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The day we rode with Matco distributor George Terebey, the first stop was a few miles outside his territory. “I inherited that stop, but that’s OK, you inherit stops here and there as you go along. My last stop today isn’t in my territory either, but I asked the distributor there for that one because he wasn’t stopping there and one of my regular customers moved there. The distributor didn’t mind, and I’ve made numerous toolbox sales. It’s turned out to be a very profitable stop.”
Most of George’s territory is in Camden County, NJ, 230 square miles of suburban and rural communities that lie under the busy air traffic corridor southeast of Philadelphia. The local economy is diverse, with no single industry or large employer, but many workers commute to the cities of Camden, Philadelphia or Princeton.
Recent economic conditions have hit some of this area hard, and it shows in the age of the cars and the work being done on them. “When business is bad, (my customers) don’t have money to spend, and you don’t want to put a lot of money out on the street with them. Sometimes you wonder how they stay in business, wonder how or why they even try to keep the shop open.”
But the number of working techs in the area doesn’t seem to be diminishing. When a large Chrysler dealership closed, the shop became part of a chain of “no-haggle” used car dealerships, and now it’s on George’s route because a lot of his old customers ended up working there. It actually worked out well too, because as he points out, dealership techs don’t need to buy as many tools.
George has also picked up new customers by following existing customers to a new stop. After following a customer to a big truck garage, George ended up with most of the other techs’ business too. “They had other distributors there but never a Matco guy, and now I’m number-one there.” When asked how he knew that, George said, “Because they tell me. I just call ‘em like I see ‘em and don’t try to pull the wool over anyone’s eyes. I just give ‘em the service they ask for.”
A rural route
George noted some advantages to driving a tool truck in the more rural part of his route. “Out here a guy might want something for his house or maybe he doesn’t get (Matco) service at his shop. I met a trucker who just moved into the area, and I sold him a couple of things just because he saw my truck when I stopped for coffee.”
George drives about 200 miles a week to see roughly 400 people (200 are on the books), and he’s arranged the route to facilitate unscheduled stops. During our visit, we passed by many shops that he stops at on other days. “I crisscross during the week, so if somebody calls during the week, I can be there.”
Most of his customers work in independent automotive shops, but he also stops at a few heavy duty truck shops and a bus fleet shop. His two biggest stops are a municipal truck garage and an ambulance company. There was another flag stopping at both, but Georges thinks “he must have done something wrong because they’re all mine now. If there’s a bad tool man, everybody knows about it … Word travels very quickly, but only about the bad guys.”
Making customers happy
One way to remain one of the good guys is to stock nothing but top-quality products. George said customers have told him “If it’s marked ‘China,’ I don’t want to do business with you.” He stocks the truck almost exclusively with Matco tools “because warranty is easier. Everything just goes back to Matco and I have no headaches, no problems.” Of course, there’s a solid profit motive too. “In this business, price is one thing, but your margin is the most important. Obviously you can sell the Matco tools for more money, but it’s also more margin.”