After years of installing and servicing stationary engines all over the world, Ed Nolan decided he’d had enough travel. Back at the shop in Rockford, IL, he talked with their tool distributor about becoming a tool man, then contacted Mac Tools. He said picking a tool company was easy...
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After years of installing and servicing stationary engines all over the world, Ed Nolan decided he’d had enough travel. Back at the shop in Rockford, IL, he talked with their tool distributor about becoming a tool man, then contacted Mac Tools.
He said picking a tool company was easy. “Mac Tools was my only choice and I have never regretted my decision. I couldn’t imagine being with any other company than Mac.” Ed has been a Mac Tools distributor since 1984.
Basics of business
His customers are dealerships and independent shops, truck garages, heavy equipment shops and aircraft mechanics (lots of 1/4” drive). Ed calls the truck and equipment shops “a comfort zone” in his business because the mechanics “spend big money to get what they need to do the job. They take their job seriously and spend what’s necessary to make it easier.”
He said many of them don’t use credit. “They’ll buy something for two or three hundred dollars and pay cash.” That said, Ed also points out that “I couldn’t be here without all of my customers. They all make up the day. Some spend money and some I (just) learn from, but they all matter the same.”
Ed likes dealing with independent shops too. “Once you win their trust and credibility, they start to rely on you for a lot of things, not just tools: tire changers, wheel balancers, hoists, A/C machines, those kinds of things.”
We saw current-generation Mac toolboxes in almost every shop we visited with Ed, but he says he doesn’t sell a lot of toolboxes. “That’s a bonus thing for me. Tools and service is where I build my business …There’s a lot of guys selling lots of toolboxes, but (when) they’re not selling toolboxes, they’re not selling anything.”
Adapting to changes
Rockford was a big manufacturing town, but most of that is gone now. Because of this and the economic recession, many truck shops have closed or cut back.
“I used to have more truck shops working (three) shifts. Mondays I would leave the house at 6:30 AM and get home after midnight after catching the second shift guys. Sometimes I’d be there at 5:30 the next morning to catch the third shift. That’s pretty much all gone,” says Ed. “But that’s OK, I was younger then.”
Ed noted that some fleet garages still work second shift because the trucks run in the daytime. “Monday is (still) my late day. I can pretty much fit all my second shift stops into a Monday night.”
Ed faced a major problem earlier this year when medical issues kept him out of action for three months. But his business returned along with his health. “I’m not going to set any records this year, but as soon as I got back on the truck, things got right back up to where they were, and it’s still as busy as ever.”
He notes that a bad economy and three months off could have put him out of business, but Rockford is a big town with many auto, truck, equipment and fleet shops, plus a fairly large international airport (it’s a UPS hub). This not only helped Ed survive, he said his last two years “were probably my best two ever, not by leaps-and-bounds, but all-in-all and back-to-back.”
During that time Ed sold a lot of big ticket items to the small independent shops. “I think it’s because the economy is down and they’re not selling as many new cars, and the small shops actually got busier fixing cars.”
Inventory and layout
We asked Ed about the layout for his truck. “Flashlights need to be colorful and in your face,” so they share a prominent space with work gloves. “Gloves don’t sell if they’re not displayed.” The truck is full without seeming cluttered, which Ed says is a challenge. “It’s a tool truck, not Macy’s, so there are certain things you have to put on the truck. But you need to have things that will jump out and grab people.”
We asked if his inventory has changed over his years in the business. “That’s a problem. I’ve got a garage full of stuff that’s not popular anymore.”