash employee to a quick lube place to a car dealership's service area.
Aaron estimates toolbox sales make up 25 percent of his business. He also said the sales take time out of a busy day, and some explanations may be needed elsewhere on the route.
"It's a lot of work putting [toolboxes] in and out of the truck. … If I miss somebody from selling a larger item, I [explain that] a customer had a larger purchase, it took a little longer, and I would do the same for you," Aaron said.
Kevin said it can be upsetting to see a big ticket sale go to another truck.
"I get upset … if I see a toolbox show up from a competitor. If I've done my job, I've taken care of that customer and done everything I can to keep him happy, [I feel] I deserve, not necessarily the sale, but I deserve to be at least involved."
Part of the process is keeping up with your customers' needs and wants.
"If I haven't done my job right, then I don't deserve it," Kevin said.
Both Kevin and Aaron have similar philosophies on truck layout. Unlike many distributors who have almost all shelving with one toolbox at the back of the truck, Kevin and Aaron both feature at least two toolboxes near the doorway.
Aaron's truck sported two of Matco's new 6s toolboxes, as well as two carts along one wall. Kevin's smaller truck featured a 5s and one other Matco toolbox.
One way Aaron optimizes his space to be able to feature the toolboxes is through some slide-out shelves (Aaron's truck is a newly set-up 2006 Kenworth and features a bit more display space than Kevin's truck.) He said sliding vertical shelves turn two feet of wall area into 12 feet of display space.
"The 'slide-outs' are a new idea. … I've seen them on another truck in Chicago. But with the toolboxes, I helped my brother build his display … he had that idea to put them all on one side," Aaron said.
"It's so versatile, it's nice. In my other truck, I had a spot for a two-bay toolbox and a three-bay toolbox, that's it. I had to put the rest in the hallway. Not many distributors have the opportunity to have this kind of truck," Aaron said. I'm pretty fortunate to be able to do this."
Support from district, at expo
Both distributors also credit their success to Matco and the help available in their district, and particularly to District Manager Glen Vanderwall.
"Over the years, I've met a lot of district men who've come and gone. I've never seen one as dedicated to making us happy and profitable as Glen," Kevin said. "He's a good man, and I just hope we never lose him.
"He's as good as they come … and it shows; we turn a lot of dollars down here."
Kevin also gives back to the company through his 15 years as a Matco Distributor Advisory Council representative, a process of feedback from the distributors on the street back to management. Matco's 71 districts each have one MDAC rep, who meet four times a year.
"We give ... a perspective that Matco's management doesn't see," said Kevin. "During my 15 years on the council, we've seen a lot of changes for the better."
Aaron adds that aside from district support, the annual tool expo is a big help. And more than the tool deals or being on stage or training sessions, he looks forward to visiting with distributors from other districts and learning what they have to share.