Texas Independence: Newcomer carries the torch in a changing economy

In two and half years, this largely self-taught Texan has a promising future in tool sales

Clint Maxwell, right, gives an Ingersoll Rand air hammer to a customer at a shop that services oil tankers. Clint Maxwell never planned to be in business for himself. As a young man, he had aspirations to be an engineer or an architect. But while attending the University of Texas in Arlington, he realized he wasn’t sure what he wanted to do. Fast forward to today, and the 35-year-old Maxwell has...

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Fulfilling his uncle’s reputation for attentive service wasn’t easy. From day one, Maxwell made it a point to respond immediately to all customer requests for tools. Meeting these requests, he learned, takes perseverance. Finding a specific product in a catalog, on a website or over the phone can take 45 minutes, with no guarantee of a sale. But Maxwell realized that responding to requests is a key to establishing credibility. “Guys (customers) have learned I can find things,” he says. This is something that not all of his competitors are willing to do.

Professional Distributor was able to confirm this independently by speaking with some of Maxwell’s customers. A tech at one stop said Maxwell is one of two mobile distributors who visits their shop every week. Because of this, and the fact that Maxwell is friendlier than the other distributor who comes weekly, the tech said he and the other techs prefer to patronize Maxwell.

Maxwell also learned that his uncle was known for providing the same quality tools as the flag trucks but at a lower price. Hence, Maxwell began studying the flag catalogs and learning which manufacturers make products that can compete with the flags on quality and price.

He realized that his uncle’s niche was good quality, warrantied tools at a lower price than certain brand tools. But Maxwell also recognized there are some exclusive tools that flags carry that he can’t offer. He realizes that some customers are loyal to certain brands and will not change. “I’m not here to compete (100 percent of the time) with franchise trucks,” he says. And these flags exist throughout his market.

There is, however, a sizeable number of customers who want the tools he carries.


In search of growth

His uncle’s reputation, combined with his own people skills, enabled Maxwell to meet the monthly sales goals he set for himself. He was able to generate an income similar to his uncle’s. But he believed he could do even better if he served larger customers.

In the first year, he culled half of the accounts – the least profitable ones – and sought others to replace them. He visited two prospective accounts every day, and in the course of two and a half years, he rebuilt the individual customer count to 150 in 115 stops. He visits all but 20 stops weekly; the rest are bi-weekly.

His uncle’s reputation has helped him win new accounts. Maxwell tells prospective customers his truck has served the market since 1989.

Another advantage Maxwell brought to the role was his personal history in the area he serves. It is not unusual for him to see former classmates at his stops. “It helps being able to know something about their personal lives,” he says. “It helps me relate to them personally.”

Maxwell has a gift for gab, and he found it helpful in sustaining customer loyalty. His other sales techniques have been self-taught.

When approaching new customers, Maxwell makes a point not to badmouth the competition. He tells customers the established players carry good quality products. This carries no downside for Maxwell; by comparing himself to the competition, he places himself in good company, thereby enhancing his own credibility.

He even tells customers that they should shop different trucks to see who carries what tools.

He sometimes fixes tools that he did not sell. “When you do that for a customer, game over,” he says. “If there’s something I can fix for them, it makes me look better.”

When he gets a new stop, Maxwell encourages the techs to learn about his tools and ask questions. If he doesn’t know something, he goes to the supplier’s website. He believes an educated customer is a better customer.

He doesn’t hesitate to let a trustworthy customer borrow a tool before buying it. Because the tools he carries are good quality, Maxwell has learned that most of them sell themselves. He recently sold a diagnostic tool to a repair shop after letting the shop use it for a week.

One thing that surprised him early on is how much techs will spend on tools.


Conversations and other sales techniques

One of the most important insights Maxwell gained on his own was how much the techs buy on impulse. Hence, he tries to keep them on his truck as long as possible; he does this by actively engaging them in conversation. He will spend as long as an hour talking with a customer about their personal interests. He insists this helps build strong customer relations. “If I get people (talking) on their things (hobbies) five more minutes, they’ll tell me something they want. I’ll spend the extra time,” he says.

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