USA Tools: The Next Generation

"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.

Time, Lifts & Scan Tools

In addition to effectively managing his business's continued growth, hiring employees allows DePies to dedicate extra time and energy towards scan tool and shop equipment sales.

"I send brochures and photos out with both Andrew and Pat, so they get the ball rolling when it comes to the equipment. Then I come in to finish up," he explains. Despite its higher cost, DePies has gone with selling Mohawk lifts. "It's a higher-priced line, but it's also unique, and leaves me with fewer hassles after installation. The model I sell the most of is the two-post Tomahawk," he adds.

DePies has been able to move a fair amount of both new and used shop equipment, which he stores at a 1,500 square foot warehouse. To help drive sales he keeps pictures of the equipment on each of the trucks. This approach is used on everything from flush n' fill machines to toolboxes.

When it comes to diagnostic equipment, DePies has been able to spend more time learning about the tools he sells, which is lead by OTC's Genisys. "I really like the affordability of the Genisys, and I've gotten comfortable with it to a point where I can explain how it works and talk about what it's showing. It also offers great repeat sales opportunities when you consider software updates, the scope module and other add-ons," he states.

Life Off The Road

When Paul DePies looks to the future, he sees continued growth. First and foremost on the family front, as he and wife Kristen recently welcomed their first child, Kaitlin, into the world. That will be followed by selecting and training a third employee.

At 17 the last thing he wanted to do was sell tools. At 33 Paul DePies freely admits that he wouldn't be where he is today if it wasn't for his dad's vision and hard work in establishing USA Tools' viability. Vision and hard work, it must run in the family.

800 Customers, 3 Trucks, 2 Tool Dealers (soon to be 3), and 1 Owner: Here's How It Works

  • Minus equipment sales, the three trucks bring in about $25K/week in collections, with average weekly payments of $40/customer.
  • DePies has equipped each truck with a computer and inventory management software that allows him to examine what each has been selling, and what they have in stock.
  • DePies buys everything himself, and fills each truck accordingly. Purchases are made almost exclusively from warehouse distributor ISN. Once the truck's inventory has been signed over, each distributor is responsible for cash shortages and missing product.
  • Dealers are paid commission on what they collect.
  • DePies pays their health insurance, eats their bad debts, tracks down skip accounts, and even buys their uniforms. Each distributor is an employee of Paul's Tools, Inc.
  • DePies owns all three trucks, and hires someone to maintain them. Andrew Teneyck was recently upgraded to a larger 24' International, while Pat Phillips drives an older 22' Isuzu. DePies pilots a new 24' Chevrolet, which he will turn over to a new employee once the route has been established.
  • If one of the mobile dealers gives DePies a lead that turns into a sale, they still get commission on it, unless DePies did the leg work. Then they split it.

    Currently he's establishing yet another route, but once that's turned over to an employee, DePies role will entail:

  • Managing his sales force by answering questions, offering feedback and handling all the purchasing.
  • Selling the more complicated items like scan tools and shop equipment.
  • Delivering special orders and larger pieces of equipment.
  • Handling all the open shop accounts. This allows each employee to spend more time servicing and selling individual customers while he handles larger shop issues and adds to the customer base.

    $ales Tip$

    Here are some sales strategies that have helped Paul DePies take his business to the next level in terms of sales, collections and customer service.

  • "When I walk into a shop, I look as much at what's not there, as what is there. This can be as simple as a missing caster on a drip bucket. It all comes down to showing people that you're going to take care of them".
  • "You have to be proactive in selling. Don't just rely on the relationship".
  • "I buy in larger quantities when things go on special, and really take advantage of sales".
  • "My Golden Rule: Always carry something into the shop".
  • "Find the guy who isn't buying from you and start creating a wish list. Then work to keep that updated every week. Eventually you'll catch him at the right time.
  • "Nothing is purchased until it's paid for. That's why I work hard with my guys to increase either the amount or frequency of a customer's payment.
  • "Your word is everything. If you say something, you better do it. If you say you'll be there at a set time every week'be there. If you can't make it, or are running behind, call ahead".
  • "I really work to stay up to date with what's new. I'll order a new product as soon as I see it, and then figure out how to use it and the best way to sell it. I think that's one of the reason's we've been so successful. I take the time to train my guys on how to sell new products, and reinforce how important they are".
  • "Paul Anker at ISN has also been great in sharing his product knowledge. The more I know and understand about the product, the more my guys and I can sell. It all comes down to being the first guy out there with the new stuff".
  • "There are worksheets on the computer of each truck for tracking needs, back orders, balances, etc. No one can remember everything, and any one of those things can help close a sale or better a relationship."
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