Dan Smalls, a Mac Tools distributor located in Dubuque, Iowa, is getting himself ready for the annual Mac Tools distributor show next month, where he'll see new tools and have a chance to find items that his customers have been asking for.
Having been running his route for five years, he has a much better idea what the customers want. Prior to becoming a mobile tool distributor, Smalls worked as a machine operator at a factory. They had shut down the factory and moved it to Mexico, and Smalls says, laughing, "I didn't want to move there."
Smalls runs a mostly urban route, within the city and surrounding area, and has found additional business at agriculture dealerships and trailer shops, in addition to his normal independent repair shops and automotive dealerships.
When asked about tools sold at these locations, he advises these shops purchase mostly the same tools as his light duty shops. "Sometimes they need bigger sized sockets and ratchets," Smalls says. "Trailer shops, too, will also need the bigger tools."
With the Mac Tools Fair just around the corner, Smalls has been focusing on running down his inventory a month or so before show, so he's able to make more purchases while at the Mac Tools Fair. "I'll sell something on the truck that I've had on the shelf for awhile. Then at the end of the year, I may not reorder it until I go to my tool show."
He also starts to put "a bug in (his customers') ears" about specials he may find at the show. "I've already talked to my customers about toolboxes and different shop equipment they may need," says Smalls.
When asked about his number-one challenge on the job?
"Trying to hit all your customers every week. You’ve got a lot of area to cover and there are only so many hours in the day," says Smalls. That's not to say he doesn't accomplish this; he just knows it can be difficult.
"You try to get to (each stop) at the same time, but that could vary within an hour. If you're selling a big-ticket item or a toolbox, obviously it's going to take you a bit longer at that stop."
Smalls will also attempt to add new stops to his route, based on word-of-mouth requests. "That's hard, because you have to find the time. Once you start going to a stop and once you stop at that stop, you can't stop going (to that stop) to go somewhere else. You have to be consistent."
Smalls makes about 20 to 25 stops per day, depending on the day of week.
If I had to give somebody advice – having that conversation with your customers about collections would be the most important, to make sure you're on the same page," says Smalls. "And, don’t be afraid to ask for payment. Don't be afraid to ask for $50 a week. You need to be assertive. Set your payment terms right off the bat."
With this initial customer training, Smalls has worked out a system for his customer payments, even if they're not in the shop at the time he stops by.
"Most of my customers are really good. If they're not (at the shop), I'll get (the payments) set up to where -- when they're on vacation or off work -- I still get paid even if we miss each other, says Smalls. "I'll usually run their card, or they'll make it up the next week."