Strength in numbers

Dec. 2, 2015
Once a driven salesman working 16-hour-days, Chesapeake, Va.-based Mac Tools distributor Buddy Weaver has evolved into the manager of a successful, five-man tool company.

One of the harsh realities of being a mobile tool distributor who owns and operates his or her own business is being forced to accept the fact that failure is a possibility. There is little room for financial missteps and strategic mistakes on the path to entrepreneurship, and every person who sets out with the goal of making a living selling tools knows it.

Chesapeake, Va.-based Mac Tools distributor Buddy Weaver readily understands this fact. But he refuses to accept it as a reality for him. He has been faced with a number of challenging circumstances in his 14-year career as a distributor, any one of which could have derailed his business. However, he is adept at overcoming the serious situations his professional life presents and identifying opportunities to grow his business.

Weaver's relentless drive to survive in the tool business has served him well. After nearly a decade and a half since joining Mac Tools as a distributor, he has established a successful tool company, Big Boy Tools, which consists of five distributors who service as many routes in and around Norfolk.

“Success always seems to happen,” Weaver explains. “You lose five customers and get five more. That’s what always happened. It puzzled me how this all happened. But if you are going about your business the right way and taking care of your customers, your business is going to stay healthy.”

Getting up and running

Weaver got his start as a Mac Tools distributor in November of 2001. He focused on selling tools, while his brother-in-law handled the books for the budding business.

“It took off and we did pretty well for the first couple of years,” Weaver says.

After a couple of successful years, the duo decided to add a second route around the beginning of 2004. The "situation almost put me under," explains Weaver.

 “It took years to clean that up," he adds.

Weaver responded to the adversity by purchasing his brother-in-law's share and working 16-hour-days servicing a territory which now consists of three of his company's routes. 

“All I knew was the hustle,” he says.

The long hours and daunting route led Weaver's district manager to suggest adding a second route in Chesapeake, Va., one which overlapped the current territory being serviced. Weaver says the advice caused his “wheels to start spinning,” and he enlisted the help of his son, Billy, to work the second route for six months or so. When Weaver's son decided to pursue an opportunity to join the military, Weaver hired current Big Boy Tools distributor Jake Raschdorf in mid-2010.

“It’s been like a rocket ship ever since,” Weaver says.

A former mechanic and carpenter, Raschdorf immediately took to the idea of becoming a mobile tool distributor, but the financial risks that come with starting his own business gave him pause. A partnership with a veteran distributor like Weaver, however, seemed like an ideal way for Raschdorf to step into the tool business.

“I had success right away because Buddy has a game plan that he himself had put together for quite a few years,” explains Raschdorf. “I pretty much stuck to the plan.”

Another route became available in the area in the latter part of 2012, and Weaver jumped at the idea of expanding his business further after having forged a successful partnership with Raschdorf. Weaver promptly hired Nigel Clarke, a friend of the family. A competitive skeet shooter who was managing a Texas-based shooting range at the time, Clarke made the decision to join Weaver's company despite no relevant experience.

“I had heard of Snap-on, Mac and those companies…, but I had no interest in cars and tools,” says Clarke. “I was looking for a job and a career. It was more of a personal thing, because it was tailored to our family needs. It just fit.”

A third route was brought into the fold in August of 2014, and this time the growth of Big Boy Tools led Weaver to alter his role within the company. He settled on spending two days a week, selling tools out of a car-hauler designed to look like and serve as a tool truck. Less time on the road allowed for Weaver to focus some of his energy on managing three other tool salesmen, the last of whom was replaced by Myles Shaw in 2015.

However, another challenge presented itself to Weaver. He and his team simply had too many customers on the books. After careful consideration, Weaver opted to expand the company again by establishing a fourth route and hiring Steve Walters as a distributor in the fall of 2014.

“(Starting a fourth route) was a difficult decision, because these customers that I had, some of them were with me from day one,” explains Weaver.

“The thing I value most in my business is my customer base,” he continues. “Without it, I have nothing. So I was a little bit nervous about giving my customers off to someone else. But I knew I had to do it.”

Walters spent 30 years in the construction business prior to joining Weaver’s team as a distributor. While he admits the decision to become a member of Big Boy Tools wasn't an easy one, he says he couldn't pass up the opportunity to work with a group of guys working toward a common goal.

“I changed careers at 50 years old,” he continues. “I’m in it, though. There’s no turning back, as far as I’m concerned.”

Walters’s start with the company coincided with a decision by Weavers to adopt a role as a full-time manager of the other four distributors. It was one the longtime mobile tool distributor didn't take lightly.

“That was probably the hardest decision I’ve had to make,” says Weaver. "I had spent almost 14 years selling tools. I had never managed. I don’t know how to manage. I had to learn it, and I’m not even sure I’m good at it. I just know when there are issues, I need to go get them taken care of.”

Dave Shaffer was the fifth distributor to join Weaver’s team. However, the circumstances that led his decision to do so are rooted in tragedy. Shaffer’s route was serviced by a Mac Tools distributor named Austin King for more than 20 years. King was killed by one of his customers in March of 2013, and the route was vacant for two years until Weaver and Shaffer joined forces in mid-2015 and took it over (see sidebar).

“It’s a privilege and a pleasure to work with Buddy, to be able to go into a shop and carry the Mac Tools banner and have the inventory I need to service my customers,” says Shaffer. “It just gave me a whole new lease on life. The route is great and the customers have been wonderful.”

From distributor to manager

With five full-time distributors on board and a company that saw significant growth in recent years, Weaver is focused on helping his partners grow and develop as tool salesmen. And for them to find consistent and measurable success, Weaver says he must continue to improve his skills as a manager.

“The guys say I’m good at it, but I don’t give myself credit because I don’t know really any other way,” he says, noting that he often puts in 50 to 60 hours a week on the job. He explains his managerial style to his distributors: “You sell, and you collect. Take care of your customers. I’ll take care of you guys.”

His job responsibilities call for him to spend the first few hours of each day in his home office. Weaver calls each distributor in the morning to discuss their needs and assess their respective situations. He then undertakes and completes a number of tasks, such as adjusting inventory, accounting, building carts, and sending in tools for repair. About two-thirds of any given day is spent behind the wheel running errands for the business.

“There’s no real set schedule, though,” he says. “I don’t know what is going to happen in my day.”

Weaver points to the rise and advancement of mobile technology and equipment as one significant reason he has been able to transition to a supervisory role and oversee all aspects of his business. Being able to call someone from the road or send a group text allows him to quickly and effectively gain information, make decisions, keep people informed and ensure tasks are being completed. In addition, Weaver does not conduct maintenance or repairs on his vehicles, and he does not handle the books for his business. He pays a mechanic to do "90 percent" of the work on his trucks, and his sister, Terri, shoulders much of the financial workload that comes with owning a business.

“Other guys may not have had a bookkeeper,” he says. “They may have had to go home after working eight to 10 hours on the road and take care of all that bookwork. I spent longer hours out on the road, and I let my sister handle that part."

Opportunities and challenges

The current set-up of Big Boy Tools is not without its challenges. While some raffles and contests the company holds do help increase collections, keep turns down and maintain good cash flow, Weaver says he and his distributors need to make some improvements in this area.

 “My goal is to explain to these guys how to run their routes efficiently,” he explains. “If I’m going to someday retire off this business, it doesn’t do me any good to retire off one that isn’t healthy. My job is to show these guys that, to be really successful, you have to keep your turns in control. Otherwise, you will be out of business. If you don’t have cash flow, you just can't operate."

Identifying the right individuals to work with and helping them assimilate into a group is crucial to the success of any organization, and Weaver strongly believes he has the team in place to allow for both his distributors and the company to be profitable. Building a multi-route business was a challenge. Weaver readily admits "a lot happened with the company really fast." But now that it’s constructed properly, it does have its advantages.

“We have resources in each other to pull on,” he says. “I think we are stronger as a team than we would be individually.”

The longtime distributor doesn't spend any time dwelling on how his business evolved from one individual working 16-hour days to five tool salesmen working in concert with one another as part of a larger entity. He equates worrying about how his business works to stressing about turns and collections.

“Once the tool is off the truck, your control is gone," he says. "I’m looking at $400,000 to $1 million on the street, which I have no control over, other than relationships that my guys create with their customers."

Looking ahead

While Weaver is unsure what the future holds for his company in terms of continued growth and development, adding routes and distributors is very much a possibility. When, where and how, though, is anyone’s guess, but Weaver needs people he can "rely on," he says.

The veteran distributor says he has about eight years left of active involvement in Big Boy Tools, and he plans to phase himself out little by little over time. As he's aged, the importance Weaver places on his time with his family continues to grow. Weaver says he struggles with not being able to give them the attention he feels they deserve at times.

“The time you are with your family, you should make sure your attention is on them," he continues. "They don’t get your attention when you are working. I struggle with that at times.

“Time is valuable to me," he adds. "You never know what tomorrow brings.”

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