tools to contractors takes more than just sales savvy.
It also requires a thorough understanding of the product.
was in my office editing a story when the phone rang. I didn't
know the caller, but he was a carpenter and one of our subscribers.
He wanted my opinion on reciprocating saws.
on my cell phone in the tool aisle at Home Depot," he said.
"All the brands are here in front of me. Which one should
asked a few questions, then made my recommendation. "Just
out of curiosity," I added, "why didn't you ask for
advice from the sales help at the store?"
these people don't know anything," he replied. "The
kid here was barely able to help me find the right aisle."
great that our readers think enough of us to call with questions
like this. But a long distance call from a cell phone didn't seem
like the most cost-effective way to get the information he wanted.
So I made the obvious suggestion: The next time he needed sound
tool-buying advice, why not go to a local store were the salespeople
might be more knowledgeable?
like to," he said, "but I need the low prices of this
place to stay in business."
the Trenches I've been a tool hound for years -- not only
as an evaluator and a writer, but as a working contractor. I know
from experience that a lot of tradespeople believe they save money
when they buy tools from mass merchants. I believe they're mistaken.
I was buying tools for my construction jobs, I always bought from
the same guy at the same lumberyard. Mike knew me; he knew my
business. Before he ever tried to sell me something, he'd ask
about where we were working and what types of jobs I was doing.
He showed me accessories I never would have thought to ask about.
And he was never pushy.
almost never bought tools anywhere else, because Mike had earned
my trust. I know there were other contractors who bought larger
quantities than I did, but Mike always made me feel like I was
his most important customer of the day. Even if he didn't have
the best price in town, he always managed to cut me a deal that
won my business.
tool sales should be a one-on-one affair. A salesperson approaches
a contractor who is standing looking at a shelf full of drills
and guides him through the process of selecting the one that best
fits his needs.
Mary Lou Baldwin, manager of the power tool department at Ballston
Spa, N.Y.-based Curtis Lumber, it's a matter of gaining a customer's
trust quickly by making it clear that you want to help -- and
that you're qualified to help.
after asking if he's having a good day, you have to get his interest
and show him that you're knowledgeable," says Baldwin. "If
you don't engage his interest within 10 to 15 seconds, you've
lost the sale."
reason is that, the moment you make contact, you're being tested.
I used to do it all the time; talking about performance specs
with a salesperson was always a good way for me to gauge the depth
of his or her knowledge.
a salesperson -- definitely not Mike -- told me confidently that
the "BPM" number on a shelf sign next to a hammer drill
was just a typographical error. "It should be RPM -- you
know, as in, uh, revolutions per minute. Yeah, that's it."
I suggested that BPM might stand for "blows per minute,"
he was baffled. I didn't spend a lot of time in this store.
purchases are more critical to a tradesman; as a result, the tool
department is one place where professionalism is truly more important
than price. "We prefer to hire experienced people who have
worked in hardware stores or construction supply houses,"
says Dwight Sherman, CEO of Lombard, Ill.-based Berland's House
of Tools, a specialty supplier. "Gray hair doesn't hurt on
our sales floor when you compare it to what's at the home centers."
experience is obviously an advantage, it doesn't mean novice salespeople
can't compete. They just need to make the commitment to do the
trains her new salespeople with lots of help from vendors' reps,
to make sure they don't stumble over their words when they're
talking to a contractor. Eventually, like Baldwin, they'll get
to know every tool in the store thoroughly. But, she adds, it
isn't necessary to have every answer -- as long as you can find
the answer you need when you need it. Curtis compiles
spec sheets on the lines it sells and makes up a product reference
manual for its salespeople.
teach new associates never to approach a customer without taking
one of our product manuals with them," explains Baldwin.
"That way they can read from the book exactly how the tool
is going to perform. It tells us everything from RPMs to the size
of the motor."
a contractor may want to talk specs first, he'll soon get around
to asking about the price. If you've established yourself as a
knowledgeable resource, it isn't a problem.
price point may be higher than some of our competition, but we
can work with them on price if we need to," says Baldwin.
"As long as we can show them that we have the knowledge,
we can discourage them from going to the big box store to buy
With the Flow So how do you earn a contractor's trust? Start
with a merchandising and marketing strategy that makes sense --
both for them and for you. At Berland's, for example, both breadth
and depth are important. "The weakness I see in the home
centers is that they only want to stock the top skus, and they
cherry-pick the line," says Sherman. "That leaves a
wide-open niche for tool sellers to deal with the guys who have
lumberyard may not be willing or able to make that kind of commitment
to a single product line, but according to Sherman, the strategy
also works on a small scale. "The formula I see at lumberyards
that are successful at selling tools is to stock a complete line
of one brand of power tool," he says, "Instead of trying
to hit the rebates and the best buying programs with nine different
power tool manufacturers, they just try to hit it with one. Then
they can compete on price, and they succeed."
also have another advantage. The reputation they establish selling
other product lines to contractors creates automatic credibility
in the tool aisle. "There's a trust that comes with our name,"
says Jay Curtis, Curtis Lumber's president. "People know
where we are and who we are. If they've got problems, they know
they can come back and get a hassle-free resolution."
again, however, success hinges on the sales staff. They have to
understand their strategy, then promote those benefits. "A
lot of our success comes from the fact that we can discuss the
differences in the tools, and which accessories might work best
for a particular customer, " notes Dan Bashaw, vice president
of Overland Tool in Lenexa, Kan.
of mouth may seem like a drop in the ocean compared to the billions
that home centers and mass merchants spend on advertising. But
when your livelihood depends on a product, there's no substitute
for being able to look another professional in the eye and know
you're getting the straight scoop.
our best success secret is that we get to know customers on a
first-name basis," says Bashaw. "We get a lot of repeat
business because we have a customer's hand, smile, and thank him
for doing business with us."
Brockway is a tool junkie and senior editor of Hanley-Wood's
Tools of the Trade.