Rookie No More

Think back to your first few years in this business; the lessons you learned about managing inventory and cash flow and about customer relations, and things you learned from the inevitable ‘rookie mistakes.’

Now think about going through all that during a major economic downturn. That’s what Jason Chornak did when he became a Cornwell dealer four years ago...

Store on wheels

Jason is young and has no automotive background or sales experience. He didn’t take over an existing route, he built one from scratch. When asked how the economy affected his start-up in the business, Jason said, “I really haven’t seen a change in anything since I started, except (now) customers are spending money. It seems the economy is bad until they have faith in you.”

Jason’s territory is centered around Mechanicsburg, PA, near the state capitol. Several major interstate highways converge there, and it’s a hub for commercial trucking and rail shipping. There’s also a major U.S.Army depot nearby.

All-in-all it’s a busy area with many potential tool customers. Jason has a friend who had previously sold tools with another flag, and they talked about the mobile tools sales business. Together they decided to meet with Rich Fitzhugh, the local Cornwell District Manager. The friend was hired right away and Jason started in the neighboring territory not long after.

Today Jason says the business is “fun as long as you keep up with everything. Once you let something slack behind, then you’re playing catch-up… it’s easier to spend 10 or 15 minutes getting caught up (now) than spending hours a couple of days later.” A lesson learned.

Goal motivations

Starting a business in a bad economy is a huge risk, but not necessarily without advantages. Although other dealers in his district say “things aren’t what they used to be,” Jason had nothing to compare, and he simply decided not to fail. “I figured if I was going to start this I’d work hard enough to make it work … I just put my head down and worked.”

He wisely set goals that were attainable and worked from one to the next. “Last year I wanted to grow my business ten-percent from the year before, and I did it. This year I want to grow another ten percent from last year.”

This may sound like a hungry, driven business man, but that’s not Jason’s personality, nor is it his biggest motivation.

“I’d always want to grow. It’s more interesting when you want to do better. You give yourself goals to hit, and if you hit your goals, you just make them higher… (to) just to go to work every day and do your job and go home, I think that would be boring.”

That said, Jason typically puts in a 60-hour week. But now that the territory is established and his customers know him, he says his days go quickly. “It’s not like I have the same thing to do (each day). I do the same job, but there are always challenges… a broken tool, someone needs something ordered…”

Jason places an order almost every day, usually speaking with Charlene Stankiewicz at Cornwell. He says he likes working with her because “everything gets done right away.”

Customer relations

The day we met Jason, we also met one or two ‘difficult’ customers. When asked how he deals with them, Jason said “I just smile and do the best I can. Sometimes it doesn’t work out and sometimes it does. I don’t take offence at something I can’t control. Say you can’t get something in time; it’s not your fault because you tried, but they weren’t happy because they couldn’t have it right away … so you just take it and go back the next week and the next, and eventually they’ll just come back around.”

We also met several customers who are proud of their loyalty to Jason. One shop even bragged to us that they had kicked everyone else out, making Jason their only tool dealer. Certainly that feels good, but Jason doesn’t pay much attention to the competition. “I care less and less about the competition the more I’m in it. If you go out and do your job to 100 percent every day and give (customers) service, they don’t need to go anywhere else.”

Jason drives 400 miles a week to see about 500 people (380 on the books). An average turn is about nine weeks, and he doesn’t lose sleep over skips. “The longer I’m here the less (skips) there are. People learn to respect you.”

Some of his route is concentrated, enabling him to make special deliveries or arrange to meet a customer somewhere with a special order. Other parts of the route are more spread out. About 25 percent of his customers are in new-car dealerships, about 30 percent in heavy duty shops and the rest are in independent shops, plus a few chain stores.

He may have started at a bad time economically, but Jason Chornak is learning fast and has not looked back. He enjoys being his own boss and is excited about the opportunity to “build my own destiny. I wouldn’t change anything, I enjoy it the way it is.”