Growing through a recession (25th Anniversary Special)

Independent distributor Matt Sledge takes over local route, hires a second dealer and looks to expand.

Independent mobile tool distributor Matt Sledge runs a Murfreesboro, Tennessee route, employs a second dealer and is looking to expand to a third truck.
Independent mobile tool distributor Matt Sledge runs a Murfreesboro, Tennessee route, employs a second dealer and is looking to expand to a third truck.

When the economy was in a recession in 2008, that’s when Matt Sledge went independent. He would drive 22 miles from his hometown in Murfreesboro, Tennessee to service a route of anyone from automotive to manufacturing technicians, and that was working for him then.

Since Professional Distributor first covered his business in 2008, Sledge, much like the flourishing Nashville-area he services, has grown substantially, and has plans to expand.

After hiring another distributor, Stephen Caswell, to take over his last route in La Vergne, Tennessee, Sledge started a new, more automotive-focused, city route in his hometown. Now, he’s on the lookout to take on a third truck in Wilson County.

“I don’t know what happened in the last 10 years, but there are hundreds of people moving here every day,” Sledge says. “And as big as this route is — I mean it’s the Nashville area, Nashville’s booming big time — so as big as this area is, I still don’t cover it all. And I’m still running the full five days, a full eight to nine hours a day, just trying to get to all of it. And I can’t find time to get to all of it.”

Even with competition from all major flags, Sledge still pulls in anywhere from $12,000 to $14,000 in tool and product sales a week just on the Murfreesboro route alone. (And that’s without a  focus on tool storage sales, or, as Sledge likes to put it, “moving metal.”)

Sledge’s ultimate goal (in the next four to five years) is to become his own district manager for his fleet of trucks, riding along with each distributor once a week. This, he says, may allow him to slow down after “chugging hard for a long time.” A “long time” in Sledge’s world is 18 years as mobile distributor.

So far, the only thing giving Sledge a pause on his big plans is starting up his third truck, which was originally slated for 2018, but may breach into 2019.

“This job is so hard,” Sledge says of expanding routes and taking on employees. “It’s so hard to trust somebody with your money, you know. There is someone else out there that I can trust, but, are you willing to take that risk? That’s the question. And … that’s what all of us [mobile tool distributors] struggle with.”

But when has challenge ever stopped someone like Sledge, who started a business in a recession, and then kept up with it when it boomed back up and hasn’t looked back since?


Matt Sledge is a featured distributor in Professional Distributor's 25th Anniversary Special Edition October 2018 issue. He was first featured in the magazine in 2008, and then again in 2013.


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