What To Do When Shops Are Slow

The headline references a question that has been on the minds of almost every tool distributor at one time or another, especially over the past four or five months. It's never a good sign when you call on a dealership and the techs are standing around with grim looks on their faces. We try to shrug it off as just a bad day for that particular shop, but then the later stops look as if tumbleweed might be rolling through at any moment. And I think we can all complete this sentence; "My hours are way down, and not just this week. I need to catch you time."

Next time will come in seven days, and hopefully for all concerned it will be a more profitable visit. Everyone has a theory as to why this malaise had spread over the repair business. The one I like to subscribe to is a gas price "coma". When the price spiked in September it got everyone's attention. I must admit that I was surprised by the minimal effect it had on my collections, but my sales figures did suffer. The big question is, what to do to keep your business rolling along?

Mirror, Mirror

At a time like this, it's a good idea to examine your business and see if some tune ups are in order. Controlling expenses are a good place to start, which could entail an evaluation of your insurance costs. There are not many purveyors of mobile tool distributor coverage, but a check of the main two or three might save you a couple bucks.

Is this the time to finally get your route re-arranged for greater efficiency? It doesn't matter if you have 6 months or 16 years on the street, everyone could benefit from some tweaking in this department. However, it could be the single most difficult task facing the mobile tool distributor, because it takes guts to change, and a fair amount of time in order to evaluate the effects.

One method I've employed over the years is to get a large piece of paper and use five different colored markers to denote my five daily routes. The simple exercise of putting this on paper can prove totally enlightening. You just might discover that you're tracing and re-tracing certain roads throughout the week, and the five different colors give you a nice perspective upon which to base your changes.

This also might be the time to invest some money in your mobile store. Why now? Because while business is off a bit you're sacrificing less time away than if business was really cooking. This also prepares you for when things start clicking on the street again.

Speaking of your truck, when was the last time you moved things around? It might be cliché, but would you want to shop in a dirty store? Slower times represent a perfect opportunity for customers to come out to your store. They have some time to kill, and it's our chance to plant seeds for future tool purchases. So make sure the truck is ready for shoppers who are browsing as much as buying.

We are all interested in improving our cash flow, and a guaranteed way to augment your available funds is by attending to broken, defective and over-stock returns that are sitting around.

And can you do better on cell phone expenses?

This is not the time to cut back on the practices that have created a successful business, so make sure you continue to invest in your business and customer base. Promotions and give-aways can perk up sales and show fantastic results for the dollars expended. And can we put a price on a happy customer?

Speaking of our customers, have you been doing your best to take care of them? Remember, it's about them, even though sometimes we might know better then they do.

Lastly, what are you doing to take care of yourself? How about dusting off those motivational tapes, or calling one of your friends in the tool business. Both tactics might uncover a hot tip to pick up your sagging spirits, and sales.

Now, this might sound crazy, but how are you eating during the day? What you put in your body makes a difference in how you behave. I bring and drink a 1/2-gallon of water every day, along with fresh fruit and veggies. Donuts, crackers, candy, soda and greasy lunches are working against your success. If you feel better, you will do better.

We cannot control the external market forces that exert pressure on our business, but we can make minor improvements in the many areas we do control. The sum total of which can make a difference in the health of all of our businesses.