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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For industrial accounts like these, Levy and the other reps are sure to make regular visits. Sandpaper, masking products and paint are obvious big sellers, but safety supplies have been in demand as well. Levy says the key is showing these customers how they can save money in the long run by using a certain product.
This is an important principle for body shops as well, although many think more short-term and are simply concerned with the price tag. That can be a struggle, Levy says, not to mention a bit frustrating. But it's nothing a little persistence can't overcome.
Levy often tells customers—in a half-joking, light-hearted tone—that he's not leaving until he has an order to call in. He then proceeds to rattle off a series of items the shop (or technician) may be in need of: masking paper, masking tape, duct tape, abrasives, solvent, goggles, gloves, light bulbs … the list goes on.
"Sometimes the customer tells me he doesn't need anything this week," Levy relates. "By the time I leave that shop, I have a $50 order. You just have to be persistent, and sometimes get the customer to do a little more thinking."
Some tactics that have helped him get the busy customer's attention:
- His "Bag of Tricks," which he carries into each shop. Levy fills a duffel bag with tools and other gadgets that a shop owner or technician might not be thinking about purchasing, but often do once they see what the product can do for them. The day we accompanied him on his sales route, Levy had a good deal of success selling spray gun hangers.
- The "Bag of Tricks" usually works in concert with some of the weekly specials the company comes up with, which are outlined in a binder Levy carries with him. There are typically six items on special every week. Again, they are not everyday items, but they're things that almost any shop could use. And they yield a nice margin.
- Always looking for out-of-the-ordinary products that can supplement sales and boost the bottom line, Don Kennett, Inc. moves a decent amount of body hardware, such as nuts, bolts, rivets, clips, fasteners, etc. Levy says dealing with the inventory was a hassle at first, and is still a bit tedious, but with a good system in place it's automatic business. Plus, Levy says it's something few jobbers deal with. So it's a point of differentiation.
- Some of the shops Levy calls on set out an empty cardboard box called "Bob's Box." When a piece of hardware is running low, the technicians are trained to place one in the box. Levy checks the box every time he visits a shop, identifies the items and replenishes the inventory. That makes it easy for the busy technicians, and it's an easy sale for Levy.
Tools Of The Trade
Along with being politely persistent, Levy says one of his keys to success is making things easier on customers. This is especially important as Don Kennett, Inc. looks to differentiate itself by selling more tools and equipment. Some examples of their customer service programs include:
- Like many jobbers, PBE-specific tools such as spray guns and sanders are big sellers. On-site spray gun service is a unique add-on this jobber offers, as Dan Takesian will go to the shop and fix a painter's gun.
- In addition to spray guns and sanders, Don Kennett, Inc. sells a decent amount of air tools, welding equipment and accessories, and even some hand tools. The "Bag of Tricks" and the weekly specials are the primary means of promotion. In terms of suppliers, Don Kennett works closely with warehouse distributors Medco and Midstate Tool Supply.
- Weekly payment plans are a must in the way of tools sales, which although commonplace among mobile tool distributors, is a unique service for PBE jobbers. "I get to know the technicians in the shops," Levy explains. "Once we reach a point where they're going out of their way to say hello when I stop by, I figure I can trust them to make payments on tool purchases. We talk about what they can afford and work out a weekly payment schedule," Levy continues.
"Managing these open accounts isn't a problem, as long as I get their payments in the computer right away. The tricky part, sometimes, is getting those payments. Somebody's always going to leave you high and dry. But most guys come right up to me with cash in hand. You just try to build a good rapport with them first. It's a lot harder for someone to stiff you if they like you as a person."
Getting more out of Votech stops.
Experience, purchasing power and an expansive inventory have made National Oak Distributors a leader in the PBE warehouse marketplace.
Go West young man!