Tales from the road: Hanging tough

Feb. 3, 2017
Tough economic times haven’t kept Cornwell Tools dealer Nick Hebert from establishing a pattern of success.

Trying to grow and develop a business in the face of constant economic adversity is a tall task for an entrepreneur, but Nick Hebert has proven himself to be up for the challenge.

The New Orleans-based Cornwell Tools dealer has been selling tools for about four years now, and he’s managed to find consistent success despite running a route in an area where the local economy has been anything but stable as of late.

“In my early days, business was great,” says Hebert, a former dealership technician who got his start in the tool business in early 2013. “In the past few years, though, the economy’s really been on the decline and hasn’t bounced back.”

In southeastern Louisiana, he explains, everything in the local economy is driven by what happens in the oil fields. However, times have been tough ever since the Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion of 2010. The fallout from the incident wreaked havoc on the area. Several shops Hebert services as a tool salesman service oil field equipment, and many of those businesses have been forced to scale back as a result of economic strains. As a result, the Cornwell dealer says it’s critical for him to make smart business decisions and be careful with his money.

“When I started, I bought a truck that was three years old,” Hebert explains. “I did not buy new. Within my first two years, I paid it off. I’m currently in that truck, even though I wanted to upgrade to a bigger and better one, I had to assess the situation of what’s going on with the economy now. I can afford it, but is it wise? No. So I decided to keep what I got and make the best of it.”

The former technician also has expanded his customer base to include more body shops, and he states that staying knowledgeable about the tools his customers require to do their jobs efficiently and effectively has also been critical to maintaining his bottom line.

“The biggest challenge for me was getting into scan tools,” he says. “I was so used to using dealer-only certified diagnostic equipment and not used to what everyone else was using. I’ve had to learn the companies and figure out how to operate the tools to be able to show the customer and possibly make a sale.”

Prior to becoming a Cornwell dealer, Hebert spent 13 years working as an automotive technician for a number of dealerships. He says he has relied on his experience repairing vehicles to help him sell and service tools, and his time as a tech helped him understand what it would take to be a successful dealer.

“I just got tired of the dealership lifestyle, and I decided I wanted to go into business for myself,” he explains. “I began to look at all of my options and started to talk with the tool men that would service me at the dealership I worked at, Ultimately, I decided on Cornwell being the best option for me, and that’s what I went with.”

Now, four years later, he says a number of factors have allowed him to find his footing as a tool salesman, not the least of which is trying to stay connected with his customer base.

“I try to spend my money in the right places and not get carried away, and I put myself in the customers’ shoes and think about how they would want to be treated and what they would expect from a tool dealer,” Hebert says, adding that he is always looking for ways to make his business better.

More than anything else, though, Hebert points to a willingness to learn and ask questions of more experienced dealers as being crucial to him -- or anyone -- making it as a novice in the tool business.

“It doesn’t matter what flag you are with, there are always veteran tool dealers in the district,” he says. “You need to be willing to pick up the phone and call them.”

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