Shawn Niehaus is in the tool distribution business for the second time. After attending school in Texas, he and his wife returned to home to Duluth, MN, to start a family. His father had left the repair shop by then to become a franchise distributor, and when another route with the same flag...
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He feels his real competition is not other tool distributors, but parts stores, retail stores and the Internet. “(My customers) don’t really buy from them, but they want me to match their price.”
Shawn says his tools are “identical to what you see on the franchise trucks, the exact same tools,” and even though some are priced lower at retail stores, customers recognize it as a product that holds up and comes with a warranty. “So they would rather buy from me ‘cause they want me to come by with it on the truck right now.”
It’s probably no surprise to learn that scan tools are not one of his favorite things to sell. “As soon as I get it into their hands, they’re disappointed because they find out it doesn’t do what they thought it would do. If they buy it and don’t like it, I’m getting it back.”
Shawn knows the real problem is a lack of training, so he has sought help from Ed Lipscomb, the product manager at OTC who works with the Genisys diagnostic tool.
“He’s sending someone here to run a training class. If I can offer training, that will help me sell diagnostic tools.” Shawn is hoping to arrange training every quarter.
The right support
What Shawn likes most about being a tool distributor is the freedom. “The joke is that you get to choose your own 80 hours a week, but I also get to choose who I do business with, how much I want to do and when I want to do it. (I have) the freedom to be the kind of dad I want to be.”
Since his father’s advice played an important role in Shawn’s decisions, we asked what he would say to people just starting out today.
“Depend on the support group that you have. IMTDA (Independent Mobile Tool Distributors Association) is only a few people but they’re good mentors. Without a group like that, start with a franchise. But remember they’re in it to make money too.
“For me, having the support of family is key to what I do. It would be for naught if I didn’t have their support and encouragement.”
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