Retirement nears for San Diego dealer: a great run it was

When he started out as an automotive technician at an auto dealership in 1968, Al Palmer never expected he would one day own his own business. In the 45 years since then, he has been a service manager at a dealership and a store manager at an RV center in addition to his present role as a Cornwell Quality Tools dealer in Santee, Calif., near San Diego.

Today, at age 66, he looks forward to retirement as he enters his 23rd year as Cornwell Tools dealer. Of all the jobs he’s had over the years, being a Cornwell Tools dealer has been the most fulfilling, both personally and financially. Palmer enjoys his daily interaction with customers.

After working as a service tech, Palmer spent 21 years as a service manager for three Montgomery Ward auto centers. He then spent time as a manager for an RV center before coming across a chance to become a Cornwell Tools dealer. He hasn’t regretted this last move for one day.

Palmer feels he was a “natural” selling tools to technicians, having been one himself for many years. He was disappointed to learn that some of them are not responsible about paying their bills. However, the majority are responsible and personable.

Like many tool dealers, Palmer found the first three years on the tool truck the most difficult. In retrospect, he realizes he was undercapitalized. But after that first three-year period, he experienced good profitability. He learned the importance of reinvesting in his inventory. A dealer can do anywhere between $300 and $5,000 in sales in one day. “You need to know where to spend that money, not just go out and spend it,” he says.

Palmer has also enjoyed the personal freedom that mobile tool sales has provided him, although he is quick to point out that a business owner has to be disciplined.

His advice to newcomers is to be prepared to work 10- to 12-hour days for the first five years.

In the past year, Palmer has only had to work four days a week. He is hoping that another Cornwell dealer can take over his stops before he retires.