"I was 17 when dad started up USA, and selling tools was the last thing I ever wanted to do," admits Paul DePies. A strange thing to hear from the son of Ken DePies, whose storied experience in the mobile tool business was chronicled in the October 2002 issue of Professional Distributor. The senior DePies is also the founding member of USA Tools, an independent mobile tool group whose colors are flown on 10 trucks throughout the Tampa area, as well as a growing number around the country.
Eventually, however, Paul DePies would follow in his father's footsteps, and then outpace him. "I learned a lot from my dad, but things were still pretty tough in the beginning," he recalls.
Tough might be an understatement. The younger DePies' start in the tool business began with a handful of customers who owed his dad money, 3 days of on-the-job training from his father, $50,000 of debt, and an 8' box truck that didn't feature the comfort or support of a major franchise name.
"Basically, I was 20 years old and $50K in debt. I had no choice but to make things happen," laughs DePies. "So I did what my dad taught me. I showed tools, stayed on top of collections, and really tried to take care of people," he continues.
The DePies work ethic proved to be hereditary, as the younger tool seller began working days that started at 7 a.m., and stretched as late as 11 p.m. "It didn't take too long before things really turned around, and the business became a success. It was great but I was basically working my 20's away. I was just too busy," states DePies.
Acting on his dad's advice, Paul DePies split his customer base in half and began running a two-week route. This formula allowed him more time to sell, so sales and revenue both grew. But so did his workload because of the increasing amount of paper work, warranties, etc. that accompanied a business which refused to slow down.
The Right Place, The Right Time
In January of 2002, during a time when most in the industry were working to stay afloat in a post-9/11 recession, Paul DePies began taking steps to better manage his business's growth. Enter Andrew Teneyck.
Ironically, it was Teneyck that sold DePies an enclosed trailer. Little did the former bartender know that he would end up piloting that trailer as he lightened DePies' load in collecting payments, showing new products, making deliveries and handling other miscellaneous customer needs. And little did DePies know that Teneyck would be so successful that a few months later he would begin running his own route as an employee. "I really treat the business like it's mine. I take a lot of pride in my job, and working for Paul has been great," states Teneyck.
After adding his first employee, DePies saw collections increase by about $3,000 a week. This stemmed primarily from the fact that he now had more time to spend with each customer, so he wasn't just collecting payments. DePies had enough time to actually sell new products, as opposed to simply filling needs.
With Teneyck firmly established, DePies began opening shops to establish a customer base, and then turning these accounts over to Teneyck to manage. It's an approach that DePies continues to utilize in growing his business.
Building off the positive situation that developed from hiring Teneyck, along with what was still a daunting workload, DePies decided to expand his business again. About a year after his second truck hit the road, a third USA Tools truck owned by Paul DePies began making its way through Tampa. Pat Phillips handles that route. Currently, DePies is busy establishing a third route, which he hopes to turn over to a new employee by the time this issue mails.
Initially, some customers expressed concerns over DePies no longer servicing their shop. They were quick to point out that they bought from him, not necessarily USA Tools. Most of these concerns were calmed when each of the new dealers continued to reinforce the same principles as their predecessor-they did whatever was necessary in order to best service the customer and get them what they needed. Often this meant eating some products that weren't covered by a warranty, with the long-term benefits exceeding the short-term loss.