Mac distributor sells service first and foremost

May 3, 2010

Mac Tools distributor David Musil of Crete, Neb., has been a tool man for nearly a decade. Everything you need to know about Dave's business, you can learn by looking at his truck. Not only is the impressive Kenworth eye-catching on the road, but the "Ready for work" signage, placed prominently above the cab tells the rest.

Dave's truck is a bit of a jaw-dropper inside as well. As good as it looks on the outside (including graphics, pull-out grill and demo-playing TV screen), Dave has put even more attention-to-detail in the interior. Not just the full level of stock he cruises with, but the hand-made shelving and displays are impossible not to notice. It should come as no surprise that Dave has regularly finished in Mac's Top 10 distributors.

The former bodyman spends three days a week in Lincoln, and the other two covering more rural areas around Crete, including stops with vo-tech students at Milford's Southeast Community College.

"I found that I like to work with my hands and I am also a people person," Dave said. "[As a distributor] I can keep my hand in both. I can still look over a tech's shoulder and offer help as part of my interaction every week. ... I really enjoy the people."

At the body shop, Dave said every week the Mac truck would come through regularly. Dave's Mac distributor became a DM, and recruited Dave to take over his route because of Dave's knowledge of tools and his "gift of gab." Now Dave feels he's in his dream job.

"It was either this or drive Gravedigger," he joked.

The 'E' word

With the way the overall economy of the past few years has decreased spending across most markets, it's been common to see lower levels of inventory at various retail outlets, from the corner grocery to tool trucks.

That's certainly not true on Dave's Kenworth. His shelves, displays, walls and ceiling are all fully stocked and he was carrying three toolboxes as well. Dave said that he hasn't dramatically changed his sales style in the past few years, and has been fortunate not to see sales drop. He accounts for part of this from the constant level of stock he has available. If the tech doesn't see it, he's much less likely to buy it, Dave said.

Regarding that, Dave does some toting-and-promoting at various stops, but "would much rather sell out of the truck than a bag," he said.

"You've got a much better opportunity to sell something off the truck, where there's more likely to be something that will jog the tech's memory, 'Oh yeah, I have to have this.' Toting and promoting has to happen, but if you can bring the customer to the truck, he can see all of what you've got." And that makes for much better sales, he said.

"I hand the tools to customers all the time to hold; it's like in the car business, 'feel the wheel, seal the deal.' " he said.

Another advantage Dave uses once he gets customers on the truck is the video screen above his work area that plays promo videos. He has a friend who converts the Mac fliers to a pan-and-scan video presentation with a musical background. (There is also a video screen that plays outside the truck to help draw customers in.)

"The advantage: It sells product," Dave said. He added quickly that there is also a disadvantage to the screen. "It takes their attention away form me ... I can tell when I don't have their 100-percent focus."

One of Dave's fun sales on the truck is with the Swab-eez from Innovative Products of America. While some distributors have found these to be slow to catch on with techs, Dave "sold them the first day I had some on the truck. Customers will come on the truck and ask, 'What do you use those for?' I turn it right around and ask, 'What would you use it for?' " Dave said the responses vary from uses in the shop to others at home, but the important thing is it gets the tech thinking of what he can use them for and nets sales.

The Swab-eez work as a consumable for Dave. Other consumables he does well with are gloves, grinding and sanding discs ... and jerky.

"Jerky sales are good," he said. "It is a nice consumable, because it goes." At one shop, he said he can count on selling about six packs a week. "Once they start on it, and they like it, then they start to look forward to it." At one shop, while Dave was with one customer, the other four techs on the truck were gathered around the jerky packets sorting through the flavors, recommending some and asking after some missing ones.

Beyond that, the rest of Dave's stock seems fairly balanced between hardlines, power tools, etc. "If you're in the business, you have to carry at least one toolbox on your truck," Dave said (he has three). "Toolbox sales are one of the biggest things right now that I think other distributors are holding back on right now, which ends up in a hole on the truck that techs will notice right away."

He also carries a lot of sockets and socket sets, including several of the very large sockets needed in heavy-duty and agricultural shops, several of which are on his route. "The investment can be steep, but this is an area that can't be waited on," Dave said. 

"When they need these, they need them now. If you call around until you find one, you've lost the sale. When they need it, they don't care what they pay for it."

Of course, of all the things Dave stocks and sells, "the most important thing I sell is myself," he said. "It's about service," whether selling against another truck, parts jobbers or the Internet. "My dad told me I should put a sticker on the outside of the truck that says, 'I sell service. I also have some tools.' "

After the sale

Selling service (and tools) is only part of the job. Dave has some advice for new distributors not to oversimplify what they do:

"It's a very simple job, but if you want to be good at it, it's the hardest job you could have. It looks easy from the outside, 'Oh, I get a tool in, I sell it and collect the money and then go back and buy more tools.' There's a lot more to it if you want to be successful.

"Generally, the younger guys just think, 'I've got to get the sale, got to get the sale,' ... and they will do anything to get the sale; they lose hard and bad." That's why many new distributors don't last past a few years, he said.

What follows the sale is continued customer service and the collections. "I can sell to everyone on this route," Dave said. "Not every guy on this route has the ability to pay for it."

Payments is where things become clear on whether you've done your proper job pre-evaluating customers, Dave said. It's as bad to shoot too low as too high, he said.

"I know I've lost some money, but it's OK to lose some money because this business is based on giving credit to those who are not necessarily credit-worthy. ... If you shut a new customer down at $50 credit for fear of losing money, you may be missing out on even more. Most customers are probably credit-worthy to a couple hundred dollars—at $50 you just shot yourself in the foot.

"Most guys have at least $20 a week to spend," Dave said. "Now, if I give him a $100 bill, and he can't keep up with $20 a week, I know where his credit is—less than $100. ... But if the tech comes back with $50 the next week ... I know I can start moving up his credit line.

"If you know how much your customer is worth, you don't have to worry as much about loss," Dave said. "As long as a customer pays you the appropriate amount every single week, that customer can never owe you too much money."

How customers pay isn't a matter of having the right route, Dave said. "Good routes and bad routes don't exist. It's the person behind the wheel that influences the customers on a route," whether it's buying habits, paying habits, demeanor on the truck, etc.

Managing customers is not the hardest part of the job though, for Dave. "The hardest part of the job is managing time closely enough to balance work and family. The hours are enough that you end up eating and sleeping this job if you're not careful.

"Out here [on the route] is the fun part," Dave said. "When this becomes work is when you're at home" doing bills, ordering, paperwork, checking orders and inventory, and managing the business part of the route.

"You fight time on these routes. It seems like if you fall behind one day, you never get that day caught up."

It's apparent that the Mac Mentor doesn't spend too many days playing catch-up.

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