Worth Every Penny

I'm not a salesman. I'm a toolman," explains Nikol "Nik" Satenstein. "My job is not to sell them something, but to listen to their problems and offer advice on tools and equipment that can help solve those problems."

To some this may seem like just another sales technique. But to Satenstein it underlies his approach to the business as a whole, and helps emphasize the investment he makes in time and inventory in order to properly service his customers. It's an approach fueled by passion. A passion that wasn't always this focused.

"When I got out of high school, my passion was cars, not college. So I started pumping gas and working as a mechanic," states Satenstein. "Then I took off and just drove all around the country. I put on over 20,000 miles. I saw everything. You name the National Park, and I was there. When I got back I started working in a salvage yard and developed a relationship with the local toolman."

While Satenstein wasn't destined for the salvage yard, the job did impact his future. Acting on the suggestion of his tool dealer, Satenstein got out of the shop and onto the truck in late 1981. Almost 25 years later his business is still running as fast and smooth as the MOPAR muscle cars he collects.

His weekly, 125-mile route takes him in and around West Chester in southeastern Pennsylvania, where he services the typical automotive customers, as well as municipalities, heavy equipment shops and votecs. His average weekly payment per customer is about $40.

"I love the freedom this business offers. It's important to me that I have time to spend with my sons through activities like scouting and coaching. But I couldn't do it without my wife, Jamie. In addition to some of the little stuff she does for the business, I wouldn't have the freedom to do what it takes to be successful without her managing everything else. I just couldn't ask for a better partner. She and my two sons, Sheldon and Nigel, are really the guiding light behind everything I do," states Satenstein.

The Shirt Off His Back

"The more you can give back to the customer, the better, because this type of investment should make them want to work with you more than the other guy. So the benefits are obvious," states Satenstein when talking about the raffles and promotions he runs to boost sales and increase collections. "When I give something to a customer, I don't look at it like I'm doing them a favor, because it's me who ultimately benefits."

His philosophy behind these giveaways stems from a 3-week trip he took in 1985 to see his sister in Alaska. "Being gone that long meant I needed a way to keep up with collections. So I put a promotion together where higher-paying customers were guaranteed to win a nicer prize. It worked, and it's something I continue to do when I'm off the route. My guys just expect it now," he explains.

Some of the bigger items that Satenstein will give away include DVD players and TVs, but the most popular items might be his customized t-shirts. "We started with the t-shirts in 1991. 15 versions later and they're still popular Christmas presents, conversation pieces and thank-yous," states Satenstein. "It also helps fend-off the competition. Again, however, it comes down to investing in the business to the tune of 450 shirts."

For these promotions to work there obviously needs to be a strong bond between buyer and seller. Satenstein's engaging personality certainly plays a role, but beyond that he's able to combine a proactive approach that pushes features and benefits with a relaxed attitude which reassures his customers that he's there to help, not just sell tools and collect money.

"You can show up and take care of their needs without hassling good people about money," he states. "You can always work something out. I think I've benefited from a low number of skip accounts because I make it easy to pay me. I invested in a credit card machine, and if you miss a payment, here's a professional-looking stamped, self-addressed envelope. I'll take a $0.39 gamble for a $20 payment.

"I also try to do what's in the customer's best interest. I won't overload a young guy or get someone into debt that I know can't afford everything they're putting on the account.

"Part of that is knowing how to read people, and recognizing those who want to take advantage of the situation, but the other part is serving as an advisor to those who don't know any better. In these instances, it might mean investing a little more time at the stop."

Other elements of Satenstein's approach to customer service include no-hassle warranty coverage and a cooler that's always full of cold soda and bottled water.

"The goal is to make things easier for the customer, so that they know they're being serviced. This helps keep them loyal and protect my price points, while reinforcing the benefits of buying from a mobile dealer."

Backing It Up

Supporting Satenstein in all of his customer service initiatives are Matco's customer service personnel, which he describes as especially well-organized in getting repairs and warranties processed quickly. "Matco works with me and keeps my best interests in mind.

"They're not afraid to fix mistakes and they've always been really easy to do business with. I also appreciate the fact that top management is accessible and, regardless of when I call, someone immediately answers the phone. Back orders are a non-issue. They just take care of all the little things so that I don't have to," states Satenstein.

In addition to constantly investing and re-investing in his business, Satenstein says some of his keys to success are the commonly cited reliability, cash flow management and simply trying to do the right thing. After 25 years, however, Satenstein says he's still learning.

"The only mistake is not to learn from them," he states. "This business takes a lot of courage when it comes to re-visiting shops that didn't work out so well, or trying to get business from a new shop. But every time one of these situations didn't work out, I learned from it. It's a strange dynamic, but sometimes this business is the most lonely when you're surrounded by people. That's why it's important to keep smiling and have fun."

While many mobile dealers have a tendency to skip lunch or dinner due to the frantic pace of their route, Satenstein says he eats three homemade meals every day. It's an important part of his routine that he takes time to enjoy. Similarly, he says it's up to each mobile dealer to set priorities and organize their time according to these priorities. Whether it's hitting a certain number of shops or reaching a given dollar amount, organization, preparation and investing accordingly are his keys to success.

Nik Satenstein owns six of the nicest MOPAR muscle cars you'll ever see, including the 1969 Daytona Charger and 1970 440 Six Pack Challenger R/T on the cover of this month's issue. While the reasons behind owning these cars are simple for Satenstein, they're also symbolic. They represent another way of re-investing in something he loves.