This year’s exceptionally cold winter has delivered a wake-up call to mobile distributors who have not bothered to create a contingency plan for temperature extremes. Most distributors adjust their product offerings for the different seasons, but this year’s extreme winter weather interrupted normal activity in many regions and forced distributors to reschedule routes.
When winter arrives, distributors typically stock up on battery chargers, battery maintenance kits, electrical system analyzers and testers, clothing, boots and energy drinks. And since the post-Christmas period leaves customers strapped for cash, many distributors also think up creative promotions to entice them to spend money. But this winter has gone beyond the norm, temperature-wise, forcing many distributors to work harder to sustain sales.
Work demand varies
Distributors, like their repair shop customers, offered mixed reports on how the record cold has affected the demand for repair work. Some shops are seeing more work due to an increase in electrical failures and traffic accidents. Others claim the cold weather forces car owners to postpone repairs.
One thing most distributors agree on is that it takes more strength, mentally and physically, to be out on the roads in this weather. Mobile distributors must drive more slowly to avoid accidents. Many say it has taken them twice as long to get from one stop to the next.
Whether the arctic chill has had a negative or positive effect on repair shop activity, there are things distributors can do to improve sales.
For starters (no pun intended), distributors need to make sure their own vehicles are capable of withstanding subzero temperatures. One distributor I know in Ohio got sidelined for a couple of days because his fuel filter froze, burning out his fuel pump. The tow and the repair cost him around $800, not to mention the lost sales.
Secondly, be sure to “tote and promote” if it’s not part of your routine. Most distributors know that customers are less likely to come out to the truck in the freezing cold, but this winter, the problem is especially severe. Based on the people I’ve spoken to, the distributors who tote and promote have been more successful than those who do not.
A tip from the frigid zone
Take it from Kraig Thoreson, a cold weather expert in the land of frozen lakes. “You can sell just about anything out of the tote tray,” notes Thoreson, a Matco Tools distributor in Owatonna, MN. “Not all guys (customers) can make it out to the truck.” Being in the Twin Cities, Thoreson is an old hand at dealing with subzero temperatures, so the arctic chill hasn’t fazed him or his customers.
Repair shops in the Twin Cities always get slammed with battery and starter issues in the winter, says Thoreson, a 27-year veteran distributor. And he wouldn’t have it any other way. “I love the cold weather,” he says. This season, he has done well with battery booster packs and electrical chargers. He has found great interest this year in a new handheld starter that is well made and competitively priced.
Thoreson has actually refined the art of “toting and promoting” in the cold weather months by adding a promotion shelf near the entrance of his truck. On this shelf, customers see tools that he carries into the shop along with other items he wants to draw special attention to.
Another cold weather expert, Chad Roskopf, a Cornwell Tools dealer in West Bend, WI, agrees promotions are more critical during extreme temperatures. He holds raffles to drum up interest in coming out to the truck.
A creative solution
One of the more creative solutions to this year’s snow storms came from Scotty Smith, a Mac Tools distributor in Middletown, DE. Smith plows snow in the winter, and he claims it works out great since he keeps busy plowing snow on days when many of his repair shops are slow, if not closed.
Not many distributors agree that this as a viable option since snow plowing would interfere with route schedules. Smith’s case is unique because he was plowing snow before he became a distributor and he established his tool business in conjunction with snow plowing.
The cold temperatures remind mobile distributors that they need to be prepared for the unexpected. They need to be ready to spend the extra time needed on the route and give customers more reasons to come out to the truck.