Start talking tools with John Streber and it’s hard to get him to stop. He is full of stories from his 42 years of selling tools in rural, southwestern Ohio. “I like everything about the tool business,” he says. The animated, 68-year-old Streber remains as passionate about tools as ever. And...
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His nephew, Steve, soon came on board to help with organizing inventory and managing the books.
In 1992, John Rhoads knocked on his door and asked him if he had any work for him. Streber hired Rhoads to paint his roof. He then gave him other jobs, including helping him assemble merchandise to be sold at the flea market.
Rhoads was reluctant to become a tool truck driver because he didn’t see himself as a salesman. But he eventually agreed to give it a try.
Streber assigned Rhoads his Ohio routes and continued to run the Kentucky routes himself. He started Rhoads with a cargo van, but progressively upgraded him to larger vehicles.
Streber developed a detailed inventory check list for Rhoads to fill out. Every product has a stock number, cost, starting inventory date, ending inventory date, sale price, taxes, credit card fee (if applicable), insurance cost and profit.
Organization: a tool in itself
Streber and Rhoads each have a total of five tool truck routes. They run each route every two or three weeks. They believe deliveries every two or three weeks is more profitable than visiting customers weekly, as some of their tool truck competitors do.
Rhoads says that as long as the customers know when to expect him and he shows up when expected, he can make more sales. He gives his customers a catalog and tells them what day to expect him next.
Rhoads learned to carry a book with him to keep track of things customers ask for if they don’t find it on his truck. “These guys will tell you what they need,” he says.
Most customers are automotive repair shops. There are also scrap yards and outdoor power equipment dealers. One of Rhoads’ larger customers is a farm equipment store where he not only sells to the mechanics, he also manages a tool display section in the store’s showroom.
Expanding from an 18-foot truck to a 22-foot Grumman truck recently allowed Rhoads to double the number of stock keeping units he carries and allows as many as 10 people inside the truck at a time. He claims his sales have grown as a result of having a larger truck.
Suppliers play a key role
Another key to success, according to Streber, is having good supplier sales reps to work with. For instance, he appreciates the fact that Jody Curry, his sales rep at Neu Tool & Supply Corp., can get him pricing and inventory information quickly over the phone. His main wholesalers also include Ace Tool Co. and ISN.
Rhoads, like Streber, has gained some good repeat customers from the farm shows he works. He met a farm equipment dealer at a show in Minnesota who called him one day looking for a way to resupply a farm service truck that had gotten low on tools. Rhoads was reluctant to drive his truck to Minnesota, so he faxed his inventory to the dealer and asked him what he needed. When the dealer indicated he needed at least $6,000 worth of tools, Rhoads obliged him and drove to Minnesota and was well rewarded for it.
Rhoads has also learned the importance of going out of his way to please the customer. There have been instances when customers ask him to replace a faulty tool, mistakenly thinking he sold it to them. If Rhoads thinks the customer sincerely believes he sold the tool, he replaces it. “There’s no sense in arguing. It’ll cost you thousands of dollars if you don’t give it to him. He’s going to remember you if you took care of him.”
Meanwhile, Streber’s goal is to hire more drivers to work with him on a shared profit basis, similar to how Rhoads does. He is actively seeking more help.
Four years ago, the company launched a website, www.qualitycrafttools.com. The website lists the company’s best sellers and allows customers to place their orders by calling a toll-free number. The company expects the Internet to become a bigger part of the business in the future.
The biggest challenge in the near term for Quality Craft Tools is fuel prices. Not only do they eat into the company’s profits; they leave customers with less money to spend on tools.
But for Quality Craft Tools, the future remains upbeat. Service technicians need reliable tools to do their jobs efficiently.
Ace Tool Co. has over 30 years of automotive and industrial tool distribution experience, as well as over 25 years of direct international sourcing and product development experience. A pioneer in the...
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