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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The garage enabled him to host his own tool shows, which have proven beneficial. He prints flyers to promote these events and passes them out on his trailer. “I have done two weeks’ worth of sales one day at one of those shows,” he says.

But the growth he experienced did not come without some challenges.


Growth brings challenges

The trailer gave his business such a boost, Manning confesses, that it made him overconfident for awhile. He began to pay less attention to the “basics” he had previously mastered. As a result, sales suffered.

“You always have that bump when you switch trucks,” he says. “Everyone wants to come out and look at it.” When he became overconfident, he didn’t work as hard at making sure the techs were coming out to the trailer. He didn’t keep close track of his payments and collections. He didn’t scrutinize who he should extend credit to. “You stop doing certain things, like setting the (payment) terms.”

Once he realized his sales were slipping, Manning refocused his business and managed to improve his sales. However, the business took another hit in 2010 when he was sidetracked by his mother’s illness. But he rebounded in 2011 and has been growing ever since.

The Great Recession has not made an impact on the aftermarket business in the Akron/Tallmadge/Mogadore/Cuyahoga Falls area that he serves. “People are fixing stuff,” says. “The business does fairly well when times are hard. People can’t afford to buy new cars.”

And as tool and equipment technology has improved, Manning has found that more customers are looking to him for advice on diagnostic test equipment and reprogramming tools. To stay current on these topics, he attends Mac Tools district meetings every two months, and the annual Mac Tools Fair.

He makes it a point to share his knowledge with customers and encourages them to attend training classes on their own.

Customers have been talking more recently about direct injection engines, scan tools and reprogramming systems.

One customer recently asked him for a scan tool with a reflash module. Manning made it a point to find out what vehicles the customer wants to reflash. Shops that have not invested in reprogramming sometimes ask Manning where they can find it.

He has also noticed cordless power tools gaining popularity.

In body shops, waterborne paints are gaining favor. These require different spray guns than oil-based paints.

A popular item as of late has been work belts with leather fronts that don’t cause scratches on cars when the technician leans over.


The distributor as an information resource

Besides talking about tools, Manning converses with customers about other business topics. Many customers ask him for advice about buying new smartphones. Shop owners ask him about payment apps. Health insurance has also been a favorite topic of late. “The more I know these people, the better I do,” he says.

While many customers like to talk, Manning pays close attention to his schedule. “You know more about them than you have to or need to. It happens over time. You definitely have to watch your time because time management is critical.”

In 2009, Mac Tools asked Manning to mentor new distributors. He saw this as a way to help strengthen the Mac Tools brand, and he has since trained six distributors, four of whom are still in business. He has found that being a mentor helps him in his own business.

For one thing, it reinforces his understanding of the “basics.” For another, he gains the support of other distributors who sometimes have ideas he hadn’t considered. “It keeps me fresh. I’m able to learn from some of the ideas they bring to the table.”

In the future, Manning may become a district manager. For the time being, he needs a more flexible schedule than such a role would permit, seeing that the youngest of his five children is only eight.

For the time being, “I couldn’t imagine doing anything else,” he says.

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