Never Say No

See how PBE jobber Don Kennett, Inc.'s persistence and customer service has translated to a growing tool and equipment business.


See how PBE jobber Don Kennett, Inc.'s persistence and customer service has translated to a growing tool and equipment business. The day starts pretty early for Bob Levy, general manager of Don Kennett, Inc., a Massachusetts-based PBE jobber. By 6 a.m. he arrives at the company's flagship store in Lawrence, MA, touching base with president Dan Takesian and his son Paul. Levy then begins getting things in order for his sales...


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The day starts pretty early for Bob Levy, general manager of Don Kennett, Inc., a Massachusetts-based PBE jobber. By 6 a.m. he arrives at the company's flagship store in Lawrence, MA, touching base with president Dan Takesian and his son Paul. Levy then begins getting things in order for his sales route. Although he's assumed the role of general manager, Levy still hits the road four days a week to call on a variety of customers.

Levy loves sales. And like any true salesman, he views selling as an art form. He understands the importance of building a solid rapport with his entire customer base, which, unlike many jobbers who only focus on the shop owner, includes a number of technicians. He strives to treat every customer like royalty, and he's always thinking about that next tool or supply he can sell them.

That philosophy is shared by every member of the Don Kennett team, which is now 26 employees strong between the jobber's three stores in Lawrence and Lowell, MA, as well as Manchester, NH. If it wasn't, Levy says, the kind of success the company has enjoyed for more than 50 years would not have been possible.

Don Kennett, Inc. is somewhat unique. Roughly 60 percent of sales come from paint, as opposed to most jobbers who are closer to 75 percent. "We like to sell things that we don't necessarily focus on," Levy explains. Tools, safety supplies and other gadgets are among the products Levy and the Don Kennett, Inc. sales reps pitch when walking into a body shop.

Levy even got one of his customers a copy machine—simply because they asked for it. "Never say 'no' to your customers," Levy professes. "Always accommodate them. The second you tell them no, they're going to start thinking about a new supplier."

Another way that the Don Kennett salesforce will try to accommodate every customer request is by working with other local businesses, such as a hardware store. In these instances inventory is exchanged at well below retail value. "It's not the margin we're used to," Levy says, "but a few points are better than nothing. More importantly, it helps us take care of our customers and build their confidence in us."

All Shapes And Sizes - Every Customer Counts

Don Kennett, Inc. serves countless independent and dealership body shops, several industrial accounts, 10 vocational schools, and a handful of other niche customers.

On a typical day, Levy will call on at least 20 customers, as do the other sales reps. Their creed is simple: Treat each customer the same.

"I don't care if the customer is paying $1,000 or $1," Levy says. "If he pays his bills on time, he's a good customer, and deserves to be treated as such."

Levy also believes in the 80/20 rule, which says 80 percent of a company's sales are derived from only 20 percent of that company's customer base. For Don Kennett, Inc., larger body shops are at the heart of that most lucrative 20 percent. Still, Levy and the other salesmen are conscientious about giving adequate attention to everyone.

"Even though they might not buy a lot from you every time you visit, you have to regularly call on smaller shops," Levy says. "You never know when a big shop is going to fold, and when one does, the smaller shops in that market typically pick up business rather quickly. In that case they're going to need a good supplier. So you don't want to miss that opportunity, even if it's short-term.

"Furthermore, if one market's down, it's nice to have other clients you can call on," Levy goes on to say. Among Don Kennett's more unique customers are a fork lift manufacturer and a surf board maker.

"If we don't visit these types of shops on a consistent basis all year long, we're shooting ourselves in the foot," Levy continues. "Because when it does come time for them to make a big purchase, whether it's paint or other tools and supplies, it's tough to suddenly get a foot in the door."

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