It often seems like the most successful tool dealers find their stride with a winning combination of sales technique, sounds business practices and personality. But these three things can look very different on different people. There’s no ‘right way’ to sell tools.
Today competition is more than the tool dealer across the street, it’s also Amazon and online tool sales. Some customers might even be comparison shopping while standing on your truck. Tool dealer must also contend with technicians who are strapped for cash and tasked with building their tool base.
Still, there’s much more to a tool sale than price, and most mobile dealers know it. In fact, the service backing each and every tool sale speaks for itself. Above average service keeps customers coming back week after week and year after year, not just for the tool, but for the expertise, warranty and relationship that comes along with it.
We talked to four mobile dealers who make service a priority. While their methods may vary, each of these professionals has learned over time what works for them and for their customers. They prove that attitude is everything, even at a challenging time or dealing with unforeseen circumstances. They go above and beyond for their customers, who are loyal to them in return.
write it down
Cornwell Quality Tools
Cornwell Tools dealer Chuck Collins started selling tools in late 2007, 2008 or according to District Manager Ben DeCraene, at “the worst possible time in recent history to go out and invest in your own business.”
“He was happy to sell that $10 bag of jerky,” says DeCraene. The economy has picked up some since that time, but from the beginning Collins, based in Sudlersville, Maryland, has learned how to attract and keep supportive customers. Collins’ route covers a large area on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, on the Delmar Peninsula.
DeCraene says, “[Collins] gets paid every week. It’s not about him being everybody’s friend, but being a great tool dealer and getting the right tool in the customers’ hands to help them
Collins started out repairing large equipment for grocery stores (forklifts and electric jacks) when he got injured and had to have back surgery. The surgeon told Collins to find a new line of work. While recovering from his second back surgery, he met with several flags, including Cornwell.
“It was a good fit. I started the business from scratch and sold a lot of $20 items in the early days. Those items kept the bank rolling, the machine turning,” Collins says.
Now he visits agriculture shops and heavy equipment shops, and spends a lot of time in body shops. “Those guys need tools, too. They need expensive tools … and they pay,” he says. He also has automotive shops and some custom hod rod stops along his route.
Why his customers love him:
Collins is action-oriented and makes a paper trail with each question and conversation. “If you’re going to look for or do something, just do it or write it down,” he says. If a technician asks him whether anyone makes a special tool for a specific purpose, Collins pops a Post-it note up where he can see it. He also swears by doing everything via email so he can go back and search previous conversations and queries. “I don’t carry a clipboard around to shove it in customers’ faces; I carry it so I can write things down. If I put [a note] in my pocket, chances are I’ll forget.”
Finally, Collins treats everyone like family. “Never ask someone what’s on their needs list; always start off with a ‘hello’. I know what’s going on. Make it personal and guys won’t dread you coming by.”
Independent tool dealer Kevin Haitmanek lives in Westminster, Maryland with a sales route in Northern Baltimore County. He’s been selling tools for 23 years. In the past four years Haitmanek has joined the GEARWRENCH street team. He says it’s “The best thing I ever did.” This mobile dealer is always striving to make sales effective and fun.
“I do nothing but insult my customers … but they love it. I’m known for sarcasm and ridicule,” Haitmanek says.
Business wasn’t always a walk in the park. Many years ago, when Haitmanek was about three years into owning his route, he says “everything fell out”. He was struggling to learn cash flow and the business. “I knew what my mistakes were and I struggled for a couple years,” Haitmanek says. “I kept blaming everyone else or one particular thing. But the problem was me. What I was doing wasn’t working, and I needed to re-do everything.” The independent dealer started from scratch across the board. “When I started fixing things, it worked … and that’s a real hard thing to do,” he says.
Now, careful forethought is second nature. The independent dealer tries to prepare for those hard times in sales, such as the winter season. He pushes sales in September and October when customers feel good about buying and might even purchase a little extra. He says this was a game-changer for him.
Today the East Coast dealer has worked jobs in and out of automotive, and now serves standard automotive, heavy duty truck repair and body shops. When he’s not taunting customers, he’s treating them (he even manages to do both at the same time). “My customers know that I always have something for them to eat or drink on the truck; it gives them a place to take a few minutes away from the shop, come outside, catch a breath, look at tools and talk [shop]. I have and encourage a lot of truck traffic.”
In addition to taking a personal approach, Haitmanek educates customers when he can. “I pride myself on my knowledge about certain jobs and the tools they require. I do a lot of research into tools … I’m always reading trade magazines, and it pays off.” When his customers ask for recommendations, nine times out of ten Haitmanek knows what their referring to and points them in the right direction.
This informed knowledge, plus a lighthearted approach, fuels his Haitmanek’s passion for his job, and helps him connect with customers, too. “It’s not always about selling tools for me; it’s joking with the guys and letting them know I’m not just a salesman. They also know that I’ll do anything for them. I give them a hard time … but they know.”
Be consistent and make it fun
Mac Tools, Chicago
Mac Tools dealer Mark McWayne is based in Chicago’s south side and its surrounding suburbs. He will be going on 21 years in the business in August. Over time McWayne has built a large, loyal base of customers in the busy city with his consistent approach to sales.
“A friend of mine who owns a shop recommended me for this line of work,” says McWayne. “I thought, ‘I think I’ll move back to Chicago and give it a try.'” He’s been with Mac Tools all 21 years.
His customers are mostly automotive repair, with some body shops and heavy duty thrown in. He also stops at quite a few dealerships, and a couple high-end shops. McWayne pulls long hours — 12 to 14 hours days — and is at his maximum capacity of stops. He’s got a full plate caring for his regulars, though he adds “new customers in the shop are more than welcome.”
McWayne also has a dozen or so people come and meet him through the week ... He’s had some of the same customers come back his way for 15 years. “They stop by for everything — they’ve bought large carts, and sometimes I’ll deliver to their house.”
The challenges? “Parking is awful in the city,” says McWayne. “Aside from that you get your skips and that hasn’t changed. In fact, I think it’s gotten worse over the years. In my opinion, a lot of technicians seem to always look for that greener grass, and it usually doesn’t work that way.”
The key to McWayne’s long-lasting success is in his straightforward approach. “I’ve never gotten into raffles, or things like that. I throw tools in front of everybody I can. I say to the younger distributors, ‘Show what you have,’ as long as you have confidence in what you’re doing … you’ll sell the tool. I also have a bad habit of deciding what my customers will not buy; I have to remind myself to let the customer decide. Putting any product in a tote bag is never going to hurt you.
McWayne will tell you his trademark is consistency and consideration. He’s at the same place at the same time every week: “They expect you and they know you’re going to be there,” that, and treating people the way he wants to
When things get overwhelming, this pro dealer says he goes ‘back to basics’ and starts all over, reorganizing his methods of doing business and figuring how to be more efficient here and there. The reset is enough to get him back on track, and keeps him at the top of his game.
Go the extra mile... or 600
Gene Bowers, Independent Rural Tennessee
Gene Bowers, an independent dealer based in Paris, Tennessee, had his work cut out for him when he “inherited” a large route in rural Tennessee. A good deal of the population here face economic challenges and have little access to chain stores.
Bowers traverses eight counties and puts on 600 miles a week to stay profitable. One night a week he lodges at a motel to save on gas and truck wear, as he visits the far edges of his route. But you won’t hear this mobile dealer complain. Instead, he’s more concerned with
“Walmart opened a neighborhood store here and closed in six months,” Bowers says. “I travel four of the most economically disadvantaged counties in Western Tennessee. It is a challenge, and it’s why I went independent.”
Bowers has taken the knowledge from his seven years selling tools and adapted it to fit the economy in this region. In doing so, he has not only managed to survive, but to thrive.
“I have some die-hard guests,” says Bowers. These customers are marine technicians, heavy truck shop maintenance technicians, dealership technicians, body shop owners and technicians at a lot of small, independent garages. Bowers says many of his technician customers earn $8 to $10 an hour.
“The tool truck business is changing,” Bowers says. “I’ve been here seven years and I’m still here during an upheaval in retail business.”
Bowers’ winning service strategy: “I’m trying to bring the newest product to them before they can find it online. I remind them that I am their warranty and I am their banker. If you’re buying online you’re paying 100 percent up-front, and you have to stop what you’re doing working on vehicles and sit on the phone with the
Bowers goes above and beyond to get his customers a warranty with a product, whether or not he sold it to them.
“Since I’ve been on their side of the fence longer than I’ve been on mine, I understand where they’re coming from and I know their cash flow isn’t always where they need. I might be considered too lenient when it comes to weekly payment, but I try to work with customers as much as possible to provide them with the tools they need.”