California distributor relocates to Charlotte, N.C., finds successful practices transfer to a new market

In his 15 years as a mobile distributor, Brian Deakins learned that persistence, along with good service, wins customers. So when he decided a few months ago that he wanted to relocate from Southern California to the Charlotte, N.C. area, he just pulled up stakes and moved. So far, he’s on track to rebuild his tool business in a new geographic market.

Deakins, an independent distributor, wanted a more “laid back” lifestyle than the hectic pace of Southern California. He had previously visited Charlotte, N.C. area and he liked the people. He purchased a house in Charlotte, and in November, he drove his 18-foot Freightliner there.

Some distributors would have a hard time starting over in a new environment. Deakins, after all, had close to 700 regular customers in Southern California. But he reasoned that the same business practices that worked in Southern California would serve him well in his new environment.

The only thing he did differently was he changed the name of the business from Deakins Tool Supply to Outlaw Tool Supply. He reasoned that a new start warranted a different name.

There was no magic formula for finding customers in his new market. Deakins simply drove around to businesses that need tools; automotive repair shops and car dealerships. At every place he went, the business was already being served by at least one other tool truck. But nobody told him he wasn’t welcome.

“They’re always looking for something,” Deakins said of tool customers. “A lot of people are looking for different options.”

He stuck to his practice of always coming at the same time every week. “The more you come around, the more likely they are to buy from you.” Deakins noted that many customers mainly want to know that you are going to be around in case they need to exchange something or have something repaired.

Deakins hasn’t given up on any of the 40 stops he has visited so far. “You never know (how much they’ll buy) until you start going there,” he said. “I haven’t given up on any place.”

The customers also like the fact that Deakins does some things that are unusual for mobile distributors, such as providing repairs on the truck for air tools. “Nobody out here does that,” he said.

Deakins knew that the people in Charlotte, N.C. are friendly. What he didn’t know was that a sense of camaraderie exists among mobile distributors. When he called his competitors to find out when they were going to visit a customer so that he wouldn’t be showing up at the same time, the competitors said it was okay to come at the same time. This was different from Southern California. While Deakins was surprised by their goodwill, he made sure he didn’t come at the same time. “I try not to be at the same shop as anybody else,” he said.

Deakins is grateful he got in the mobile distribution business. It has given him the skills he needs to be able to live any place he chooses.