Laid-off surface equipment company manager finds opportunity in mobile tool sales

March 11, 2014
Matco Tools distributor Paul Browne of Iron Station, N.C., discusses his challenges and strategies as a new mobile dealer on the road.

Matco Tools distributor Paul Browne, of Iron Station, N.C., has been selling tools on the road for less than six months. 

Selling to primarily "mom-and-pop stops" along with a handful of dealerships in the Hickory, N.C.-area, Browne services close to 80 shops during his weekly route. 

Browne started his business after being laid off as a district manager for a surface preparation equipment company.  "When you're over 50, over paid and overskilled, nobody wants you," said Browne. He decided to take matters into his own hands by starting his own business.

His previous job with sales, service and rentals had nothing to do with automotive repair, but Browne is able to relate to his customers with previous experience.

"My career started as a U.S. Navy diesel mechanic. And, then I worked on heavy diesels for shipyards," said Browne. "I've turned a wrench or two in my day."

Tool show successes

This was Browne's first trip to the Matco Tools Tool Expo, this past February. He found he spent most of his time at the educational sessions.

"As far as working the show, I attended a lot of classes there," said Browne. "I didn't get as much floor time as I would've liked."

But when he spent time walking the show floor and looking for new products, he kept his customers in mind. 

"A lot of my customers are 20-plus year veterans. I went to the show looking for special stuff that usually isn't on the truck. The off-the-wall things ... instead of just having screwdrivers and wrenches, and the same old stock."

Of specific tools Browne picked up, he found customers were interested in the Mueller-Kueps suspension wear indicator, along with other specialty tools such as Torx bit sets. 

But Browne also offered up the advice to watch spending, both at the show, and in general: "I would just say, watch your budget and don't go over it. That hurts when you do."

Finding time

Browne expressed that the one challenge he faces each day is the amount of time it takes to run his new business. "Time is your enemy because it runs away from you before you know it."

"Let's see, there are 24 hours a day, and I'm working 30 hours a day," said Browne, laughing. But all joking aside, Browne does dedicate much of his time to get his job up and running. "I'm usually on the route for 11 to 12 hours each day, then I spend about two hours a night on everything else."

Browne understands how the business works, and is striving to become a successful distributor.

"I'm looking at breaking even. That's the hard part starting out, is getting everything out there and bringing it all together. Getting to the point where you're making money."

When asked what advice he'd give to distributors, Browne gave the tried and true response:

"Be yourself. Be honest, and treat people the way you like to be treated."

About the Author

Erica Schueller | Editorial Director | Commercial Vehicle Group

Erica Schueller is the Editorial Director of the Endeavor Commercial Vehicle Group. The commercial vehicle group includes the following brands: American Trucker, Bulk Transporter, Fleet Maintenance, FleetOwner, Refrigerated Transporter, and Trailer/Body Builders brands.

An award-winning journalist, Schueller has reported and written about the vehicle maintenance and repair industry her entire career. She has received accolades for her reporting and editing in the commercial and automotive vehicle fields by the Truck Writers of North America (TWNA), the International Automotive Media Competition (IAMC), the Folio: Eddie & Ozzie Awards and the American Society of Business Publication Editors (ASBPE) Azbee Awards.

Schueller has received recognition among her publishing industry peers as a recipient of the 2014 Folio Top Women in Media Rising Stars award, acknowledging her accomplishments of digital content management and assistance with improving the print and digital products in the Vehicle Repair Group. She was also named one Women in Trucking’s 2018 Top Women in Transportation to Watch.

She is an active member of a number of industry groups, including the American Trucking Associations' (ATA) Technology & Maintenance Council (TMC),  the Auto Care Association's Young Auto Care Networking Group, GenNext, and Women in Trucking.

In December 2018, Schueller graduated at the top of her class from the Waukesha County Technical College's 10-week professional truck driving program, earning her Class A commercial driver's license (CDL).  

She has worked in the vehicle repair and maintenance industry since 2008.

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