What A Rush

“You can’t worry about failing, you have to keep looking at ways to succeed,” states Rich Kuhn, president and founder of Chicago-based Stampede Tool. It’s a motto that must have been tested more than once in growing his warehouse distribution business from six products sold out of a garage to an inventory that now includes over 185 lines and greater than 20,000 SKUs, which Stampede turns eight times a year.

After a knee injury sent him from the bottled water delivery business, Kuhn jumped on a Matco truck for two years. During this time he recognized the opportunities a strong tool and equipment warehouse could capitalize upon in the Midwest. And due to his relationships with local mobile tool dealers, a connection with his customer base was easily established.

Within a month Kuhn’s business outgrew the garage, and three years and four new buildings later, Stampede was utilizing over 14,000 square feet of storage space. The company’s current location provides over 40,000 square feet.

“Success is in the details, and we’re very good at what we do,” states Kuhn, when asked about a business that has had only one down year in its history. These details are especially prominent when looking at three key areas of Stampede’s operation:

  • Creative marketing/merchandising programs.
  • Inventory controls.
  • A people-focused management style.

    Packaged To Move

    “This is not a text book industry,” states Kuhn, “so we’ve never used text book approaches to merchandising products or promoting our services.” He cites die-cast replicas as an example.

    “We were one of the first to go out and put company names on die-cast trucks, and then use them as sales incentives. These types of programs have not only helped Stampede, but also raised the awareness of both national and lesser known brands. Creative marketing and unparalleled service has really set us apart.

    “We pride ourselves in building these value-added marketing relationships with key vendors through bundling and value-added programs. In the end this provides our distributor customers with added sales support and allows us to truly partner with a supplier,” he adds. Bundling, in particular, is an area that Kuhn feels Stampede has excelled.

    “Before they started packaging different tools sets, we put together a number of Vise Grip tools and sold them in sets. This allowed our customers to realize costs savings and added convenience, which they were able to pass along to the end-user. Before long, Vise Grip began doing it themselves,” explains Kuhn.

    The bundling technique is not unique to hand tools. The same approach can be taken with higher end diagnostic equipment like OTC’s Genisys, which Stampede often groups with the tool’s 5-gas analyzer and lab scope modules, as well updated software packages. The product options for this type of approach are nearly endless, for both Kuhn and the mobile distributor.

    Another key aspect of Stampede’s sales and marketing success lies in its affiliation with TEDA, the Tool & Equipment Distributors Associates, Inc. Kuhn feels that membership in the warehouse distributor group has provided three main benefits.

    1. It has allowed Stampede to strengthen relationships with key suppliers.

    2. The company can keep a greater pulse on changes within the marketplace by interacting with other warehouse distributors.

    3. Sharing experiences with peers often allows for seeing different approaches to similar problems.

    For Their People, By Their People

    “There’s no back order at McDonalds™”, states Kuhn, in explaining Stampede’s approach to inventory management. “We have a fill rate that exceeds 99 percent, and we feel this is due to an investment in the right inventory. We have whatever our distributor customers want, and we’ll do whatever we have to do in order to get it to them as quickly as possible, even drop shipping directly from the manufacturer. We go the extra yard whenever we can,” he continues.

    Kuhn’s high fill rates and low back orders are also a testament to what Stampede will and will not carry. “We don’t just want a new egg, but a better one or a different one. One of the reasons we have so few returns is because we don’t jam new stuff down people’s throats. We’re somewhat selective because otherwise it’s just going to come back.

    “Additionally, we keep our eyes on the market in looking for changes in vehicle service, new technology, requested brands, new brands and other factors that can influence end-user demand,” states Kuhn. “We also try to do a lot of listening, to both our suppliers and our customers, in determining what we should and should not carry,” adds Bill Schutt, vice president of operations.

    Judging on what they’ve been seeing and hearing, Kuhn and Schutt see diagnostic equipment as their biggest growth area. “While this will require the most knowledge and product mix adjustment, it’s clear that we, and in turn our customers, need to stay as up-to-date as possible on new scan tools and troubleshooting equipment,” explains Kuhn. A greater emphasis on vehicle maintenance has also translated to an increase in related equipment sales.

    When looking long term, Kuhn says his goal is to become more of a system supplier. “Take air tools,” he explains. “Why just sell the impact wrench when we can be a one-stop shop for everything from the air compressor to the tool, which includes the hose, air treatment products (filters, dryers, regulators) and impact sockets. By having all of these things in stock, our customers can count on us for everything that's needed throughout the shop.”

    As passionate as he is in speaking about the products and processes that drive his business, Kuhn is just as focused on taking care of those who work throughout the warehouse. “All 25 of our employees have health insurance, profit sharing and quarterly bonuses. The bottom line is that when they do well, we do well,” he explains.

    Not only does Kuhn ensure that Stampede’s employees are well cared for, but they’re also thoroughly trained. Everyone on site can handle any aspect of order fulfillment or customer service, including returns, warranties or defects.

    “We want things done at the moment. So regardless of who answers the phone, our customer’s needs are being addressed right then. This ensures that any order or return we get by 4:00 p.m. will be received by the customer the next day. Additionally, everyone at Stampede Tools has been on a tool truck, so we know our customers,” states Kuhn. All of these measures add to Stampede’s efficiency, which offers trickle-down benefits for both customers and employees.

    When walking through Stampede Tool, something is strikingly different from other warehouses, namely the cleanliness of the entire facility. Kuhn is proud to say that it’s cleaned and organized on a continual basis. He feels this helps to instill a sense of pride in what they do, and to reinforce the value-addedapproach that makes Stampede different.

    Rich Kuhn’s business has changed over the years. It’s gotten bigger. More competitive. More complicated. But whether it’s the floor of his old garage, or the sparkling concrete of the warehouse, his dedication to taking care of people, and implementing creative sales promotions, remains the same.

    Welcome To The Neighborhood

    Stampede Tool’s initial success stemmed from operating in a geography with limited competition. That has changed over the years, with well-established warehouses now operating throughout the upper midwest. How has Rich Kuhn and Stampede responded: “I like the competition, because I think it actually increases overhead costs when you have multiple locations,” he states. “It also raises our awareness because they have to sell against us and our heritage in the marketplace. And in the end, it makes us a better business. We have to be leaner, more efficient and stronger, which all leads towards better service for our customers.”

    Now That’s Rich

    Gathered from his nearly 25 years as a warehouse distributor and mobile tool dealer, Rich Kuhn offers the following advice to the mobile dealer:

  • “Pick a supplier based on integrity, not just price. We know that our services need to provide a value-added package that can’t be matched on-line or elsewhere, and this is what we offer our customers.
  • “Your customers have got a commitment to pay you because of the door-to-door service that you provide. Don’t let them use excuses like ‘I’ve got to eat lunch today’ – you have to eat lunch too.
  • “I know where I stand in terms of profits, sales, etc. on a daily basis. So should the mobile dealer in order to best manage their business.”
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