Tales from the road: His and hers tool trucks

Aug. 3, 2018
Husband and wife Mark and Malissa Sherman tag team their Cornwell Tools route.

After working for someone else for 12 years selling cars, Mark Sherman of Plainwell, Michigan, decided it was time to make a change.

“I wanted to run my own business,” Mark says. “I felt that if I had all the answers for the place where I was working, I’d might as well do it on my own.”

In May 2002, he started driving a tool truck under the Cornwell brand, and he hasn’t looked back. Despite the usual challenges starting out, Sherman was soon on a path to success.

“Starting out, there were a lot of growing pains,” he says. “As the business [grew], so did sales.”

After about four years, Mark's wife, Malissa, joined him and began driving a truck of her own. They share the same route, driving an every-other-week schedule. If a customer orders something from Mark one week, Malissa is there the following week to deliver, as well as accept payments, handle warranty work and take new orders. This schedule allows the couple to run their route and keep their customers happy without getting burnt out themselves.

“It has allowed us to expand, and it allows us to have a life without having to work 16 hours a day,” Mark says. “With both of us at it, it’s a team effort, and it affords us that downtime so we can smell the roses.”

Mark describes the couple’s trucks as a ‘his-and-hers’ type setup.

“She has a Promaster that is decaled like my Freightliner, so she’s got a mini version of my 22’ Freightliner,” Mark says.

The Shermans’ route is a mix of city and rural in the Kalamazoo, Michigan, area, and a majority of their stops are smaller mom-and-pop businesses.

“The two- to four-employee independent shops, that would be the majority,” Mark says. “And from there it’s body shops, heavy equipment shops, dealerships and farms.”

At all of their stops, cordless tools, lights – both worklights and flashlights – and knives are top-selling items right now, Marks says. And while he doesn’t think pneumatic tools will ever go away completely, cordless tools are beginning to replace them, at least in terms of sales.

“It seems like [with] flashlights and knives, you can’t have a big enough selection,” he says. “There’s always somebody wanting a knife or a flashlight. But, Milwaukee cordless tools have just really exploded in the last 12 months – that’s been huge.”

Looking to the future, Mark has some advice for those starting out as tool dealers: make yourself a product worth paying for.

“Building relationships is probably the key to success in the tool business,” he says. “We all know that we can go somewhere and buy tools for less money through Amazon or online purchasing, so it’s all about service, service, service. You’re there to, yeah, sell them tools, but you’re also there to provide a service.

When you provide a service, you’re worthy of the sale; I think a lot of guys lose sight of that. It’s [asking] what can you do for your customer today, outside of selling them a tool. If you’re giving the guy service and taking care of his problems, he’s going to buy tools from you.”

At the end of the day, Mark says he is happy with the business that he and his wife run together, and happy with the company that allows them to continue.

“Cornwell has supported us and provided us with great products, and they’ve been very good to us,” he says. “For anybody that’s looking to become a mobile tool dealer, I think [Cornwell is] one of the best choices that someone can make.”

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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