Justin McCarthy is the type of person who can’t sit still. When he’s not doing something, he’s looking for something to do. And when he puts his mind to a task or goal, the chances are great that the Boston-area independent mobile tool distributor will find success.
That combination of energy, drive and determination has allowed McCarthy to balance the demands of being a full-time mechanic and turning a profit as the owner Bad Larry Tools, his own mobile distribution company. It hasn’t always been easy, but McCarthy has made it work for almost four years.
It all began when McCarthy took a job as a mechanic, where he worked alongside more than 50 other mechanics in his garage. He quickly discovered that many of his colleagues complained about the local tool distributor that serviced the facility at the time. Looking to explore alternative options, McCarthy began purchasing tools from a local friend who owned a NAPA store.
“I started getting stuff for myself, and everyone else is like ‘Hey, get me this. Get me one,’” says McCarthy.
“It just ballooned,” he adds.
It didn’t take long before McCarthy started receiving calls from mechanics in other garages, or they would stop by and see him while he was at work to inquire about where to purchase new tools. McCarthy saw an opportunity to help out other mechanics while making some extra money on the side. He started looking for sales, or he would buy one tool to get a second one free. He then began selling those tools out of a 2001 Cadillac, and Bad Larry Tools was born.
“The next thing you know, the back seat and the trunk are full,” says McCarthy. “Then the back seat, the trunk and the passenger seat are all full, and I can barely get in the freakin’ car.”
Though he worked diligently to stay organized and have everything stacked neatly in the car, McCarthy found the Cadillac to be a less-than-ideal vehicle for displaying and selling tools.
“I would get somewhere and say I don’t have that, or I couldn’t find it, and it was buried in the car,” says McCarthy. “I’d keep a couple of Streamlights (flashlights), I’d keep a couple of 1/2” guns, one 3/8” gun, a set of impact sockets on the floor, metric on one side of the car and standard on the other. Then I started getting all this long stuff and creepers. It was crazy.
“The kid who used to drive in with me would laugh because we’d hit the brakes and stuff would come flying forward,” he adds.
It took a mere three months before Bad Larry Tools outgrew the Cadillac, so McCarthy purchased a Grumman van. He and a few friends promptly built shelves for the van so the tools could be organized and displayed properly.
“That thing is so full of stuff now,” says McCarthy.
“First it started one day a week, on my day off,” he continues, adding that he now has two trucks on the road, one of which is operated by a friend. “Now it’s every day of the week, and the Grumman is overloaded.”
McCarthy’s work schedule can be rather daunting. He works from 4 PM until midnight five days a week repairing buses. On two of those days, he leaves early for work and makes arrangements to see some customers beforehand. Once he leaves his “day job” at 12 AM, McCarthy travels around to different garages to meet customers working midnight shifts. As a result, there are days where he doesn’t return home until around 3 AM.
Nevertheless, McCarthy remains steadfast in his desire to grow his business and recognizes the value his customers see in having a quality distributor at their disposal. To ensure he is ready and able to meet their needs, McCarthy has enlisted the help of his daughter, Amanda, to do paperwork, conduct inventory and assist with other tasks to help his business. McCarthy also models himself after an independent dealer he bought tools from several years back. That means being informed and knowledgeable about the tools he’s trying to sell.
“When I asked him for something, he knew what I was talking about,” says McCarthy. “If he didn’t know, he investigated it and got it for me. So I kind of went on the same premise.”
McCarthy also attributes his ability to succeed as an independent tool dealer to his willingness to take care of repairs and warranties. But more important than that, he says, is his willingness to offer customers a deal.
“As a mechanic, I used to always like when they had a deal,” says McCarthy. “I’ve seen the other tool guys, and I know they go to the same warehouses. They’re getting those deals, and I know they’re not giving them to the guys. Sometimes you've got to bite the bullet.”