Tales from the road: Biggest of them all

April 4, 2018
Pete Kern has big goals, with the dedication and ambition to back them up.

Mac Tools distributor Pete Kern wants one thing in life: to become the largest tool distributor in the world. He started 10 years ago with one truck. Today, Kern’s fleet consists of six trucks and he’s planning for additional growth this year.

Prior to being a tool distributor, Kern held a number of other jobs. He grew up farming, and after attending Fox Valley Technical College he joined the army, went to helicopter mechanic school and started his own trucking company. He also worked in construction, excavation, as an auto technician and was certified as a marine technician.

While working at a boat shop, Kern received some advice.

“My Mac Tool distributor said I’d be a great Mac Tool man,” he says. “I made up my mind instantly. I didn’t have to think about it, I said ‘I’ll do it right now.’”

Kern says that the biggest challenge starting out was earning enough money to pay the bills.

“It takes five years to make any money in the tool business,” he says. “Unless [you have] special circumstances where there’s nobody else [in the area], you’re the only tool man, things like that.”

Kern excelled in his new venture, however, and soon began to earn a profit. It was then that he decided it was time to grow his business and get a second truck on the road.

“He was always trying to sell me something,” Kern says of the first driver he hired. “I said, ‘you should sell tools.’ And he thought about it a little bit, called me and said he’d do it.”

After that, four more drivers were hired on in quick succession, with more prospective routes coming this year.

“I’m in the process of buying two more routes right now,” Kern says. “So I’ll have seven routes total. One of the routes I’m buying is a split route. So that will be my eighth.”

Knowing that his success depends upon the success of his drivers, Kern has instituted a vigorous training program.

“I take them with me for a month and train them on my truck before I let them go on their own routes,” he says “That’s the key.”

“That’s why my drivers are more successful than any other new start,” Kern says. “Because when they get in their trucks, they know exactly what’s going on. They know exactly what I expect, and they know how to treat people, talk to people – facial expressions, looking them in the eye.”

“They’re diamond [tier] distributors their first year out of the box,” he says. “My guys are all exceptionally good.”

Kern also holds his drivers to high moral standards.

“Do not lie to any of your customers,” Kern tells them. “That is the first rule on any of my trucks. [If] I catch you lying, you’re done. I don’t tolerate it, I will not put up with it. You don’t have to [lie to] people to make money at Mac Tools.”

“That’s why I’ve been very successful in the tool business,” he says. “Because [customers] know where I stand. I’m honest.”

Kern seems to have developed a formula for success. Taking good care of his drivers, being honest with his customers and having a strong work ethic all contribute to his ability to grow his business.

“I’m excited for my future in this company,” Kern says. “Because I’m not stopping. I’m going to have 20 routes, 30 routes before I’m done. There’s nobody [who is] ever going to top me. I will be the number one distributor in the world.”

About the Author

David Brierley | Editor | Fleet Maintenance

David Brierley is the editor of Fleet Maintenance magazine.

Brierley’s education and career have been based in the publishing industry. He is an award-winning writer and comes from a background in automotive, trucking, and heavy equipment. Brierley joined the Endeavor Business Media vehicle repair group in 2017 as managing editor for Fleet Maintenance, PTEN, and Professional Distributor magazines, as well as VehicleServicePros.com. In his current role, he writes for and oversees production of Fleet Maintenance magazine. He has worked in the publishing industry since 2011.

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