Ohio distributor mentor flushes out the 'Basics'

Interest in his customer's daily tasks keeps Manning’s conversations focused on business when he visits his stops.


The trailer has proven an efficient alternative to a traditional tool truck for Manning. For Scott Manning, a Mac Tools mentor distributor, there is no mystery to success in mobile tool distribution. Manning, based in Kent, Ohio near Akron, vigilantly focuses on “the basics” of the business. By paying careful attention to customer payment terms, collections, customer...


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Attention to product mix

Manning also recognized early on the importance of focusing on both small-ticket and high-ticket items. He realized high-ticket items such as toolboxes are important for a distributor who wants to reach his full sales potential. But high-ticket sales are a long-term project. “It’s one of those things you have to talk about (with customers),” he says. “If you’re not talking about it, you’re not going to sell them.”

Capital equipment also plays a role in a distributor’s success. Manning makes it a point to talk to the shop owners and managers who are the decision makers for capital equipment buys. But he has also learned that techs have a say in this area. “There tends to be one tech in the shop that has the shop owner’s ear (about capital equipment),” he says. “You can, a lot of times, use them as a reference. It’s interesting how each shop has its own complexity to it.”

“It does work,” Manning says of this strategy. “You want to have the relationship with the shop owner, but as important as that is, the ‘lead tech’ that keeps him abreast of the needs of the shop.” He notes that in some cases, one tech will be seen as the expert in one type of equipment while another tech will be the reference person in another.

Another “basic” for Manning is getting the techs to come out to the trailer. He carries tools into the shop when he arrives, but this is more to start conversations than to sell those particular items. He typically carries in items that Mac Tools has on sale. “You can only do so much with what you carry in,” he says. “Getting them out to the truck is the key to the business.”

Merchandising strategy is also a “basic.” Manning moves his main product groupings – wheels/hubs, body shop and electronics – quarterly in the trailer. “If you move groups around, more people will see them.” Otherwise, customers are less likely to pay attention to the merchandise over time.

The most important “basic” of all, notes Manning, is listening to the customer. “They have to know that you’re there for them. That has to come first.”

One factor in Manning’s early growth was the business software that Mac Tools introduced in his third year, which he found to be a great organizing tool. He found it a great timesaver to be able to place orders at the end of the day on his computer. The software also made it easier for him to stay on top of his receivables. “That computer has found 10-year-old bad debt,” he says.

Smartphones and payment card apps have since improved his productivity even more. Manning now enters notes about his visits in his smartphone, which is faster and easier than using a clipboard.

 

Ready for the next level

By sticking to his “basics,” Manning was able to pay off his start-up costs a year and a half ahead of his five-year payoff plan.

After growing the business in double digits every year, in year four Manning decided to sell his truck lease and invest in a larger vehicle. He ended up buying a 30-foot trailer from another Mac Tools distributor. While the trailer offered some advantages over a truck, the main advantage Manning saw at the time was more selling space.

The trailer, which has professional Mac Tools graphics on the outside, was a big hit with Manning’s customers. Customers were excited to see the inside of the air conditioned trailer. The trailer was more comfortable for customers due to the extra room it offers.

Manning eventually learned that the trailer, powered by a Honda EX 3300 generator, has other benefits over the truck. Fuel and maintenance costs are lower and parts more readily available.

Parking was more challenging until Manning became used to the trailer.

In 2006, he designed a new house for his growing family on a seven-acre parcel in Kent. He also designed a 2,000-square-foot garage for his trailer and inventory.

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