The tool industry has been an exciting place in the last few years, thanks to all the technological innovation that is making technicians more efficient. Innovation in scan tools, reprogrammers, hand tools, battery testers, inspection lights, TPMS tools, A/C equipment and even tire balancers have captured a lot of attention.
But distributors must recognize that just as technology is changing automotive tools, there is just as much innovation taking place in the way that a mobile must manage their business. We’re talking about business management software, cashless payment systems, social media, product demonstration videos and more. Innovation has taken hold in all these areas and it is every bit as important to a distributor’s success as the tools they sell.
Let’s start with an area that distributors point to as their biggest challenge: time management. Business management software has made huge strides in making distributors more efficient in recent years.
Several years ago, software primarily helped with accounting and inventory management. Since then, software engineers have come up with reports specifically designed for the mobile distributor.
More powerful software
Alex Adams, who operates a Snap-on route in Madrid, IA, says the management reports that have come out in just the last two years have made him more efficient. He gets detailed reports on purchases, collections and receivables. He says having accurate numbers to measure his performance by is one of his most useful management tools.
Point-of-sale management software also continues to evolve, Adams notes. Some software allows a distributor to open a second order ticket on their laptop while finishing up the first ticket. This not only saves time handing transactions; it improves customer service.
Changes in hardware are also important, especially as they deliver more efficient ways to manage cashless sales. This is critical as more customers pay with credit and debit cards. Distributors can now get mobile hotspot devices from cellular service providers that make credit and debit transactions easier and faster. A mobile hotspot allows a distributor to do a cashless transaction anywhere, without a dedicated phone line.
John Leonardelli, a Mac Tools distributor in New Berlin, WI, recently switched from a swipe card reader to a hot spot device. He says he no longer wastes time walking around searching for a WiFi connection while servicing customers.
Leonardelli also saves time having customers make automatic credit and debit payments. There are fees involved with cashless payments, he notes. But automatic payments save him the time of handling each individual transaction (and printing and delivering the receipt) and they also improve his cash flow.
Show videos anywhere!
Speaking of hardware, tablets are creating new marketing opportunities. Tablets allow distributors to show videos to customers wherever they are.
Marc Seidman, a Cornwell Tools dealer in Atco, NJ, can access tool catalogs and show product demonstrations on his iPad while visiting customers in the shop. He anxiously awaits the day when all of his customer information will be accessible on the tablet.
Distributors with iPads can download the Tool Chest iPad app which allows users to search for detailed product information in an interactive format (See the app: VehicleServicePros.com/10835042).
And don’t forget about social media, one of the most powerful marketing tools ever invented. Tom Seagraves, a distributor in Columbia, MO, posts his Mac Tools flyers on his Facebook page, along with comments about the deals. He posts special deals of his own that are only available to Facebook followers. He posts YouTube videos on Facebook of himself presenting special deals. He even flatters his customers by putting their photos on Facebook.
Then there are things to make the truck itself more exciting for customers.
LED lighting enhances tool displays. These lights are smaller than fluorescent lights, they take up less space, they require less amperage, they’re environmentally friendlier, they’re safer, they’re more versatile and they last longer.
Craig Herndon, a Matco Tools distributor in New Iberia, LA, switched to LEDs this year and finds they create a better environment on the truck. “It just gives a better atmosphere and you don’t have the problem of the lights flickering and going out on you.”
Yes, technology is all the rage in our business nowadays.