2014 Distributor of the Year: Rick Delisanti, Rochester, N.Y.

Going the extra mile for your customers makes all the difference. Not just to your success in business, but to your sense of who you are. When it is ingrained in your mind that your purpose is to solve other people’s problems, you instinctively respond accordingly.

Rick Delisanti, a Mac Tools distributor in Rochester, NY, has been nearly obsessive about helping customers not just with getting the tools they need, but doing everything possible to see that their warranties get honored. Going the extra mile to help customers has earned him both financial success and personal satisfaction.

It has also helped earn him the recognition of being the 2014 Distributor of the Year for Professional Distributor magazine. The Distributor of the Year Award honors business owners not only for business success, but for being active in their community. Delisanti, a Mac Tools mentor distributor and currently a Platinum level distributor, supports local charities and volunteers time in a local recreation league. He also serves on the Mac Tools Distributor Council.

Delisanti was nominated for this honor by a customer, Anthony Caricati, who owns Brake Clinic Inc. in Rochester, NY.

“I think the job is 70 percent service,” says Delisanti, who looks you straight in the eye, always with a smile. “I don’t think this job is rocket science. But you’ve got to be willing to put the time and work in.”

Delisanti’s role model growing up was his grandfather, who ran food service at the Eastman Kodak Co. and demonstrated good personal ethics.

Delisanti has worked for Mac Tools for most of his professional life, starting out in 1997 shortly after studying business and marketing at Brockport State University in Brockport, NY. He was 23 years old managing a towing business where he had worked in college when he learned about a local Mac Tools position being available.

Delisanti joined Mac Tools in route sales and found he was a natural salesman. He didn’t know a lot about tools, so he asked customers to explain what tools they used for what jobs.

He liked the job from the start. He liked being out and about, talking with people. He is able to strike up a rapport with most people, and he makes a point of getting to know them beyond business. “You can’t be all business,” he says. “You have to show you care. The key is to make them feel comfortable on the truck.”

As he eventually started a family, Delisanti liked having the flexibility to manage his personal and work time as he saw fit.


Opportunity arrives

Owning his own business was not an immediate goal when he first joined Mac Tools. But four years after he joined the company, the company converted route sales employees to its independent distributor system. Delisanti had recently married and bought a house. He didn’t welcome the need to purchase his truck and inventory.

“I was happy where I was,” he says, looking back on that critical time in his life. “Working for yourself and working for somebody else are two entirely different things.” Little did he know that in the long term, the opportunity would bring him even greater success.

At the time, Delisanti had about $40,000 to $50,000 “on the street.” He needed to purchase his 16-foot truck and about $50,000 worth of inventory. He felt confident in his salesmanship enough to take the gamble, so he made the investment through Mac Tools financing. He took a loan with a seven-year payback plan.

While he was no longer a Mac Tools employee, Delisanti found that the company continued to provide management support that proved helpful. At first, he was hesitant when his district manager wanted to ride with him once a month. But the first thing he noticed was that having a DM ride with him got a positive response from customers.

Besides automotive shops, his 500 or so customers include truck shops, municipal garages, heavy equipment repair shops, a supermarket fleet garage, an airport and a National Guard armory.


Management supports growth

His DM also taught him the importance of maintaining an upbeat attitude at all times. This is important, Delisanti notes, since the job does require dealing with a lot of stress at times.

Delisanti was able to meet his monthly financial goals without any problem. He made it a point to stay current on his inventory payments, which he recognized as an area that can quickly get a distributor in financial trouble.

Suddenly, he was responsible for buying inventory and collecting receivables. “You’ve got to learn to budget money,” he notes. “I made some costly mistakes.”

The Mac Tools business management software was and continues to be a great help. It is especially helpful around tax time when Delisanti prints invoices for his 500 customers.

One of his earliest successes, he notes, was getting his receivables down to one percent of gross sales. Before extending a tech credit, he asks the shop owner for advice about that particular customer.

The biggest surprise about being an independent distributor was how long his work days became. “I had no idea,” he says.

One year before his loan had to be paid in full, Delisanti was able to purchase a new, 18-foot Duromax truck, which he saw as the right size for an urban/suburban market like Rochester.


Warranties hold key

One of the most important aspects of customer service for Delisanti is being attentive to customer warranty issues. He tags warrantied items and places them on his truck and sends them to Mac Tools at the end of the month. Delisanti has found that it helps to send the warranties out in a timely manner so that he doesn’t forget about them.

The Rochester market is highly competitive, he says, noting there are some well-established distributors that he willingly speaks highly of. To win customer loyalty, he has found attention to warranty work especially useful.

Delisanti doesn’t hesitate to replace hand tools that have problems. “Are you going to lose a customer over a $9 screwdriver?” he asks.

He can’t deliver satisfaction in every situation, but Delisanti always takes the time to do what he can about warranties. He says listening to these concerns has been key to his success.

One customer interviewed by Professional Distributor said Delisanti is his preferred tool salesman among three trucks because he tries to fix warranty issues as soon as they occur.

Delisanti’s willingness to hear about warranty issues does create some challenges. Some customers try to take advantage of him and get him to replace expensive tools he didn’t sell them. Addressing these concerns takes time, which translates into money. But Delisanti believes maintaining a reputation for caring about warranties has made him successful.

He recently gained the attention of the techs at one shop where the management buys most of their tools from an industrial supply warehouse. The techs appreciate the fact that Delisanti will pick up their warrantied items and send them to the manufacturer. The industrial supply company requires the techs to do this on their own. These techs are putting in a good word for Delisanti with management.

His father, Ralph, a retired photographer, is helping him out by running errands and doing occasional deliveries. His mother, Helen Mary, helps with bookkeeping.


Mentoring reinforces proficiency

In 2004, Delisanti became a Mentor Distributor for Mac Tools, and he has since mentored nine other distributors, about half of whom are still in business. “It (being a mentor) keeps you on your toes,” he says.

In addition to being willing to work hard, Delisanti advises new distributors to be fair with customers and to always show up on schedule to gain their trust. “You’ve got to be fair with guys.”


Volunteering to help

In 2005, Delisanti and his wife, Charlene, began volunteering to help out with their daughter’s soccer league. They helped direct traffic and clean up after the games. More recently, they began to work the concessions stand and clean up after games for another daughter’s Sunday recreation league cheerleading. “We’re just at that point in our lives where everything’s work and kids,” he says.

He donates pocket lights, hats and bit kits as prizes for auctions to raise money for cancer awareness. One Saturday, he drove his truck as a sponsoring company in a parade to raise money for Ronald McDonald House.

When customers ask for donations for special causes, he usually says yes. “If it’s a customer, I’ll always donate something. If it’s something that I feel is a good cause, I’ll donate.”

Delisanti also attends District Field Excellence meetings and serves on the Mac Tools Distributor Council. The Council meets for three days with corporate management to provide feedback. The company’s new credit program emerged from these discussions. “It’s good that corporate is involved with what’s going on in the field,” he says.

And if he weren’t busy enough, he also plows snow in the winter on days when most of his customers can’t get to work because of snow.


Promotions pay

Delisanti learned early on the importance of promotions to build excitement. He currently has a promotion to encourage customers to fill out credit applications. By filling out an application, customers can win a PlayStation, an iPod Mini, an LG wireless sound bar and $250, $100 and $50 purchase credits. He has gotten as many as 15 credit apps completed in one day.

The prizes are costing him $1,200, but if he sells one toolbox from these applications, he will come out ahead.

The biggest promotional event is the Mac Tools Tool Fair. Delisanti advises his customers one month before the event to let him know what they want so he can get the best possible value when he goes to the annual Tool Fair. The more money he spends at the event, the bigger the discounts he can pass on to customers.

At the time of this writing, several customers advised him what price they were seeking on certain toolboxes. “I know where I need to be to get him (the customer) into the deal,” Delisanti says. “You can save a guy $500 to $800 (on a toolbox),” he says. “That’s huge.”


Credit financing critical

Delisanti has found credit financing to be critical to his success. This is becoming more important as there are more high-ticket items, such as scan tools, coming on the market.

Credit financing is especially important to younger techs that don’t have a long credit history but need more tools than older techs.

Delisanti sold more toolboxes in 2008, 2009 and 2010 than he has in recent years since credit terms were easier at the time. He has high hopes for the new Mac Tools credit program. “We’re very excited about the program,” he says. “There’s a market that’s hard to sell to since we didn’t (previously) have the means to sell to them.”

For purchases that are not made with Mac Tools credit, Delisanti tries for five-week payment schedules. He says he averages eight weeks. “I always ask for as big a payment as I can get,” he says.


Manufacturer relations help

Delisanti has found scanners require a lot of knowledge, and he is thankful for the technical support he gets from Mac Tools as well as from some of the scan tool manufacturers. He has hosted a Bosch Automotive Aftermarket Automotive Service Solutions sales rep on his truck to help educate customers about scan tools.

He advises his customers that no one scan tool will cover every job. “It’s not going to completely do everything.”

He anticipates that reprogramming tools are going to be another big category, and he credits Bosch for incorporating a J-box on one of its recent scan tools, the Mentor Touch.

Still another growing category is TPMS. He notes that TPMS service requires a TPMS scanner on some vehicles.

Another fast growing category is cordless power tools. He says that lithium-ion battery powered tools give more power and allow techs to work two or three days without recharging.

Negotiating the value of trade-ins has also been an important factor in Delisanti’s success. He does not try to make a profit from trade-ins. Instead, he tries to break even with them, viewing the trade-in as a way to help a customer get a better deal. “I try not to insult people with trade-in values because they keep coming back to me with more stuff.”

He keeps used equipment on a specially designated shelf in the back of his truck.

In 2010, he traded in his truck for a new 20-footer, which allows him to haul $170,000 worth of retail inventory.

Last year, Delisanti improved his efficiency by renting a warehouse. This saves him the trouble of hauling tools in his pickup truck to his tool truck.

The biggest challenge Delisanti currently faces is time management. “Time is my biggest killer,” he says. He visits about 350 of his customers every week and the rest every other week.

“I’ve worked all these years to build this up. How do you maintain it?”

“You’re always catching up. That’s the dilemma I’m up against now. There’s not enough (work) to hire another guy, but there’s too much for one guy.”

He has considered paring his customers to the higher volume shops, but he worries that by doing this he might need the ones he cuts if the economy takes another dive. He has moved some shops to bi-weekly visits. He is paying close attention to his profit margins on all of his sales to see if there are ways he can improve his profitability on his existing business.

In retrospect, Delisanti feels fortunate that he joined Mac Tools a few years before he was given the chance to own his own distributorship. While he didn’t welcome the opportunity at first, it has worked out for the best. “I probably never would have been here,” he notes.

“It’s fun, but it’s a lot of work.”