Give & Take

April 1, 2006
See how Mac Tools distributor Matt Peternel's proactive approach to sales and collections has fueled his business's growth.

In the late 1970s Matt Peternel envisioned a future full of high speeds, higher jumps and rounded curves as a professional Motocross dirt bike racer. A shoulder injury would turn dirt bikes into a hobby, but his second career choice would still offer a fair share of ups, downs, sharp turns and the rare, but occasional wipe-out.

In 1982 Peternel was working at a Pittsburgh repair shop until his father received an offer to run a Mac Tools distributorship outside of Santa Barbara, CA. For the Peternels it was a package deal. Both made the cross-country move, with the younger Peternel helping his father on the route two or three days a week.

Matt Peternel's father encountered some health issues in 1986, and became a district manager in Bakersfield the following year. The younger Peternel followed, and eventually bought out his father's route. The rest, as they say, is history. Matt Peternel has been a Top 100 dealer for Mac Tools in each of the last 15 years. He's also set sales and collections benchmarks that have elevated him to Master and Platinum Distributor status.

His flame-hooded tool truck navigates a 20-mile radius in and around Bakersfield. One day per week he also works a town about 20 miles away. His 300 weekly customers range from traditional automotive technicians to smog-testing workers, but his two largest customer bases lie in heavy and agricultural equipment repair. This stems from the region's large cotton and almond production.

Getting After It

"The first six to eight months were tough," recalls Matt Peternel. "There were no other Mac dealers in the area, but I kept after it. I was young, self-motivated and aggressive. Plus, I had the benefit of watching and listening to my dad."

It's an interesting contradiction, but Peternel still blends his aggressive nature with an open-minded approach in listening to and observing his customers, as well as other things around the shop. This is how he develops his sales and customer service tactics.

"Customers will tell you what to stock," he explains. "But you can't be afraid to ask questions, and then listen and watch what they're doing. I also like to talk to other distributors in order to stay ahead of the curve and try to understand what products are really moving.

"I'm lucky in that if I don't have something in stock, one of the other three Mac dealers in the area might. Mac is different in that our territories aren't set up geographically – they tend to intertwine. We all communicate and get along and there's a lot of mutual respect between Timmy (Moore), Eddie (Gonzales), Mike (Tamargo) and myself."

Other practices make not having what a customer wants a rare occasion. "I also take a lot of notes and then follow up on that ‘wish' list the next time I'm in the shop," continues Peternel. "I see some of my competition going into the same places I visit, but the biggest difference is that the only thing they're carrying in is a customer roster.

"When I stop, I'm always checking my notes and carrying in the things they mentioned the week before. This not only drives sales, but it also shows that I'm listening to them, and that I care.

"One of the most motivating things I can hear is somebody saying, ‘You're the man', because then I know I've done my job in helping that customer to do his or her job better. I've made them money." He has other ways of reinforcing his commitment to customer service as well.

Peternel's truck is tough to miss. If the flames on the hood don't grab your attention, then the full-length, polished steel tailgate with a red CFL emblem will. The rear of his truck serves as a monument to Mac Tool's "Customers For Life" mantra, which is aimed at demonstrating the commitment the company and its distributors make to the end-user. "CFL is huge when things get a little sideways," states Peternel. "I just pull out that coin and it helps remind me of what the relationship with my customers is all about.

"You can't be afraid to ask for your money in this business, and sometimes that rubs people the wrong way. But even when they get upset with me, they come back. CFL means it can always be fixed. Sometimes this means being the bigger man and shouldering the blame. So I'll approach them and apologize. But now they know where I'm coming from, and it's not a problem next time or going forward."

"The House Never Loses"

While he works to provide a high level of customer service, and strives to supply everything the customer needs to be successful, Peternel knows that nothing is sold until all of the money for a sale has been collected.

"I'm the casino, and the house never loses," he states. "The way I see it, credit is a privilege, and I only extend it on my terms." Going a step further, "I only sell to customers who appreciate me coming by ... and I'll approach them," explains Peternel.

Those are some pretty bold statements to make during a time when many mobile dealers are looking to get whatever they can from a customer base saturated with buying options. But Peternel's results are tough to argue with:

  • His average sale is $215.
  • Average weekly payments are $50/customer.
  • These figures translate to a five-week turn. (The industry average is closer to eight weeks.)

"I see them four times a month," explains Peternel, "so my goal is to have them pay me before they get to other monthly bills. That's where that personal connection between a mobile dealer and customer can really help. I let them know that I care, but I also let them know that I've got bills to pay and that my time is not free. So if they miss a payment, I make them double-up. If they want the service that I provide, then they need to pay me. Mobile tool dealers cannot be afraid to ask for their money."

Peternel's customers are groomed from the start to produce higher weekly payments, which he convinces them are justified due to the higher level of service he provides. An ability to make these payments, along with lower overhead costs from fewer skip accounts, help justify his selective approach to new customers.

"Higher payments also mean they're not buying from anybody else," explains Peternel. "I'm getting the most from them, so they really can't afford to buy anywhere else. Just like I'm committed to them, they're now committed to me, and I value that trust tremendously. At the end of the day I treat them the way I would want to be treated. I'm honest and always professional."

The Man With The Plan

"This business is more mental than anything else," states Peternel. "That's why I need to make sure my head is right before I leave home every morning, and even after almost 25 years in the business, that can be tough sometimes. For instance, you want to just try and get past it when a good customer buys from someone else, but it hurts, and that can be tough to swallow.

"That's when I turn to my wife, Alice, for support, or draw some motivation from thinking about what's best for our daughter, Cristina, in putting her through college. They're the reasons I keep going and want to be successful."

Continuing on the mental aspect of the business, Peternel cites the importance of planning ahead for each stop on his route. "My time is crucial, so I want to be prepared going into the shop. I go through the first three stops in my head before I step out the door. This gives me a game plan and a goal for what I'm going to sell each day.

"And, again, it's all based on listening, taking notes and then following up. This helps me get through the shop more efficiently and move on to the next stop, because the more people I see, the more I'll sell."

Being self-motivated is something that Peternel feels is key to any mobile dealer's success. Setting these types of goals is one way he maintains his motivation.

"I don't know exactly what the future holds, other than I'd like to be off the truck within 10 years. But that kind of talk makes my wife nervous," says Peternel with a grin. To some, retiring from the tool business by age 50 would seem aggressive. If you've ever met Matt Peternel, it only seems appropriate.

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