Counterbalanced With Customer Service

Century Trading Company and mobile dealer Rick Hege balance their businesses with respect for the customer, and each other.

“It’s all about taking care of your customers. Respect them. Be fair to them. Don’t lie to them. I encourage my customers to do whatever works the best for them, and I try to look out for their interests, too. I consider some of my customers friends. We don’t necessarily socialize, but they know they can call me any time. I don’t care when, as long as I can make them happier.”

And that’s where Germann steps in to supplement Hege’s customer service. He says, “I can still get products to them right away if it’s an emergency because if it’s not on the truck, it’s at the nearby store.” If it's something CTC doesn't carry? “Then I use Medco Tool because of their good service and selection.

“Every item has a warranty or can be repaired, too. CTC also runs specials. SK is 50 percent off for a week twice a year: once in spring, and again in fall, conveniently around planting seasons. Marcia also sends out fliers with special prices on certain product lines, and I use the same specials on my truck. I pass those savings onto the customer.”

Hege also credits part of CTC's success to his and Germann’s relationships with manufacturers: “Being a mobile dealer that’s direct with a lot of lines has its benefits in terms of the product availability, ability to offer specials and the power to take care of warranties.” With the volume Germann is able to buy, Hege's pricing is lower than most, and it trickles down to his customers.

Marcia and her husband, Doug Germann, bought CTC five years ago to secure it as family-owned. Dave Kohart, Marcia’s father, founded the store in 1968 in Van Wert, OH, as an Army and Industrial Surplus Store. Since then, the store has evolved from a surplus store into the structural steel and scrap iron business to, currently, a retail entity that carries more than 13,000 SKUs. The company still maintains a steel yard, and has since added a metals recycling center. As Germann herself says, “We're whatever the market needs, when they need it.”

They’ve Got His Number; But He’s Got Theirs, Too

Hege tries to cut down on the possibility of being a victim of skip accounts. He says, “I serve more-established businesses. And I don’t just sell to techs. I also serve companies like McAllister Caterpillar and Waste Management.” He uses the Tool Manager computer program from All Software to keep track of customers’ needs and wish lists, but he also uses it to store their information, such as phone numbers, addresses, drivers license numbers, etc. That way, if someone loses or quits his job, Hege can call or send notes as reminders to pay him.

“I extend a certain credit limit to customers—some more than others—depending on payments, how long they’re at a shop, how well I know them, etc. I had a customer who moved to Florida, and he still regularly sends me checks to catch up on his bills. As a last resort, however, I turn skip accounts into an agency.

“I take products into shops, but I don’t push them too hard. I’m not a high-pressure salesman. If you need it, it’s for sale. If you don’t need it, it’s not really a bargain then, is it? I’m a firm believer that if someone needs something, they already know it. And then it’s just a matter of having what they want.”

With approximately 200 customers on his route in metro Fort Wayne, along with the neighboring areas of Decatur, Berne and Grabill, IN, Hege says, “I hit a lot of small shops nobody else goes to. Some places I hit only have one or two customers.”

Then again, he also hits some shops with 18 – 25 customers, maintaining an average of eight techs per shop, stopping at an average of 9 – 12 shops a day, four days out of the regular work week.

Torqued About S-K & CTC

What does he do on the weekends? He sells tools and equipment off his truck at the Auto Racing Club of America (ARCA) RE/MAX Series. ARCA drivers race stock cars similar to NASCAR, but often with older or smaller bodies. The series made SK their first official hand tool, which gives SK dealers the ability to sell tools at ARCA races. Hege believes he may work between 10 – 12 races this year, including the Winchester Motor Speedway and the Milwaukee Mile.

CTC also participates in the ARCA RE/MAX Series since Hege suggested the possibility. Germann deciding to sponsor the racing team of 20-year-old Justin Allgaier. Their sponsorship for the #16 car began June 16 at the Michigan International Speedway and lasted four more races.

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