A new frontier

April 4, 2016
Dubbed “Nationwide Nate” by his peers, independent distributor and original GearWrench Street Team member Nathen Arnold strives to brand his business with a mix of ingenious marketing and a tech-savvy approach.

Independent distributor Nathen Arnold began his career in the mobile distribution business fresh out of high school, nearly 30 years ago. He started with a position at a franchise warehouse and worked his way up, eventually running his own franchise route in 2001. In 2014, he went independent and became the first GearWrench Street Team mobile tool distributor.

Based in Kansas City, Mo., Arnold spends his days running his route, constantly communicating with customers and talking with new and prospective GearWrench Street Team members about the program’s opportunities.

Promoting the brand

With an affinity for marketing, Arnold joined the GearWrench Street Team after deciding that he could make an impact sharing his enthusiasm for the GearWrench brand. Through the parent company Apex Tool Group, GearWrench Street Team members have access to the company’s new products and promotions.

“The best part is coming up with a marketing plan and coming up with deals,” says Arnold. "I wasn’t a mechanic at all. I was in a warehouse and learned about promotions and how to do deals; that’s always intrigued me.”

Adopting the moniker “Nationwide Nate,” Arnold has made a name for himself among the GearWrench Street Team members and industry alike.

“Everybody jokes that I’m ‘Nationwide Nate’ because I try to get the name out there,” says Arnold. “I went out there and tried to talk to mechanics all over the country – not just in Kansas City, but everywhere.” Arnold’s reach primarily extends through his use of social media.

In addition to that, he also exhibits at local trade shows, such as VISION held annually in Kansas City.

“I go everywhere and talk about GearWrench,” he says.

Arnold explains that when he first started with the Street Team, technicians from across the U.S. would find his page and purchase tools.

“In the early stages, they (technicians) would reach out and say ‘Hey Nathen, we want to buy from you, we don’t have a GearWrench dealer.’ What I’ve done then is started a webpage where people can buy from me from all over the country. I’d prefer they get it from their dealer, but sometimes there’s no dealer around them.”

While Arnold focuses on expanding and maintaining his own business, he has also become a resource and mentor for other GearWrench Street Team members starting out.

“I like to talk to dealers and help them become better dealers,” he says. “You can be your own man, do your own promos. The sky is the limit.”

Arnold has worked on the GearWrench Street Team council as well. This focus group of Street Team members provides input and feedback on the organization, products and brand.

“We’re starting to do webinars. We can talk about new stuff and get educated. The more a dealer is educated about something, the more he’ll sell,” says Arnold.

Because he’s a member of the GearWrench Street Team, Arnold also receives new tools before other distributors that stock GearWrench products.

Addressing business challenges

Arnold says that one of his main challenges as an independent is covering his whole area as a representative of the GearWrench Street Team.

“Being one man going to these places, I’m the only GearWrench truck in this metroplex. You have every other flag looking at you. You’re the one-man band. It’s not easy,” says Arnold.

“Trying to help as many people as you can, and realizing it’s impossible to service everybody, it’s tough.”

Arnold stresses the importance of remaining flexible to changes in how customers educate themselves on tools and equipment, and how they purchase products.

Being a GearWrench Street Team liaison, running an ecommerce site and still maintaining an extensive 550-mile weekly route means Arnold continues to put in 12-hour days for the success of his business.

Arnold says he is constantly tweaking his route. “I’m always trying to be more efficient and smarter.”

While he’s open to seeing new customers and adjusting stops, he does have a number of customers he’s had since the beginning.

“I’ve known some of these guys since 2001, when I started. Some of these guys you cross over or they move around. Many of these guys will stay loyal to you, if they get to know you. They’ll buy from people they feel comfortable with and trust. There are so many dealers they can pick from,” says Arnold.

Arnold also says he understands how to read his customers. He knows which shops he’ll have success with when he totes and promotes. His rapport with them goes beyond a business transaction, but he keeps a balance of being friendly and helpful, while remaining efficient.

“I think time management is a big factor in this business – so I can tell by body language if these guys really want something, or if they’re just hanging out doing nothing.”

He says a big challenge for any distributor is time management.

“If you don’t manage your time, all of a sudden you wake up and you just talked 30 minutes about a guy’s boat, and it really didn’t get you anywhere. You have to find a balance.”

As an independent, Arnold also says he is unable to finance customers – so he relies solely on truck accounts for holding customer balances.

Because of this, Arnold focuses less on large-ticket purchases such as scan tools and toolboxes than he had previously.

“As a business man, there are some where I might sell it to them,” Arnold explains, of more expensive purchases. “But what good is it for me to sell $2,000 on a truck account, and have him pay me $50 a week? It would almost work out fine where you can flip other things quicker. But I’m a one-man band,” he says.

With that, Arnold says he keeps his turns to 10 weeks, on average. “If I need to be flexible with some people, I try to work with them based on who they are. I don’t want to lose a customer either, in this competitive world.” He makes sure to ask for down payments and resets terms after new purchases.

Constant contact with a technology focus

Arnold says that a successful tool business nowadays must compete with the online stores as well. He does this himself by having multiple digital avenues that allow customers to reach him when he’s not at their shop, including an e-commerce website, a downloadable smartphone app and a Facebook page for his business.

“It’s critical in this day and age to communicate. Guys can get ahold of me any way they need to,” he says.

Arnold’s website provides customers’ access to purchase products. The app covers product details such as pricing, demonstration videos and additional contact information regarding products. Using the social media site Facebook allows Arnold to communicate with his customers by running contests. He also encourages participation by posing questions or having customers post videos of themselves using tools.

While the website and app serve to help Arnold stay in contact with customers 24 hours a day, seven days a week, they also help his business stay competitive with online retail giants like Amazon and eBay. He says he usually wakes up before starting his route for the day and will have orders to fill from the website.

“I don’t know where it’s going to go in the future, with the Internet growing as much as it is; I don’t know if everyone is going to make it,” Arnold says, of the mobile tool business. “So, you have to adjust your thinking and embrace it.”

Arnold’s main motivation for being at the forefront of technology is to stay in constant communication with his customers, versus seeing them only once per week at the regular stops. He sees it as a “new-school” approach.

“Dealers need to find a way to communicate with their customers. Instead of seeing them once a week,” says Arnold. “If you can get those guys communicating with you when you’re not in the shop, that’s what you have to do… You just have to have that open lane of communication.”

“Some guys try to old-school it. But, you’ve got to embrace change and new technology,” continues Arnold.

To get the word out about his website, he distributes flyers that include the website address and a QR code to access the website.

“I’m going to keep them buying all the time. Then, I can still run my regular truck route and handle my truck accounts. It hasn’t hurt me, and it’s a game-changer,” he explains.

Arnold says providing the follow-up to online purchases helps him stand out from other ecommerce sites. He makes sure to call or email customers to thank them for purchases.

With the website, he also encourages visitors to reach out to their local GearWrench dealer if they’d like to continue service and have access to GearWrench products.

With the amount of work Arnold has put into his regular route, and with the expansion into the online side, he has received additional help.

Arnold’s wife, Cindy, has provided help with running contests, and helping to run the online side of the business. “She’ll email customers to let them know their order is coming. I have her help me call some of the WDs to order products,” says Arnold.

Along with providing these resources to his customers, Arnold also utilizes technology by having an iPad on him at all times, which he uses to take notes about customer conversations and needs.

Using social media and other means, Arnold has built a network of not only customers, but other Street Team members around the United States. Arnold wants to help others get off the ground with their business, to help the Street Team brand succeed.

“I want to show guys that this can work. It is different than the traditional flag guys; I get that,” says Arnold. “When I see other dealers do it that do decent business, it makes me feel good.”

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