Tales from the Road: The ninja tool dealer

Tool distributor John Loobey’s love of martial arts led him to compete on American Ninja Warrior.

John Loobey of Bristol, Tennessee, started selling Mac Tools about 20 years ago.
John Loobey of Bristol, Tennessee, started selling Mac Tools about 20 years ago.

John Loobey of Bristol, Tennessee, got started selling Mac Tools “probably 20 years ago.” In 2016, after 17 years running his successful business, Loobey decided it was time to retire … at least partially. Now, as an independent, he still drives his route once per week, keeping up with loyal customers at independent shops and dealerships alike.

Loobey’s claim to fame isn’t just selling tools, however. He has competed in multiple seasons of the television series American Ninja Warrior, at the time setting the record for the oldest participant to successfully complete the second obstacle. 

Before the show had an American version, Loobey and his children regularly watched the original Japanese version. Loobey’s children became interested in martial arts and decided they wanted to begin taking classes.

“We found a martial arts school and started going,” Loobey says. “I went with them because I kind of liked it, too. I got in shape by taking my kids to [classes] and [participating] with them, and we got pretty interested in that all through their high school years.” 

When Loobey saw the American version of Ninja Warrior, he began to wonder if he could qualify. So, he trained, recorded and submitted an audition video, and was chosen to compete on the show.

It may not seem obvious, but there are parallels between selling tools and competing in a ninja obstacle course. For one, there are the obstacles themselves.

“Being a tool distributor, you get a little more of the ups and downs of life,” Loobey says. “The good people that pay their bill, and some that pay somebody else's bill out of charity. And you see the ones that, looking back you [think], ‘That guy never intended to pay me.’

“You can see in different ways that the obstacles that you're trying to defeat, you created. If you've got too much money on the street and too many people aren't paying right, a lot of times you can come back and say ‘It's because I'm too easygoing. It's because I don't have enough of those frank conversations with people about how [they are] going to pay me for this.’ A lot of our problems have our fingerprints on them.”

Loobey also notes the sense of community is strong in both the tool distribution world and the American Ninja Warrior world.

“If the community is good, life is good. We all play a role in that community, and if we're doing our part, playing our role, there are going to be some bad [days] and … more good [days].”

While Loobey says his goal is to fully retire from the industry, he admits the people and the community aspect is something he will miss. Instances such as a shop owner who paid off the account of a talented young technician prove that the automotive industry can be a positive one in which to build a career.

“There have been a number of circumstances like that, that were just heartwarming,” he says. “Good people doing good things.”

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