Tales from the road: Relational sales

This aircraft technician-turned-tool distributor keeps customers happy by offering product variety and a solid reputation.

Independent distributor Joel Simmons says the GEARWRENCH wrap on his truck attracts attention from technicians.
Independent distributor Joel Simmons says the GEARWRENCH wrap on his truck attracts attention from technicians.

After working eight years as an aircraft technician, four of which took place during his military career, Joel Simmons decided it was time for a change. Working as a technician was worsening an old back injury, but he still enjoyed the shop environment and wanted to continue working with tools. The perfect solution? Become a tool distributor.

One of Simmons’ friends got him started selling tools in 2013 under a flag. After a few years, Simmons decided to strike out on his own and become an independent. The Louisville, Kentucky-based distributor says it was a decision that proved beneficial for his business.

Simmons says that being able to purchase tools from more suppliers improves turnaround time and allows him to offer a wider variety of products, something he has become known for with his customers.

“If ISN doesn’t have [a product], I can go to Neu Tool, or Eagle Tool or Medco,” he says. “I can go online, and there are some products … I’ve been able to pick up directly from the manufacturer, which gives me a little wider variety to offer. I’m kind of known as the guy [who] finds the oddball stuff for [customers] … because I’m willing to do the work. Overall, it makes my life a lot easier, less stressful, knowing I can get stuff from wherever I need to, to keep my customer base happy and keep products flowing.”

Keeping products flowing does not seem to be a problem for Simmons, whose truck is wrapped by GEARWRENCH. The truck itself garners attention from technicians, and Simmons gets calls “almost every week” from shops that wants him to stop by. Additionally, GEARWRENCH ridealong days can mean big sales for Simmons.

During a ridealong, GEARWRENCH offers tiered rewards for customers who purchase the brand’s products from Simmons. For example, if a customer purchases $100 worth of products, they will get to choose from a selection of free tools. “The guys like free stuff,” he laughs.

“We had one day where I sold $4,000 worth of GEARWRENCH,” he says. “Having them along, having different specials with them really helps.”

Interestingly, one of Simmons’ top selling items as of late is tool carts. He says that if a technician already has a toolbox, they don’t necessarily want a bigger toolbox, but instead they like the idea of having something like a full-drawer cart they can use for most of their everyday-use tools.

Carrying products technicians want, as well as those they can't easily find elsewhere, is a strategic move. But Simmons’ success isn’t based on products and branding alone. Commitment to customers goes a long way when selling tools. He works hard to build trust and a working relationship at each stop.

“I’ve been able to build a pretty good reputation on consistency – that’s big in my area,” he says, explaining that other distributors in the area aren’t necessarily consistent when they stop by, often missing a week or two at a time. Simmons makes his stops every week at about the same time, so his customers know they can count on him show up.

“That’s really helped me stand out,” he says.

Getting to know and understand each customer helps Simmons stand out as well.

“Generally I’m not one of the tote-and-promote type of guys,” he says. “I’m much more relaxed sales, I call it ‘relational sales,’ because I basically focus on building a relationship.”

After years as an aircraft technician, Simmons is happy and successful in his new career as an independent tool distributor.

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