A Safer Sales Approach

June 1, 2006
Nik Satenstein offers new insight on a familiar product category.

I recently noticed an under-serviced area of the tool business. We come in contact with it every day on the route, but most of us fail to be proactive in selling this important need. Similarly, many of our customers fail to recognize how vital this topic is to their very own existence.

I'm referring to safety. This might sound morbid, but I did an informal count of my customers that are missing fingers or parts of fingers, and the number was 12! I remember starting out as a mechanic in the early '70s. When you performed a brake job, one of the first things you did was blow off the brakes. If you're old enough, you can remember the huge clouds of toxic asbestos dust wafting into the air, and your lungs. Fortunately, we know better now!

The opportunity for us to help protect our customers is readily available on our weekly visits. A favorite response of mine to the question of "How much are safety glasses?" is "How much are your eyes worth?" This usually elicits a smile, and I gently remind them of the importance of safety. Also, I don't think it's beyond the scope of my duties to ask someone that I observe grinding without glasses, "Where are your glasses? May I get you a pair NOW?" I care about my people!

Ear protection is another area where we can serve our customers. Air hammers and some impact tools can make a harmful racket. So I stock ear protection devices. Also, certain shops have poor acoustics that multiply the audio assault and present the opportunity to showcase newer, "quiet" air tools. It seems that if I can get one into a shop, soon thereafter someone else is looking to escape those insulting decibels.

Listen to any comments about aching feet, and just look at what they are wearing. I thought slip-off work boots were not for me — boy was I wrong. I love no laces, and when given a chance, so do most folks. If they can't get past that boot design, I still have lace-up ones to offer.

The shop is a depository of harmful and toxic chemicals. In recent years, the toxicity of shop chemicals has been reduced, but the jury is out on the long-term effects. When reminded, our customers might want to reduce their risk by cutting down on absorption through the skin. That's one reason why gloves are an important part of my business. I stock several varieties to satisfy each person's need, as some are allergic to latex, and others want Nitrile.

Hitting two hammers together gives me the creeps and is very dangerous. Longer punches and brass punches for fuel tank work help stop this risky practice. Proper tools are also out there for lock ring removal, and it's our job to educate and stock them on the truck.

Gasoline fumes are highly volatile, which helps me sell more pinch-off tools. If you've ever had an armpit full of raw gas, you can relate, and the other side of the coin is a caustic burn by hot coolant.

The underhood area offers a number of opportunities for and threats to customer safety. Serpentine belt tools have evolved, and with the proper one, there aren't as many issues getting the belt back on, which is where a lot of hand injuries happen.

It's pretty common to see a torch being used for heating metal by a mechanic without eye protection in place. Again, this is another chance for you to serve and sell.

Chrome sockets on impacts are common in the shop. I have been successful in selling impact sockets when I make the customer aware of the danger of exploding/shattering sockets. I make it clear that it's not just the issue of a broken tool, but the flying debris coming their way. They don't always realize that an impact socket is not as brittle, and has a tendency to crack in a safer manner.

Lastly, a literal killer can be jacks and jack stands. Make sure they're properly rated, and sell your customers real ones. Making a few bucks on a deal with some equipment you bought because it was cheaper can bite you big time. Pass on the sale if they want cheap, and you can't buy it from a trusted source.

In the beginning of the column, I mentioned safety issues affect us, too. Get out of the way if someone is doing something dangerous, prop up a pair of safety glasses on your head when entering a shop, and give yourself some space during chemical use. How are your shoes and soles? We are one-person businesses out here, and time off for injuries can be crippling in many ways.

Also, be extra careful using your lift gate. Check its condition and watch for pinch points. If a box starts to get away from you, it's better to let it go. I can count five toolmen I know who sustained serious injuries, some career-ending, from trying to save a box from going over.

All told, we do a great job protecting our customers and friends in the shops. They trust us with their accounts, and we trust them with the tools we release on credit. Respecting their safety presents another way to bring extraordinary value to your relationship, and raises everyone's stature.

You can reach Nik Satenstein, Mobile Distributor (Matco Tools) West Chester, PA at [email protected]

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