Whether they're called "Tool Hospitals" like at Kel-Welco stores or simply the repair counter, tool repair services at the world's best tool stores are at the core of their customers' needs. When a tool goes down, contractors lose money.
That's why all the best tool stores are ready to respond with trained technicians, fast repairs, loaner tools, and even pickup and delivery services. "Our Tool Hospitals are authorized warranty repair centers for most tool lines," says Kel-Welco's Rucker. "We've got 25 tool technicians who can repair virtually anything."
Chas. H. Day has built its reputation on repairs, employing 12 trained technicians in its single location. The service department takes in 80 to 100 tools every day, returning about 75 repaired tools a day to their owners. "We stock about $100,000 in parts in our repair department," says Clarke. "We're the best repair facility around."
That's pretty fast, but bring broken tools to one of Fasteners Inc.'s 11 stores (10 in Michigan and one in Chicago), and chances are you'll walk out a little later with the repair complete. "There's virtually no downtime," says Fasteners' president, John Szlenkir. "We'll fix it while you wait."
With tools and technology changing so rapidly, it takes constant training to keep up. But technology is helping them in the back rooms, too. Computer programs with 3-D images walk technicians step-by-step through trouble-shooting, show them how to disassemble and reassemble the tools, and allow them to search for and order parts. "We're using the latest technologies here," says Neu's service manager Dave Bolthouse. "We use computers at every repair bench to help us keep up with the 600-plus tools that come in here every month."
Stores with outside sales reps use their roving team members to enhance repair service, too. In addition to making sales calls and regular deliveries, they'll pick up broken tools and drop off loaners and repairs to save their customers the time and trouble. In effect, they bring the stores to their customers' jobsites.
Almost all the stores we found in our search have some form of outside sales team, whether it's a fleet of 75 pickup trucks like Orco's, a squad of fully equipped vans for jobsite problem solving like Fasteners Inc., or a couple of trucks that take care of it all for Burns Power Tools. And even the few companies that don't have official outside sales staffs and vehicles all provide informal services in a pinch.
So where are the World's Best Tool Stores headed? Given all the services and value-added benefits you get with a real store, I don't think the answer is "the Internet," but it may very well be "the Intranet." Companies like Neu's and Montague are exploring ways to make Web technology work for their existing customers, before they use it to expand their businesses. "We already keep track of the serial numbers on our customers' tools," Neu explains. "Now I want to see how else we can serve them using technology."
Montague's Stark sees it the same way. "I'm looking at creating an Intranet for our customers where they could gain access to our system to check inventory, place orders, and look at their accounts," Stark says. "The last thing I want to do is tie up our sales staff with people shopping us for prices on the Internet when we could be taking care of steady customers."
The world's best tool stores are run by people who care about their employees, their customers, and the products they carry. And with the thin margins they gain from tool sales, it's a wonder they aren't cutting back on services, rather than expanding them. I guess that's just another thing that makes them great.
Meet Colorado Fasteners of Edwards, Colo. This 26-year-old company is so unique we couldn't slot it in with the others. They do everything the other stores do, except they do it all from a fleet of traveling stores supported by one retail/warehouse hub.
Ten big box trucks stocked with all the things you can buy in the store cover established territories and follow regular routes and schedules throughout Colorado, hitting residential and commercial jobsites. The entrepreneurial drivers/salespeople know every construction project in their territories and maintain contact with their contractors who call them directly to arrange orders and deliveries. It's a perfect model for serving a large Western state where even the big resort towns are isolated from the closest lumberyards or tool stores by long distances and mountain passes.