Mobile tool distribution has a bright future if 28-year-old Carrie Lake is representative of the new generation. In just a few months, this intelligent, personable and innovative young woman has more than doubled the customer count in a semi-rural section of northeastern Michigan that had gone...
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Winning back some of these customers required replacing parts with expired warranties.
Lake wasted no time finding new customers; people who didn’t have any previous exposure to a Mac Tools truck.
In the 100-mile radius she serves, there are clusters of towns with small businesses that need tools. These include automotive shops with one to three employees, construction firms, excavators, building maintenance firms, rental centers, boat repair shops and outdoor power equipment dealers.
Speaking of excavators, she observed: “One guy might be moving the dirt, but there’s still a guy at the shop who’s got to fix it. They need sockets and impacts and wrenches. There are mechanics everywhere.”
While these small businesses don’t make a lot of big purchases, Lake learned she can visit a lot of them in a short time period. The clusters are often several miles apart, but within each cluster, the stops are just minutes apart. These are her “tote and promote” stops. Armed with her tool bag and product catalog, she locks her truck, walks into the shop and finds out what tools they need. She typically does not leave these stops without making a sale or collecting on a previous sale.
Another good thing about these small shops is there is little competition for their business from the area’s other mobile distributor.
While Lake has done a good job gaining new customers, her largest customer is a long-time aircraft manufacturing facility with two engine shops and a hangar. On the day she visits the hangar, she spends the entire day there.
Customers like routine visits
Having a lot of customers requires disciplined time organization and extensive record keeping. Lake has a different set of stops every day, but she has learned it is important to have a schedule and stick to it.
“They (customers) are very routine,” she says. “It’s important to arrive at the same time every day, the same day.”
Mac Tools’ accounting software has made keeping track of receivables manageable, but it’s the least favorite part of the job.
“I hate paperwork and checking stuff in,” she says. “And that part doesn’t make money. You’ve got to be out moving to make money.”
Changing and mixing product displays
Lake has improvised on the interior merchandising plan that her district manager provided when helping her set up the truck. In the original layout, the display shelves were divided into sections based on product type; i.e., air tools, tool kits, hand tools, etc. While her truck is small compared to other distributors, customers tended to gravitate to one or two areas inside the truck after their first few visits.
By grouping different products together and changing the merchandise arrangement every two weeks, she has found customers are more likely to peruse the entire inventory.
“Every couple of weeks, I mix it up,” she says. “It’s amazing what moving stuff around does.”
She keeps the interior clean and the shelves and the ceiling fully stocked.
Key selling tool: promotions
One of the first marketing lessons Lake learned was the importance of promotions. An early Mac Tools promotion was to provide clothing for military families.
At this writing, she was having great response to a raffle to benefit breast cancer research. In two weeks, she sold more than half of her 500 raffle tickets. “I did better than I expected,” she says. Some customers have purchased multiple tickets to support the benefit.
Customers always want to know what’s on special. Hence, Lake keeps Mac Tools’ monthly flyers in a holder right by the truck’s entrance.
In the meantime, she came up with a promotional idea of her own. She plans to have a “tool party” for the wives and girlfriends of her mostly male customers. She told her customers to tell their wives and girlfriends to come and see tools to get their partners for Christmas, and the response has been great. She will serve refreshments and display tools. “I think it’s going to go over really well,” she says. “If nothing else, it’ll be a fun party.”
Tips on how to run promotions out of ever changing product displays to keep customers on their feet and increase impulse purchases.
Lake expected customers to ignore her, but she overcame that challenge with persistence.