Tales from the Road: Seeking independence

April 2, 2021
How a former manager slipped the trappings of corporate culture by becoming a tool distributor.

Brian Baker is a multi-route operator and tool distributor with Mac Tools out of Columbus, Ohio. His routes run throughout the northeastern part of the city, servicing dealerships, independent shops, and body shops alike.

Baker runs his solo, which he finds a welcome change from his role in management for 18 years and 12 years in the armored car business. He decided to pursue a career in independent tool distribution because he "got tired of being responsible for other people." He’s since found a perfect fit for his work style and personality.

One of the things that makes Baker stand out from much of the independent distributor workforce is that he didn't start out as a technician.

"I didn't wrench and then decide, 'Let's go sell [tools].' I was a manager," he says. "I didn't want to do that anymore, so just kind of took a year off. Mac Tools had an open house, and I live five minutes from headquarters. I started in June 2017 and it has literally been the best job I've ever had."

Baker serves the entirety of Columbus in his Freightliner MT45 truck with a 16’ box, which he refers to as a “bread truck.” He ensures he has different goods on it every other week, “or else the guys and gals will stop coming out to it.” That includes snacks like beef jerky, a popular choice for his customers, and a variety of different tools and equipment he believes buyers want.

But Baker wasn’t always attuned to what technicians may need, however, as a newcomer to the industry.

“I didn’t come from a technician background, so I didn’t know a lot of the product [when starting out],” he said. “I knew what a screwdriver, hammer, and a wrench were, but there were and are a lot of automotive-specific tools that I didn’t know what the heck they were,” he says. Luckily, he adds, most of his customers don’t always know what they’re looking for, either.

“’I need that one thing that's about this long, and then its got a 90 and a 45-something on the end,’” he says. “[Technicians] trying to explain to me wasn’t quite learning a new language, but similar. Almost four years later, you tell me what you need and 99 percent of the time I know exactly what it is.”

Whether it’s choosing where to do business or what to stock on his truck, Baker ultimately values his independence as a mobile distributor over everything else. As a father with a wife and two children, he appreciates the ability to help get the kids to school and help pitch in at home. It’s a refreshing change to run his route, sell the tools he chooses at his own pace, and avoid letting his day “run him” instead of the other way around.

“It's just so nice to be able to make your own schedule and not have to turn [my professional mode on] and be Work Brian, and then come home and be myself,” he says. “The freedom cannot be overstated, how nice it is to work for yourself.”

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