Distributor Fine Tunes Winning Formula In Rural Ohio

Quality Craft Tools combines tool trucks with farm show exhibits

A customer examines a new pair of pliers. 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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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 it shows in the team he has developed around him at Quality Craft Tools Inc. The 3,300-square-foot warehouse located on a 75-acre parcel in Hillsboro, 60 miles west of Cincinnati, supports two tool trucks serving the immediate 100-mile radius, and several truck trailers that travel to farm equipment trade shows across several states.

The combined focus on tool trucks and farm trade shows has proven a winning formula for Quality Craft Tools in a part of the country that has suffered severe economic losses in recent years. In addition to the pressures from the recession, southwestern Ohio took a blow in 2009 when DHL, the international courier, closed its distribution hub in Wilmington, Ohio, laying off 8,000 employees and idling numerous other businesses dependent on the distribution hub. Clinton County unemployment currently stands at 10.5 percent.

Streber is proud of the fact that his tool truck sales have held steady during this tumultuous period. He credits the success to the team he has developed, including his nephew, Steve Streber, office manager, his great nephew, Schuyler Streber, the IT manager, and John Rhoads, his protégé of 20 years who shares with him responsibility for tool truck sales and farm show sales.

The dual focus on tool trucks and trade shows has enabled the company to grow sales in double digits every year since the recession struck in 2008. To support continued growth, Streber recently built a second, 7,200-square-foot warehouse on his property.

Understand the customer’s needs

Streber learned early on that by understanding his customers’ needs, he could offer the products they need when they need them. “By doing this, we can get a better profit on our products compared to our competitors,” he notes.

Years ago, Streber and his late brother, Bo, developed a technique that would serve them well for years to come; packaging small tools in bundles. “We can just sell more if it’s bundled. Present it that way and a lot times they’ll take the whole thing.”

He developed a “bargain box,” in which incomplete sets of products are kept along with slow selling items. “Bargain box” items are sold at a discount.

He made it a practice of passing out wholesaler catalogs with his own company’s logo and phone number on it. This way, a customer can call him and place an order. Streber either takes credit card payment over the phone or sends an invoice, then has the wholesaler ship the order direct to the customer. This way, he doesn’t have to inventory the product himself.

Streber does not encourage customer financing; most sales are cash.

Steady growth and challenges

Streber’s tool business grew through the 1980s, as many of the service station mechanics he sold to opened their own repair shops.

Business also became more challenging during this period as mass merchants, home centers and super centers expanded their tool offerings and put many tool dealers out of business.

Realizing he needed to cover more territory, Streber invested in a larger truck, and opened a flea market store at Caesar’s Creek Flea Market near Wilmington, Ohio. He had his company logo hand-painted on the truck. The bigger truck allowed him to display more merchandise. Every shelf has its own merchandise groups.

Expansion into farm shows

In the early 1990s, Streber exhibited at his first farm show. He realized that farm shows offered a new venue to sell at. But there were logistical issues to consider. To haul merchandise to farm shows, trailers and box trucks were needed for carrying pallet jacks and dollies in addition to merchandise.

Depending on when and where a show was held, he had to consider his tool truck route schedule. Streber realized he needed help to continue his existing tool truck business and expand into farm shows.

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