Mapping A New Course

Keep your mind open to new and better ways to do business.


I've just returned from Matco's expo in sunny Honolulu, and am now fortified to deal with the rest of winter. Fortunately, by the time you read this, spring will be in full blossom. The trip was a welcome break from the cold and grime of winter. I also had the opportunity to meet Brendan Dooley, the new editor of Professional Distributor and Professional Tool & Equipment News. It sounds as if both publications are in store for some positive changes and enhancements.

I want to thank everyone who approached me and told me they enjoy my columns. Matco staff, vendors, distributors and their families told me how much it meant to them to hear about the business from this side of the windshield. As we all know in this business, or any profession for that matter, it is very gratifying to know you are making a positive impact.

I've attended many expos over the years, and it's great to see people you make contact with all too infrequently. Talking and exchanging ideas has always been a high point for me. Here is a riddle for you: What do a road map and a recipe have in common with the tool business? Let's look at both and see where they merge and divide.

A recipe requires the chef to stick to prescribed ingredients that are combined and cooked in a specific order. Generally speaking, there is little room for deviation and, depending on what you are making, a disaster awaits those who stray. My wife, Jamie, a pastry chef and master cook, reminds me to stay with the "plan" during my infrequent forays into the kitchen.

The road map, on the other hand, leaves you with many choices; you want to go from A to B and usually there are several ways to do it. Some want the scenic drive, while others are only content if they cover the shortest distance in the least amount of time. Oftentimes the clock dictates your route. But, unlike cooking, there are many experiences you can absorb along the way that can be more important than even your point B. People and scenery may enhance and enrich you in ways you've never considered.

OK, what does all this have to do with the tool business and the expo? I liken myself to a sponge, waiting for the chance to soak up new ideas and concepts. I slapped my forehead numerous times (Why didn't I ever think of that!) talking to different folks at the show. The tips ranged from the mini time savers to the bigger, conceptual ideas.

I at least listen to someone completely before accepting or discarding advice. I consider myself open-minded. However, I watched people during these conversations that couldn't be characterized as such. They would describe their way of looking at a situation and I would volunteer perhaps an easier, safer, faster and proven way to handle it. Watching them closely, body language in particular, indicated my breath should have been saved sometimes. These people were not open to proven and helpful ideas; they were just chomping at the bit to tell their story and I was but an interruption. Not to say any of us is the answerman, but if someone has a proven enhancement for your business, give it an honest listen. We are all guilty sometimes of just wanting to vent, but when you're sucking in air for your next moan-and-groan don't close your ears or your mind! By the way, remember this for listening to your customer.

I find it fascinating that so many people can enjoy successful careers in the tool business and do many of the basic tasks in such a variety of ways: From tracking invoices and putting stock away to managing slow-pay customers, credit card fees and terminals, trade-in formulas, ordering and the rest. It seems as if we all developed our own unique style of commerce. I listen to each person's customization and marvel how different we are in doing the same thing.

It does distress me to witness the inefficient or bad habits of some of our confederates. It pains me the most when there is a better method, but someone isn't open to change. The losers in this are the families of the tool seller from the time squandered doing the same old-same old. Late nights and missed family meals should be enough to give a new idea a thorough review.

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