Tool distributors around the country are seeing the same trends. Passenger cars and light trucks are lasting longer, and so are their parts and components.
This translates to fewer parts replacements and repairs, and greater attention to maintenance-based services. In order to capture these lucrative jobs, shops have to be pro-active in their marketing efforts.
Unfortunately, not all of them are, and the result is a roller coaster type of effect on automotive repair. Shops will have more cars than they can park one week, and technicians working half-days the next. The impact on distributors is obvious. If your customers aren't working, there are fewer dollars available for tool purchases.
So, one way to lessen your dependence on the automotive shop is by bringing some diversity to your customer base. In helping to reinforce this principle, we were able to tap into Mac Tools' top 10 dealers in discussing what "other" shops they visit, what they're selling to these customers, and what you should know in going after these sales opportunities.
David Musil; Crete, NE
Other than the obvious reasons, I service MARINAS because:
"People think that Nebraska is very dry and flat with corn growing everywhere. In reality, there is water all over Nebraska. The Platte River runs across the middle of the state, there are hundreds of rivers and lakes, and there are state parks and recreation areas everywhere."
"I generally sell the same types of products as I do to my automotive and body shop customers. Marinas generally do all of the work on the boats themselves, so they're mechanics as well as body guys. Examples of some different tools that I sell to marinas are capacitance meters, vacuum pressure kits and smaller orbital sanders."
"… just like automotive technicians, except they fix boats. Also, they are all certified technicians, so it seems like a lot of the same principles apply to fixing boats as fixing automobiles."
Daryl Beemer; Chapman, KS
Other than the obvious reasons, I service a MILITARY AVIATION shop because:
"There are a number of helicopters coming back from the desert to be repaired and maintained at Ft. Riley. Security has been tighter since 9/11, as Ft. Riley used to be an open post, but now I have to prove who I am, and there's armed security walking around.
"I also had some paper work to take care of and hoops to jump through in keeping the shop on my route, but now with all the mobilized troops, there are higher paid civilian contractors doing the work. It's not something you want to brag about, but the war has been good for my business."
"The biggest sellers are probably ratchet drivers and pliers that won't mark the wires. This is important because all of their work has to pass inspection. The access is also tighter in these aircraft than on cars or trucks, so things like magnifying glasses, 1/4" 12-point sockets and wrenches, 7/32" ratchets and small files are always in demand. Really, I'm constantly learning what they need."
"… more heavily inspected than any other customers on my route. They're held more accountable because, obviously, there's much more at stake."
Joe Lizotte; Plymouth, CT
Other than the obvious reasons, I service MACHINE SHOPS because:
"These guys are more stable than other customers on my route, so there's not as much tracking down of skip accounts, and they're loyal."
"… a lot of basic, standard-sized hand tools, different pullers and smaller air tools like grinders and drills. They don't buy toolboxes because there's not as much room and they don't need the security. Portable LED drop lights are popular because they stay charged longer. I've also noticed that they buy quite a bit of stuff for personal use."
"These guys tend to spend less because they don't need as much. They do, however, demand a high level of customer service in order to keep the business."
Todd Smith; Duchesne, UT
Other than the obvious reasons, I service CONSTRUCTION/PAVING EQUIPMENT shops because:
"When I started with Mac Tools a lot of mobile tool distributors had passed through one of these shops. So when I showed up, one of the shop King Pins, which is how I refer to a leader in the shop, said it would be two years before he'd buy a thing from me. After those two years he became one of my best customers, spending $200 a week."
"As you'd imagine, these guys buy a lot of the bigger stuff: 3/4"-drive power tools, 600-pound torque wrenches, 2-5/8" or 2-1/2" sockets, 10-ton jacks, and 2" box-end wrenches. I also sell some special Caterpillar puller tools and a lot of larger offset wrenches for hydraulic line fittings."
"… better paid. These guys are paid an hourly wage, as opposed to flat rate like a lot of the automotive guys, so they make more. They tend to have better employee benefits as well, so they don't move around from shop to shop as much. It also seems easier to peak their interests when showing new products."
Ken Pankopp; Tyronne, GA
Other than the obvious reasons, my only customer is DELTA AIRLINES at Hartsfield Airport in Atlanta because:
"All tool purchases are deducted from their checks, based on the receipts that I submit to Delta. Then I get a lump sum payment six weeks later covering all of my sales for that week. But because it's an individual technician purchase, I'm protected against bankruptcy fillings by Delta.
"Aviation overall is like a roller coaster, it's either up or down billions, and I'm just along for the ride – peaks, valleys and all. Generally speaking, any new technician has a list of tools that they are required to have, so I'm able to capture their business right from the start."
"Airplanes are designed to fail. What I mean by that is instead of a couple big fasteners, there are a ton of small ones. So I sell a lot of 1/4"-drive tools for accommodating these smaller fasteners.
"My customers also fall into three main categories, each of which has a different collection of needs. Avionic technicians deal with the electronics. Hydraulic techs are similar to heavy-duty guys in that everything they need has to be bigger in size. Sheet metal guys are like body shop techs, so they need a lot of tools for working with metal. This translates to selling a lot of hardlines and rivet guns."
"… second and third generation technicians who are often licensed pilots, so they see it as more than just a job. 9/11 had a very personal impact on them, and I. The airport was eerily quiet, and all you heard was planes landing. There was even a plane parked where I usually have my 32' tool trailer. These guys are also highly educated and their work is heavily inspected."
Earl French; Gillette, WY
Other than the obvious reasons, I service COAL MINE EQUIPMENT shops because:
"This is one of the primary businesses in this area, and I've been stopping here since I started with Mac Tools in 1982. I also service oil field outfits and drilling machine shops."
"These guys buy larger 3/4" and 1"-drive power tools and bigger 2" and 3" wrenches. They are also just getting into the metric sizes, which will create more sales opportunities. And a lot of them buy tools for when they go home and work on the race car."
"… always losing tools when they make service calls to the mine."
Mike Hess; Dillsburg, PA
Other than the obvious reasons, I service FARMS because:
"My territory is pretty rural, and I'm always wondering what's going on down these long driveways that I pass. One time I followed a trail back to a bulldozer owned by an excavating business, which right now is a $100/week customer. My tools save them a service call.
"I've gotten some good business from farmers because there's a limited number of people who will put in the time it takes to sell these guys. It can be tough in terms of when they're available, as well as the initial price objection. The first sale is the toughest, but they understand quality, which leads to more sales, as well as referrals."
"Farmers often buy professional tools to help them save time and just make things easier. For example, I'll show them how some basic sockets and a ratchet is easier than using a vise grip or adjustable wrench. Another time it was a power tool over a breaker bar, and from there it leads to things like air compressors. Also, if you treat them right, they all have buddies that they'll tell you to visit."
"… working during the day, so you have to stop later. Often I'll have to sit down and have a piece of pie and a cup of coffee before we talk business. It's really relationship selling at its best.
"You also can't judge these guys by their appearance. Not all of them have worked out, but I was able to find one customer who fixes skid loaders from his home. He's a $150/week customer."
Chris Lewis; Baxley, GA
Other than the obvious reasons, I service LOGGING EQUIPMENT REPAIR shops because:
"We're in a very rural area where customers are pretty spread out. So while my two other trucks are on the road selling and collecting, I can spend more time with these types of customers doing demos and solving problems."
"… a good mix of products. These guys buy a lot of 1/2" and 3/4"-drive tools, as well as a good number of specialty and diesel-specific products."
"Logging is better than heavy equipment because these guys get paid better and can spend more."
Ed Rader; Rawson, OH
Other than the obvious reasons, I service a local VOTECH because:
"I used to teach there, and when I became a distributor I felt the school had some great sales potential. I spend about four hours servicing the school each week, but really there's more to it than that when it comes to keeping the school satisfied with the service. For example, I get involved with a number of their troubleshooting contests and hold Macstravaganza events at the school."
"They're being trained in either diesel, automotive, agricultural or high-performance vehicle repair, so primarily I sell a lot of hand and power tools. What I really try to establish is a comfort level in working with the tool truck. I also try to help guide their purchases in order to make sure they're getting the right stuff for their field."
"… on a 6-week cycle, where I sell to each graduating class."
Rod Serediak; Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada
Other than the obvious reasons, I service OIL REFINERIES because:
"We were lucky in having a great district manager to help us when we started. We also had a few contacts in the plantsites that came about from working in the mechanical shops for nearly 20 years. We're unique in being 300 miles from the nearest large city, so while we have a truck on the street, a significant portion of the business comes from operating a storefront that sells Mac tools. This makes it easier to cater to this customer base because tool trucks are not allowed on the plantsites. This way they can come to us in buying tools and making weekly payments."
"All of the plantsites have heavy-duty, automotive and facility maintenance shops on site, so through their purchasing personnel we're able to supply all of these technicians.
"We also sell a lot of heavy-duty tools to the plantsites themselves. These places require more larger-sized wrenches, 1", 1-1/2" and spline-drive wrenches, large pullers and a lot of electronic products that aren't as popular with automotive customers, like borescopes and ultrasonic leak detectors.
"The shop equipment they use is also much heavier, i.e. larger lifting equipment, 50-pound capacity A/C equipment, 2,200-pound transmission jacks and diesel engine stands."
"… somewhat difficult to meet with on a regular basis. This is why we have the storefront, which is open from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Monday to Friday. My customers seem to really appreciate the fact that I can carry the bigger tools, and they don't have to try and chase me down to get them or make payments."