The business of tool storage

Oct. 1, 2020
Today’s boxes and carts are built for contemporary tools and work styles.

For many mobile tool dealers, perhaps no other sale brings with it the ceremony and excitement that a toolbox sale does.

Miguel Segura, a Cornwell Tools dealer located in Federal Way, Washington has been a mobile tool dealer and part of the Cornwell team for about a year and a half. On his part-urban, part-rural route Segura makes stops at RV dealerships, truck shops, and mom and pop businesses. 

Despite being on the job a relatively short while, Segura is no novice when it comes to tool storage sales.   

“I had a really good start to the year selling boxes,” Segura says. “I was shocked with how many I was selling.” Segura says he tries to keep at least one toolbox on his truck – in fact, he sold his last box off the truck and often has customers trade in used boxes for something new.    

“Some guys want to step up from an entry level box to something bigger,” Segura says. “I feel I price them right.”  

Before Segura spent his days driving a tool truck, he invested 15 years turning wrenches as a dealership technician. He knows first-hand how these shops operate, and he uses this knowledge to relate to his customers. “I know the headaches [technicians] encounter, and I really sympathize with them,” he says.   

Towards the end of summer, Segura sold 17 Cornwell Tools roll cabs and carts to a Jaguar dealership on his route.    

He recalls these technicians were looking to outfit their facility with new, “sturdy” boxes. Segura and Cornwell Tools District Manager Jason Neil responded by dropping off a Cornwell Platinum Series unit for the technicians to inspect. Shortly after that, Segura says, the competition dropped a sample at the shop, as well. While technicians evaluated the two products side by side, Segura presented his product and then let his customers make the decision.   

He recalls, “The service manager at the shop said, ‘They like your box the best, but I still have to take bids.’ Owners will always look at the bottom line.”   

Segura got the bid, and he adds: “The technicians are happy because they’re getting the box they like the most.”  

Tool storage and ROI  

Toolboxes and organization systems are important because they house and protect tools while keeping a shop looking tidy and professional. But they’re also revenue generators. The more organized a professional is, the quicker and more efficiently they can complete work. Time saved is money earned. 

Mechanic’s Time Savers Vice President of Engineering and Quality Control Rich Heidelberger has designed and built boxes for several companies over the years. Heidelberger says he “grew up” in the industrial power tool industry before advancing to industrial and automotive networks. Mechanic’s Time Savers recently expanded their offerings from tool organization to include tool storage.  

“I’ve spent the second half of my life working on automotive equipment and products, and tool organization and storage,” Heidelberger says. “Now we have both sides of the business; we know how the box should be designed and work with the products we have. The sole focus is organization and saving time on the job.  

“A technician gets charged for their time by the hour. If our products can save them time, they can improve their product margin,” Heidelberger says.  

The right toolbox or cart can help a technician to work smart and care for their tooling investments. Filling up a toolbox can be a strategic endeavor. 

Justin Reed, marketing manager at Homak Manufacturing, says he’s noticed today’s technicians are hesitant to load up drawers at maximum capacity. “[I’ve seen] technicians getting bigger boxes so they can organize their drawers neatly and still fit tools in there.” This way, he says, a busy technician can look in the drawer, see everything, and grab what they need. This is an important step towards greater efficiency and it also helps to keep pricey tools in top shape.   

“With everything more computerized, [technicians] also have more specialized tools,” Reed says. “You don’t want a bunch of stuff sitting on top of your toolbox like a $2,000 scan tool; you want that in a safe place.”

Construction and capacity 

Any toolbox can hold tools, but the right box needs to have features that suit any technician, repair shop, or work routine. When looking to purchase or upgrade, technicians will consider everything from the feel of the finish and size of the workspace to drawer capacity and features like digitized locking systems.  

Several tool storage companies are updating their materials and finishes to offer a durable, quality product at an affordable price. In addition, these manufacturers are always improving on a unit’s build and usability.   

Homak released its CTS (Centralized Tool Storage) line earlier this year. With this release, the company took a close look at materials and durability. Among a few upgrades from previous offerings were updates to the finish, the unit’s push handles, and overall capacity.  

Homak’s  Reed says the company began by upgrading the CTS frame thickness to 18-gauge steel. “On top of that, we reinforced the bottom with 14-gauge steel,” he adds.   

“We upgraded the push handles to make them stronger, and we updated the construction of the box so it looks cleaner and you don’t see as many welds,” Reed says. The CTS unit comes with a stainless steel backsplash option where technicians can strategically place magnetic clips and hooks, or a square pegboard design with pegs locked in place so tools stay put.   

Additional updates to the 24” deep CTS include increased drawer slide capacity – the drawers fully extend so nothing is hidden in the back -- as well as removable casters to support the unit’s 660-lb capacity. “The casters come off so you can […] turn the roller cabinet into a workstation. [This piece is] up against the wall and can transform the look of the garage,” Reed says. 

A power partner in the bay

Beyond construction, finish, and size, storage system end-users want a unit that will help them to power up and house their arsenal or cordless and diagnostic tools. Many toolboxes and carts now feature built-in standard and USB outlets. 

When Cornwell Tools dealer Segura made his latest, multi-cart sale, his customers wanted to touch and feel the Cornwell Platinum Series boxes to really get a sense of the products and their features. Segura reports: “They liked the way the [finish] felt, they liked the power bank you can move to any position you want, […] and they got pretty pumped when they saw that (keyless) code lock.”  

Toolboxes and carts are designed so technicians can power multiple tools at once and house charging accessories alongside tools, all without losing valuable workspace. 

“Cordless power tools take up a lot of space in drawers; technicians need a spot for chargers and batteries, too,” Mechanic’s Time Savers Heidelberger says. The company added a vertical power tool drawer with built-in power strips inside the drawer of their 42” Massive Tool Service Cart (M425). A second power strip was also added in the top compartment, which was purposely designed to be deeper. This provides an additional area to put larger battery chargers, phones, tablets, and accessories." 

“Technicians can do most of their work now with a cordless product, but they could put pneumatic products there as well,” he says. 

Send in the carts 

Some situations call for less real estate than what a toolbox offers. For example, diagnostic work is becoming ubiquitous with vehicle repair. Or maybe a technician performs body work. In these instances, a tool cart might be just the ticket. 

Cornwell Tools District Manager Neil says technicians require and use a wide range of storage systems, and it often depends on the type of work they do. While most customers will have a toolbox as well as a cart for their most popular tools, he knows some body technicians who just run two carts – one housing body tools and the other general tools and equipment.   

Some technicians are setting up dedicated diagnostic carts: a place where they can drop in to review scan tool images up close on a monitor, and store items like lab scopes and test leads. Carts increasingly pull double duty as specialized workspaces or entry level organization systems. 

From display to sale 

Tool storage is one sales category that really requires mobile dealers to carefully observe customers, practice persistence, and strike the right balance in terms of financing. 

“I think the most common challenge is financing, or convincing a spouse that it’s a good investment,” Cornwell District Manager jokesNeil. He recommends tool dealers take a case-by-case approach to financing, saying “Some dealers finance on the truck if the customer has a good trade-in or a large down payment, or [if they have] a great relationship with the customer.”  

Segura takes this individualized approach with his customers. “Depending on the situation, if it’s someone new to the business I’ll give them an incentive towards tools; credit on the truck is the main one I go to. They like that a lot. They need more stuff to fill up [the box].”  

That said, Segura doesn’t try to force this big buy. “I’m laid back for the most part – not pushy. I don’t want to push product to guys who can’t afford it. My approach is to try to give everybody the best experience possible and a fair deal.”  

So, the customer has made the decision to buy a box (or cart). How can a mobile dealer help them make a choice they feel good about? 

“It comes down to knowing their customer and what box will be best for the job,” Mechanic’s Time Savers Heidelberger says. “Some technicians need a big, stationary box and some guys will use carts that are mobile and easy to move around. There are different boxes to fit a technician’s needs and garage size.”  

While a toolbox or two is a common sight on most trucks, the consensus is it pays to utilize additional channels to showcase new product.   

“Boxes take up a lot of space […] so mobile dealers would do well to use their computers to show customers a quick video and flyer," says Alexis Barfoot, product and marketing manager at Mechanic’s Time Savers. 

 “[Technicians can] look at [the product], see how big it is, and check out the specs,” Barfoot says. “Everyone is using video more. If a mobile dealer chooses not to put the box on the truck, they have other options.”  

Barfoot points out mobile dealers can access their company’s videos and flyers for quick spec info, pricing, warranty, durability, and everything else, right down to drawer configuration.  

The Homak team also works with mobile dealers to provide selling ammo. “We […] try to make [learning about our products] easy, with print material to help sell the product,” Reed says. “We try to provide [mobile dealers] with what they need – PDFs, fliers to hand out – whatever makes the sale easier for them.”  

This is a unique year for technicians, with shops around the nation recalibrating business due to COVID-19. “[This year] technicians are seeing a lot of car owners fixing their own vehicles to save money, and big purchases may be on a back burner for now in some places,” Reed says.

As essential workers, automotive repair technicians continue to work and adapt. Reed emphasizes that now more than ever, attention to quality is important in toolbox sales, as well as warranty information. These are two sales points mobile dealers can review with customers.  

Capitalize on customization  

“A box is a big purchase – an experience,” Mechanic’s Time Savers Barfoot says. “It reflects who they (technicians) are. They're proud of their boxes and want them to be individualized. Dealers are always posting photos of technicians with their boxes and congratulating them on their big purchase. It’s impressive to see how techs organize and utilize the space.”    

Today's many color options and graphics reflect this desire to personalize storage units. “New colors sell. Period,” Barfoot says.  

The sale doesn’t end with the transaction; delivery is a very important part of any toolbox or tool cart sale, as well as the celebration that follows. 

To this end, Mechanic’s Time Savers and other toolbox manufacturers take great care when packaging and delivering product. “We’re always working to improve [shipping],” Barfoot says. “It adds cost, but it reduces warranties and keeps customers happy.”  

Toolbox sale day is a big day, so tool dealers can celebrate alongside their customers. Segura won’t soon forget the day he sold 17 Cornwell boxes in a day.

"The guys were excited; everyone was impressed with the box,” he notes. “A week after I came back and bought the guys some lunch. They were really happy with [the boxes]. My wife and district manager helped [with the sale and delivery] and my daughter tagged along. It was a long day, but I really enjoyed the experience.” 

Conclusion 

A toolbox is a big buy in every sense – physically, financially, and emotionally. This is a shop fixture that will,hopefully, serve a technician throughout his or her career. As such, there are many considerations that will figure into this sale. Just as boxes vary in size, color, features, and scope, so, too does the buyer experience. And mobile tool sellers are instrumental in this decision every step of the way. 

About the Author

Sara Scullin | Editor | PTEN and Professional Distributor

Sara Scullin is the editor of PTEN and Professional Distributor magazines. These publications are part of the Endeavor Business Media Vehicle Repair Group, which includes Fleet Maintenance, Professional Tool & Equipment News (PTEN), Professional Distributor magazines and VehicleServicePros.com.

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