The Personal Touch

Doug Pennington became a Mac Tools distributor in 1990 with little more than a sales background and the desire to be in business for himself. Choosing wisely, he bought an established route in Centerville, OH, that, between his wife’s father and brother, had been in the family since 1975.

Doug says his lack of industry background wasn’t a problem when deciding what to stock on the truck. “One of the great things about not knowing this business is, if you take the time to listen and probe your customers, they tell you what they like and what they want.” It appears his sales background has been a real advantage.

Getting together

Another advantage is the DM and other distributors in his district. The whole group meets quarterly on one of their trucks to talk business. Doug says “Mac does a good job getting people together … but we’re out here with the customer, and our communication with each other is vital.”

Occasionally they all bring their trucks to a “truck rodeo.” They gather with their families at a park, cook some burgers and tour each others’ trucks to see how everyone displays their tools.

There’s a prize for the best-looking truck, but the real prize is what they learn from each other about which tools are selling. “We walk around with notepads (and) the next Monday we’re all buying.”

Doug says it’s been a while since their last rodeo because “now we can use email and texting to do the same thing.” But the day we rode with Doug, eight other distributors and the DM came out to see us off, and they talked about another rodeo.

The group also hosts visits from tool vendors. “A few months ago someone from Launch (Tech) visited to tell us about their scan tool. The ‘buzz words’ that he said have made it so much easier to sell their product.”

Product knowledge

Doug uses other peoples’ product knowledge to help him learn the language. “Twenty-one years into this, I (still) don’t use these tools, but from day-one my customers have schooled me, (and) other Mac guys have helped me.”

Doug’s 24-foot International is one of the most densely packed tool trucks we’ve seen. Some might call it cluttered, but it seems to work in his favor because we watched people explore and discover as they picked things up to see what was underneath, and then examined the tool in their hands.

When we mentioned this to Doug, he said they’re “looking for beef jerky or rubber gloves. I keep a lot of consumables on here … When they climb on every week and just give me money and leave empty-handed, that gets old. They like to at least walk away with something, so that’s why I keep the consumables: knives, safety glasses, all these little carded items … and flashlights. Who knew how many doggone flashlights I would sell. A guy will get on my truck and say ‘My buddy’s got a black one, but I like this neon green one … ‘I keep ‘em here so guys will pick ‘em up (and) play with them, like a grocery store check-out aisle.”

Personal service, positive impact

We were impressed with Doug’s concept of customer relations. “In school sports and professional sports, everybody gets a chance to play half their games at home and half their games away. But every day a tool man goes out, it’s an away game. You’re in another person’s home environment. You have to make yourself welcome (and) you have to make a positive impact on their business. If they see you as a positive impact, they’ll buy from you and they will promote you.”

Doug’s ‘positive impact’ is reinforced by making sure he has what the customer wants right there on the truck, keeping special orders to a minimum. “How can you expect the customer to be a big buyer if you’re not a big buyer yourself?”

Doug also does his best to provide personal service. “I probe (customers) all the time to find out what they’re looking for and when we finally nail that down, by that time they’ve pretty much decided what they want. This is not high-pressure sales. All I did was offer an alternative.” Later Doug brought this up again, saying, “This isn’t about me or about them, it’s about both of us. We’re here to do business together. Yes, they need to pay me, but I’m going to provide them a service … Every day I buy, I service, I sell, and I collect. My customer gets the feeling that I’m here for them.”

A special deal

When asked about special promotions, Doug said he doesn’t really offer any. “My job is to properly buy these tools. I will find a way to buy at the best price so I can pass that (savings) along to my customer. Being a buyer in this business is the most important thing that I do.”

He did, however, tell us about his Christmas special, saying “you either become Santa Claus or you get beat by Santa Claus.” Since many customers pay down their balance in preparation for holiday spending, his wife, Karen, who sells cosmetics, came up with an idea.

“She boxes up 12 different gifts, like sample packs … a 99-dollar box, a 149-dollar box, and guys can buy their Christmas gift for their wives on my truck. Twelve days before Christmas they start leaving a gift out every day before they go to work.” Doug says it’s worked out well for him and is popular with his customers, even though their wives figured out “it’s from the Mac man.”

Karen is an important part of Doug’s business, and she obviously understands it, not just because she’s a businesswoman herself, but also because she’s been around the tool sales business most of her life.

She is Doug’s book keeper, shipping/receiving department and general office manager. She even rides with Doug in the weeks leading up to Christmas to help customers choose their wives’ gift package.

It seems the secret to Doug Pennington’s success has been to make his business personal. He has to learn about tools from his customers, but what they get in return is not for sale in any store.