Razor Sharp

June 1, 2005
Led by district manager Robert Tolbert, Matco’s Arkansas district has seen an increase in sales, distributors and good times.

Anybody who has spent time in Arkansas knows one thing for sure: the people love their Razorbacks, the nickname for the college sports teams. And although they’re about 1,000 miles away, Razorbacks have been making the folks in Stow, OH pretty excited as well.

The hard-working Arkansas district of Matco Tools has seen its national ranking go from #44 in sales to #13 in less than five years. And while each is quick to point out that it has truly been a team (or family) effort, mobile distributors Bud

Cook and Walton Johnson, along with district manager Robert Tolbert, are three major reasons for the turnaround. Back Where He Belongs

At a point where most mobile dealers are looking to slow down, Walton Johnson and Bud Cook are peaking. Then again, neither followed what might be a “traditional” career path into the tool business. Both put in over 20 years of turning wrenches before getting behind the wheel.

Walton Johnson’s mobile distributor career began in 1992, after the Naval base where he worked as a civilian mechanic was shut down. This prompted a move from south Texas to Rogers, Arkansas, an area he was familiar with from recent vacations. For the next three years Johnson enjoyed his route and prospered as a Matco mobile distributor.

However, in 1995 Johnson would need to take a nearly six-year hiatus from the business to care for his ailing mother back in Texas. His return would be made both simple, and complicated. “A friend tipped me off to Matco when I was initially looking to get into the tool business,” recalls Johnson. “They provided a strong territory within the area that I wanted, and they responded much quicker than anybody else. So when I decided to come back into the business it was an easy decision to re-join Matco, because of how good they were to me the first time around.”

Johnson’s return in 2001 coincided with the 9/11 attacks, and the difficult economic times that followed. But the reputation for having what his customers needed, a positive attitude, and consistency in showing up at shops would help him make it through some tougher times. Additionally, he soon found that Tolbert’s support, as well as that of his wife Serelda, provided a solid foundation for success.

In 2004, Johnson’s sales placed him well within the top third of all Matco distributors, but his goal this year is to finish in the top 150. “I want that ring,” he explains.

“I originally planned to retire at 62 (he’s now 54), but I’m just having too much fun. That’s partly because of the support I get from Matco, and also in working with Robert,” states Johnson.

What You See Is What You Get

“You can’t fool the customer,” says Bud Cook from beneath his signature cowboy hat, “You just have to be yourself.” It’s an approach that has produced impressive results for the former technician. After just six months in the business he finished 2002 at #41 in national sales for Matco, and followed that up by finishing #14 in 2003 and 2004.

“Being a tool distributor is really 100 percent attitude. I just try to have fun with the customers, and they appreciate that. You also have to like to work with people, which is one of the things that interested me in the tool business from the start,” he states.

His results have also been bolstered by toolbox sales, which average out to nearly one a week. “I think Matco has the best boxes in the industry, but to help move more of them I do a lot of merchandising with smaller tools, T-shirts and other things. Sometimes I’ll throw in dinner at a nice place for the customer and his wife, but what’s even better is taking trade-ins,” adds Cook.

These results are nearly as impressive as the man’s humility when asked why he’s been so successful.

“Each morning my wife (Barbara) and I join hands and start the day in prayer. At the end of our day, we thank God for what he has done and what he is going to do. I know that this business isn’t mine, I just run it for the Lord. I don’t know what the future holds, but I know who holds the future, and that’s what counts the most,” states Cook.

Service With A Smile

“I want to be the type of DM that I never had. I approach my job as a district manager with the attitude of mobile dealer,” explains Robert Tolbert. That said, it comes as no surprise that he carries an attitude similar to the mobile dealers he supervises and supports. “To me, this is fun, not work,” he explains.

Tolbert’s roots in the business run fairly deep, starting with his time as a Snap-on dealer in 1989. An opportunity to work as a manufacturer’s representative then arose with Joe Echols in 2000. “Basically, I found myself in a situation where I knew distribution from my time on the truck, and now I knew manufacturing from my time as rep. So when I looked around at what I could do next, Matco really caught my attention,” explains Tolbert.

“I’d been working with a lot of their mobile distributors in doing diagnostic clinics, and what really set them apart was how hungry they were, and how motivated they were to succeed. So I inquired about any openings and was fortunate enough to wind up here.”

His experience, particularly with diagnostic tools, has made Tolbert a tremendous asset. “His knowledge of scan tools has been huge for us, explains Johnson, “and he’s a great motivator.”

How does Tolbert motivate his guys?

  • How about inflating a tennis ball until it bursts, in order to demonstrate the effectiveness of hot air when dealing with customers.
  • Then there were those flashing Razorback pins for his district to wear at Matco’s Tool Expo.
  • And it’s tough to beat dressing up as Captain America to unveil a new line of toolboxes.

    While some of his tactics reinforce a light-hearted approach to the business, there’s no kidding around when it comes to taking care of his people. “He certainly does more for us than our competition’s district manager does for them. We know he’s there for us, and he’s totally distributor-focused. And beyond that, he’s our friend. He cares how we do,” states Cook.

    “It’s a pretty simple formula,” adds Tolbert, “The less hassle they get from me, the less they have to deal with from their customers. It’s a win-win for everybody involved.”

    Although his district has seen things turn significantly for the better, Tolbert knows there is still work to be done. His district currently holds 15 distributors, but he’d like to add at least 8 more.

    "We’re really more of a family then anything else,” states Barbara Cook, when talking about how the entire Arkansas district works together and supports each other. It’s this type of attitude and commitment that has brought each distributor individual success, and keeps Matco rooting for the Razorbacks.
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