Turnaround in Central Florida

Sept. 3, 2013
A support network helps Mac Tools distributor come back swinging.

The tool business is a great business, but success doesn't come easy. Bill Jaynes, a Mac Tools distributor in Titusville, FL, came to the business as a seasoned sales professional in 2006, having worked in route sales for Coca-Cola Enterprises. He also brought tool experience, having worked as technician in the Army.

But even Jaynes didn't find the tool business easy. When the recession hit Central Florida hard in 2008, he nearly lost his business.

At the time, Jaynes did some soul searching. With the support of his manager, a customer who had become a good friend and his supportive wife, Jayne, he decided to apply himself and dedicate the necessary time to his business.

Jaynes' story demonstrates the importance of having a support network and being able to learn from past mistakes.

Tool sales: life experience needed

"Not everything can prepare you for this," the 50-year-old Jaynes says of the tool business. "You need life experience as well. And it will sometimes take years to build your business. It's not going to happen overnight."

Following four years in the Army, where he was trained as a heavy/light wheeled technician, Jaynes spent about two years as a technician for a fuel tanker company where he became familiar with tool trucks and the mobile tool industry. He then went to work at Coca-Cola Enterprises for 17 years in route delivery and sales operations.

One of his co-workers had joined the Mac Tools organization and advised him when a route became available in Titusville. Jaynes was looking to go into business for himself, and mobile tool distribution seemed a good fit. He took a mortgage loan to raise the funds needed to buy a truck and his starting inventory.

Jaynes felt confident in the beginning. He had worked in sales for years, he was familiar with automotive tools and he had a passion for them. But he had never before owned a business and he learned quickly that owning a business comes with its own unique challenges.

An early challenge

Jaynes had a good rapport with his district manager and the automotive shops were busy in 2006 and most of 2007. His business was averaging $7,500 in sales per week.

Then things changed.

In 2008, the Kennedy Space Center, the largest employer in Titusville, began laying people off. Automobile dealers, some of his largest customers, began having a tough time selling cars and were going out of business.

The housing market also took a dive, sending shock waves through the local economy. "The housing tank just totally devastated this area," Jaynes notes.

Jaynes' weekly sales and collections tumbled 60 percentage points. He was still making $1,500 monthly payments on his truck.

The hardest thing to overcome was with lower sales came lower collections. He struggled to keep current on his tool payments and this made it difficult for him to keep his truck fully stocked. "You've got to order enough to cover customer needs and replace stock," he notes. "That's the secret of this game. Your tool bill is your life. You've got to really watch your finances. It's a combination of many little things that'll kill you."

As 2010 ended, Jaynes was considering leaving the business. Just when all looked lost, something fortunate happened.

New district manager to the rescue

A new district manager started at the end of 2010 showed concern for Jaynes' situation, which lifted his spirits. He asked Jaynes detailed questions about his business. When he learned that Jaynes was allowing customers more than five to six weeks to pay their bills, he advised him that such a practice in and of itself can result in insufficient collections to cover tool purchases.

"Don't be afraid to ask for your money," he told Jaynes. "You live and die by your collections."

Jaynes' new district manager worked with him on a turnaround plan. "It was his positive attitude that made me change," Jaynes says of his district manager.

One of Jaynes' customers, Chad Nelson, also encouraged him to stick it out. Nelson is a technician, a race car owner and an insurance salesman who offered to help Jaynes with marketing ideas. Like his district manager, his friend helped him see the "bigger picture" by talking with him about his business.

A new beginning

Jaynes reinvested in his business. He then began to implement sales and collections practices that his district manager discussed with him.

When he takes a payment from a customer, he now makes a habit of always asking if they want to pay the whole balance. This gives the customer the option of paying more than their minimum payment. Sometimes all it takes is putting the thought in someone's mind and they choose to pay off more of their balance, Jaynes notes.

Jaynes now watches his customers' paying habits closely. He does not extend credit until a customer has demonstrated good paying habits.

Only about 5 percent of his customers are still in need of training on how to pay, he says, but that 5 percent can cause enough problems to put a distributor's business in jeopardy.

Jaynes made it a point to pay attention to what his district manager and his friend told him about collections. He now offers customers 3-1/2- to 4-week terms for most tools, and he follows up aggressively to get paid. "I changed how I collected. I don't let customers dictate to me," he says.

"You cannot appeal to everybody all the time," he says.

When a customer falls behind on payments, Jaynes tries to help the customer rework their payments, but he is not shy about asking for the tool back.

One frustration is having customers turned down for credit. But Jaynes has learned that this can often be a blessing in disguise. It's always annoying when a customer who is turned down ends up buying a large ticket item from a competitor. However, he has also noticed in some cases the customer skips town. "It's for a reason they were not approved," he says.

2011 tool fair: a turning point

The 2011 Mac Tools Tool Fair was a turning point for Jaynes. His friend, Nelson, accompanied him to the tool fair and bought a toolbox from him while at the event. That wasn't the only sale Jaynes made while he was at the Tool Fair. He ended up selling three boxes, two scanners and four carts.

Where Jaynes expected to spend $5,000 at the tool fair, he ended up spending $32,000, much of it presold. "That was a great trip," Jaynes says.

He reached a milestone in 2011 when he finished paying his truck loan.

He has almost gotten his sales back up to 2007 levels. "It's getting better, slowly but surely," he says. "I think I'm being a lot smarter about the business. I'm being a lot smarter about sales."

A customer resource

Jaynes has also worked to position himself as a knowledge resource with his customers.

He attends the AAPEX and SEMA shows every year to meet equipment manufacturers face-to-face. He learns about new tools this way, and builds stronger relationships with vendors. He has made good contacts from Mayhew, Launch, Bosch/OTC, Power Probe and Redline Detection LLC.

He also attends the Mac Tools Field Excellence Meetings every eight weeks to keep up on what tools are new and the latest business practices.

"You've got to make yourself the go-to guy," he says. "If you set yourself up as a resource; they don't think of the other guys."

Jaynes thinks it is important to be the first in the market with new tools. Even if customers don't buy them right away, having them first builds credibility.

As scan tools have become popular in recent years, Jaynes has tapped his friend, Nelson, an experienced tech, as his scan tool specialist. "When it comes to scan tools, you can't fake it," Jaynes says. "There's so much to know about scan tools. If you don't do it every day, you don't know the ins and outs. There are so many changes and new equipment coming onto the market as of late it's hard to keep up with, that's where Nelson is very helpful."

He also does more "toting and promoting," something he never did his first year. "It's a hard habit to get into," he confesses.

When he orders things on promotion, he offers the sale price to customers even after the sale ends.

Jaynes makes full use of all Mac Tools promotions. Some of the better ones recently include buying a set of sockets and getting a free air ratchet, and a discount on drill bits.

Mac Tools flyers are also important. Jaynes buys 200 flyers beyond the 300 provided by Mac Tools every month.

He is working on a flyer email with the help of his friend, Nelson.

Future looks promising

In the short-term, Jaynes is trying to fill the void in the local territory with the retirement of a long-time competitor, and he credits his progress largely to the support he's received from his district manager, his special customer, Nelson, and his supportive wife, Jayne.

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