Expert Advice

One of the most striking characteristics of leading tool stores is the high-caliber people in the sales and service/repair departments and the level of experience they bring to their jobs. In fact, when you go searching for the right tool at Chas. H. Day Co., don't be surprised how technical your salesperson can get. "Every salesperson in our store is also a service technician," says Ken Clarke. "When we aren't on the floor selling, we're in the back fixing tools." And each one covers a limited group of brands. For example, Clarke is an expert with Makita, Bosch, and Milwaukee lines.

Ongoing training is an important component of customer service that most leading companies recognize and support, especially among technicians and salespeople. Kel-Welco Distributing oversees nine locations from its corporate headquarters in Omaha, Neb., where it also operates a 5,000-square-foot "tool university" for employees. "This is a long-term investment in our people," says company president Randy Rucker. "Employees can take any business or service courses they like." Floor salespeople are encouraged to take the service and repair classes.

When you talk to a sales rep at Quaker Lane Tool in North Kingstown, R.I., you're talking to a former carpenter, mason, tiler, or roofer. Kel-Welco relies heavily on former tradespeople, too. "Ninety percent of our people come from some trade," says Kel-Welco branch manager Chuck Follett. "We've got lots of carpenters in our store."

Field experience can make all the difference in guiding tool buyers to the right choices. Most Orco Supply staff members can read blueprints, helping their customers solve construction problems and make decisions about application criteria for tools and fasteners. And if you're shopping for woodworking equipment at DSC Industrial Supply, you'll be invited into the personal shops of DSC employees to try out equipment and accessories for yourself.

On-Site Tool Demos

There's nothing more reassuring than having a technician on hand to take care of any problems you may have with a piece of equipment, unless it's having that technician go through it before you buy it. That's what you get if you buy equipment at Montague Tool & Supply. "None of our equipment is sold in boxes," says Stark. "Our mechanic preps and tests all gas engines and compressors before they go on display."

That includes checking fluid levels and even adjusting rpms if they don't match the performance specs, so you can start and run any piece of equipment they've got.

"You can swing, shoot, plug in, or fire up every single tool in our store and try them out," says Berland's manager Tim Landry. "Saws, nailers, sanders you name it. We'll take chainsaws, generators, and compressors outside to test with customers," he says.

Kel-Welco has gone so far as to build sound-proof tool test rooms in its stores. Given the large selection most of these stores offer, it would be hard to pick a tool without taking it for a test drive.

Selection and Inventory

Walk into the new Kenai location of Alaska Industrial Hardware and you're greeted by a 200-foot-long power-tool wall. The showroom has 6,000 square feet of stationary tools alone. This is where tool stores start to distinguish themselves, and where customer service meets products. The invisible acts of selecting the range and depth of inventory, the specific models within tool manufacturers'lines, and the compatible accessories for each tool category underlie all visible efforts to serve you. If a store carries the wrong lines or models, it doesn't matter how they display them or how friendly the sales staff is –it won't work.

"We're constantly trying to keep up with the industry so we can bring the best tools into our store," says Berland's Landry. "We read a lot, every technical journal and magazine out there, we go to trade shows, and we pay attention to customer requests."