Making A Statement

Toolboxes are not just a necessity. They're a statement. Just like a hot car, mounted fish or trophy buck, the size and condition of a technician's toolbox is a point of pride and bravado, and not just for the person to which it belongs.

Representing what is typically the most expensive individual purchase that a technician will make, toolboxes are the crown jewel of the workplace. It's how other techs know who has been around the longest, who is doing the best and who is really dedicated to their trade.

Similarly, when walking into a shop you can usually tell which brand, and therefore which seller, is capturing the most business at a location by looking at the labels on the toolboxes.

It's how a successful distributor can effectively mark their turf. And don't think for a minute that it's not intimidating for another distributor to walk into a shop and see the competition's large and expensive toolboxes lined up on the walls.

So the intangible benefits of toolbox sales might be just as important as the actual sale. As stated by Mac Tools mobile distributor Matt Peternel in the April issue of Professional Distributor (pg. 16), "Toolboxes are huge. So when a customer of mine buys a toolbox from someone else, I really go after it. First, I don't want to place my tools in their box, but now they've got money tied up with someone else.

"I'll ask what they paid, and if I can get a better price point, then I'll get them out of that box and on-board with me. I've had customers void contracts more than once."

Matco Tools' Arkansas District Manager Robert Tolbert reaffirms the importance of tool storage from more than just a bottom line sales perspective. "You're selling the payment as much as anything," he states.

"If you're only collecting on the toolbox sale, then you're really missing out. If they're paying you for the toolbox, they should also be paying you for the tools inside it. It's about more than just that one payment. The box is a way of extending your involvement with that customer."

So in order to capture all the benefits associated with toolbox sales, you first need to sell that initial box. Here are some tips:

  • Remember that ego is part of the toolbox sale, so take advantage of it when positioning a new box against either their current unit, or in comparison to what their peers are using. Size and appearance can be your biggest sales tools with this approach.
  • Tolbert notes that the price and nature of this purchase make having a unit on display crucial to capturing the sale. "They'll want to see and touch it. I don't think you can effectively sell toolboxes from a brochure. Plus, this is a great way to get them on the truck," he states.
  • Although a long tradition in toolboxes, red is actually fading from interest. Hot new colors help a box stand out from the rest, especially for your younger customers.
  • Limited Editions. A lot of your customers probably do side work on the weekend, or at a minimum have a solid tool collection at home. Limited editions have become very popular as technicians look to either replace their old box in the shop, or use truck credit to provide a second box for home.
  • Merchandising a pair of gloves, a die-cast car or a less expensive tool they picked up and set down are all great add-ons to help close the deal or show appreciation for the investment. The key here is to say thank you without losing too much from your profit margin.
  • Trade-ins. This can be touchy if you don't understand re-sale value, but the biggest benefit is getting a competitor's box out of the shop, and your new one in there. Remember the bravado thing, because if one buys a shiny new box, the other techs will want to keep up, and it's usually just a matter of time before the whole place could serve as a showcase for your tool storage products. Tolbert feels that the best way to understand fair trade-in value is to simply ask the customer, and then work with any trade-in allowance built into the price of the box.
  • One key to "owning" a shop's tool storage business is not only knowing your product, but the competition's as well. Stay up to speed on what the competition is offering, and know how to sell against it. Remember, this isn't a creeper with the other guy's name on it, this is like having the competitor's logo tattooed on the person's forehead. They're branded, almost literally and from a purchasing perspective.
  • Toolboxes should be sold at a price that provides at least a 35 percent profit margin.
  • Add-on sales. Socket racks, wrench trays, screwdriver holders, magnetic trays, drawer liners and drawer dividers should be used as both give-aways to help seal the deal or as targets of opportunity in completing a sale that provides more tool storage and protection for your customers. According to International Toolbox's John Iliff, organization is one the seven key principles that drive most toolbox purchases. The others include security, mobility, durability, affordability, the afore mentioned status factor and the initial need for a place to put tools.
  • Space. According to Allen Epstein of Auto Tool Pro, which provides the Sequoia line of boxes and tool carts, recent tool storage trends are focused on providing more cubic inches of space in a smaller overall footprint. In other words, techs and shop owners are looking for products that provide as much storage as possible without sacrificing precious work space. This has led to a trend that Iliff, Epstein and many others have capitalized on, and so should you. Storage carts offer security and convenience for technicians who need to move around the shop in servicing vehicles across several bays. These products also help your customers save time and operate more productively.
  • Epstein feels that markets outside of automotive are often untapped opportunities for smaller toolboxes. One example he cites is light industrial plants.
  • Make sure you're taking care of your customer from all perspectives. The box and any other tool storage product should be the right match for them in terms of what they do, the tools they use and the money they're making. Drawer depth and cabinet configuration are great, but make sure the weekly payment allows them to have more than just a shiny new box. They should be able to put lots of your tools in there as well.
  • Finally, take care of yourself. Not just from a price/margin perspective, but also make sure the customer is reputable and capable of following through on the purchase. While they're making a significant investment, you're also putting a great deal of trust in them to follow through on a commitment to pay for the box in full.