Creative merchandising pays

Mid-Atlantic Matco dealer applies sales and marketing skills honed in retail management.

Kevin Vernon and his wife, Aleks, hope their son, Roman, may some day follow in dad's footsteps. Spend a day with Kevin Vernon, a Matco Tools dealer in greater Baltimore, and it’s hard to imagine anyone better suited to the mobile tool distribution business. The chipper, 29-year-old Vernon brought experience in retail sales and management which he was looking to put to use in his own...

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Unlike many tool dealers, Vernon pays attention to the specific snacks and refreshments customers like. While he has some staples on his truck, such as energy drinks and beef jerky, he gets products that he knows certain customers like.

“How do you hug your customer?” Vernon asks, rhetorically.

One of the most popular treats has been cake balls dipped in chocolate icing. Vernon’s wife, Aleks, came up with the idea. Vernon didn’t think technicians would like these, but he was pleasantly surprised. “It took off like there was no tomorrow,” he says. “Everybody and their brother was coming out to get one of Aleks’ cake pops. It grew our business by leaps and bounds!” The treats are kept in a small truck refrigerator.

When Aleks went back to work full-time, his mother and grandmother took over the baking.

Management support crucial

Vernon finds the bi-monthly district sales meetings helpful since it gives him a chance to learn what’s selling for other Matco Tools distributors. Recent stars include a 30-1/2” breaker bar with a free ratchet, the Launch CRP123 code reader, 1/2" impacts, digital tire inflators and the cordless Matco Infiniums.

Because the technology is getting more complicated, Vernon thinks it’s important to go to the flag’s annual tool show.

Focus on toolboxes

Vernon realized that toolboxes, being high-ticket items, are an important part of the business. He pays careful attention to his customers’ toolboxes. When he sees a technician with an overfilled toolbox, he suggests they consider getting a new one.

Trade-ins play an important part of toolbox sales for Vernon. When a customer is offering him an old box as part of a new box purchase, he carefully considers what the used box will fetch him.

He has also learned that once a customer shows an interest in a toolbox, it’s important to close the sale as soon as possible. If not, the customer will shop around and may ask him to accept a lower price.

Vernon recognizes that toolbox sales are as impulse driven as any other piece of merchandise. Hence, he came up with the idea of a dedicated toolbox trailer. Toolboxes have unique features, such as heavy duty drawers, that a customer can’t fully appreciate from a picture. “It’s just like buying a car. It’s a lot easier to buy something when you can see it, feel it and touch it. They can picture themselves working with it on a daily basis. A lot of it is impulse.”

He beats the surface of the toolboxes with a hammer to show how strong they are. “You just can’t show that on a picture,” he says. “Most toolbox purchases are impulse buys. You happen to have that right one in just that right color.” He sold one toolbox to a customer because he happened to have the right color: pink.

Vernon owned an 18' trailer for hauling his drag race car. He decided that such a trailer would make a good platform for carrying toolboxes.

Since his truck needs service every eight weeks, he drives the toolbox trailer hitched to his pickup truck during the week his regular truck is in service.

In the first eight weeks he drove his toolbox trailer, Vernon sold six toolboxes. Including one from a customer who swore he’d never buy one.

Cash versus credit?

Vernon tries to establish automatic debit with as many accounts as possible. In addition, about 60 percent of the sales are made by credit card versus cash. “Usually, the guys that pay cash are the only ones I have to ask for money,” he notes.

He normally expects customers to finish their payments in five or six weeks. The longest he will agree to wait is 10 weeks with 10 percent down or $25, whichever is more.

He uses Matco financing for the high-ticket items.

At the end of the year, Vernon offers customers a list of all their purchases for their tax returns.

The worst part of the job is the rare instance when a supplier fails to deliver a tool for a customer. Vernon realizes this happens on occasion.

Skips are also a periodic nuisance. “I’ve been really fortunate,” Vernon says. “The guys I deal with are good to me.”

Bookkeeping takes about two hours a week, in addition to restocking the truck at the end of the day, which usually takes two hours.

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