Industrial-Sized Selling Opportunities

Oct. 1, 2006
Ways to tap into the industrial marketplace.

Mobile tool sellers typically fall into one of two categories. There are long-term business owners who are comfortable with their existing roster of customers: With a proven track record for selling and collecting roughly the same amount each week, they can navigate the route with their eyes closed.

They are the owners who passed the living-paycheck-to-paycheck level years ago.

And then there are the owners who are new to the tool selling business. While they are dedicated, have operated their mobile business long enough to overcome the jitters, know the shortcuts around their route and earn a steady dollar, they occasionally have to tap into savings or implement minor cutbacks to coast through the slow times.

Although both categories of tool sellers work hard, and don’t mind the long hours necessary to build and sustain a mobile business, having access to a sufficient pool of customers is critical.

Serving tool customers in the industrial sector has not historically been a profitable market, according to industry observers. But this often overlooked group of buyers—many of whom also work in the agriculture, municipality or aviation fields—offers a wealth of opportunities.

Specifically, this particular sector of mechanics is responsible for the repair, installation, adjustment or maintenance of industrial production and processing machinery, or refinery and pipeline distribution systems.

As a result, qualified mechanics who know how to operate and repair machinery in sectors related to major construction, maintenance, millwork, oil refineries, power-generating plants, food-processing facilities, heating, air conditioning, refrigeration and elevators—just to name a few—are critical to industrial growth and sustainability.

Add to that the surge in residential and commercial development, coupled with the need for repairs in hurricane-devastated regions, which both drive the demand for renovation and expansion—therefore mechanics.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, roughly 1.3 million workers are employed as maintenance and repair mechanics earning an average of $32,650 annually. They perform work involving the “skills of two or more maintenance or craft occupations to keep machines, mechanical equipment or the structure of an establishment in repair.”

Duties can include pipe-fitting; boiler making; insulating; welding; machining; carpentry; repairing electrical or mechanical equipment; installing, aligning and balancing new equipment; or repairing buildings, floors and stairs.

The real estate, local government, municipality, travel accommodation and public school systems offer the highest level of employment in this sector, according to industry leaders, who add that top-paying sectors for industrial mechanics include telecommunications (with average earnings of $51,500 annually), air transportation ($51,000 annually) and support activities for water transportation ($49,000 annually).

Although the highest concentration of workers is in South Carolina, Louisiana, Indiana, Alaska and Wyoming, this field employs mechanics in every state.

More than 270,000 mechanics work in the heating, air conditioning and refrigeration sector, earning an average of $38,000 annually. In addition to installation, repair and maintenance responsibilities, mechanics can also be in charge of oil burners, hot-air furnaces and heating stoves.

Analysts anticipate job growth in the heating and cooling industry to remain strong through 2015.

The top-paying industries for heating and air conditioning repair personnel include computer and peripheral equipment manufacturing, which can earn mechanics an average of $57,000 annually; aerospace product and parts manufacturing; power generation and supply; motor vehicle parts manufacturing; and wired telecommunications service, which can earn mechanics in the mid-$50,000 range annually.

Maryland, New Hampshire, South Dakota, Maine and Delaware are among the states with the highest concentration of workers in this sector while the top-paying states consist of Alaska ($53,000 annually), the District of Columbia ($49,320 annually), Massachusetts ($49,270 annually), Hawaii ($48,840 annually) and Connecticut ($46,810 annually).

An estimated 53,000 millwrights earned around $46,000 last year installing, dismantling, or moving machinery and heavy equipment according to layout plans, blueprints or other drawings.

Arkansas, Indiana, Maine, Michigan and Ohio ranked among the highest paying states—millwrights earned between $43,000 and $58,000 annually.

Another strong area for mechanics—and in turn, tool sellers—is elevator installations and repairs. Mechanics held roughly 21,000 positions in jobs that installed, repaired and maintained elevators, escalators, dumbwaiters and moving walkways.

Mechanics earned roughly $26 per hour, with the highest percentage earning between $20 and $32 per hour, while the lowest 10 percent of the industry earned less than $14.60 per hour, according to the National Association of Elevator Contractors in Georgia.

Job growth should remain strong with mechanics seeking employment with elevator manufacturers, wholesale distributors, elevator maintenance and repair contractors, government agencies and businesses that do their own elevator maintenance and repair.

Here are five things you can do today to tap into industrial markets to increase your customer count and add sales:

Every industry—crane operation, bridge building, train yards, you name it—has an association that serves those people who work in these fields. Simply Google “industry” plus "association," (i.e. "crane operators" plus "association" got 1.9 million results, a bit much even for the aspired tool seller). Explore the Internet and contact a few associations—most of which have local chapters and are happy to direct you to industry folks.

Check out your local city or county business license department to find out who has recently launched a business. It may take some sleuthing on your part, but it may also be well worth the effort. Here are some points to inquire:

  • Has someone recently launched a business in your route area that caters to repairs and installations in these industries?
  • Have small or mobile mechanics recently started a business catering to any of these industries?
  • Are there any large manufacturing or processing plants located in your region?

Visit your local chamber of commerce and ask similar questions, or even if any chamber members are involved in the industrial field. Chambers of commerce serve business owners like you and are there to make successful connections. They cater to businesses large and small, so don’t be afraid to approach them.

Inquire the mechanics on your route. Ask your customers about their last three jobs, and you may be surprised to learn they worked at a manufacturing facility or an HVAC repair shop prior to their current job. If talking to 250 or more mechanics about their last several jobs seems daunting, create a survey/contest, and anyone who fills out a survey can be submitted in a drawing for a prize.

The last thing you can do today is check the Yellow Pages. Create a list of potential customers, and follow up with a letter of interest along with a date you plan to contact them directly to answer any questions they may have. You may be amazed at the industrial-sized tool and equipment selling opportunities these fields have to offer.

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