Get away for awhile

Feb. 13, 2008
From family time to tools, expos have a lot to offer distributors

There is a little thing out there that can be an important and vital component to your success in the tool business. You can't buy it, and the benefits are only realized when you fully immerse yourself in it. It is a great resource with many opportunities that will benefit you both personally and professionally. I derive great strength from this mysterious "something." Any guesses?

I am referring to attending a tool expo sponsored by the company whose logo you display on the flanks of your truck. If you are not affiliated with the "Big Four," don't despair — there are quality offerings by WDs at least once a year. Here's how to get the most out of attending this event.

First, you must decide to attend. Yes, you will miss time from your route and you will be tempted to spend lots of dough on tools. You will have an outflow of cash while your inflow is shut off. Hey, maybe this isn't a good idea?

On the contrary, you must evaluate the cost/benefit equation. For me, the scales are always decidedly tilted towards attending. How do we deal with the lack of inflow? Giving plenty of advance notice to your customers can help ameliorate the damage from no collections. And if you set up a contest prior to departure, that provides an incentive to make up for missed payments.

The outflow is transportation and lodging costs. I can only speak from my experience as a Matco distributor, but they have in place price caps and discounts to take some of the bite out of attending.

Our expos are located in warm and sunny places in the dead of winter — a big incentive right there!

And the benefits are numerous. Here's an opportunity to take the family along for a vacation, all while stretching your dollar and increasing the fun quotient. I know, taking the kids out of school and the extra expense might not be worth it; however, give it an evaluation.

An expo can also be a great time to solidify your relationship with your spouse/mate, if they can come along. Some of the many mysteries related to the tool business might become clearer to them and result in a greater understanding of what we do. And if they can't attend, then the door is wide open to come on the cheap. Cut your lodging costs in half by sharing a room with another single. It's a great way to get to know someone better and I am sure they can provide a new way of looking at something in this crazy business.

Once you're there, what's the plan? I look forward to the motivational kick-off, addresses by staff, training seminars, awards programs and prize giveaways. There is something to benefit everyone. If past experiences proved to be unrewarding in one of these areas, I say give it another try. It might have been an off day for the presenter or maybe you weren't open to what was put forth.

I have a real problem with the next area — working the trade show floor. I start out with the best intentions of covering it in a methodical manner, and end up going helter-skelter from booth to booth. I don't stick to my plan because I let myself get distracted by new or interesting tools. I vow this year to do better and see everything. While on the floor, I greet vendors I have come to know over the years as well as the new faces I'd like to have working for me. By taking their business cards and establishing a personal rapport that benefits both of us, I now have a direct line for problem resolution, and they have me to call upon for product evaluations or feedback.

It's also important to establish some dollar threshold while buying tools. It's easy to get carried away. Add your dollar total before turning in your order. On the other hand, this is a great opportunity to make deals. As the maxim says, "You make your money when you buy." Keeping your cost of goods low is essential.

I love socializing with people I only see at expo time. I make a special effort to talk to strangers I enjoy playing the name tag game by putting a face with the name I see in the monthly newsletters. I am willing to introduce myself and have a discussion. I have dozens of questions and am not reluctant to ask for anyone's help or opinion. Make eye contact after reading their name tag, smile and say, "Hi. How long have you been in the tool business?" It's a great way to get the conversation started.

An expo is the one chance a year to be surrounded by folks doing the say thing you do. As I have indicated before, the tool business is a solitary way to earn a living — benefit from the support of your brothers and sisters. Try being the one to initiate the contact and you will discover that you are not alone.
While at expo, set a goal of connecting with and helping someone, while you arm yourself to the teeth for 2008 sales success!

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