Tales from the road: Who's the boss?

Oct. 5, 2016
After three decades spent working in the industry, Brian Hagen finally embraced the entrepreneurial spirit.

Brian Hagen always wanted to be his own boss. After 35 years turning wrenches, he finally got his wish. Though he got a late start as a mobile tool distributor and has dealt with his fair share of challenges and adversity along the way, an even-keel attitude and a focus on his customers have allowed him to stick in the business.

The Cottage Grove, Minn.-based Mac Tools distributor and owner of Brian’s Tool Box established his business around the time he turned 50 years of age, and immediately found success. His second week in, he did $10,000 in sales. Unfortunately for him, though, the lingering effects of the Great Recession caused his business to suffer for the better part of the first year-and-a-half of its existence. Nevertheless, Hagen endured.

“You just have to take care of yourself and your business,” says Hagen, who has sold tools for more than five years. “The rest will take care of itself. I honestly believe that.”

The technician-turned-tool salesman credits his ability to connect with his customers as the primary reason he was able to find his footing as a mobile tool distributor.

“For me, it’s all about rapport and getting to know the guys,” says Hagen. “I know the guys who hunt. I know the guys who snowmobile. I know the guys who love car racing. The personal thing just works for me.”

Hagen also calls upon his experience as a technician to help gain the respect and trust of his customers. He worked on cars, ships, heavy equipment and large trucks at various points in his professional life, so Hagen is well-equipped to help them do their jobs more effectively by answering their questions and offering them advice. His interactions with shop owners and technicians also allow him to stay informed about their ever-changing needs and wants.

“I learn more from guys now then they learn from me,” says Hagen, noting that diagnostics is one tool category in which he relies on his customers to keep him informed.

“I’ve learned so much in the last four or five years,” he continues. “I didn’t pay a whole lot of attention to diagnostics when I got in the business, but it really is the key to the future. And every year, they got better and cheaper.”

Though he has been established for several years now, Hagen is focused on the future. He’s also learned from the past. Hagen says he’s much more adept at balancing his work life and personal life than when he got his start.

“I’ve learned to walk away from the truck,” says Hagen. “It’s a time commitment, because it’s your business. But I eventually learned to step away and find some time for myself. If you don’t, you are going to get consumed.”

Nevertheless, Hagen is quick to add that he’s still very motivated to grow his business.

“I’m going to keep my nose to the grindstone,” he says. “I don’t quit. I don’t give up. I go, go, go.”

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