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A Modern Twist to Professional Tools 

Learn why a new approach to selling tools to repair technicians is necessary in 2022. 

Episode 142: Without the correct tools, every job repairing heavy-duty trucks and trailers is more difficult. Tools are essential for technicians in order to do their job, so having the right tools for the job is absolutely essential. 

In this episode, we are going to look at a modern twist on professional tools that puts the right tools in repair technicians’ hands. 

Lee Locklear Headshot and CEAS Logo. In this episode,  learn why a new approach to selling tools to repair technicians is necessary in 2022. 

Lee Locklear, the CEO at Cutting Edge Automotive Solutions was on the show this week to discuss this with us. 

Guest Website: CEASUSA.com. 

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Transcript of Episode: 

Jamie Irvine:

You’re listening to The Heavy-Duty Parts Report. I’m your host, Jamie Irvine. And this is the show where you get expert advice about heavy-duty parts that keep trucks and trailers on the road longer while lowering cost-per-mile. You can have the greatest heavy-duty parts, but without the correct tools, every job repairing heavy-duty commercial equipment gets a lot harder. In this episode, we’re going to look at a modern twist on professional tools that puts the right tools in the hands of repair technicians at the right time. My guest today is Lee Locklear, the CEO at Cutting Edge Automotive Solutions. Lee, welcome to The Heavy-Duty Parts Report. So have you here?

Lee Locklear:

Thanks Jamie. Thanks for having me. We’re glad to be part of the podcast.

Jamie Irvine:

So let’s get started and talk about the way that tools have traditionally been sold to heavy-duty mechanics and diesel technicians. I know when I was a sales account manager, a lot of times I’d come in with my pickup truck. I was selling parts and then a vehicle might come right in behind me selling tools. So for those in the audience who maybe aren’t aware of how tools have traditionally been sold, maybe give us a background on that model.

Lee Locklear:

Yeah. So in the U.S. and Canada, and probably most of North America, a lot of that happens traditionally from the mobile tool trucks. A big part of that is due to serviceability. It’s very difficult as a technician to remain efficient if you have to stop what you’re doing and run down the street to go to the tool store, so to speak and buy the tool that you need to finish your job. It’s a lot easier when you have a professional that’s servicing you weekly taking care of your warranties and all of your service items. So traditionally that’s been done through the mobile tool business.

Jamie Irvine:

How long has that endured? Because it seems like that has been in place for my entire career, but I’m sure it goes way back.

Lee Locklear:

Snap On really set the stage for how business is done on a mobile tool truck today that model’s been there since the Great Depression. And it was very innovative for its time. The idea was as a manufacturer Snap On needed to keep the factory working, needed to keep the people employed. And at the same time the technicians or mechanics that were in the field needed tools to be able to service the vehicles. So the compromise was we will give you the tools that you need to do your job. You know, keeping in mind that if you did have a job during the Great Depression, you were likely taking a major wage cut being a manufacturer. You need to keep the plant efficient and working.

They came up with the idea of, I will give you the tools today and you’ll pay me, you know, weekly over the next few weeks, 5, 6, 7, 10 weeks, whatever the agreed upon payment is and what that allowed to happen was the technicians get the tools that they need to do their job, the factory to produce the tools that they need to keep everybody employed. And that business model really hasn’t changed since the Great Depression. It’s been that way ever since it was when I was a young technician coming up.

Jamie Irvine:

So I’m curious, this model has lasted a long time. What’s maybe one mistake you see repair technicians make when they buy tools and how should they avoid that?

Lee Locklear:

The relationship with the tool guys almost become a cult type thing. There are technicians that have, you know, the Snap On logo tattooed on their head. Like literally I’ve seen it tattooed on a guy with his head shaved and the Snap On S logo tattooed on his head. And same with the Macco guys. And, you know, everybody has their tool brand that they’re loyal to, or that they like to promote as a technician. I’ve done the same, didn’t tattoo my forehead or anything, but I’ve had loyalties for certain reasons. And I think the biggest mistake that, and this is gonna sound horrible as a business owner, but I think one of the biggest mistakes that technicians make is they make loyalties to companies instead of being loyal to themselves. Now I’m all about brand loyalty. And obviously as a business owner, I want to push brand loyalty. I believe that the company needs to earn that loyalty. And I think that technicians are too willing to give that loyalty without expecting that level of service and return that warrants it.

Jamie Irvine:

That’s an interesting perspective that I hadn’t really considered before, but I can see why there is such an emotional attachment to the brand of the tool. The tools that a repair technician uses, this is how they make their living, everything in their life kind of stems from using those tools. So I can see how a person would form an attachment very quickly to one brand or the other, especially if they felt that that brand was helping them make a living. But to your point, it makes sense that they need to ask more from a tool company. What are the things that they should be asking for then?

Lee Locklear:

Service is a big part of that. If you look at the forums on social media, I pick on Snap On a lot. I feel as though I can, I’m a former Snap On employee and former Snap On franchisee. So I feel as though I’ve earned that they are the 800 pound gorilla on the block and they have more franchisees throughout the country and in Canada than any other mobile tool company out there. So by default, they have the tendency to provide better service because they just have more feet on the street. The challenge though, is in what I saw as a franchisee and as a customer was the franchise agreements themselves get in the way. So the companies are loyal to their franchises as they should be. I’m not finding fault with that, but when the company is loyal to the franchise, a lot of times that comes at at the cost or is paid for by lack of service to the customer, that’s actually paying the money.

Lee Locklear:

So in the Snap On model, as a franchisee, I was Snap On’s customer. So they catered to me as the franchisee, not necessarily to the end user. So if I have a dealer that calls on my location and they’re a good dealer and they do a good job and they run a good business, and all of those’ if’ things, I end up with good service. Let’s say you have a guy that is great guy, great personality, could be a gal, great personality, but they don’t run a very good business. And so what happens is you end up on credit hold or you can’t get your stock order and things like that.

So the 10 mm socket, because everybody breaks 10 mm sockets, like candy, right? They’re going outta style. You can’t get your 10 mm socket replaced or your 10 mm wrench or whatever it happens to be, you can’t get the service that you’re looking for because the franchisee hasn’t done their part and paid their tool bill. All of the franchise companies out there would argue, well, you can always deal with the company. And I can assure that they would make that statement, but they generally don’t stand behind that. If there’s a franchise in the area, they’re gonna point you back towards the franchise and not deal with it directly,

Jamie Irvine:

If you’re not happy with a Big Mac, you’re not gonna call McDonald’s corporate and expect them to send you a Big Mac.

Lee Locklear:

Exactly. And funny enough, I actually went to a McDonald’s one time and had a terrible experience. And I called McDonald’s and all they did was put me back to the franchise because it wasn’t a company-owned store. It was a franchise store. And I get the franchise agreements. So when Cutting Edge had a chance encounter at Auto mechanic in Germany in 2018, I had a chance encounter with the guys at SB tools. And we became in 2019, we became the, the importer for north America for SP Tools. That whole thought process was fresh in my mind. How do we do this to where we can better serve the company because that’s really how Cutting Edge went from a small company with inventory on a Rubbermaid shelf in my garage to a multimillion dollar company with service. And I’m a big fan of making sure that we earn the customer’s business. And so how do you deal with wanting that distribution ie. franchise or however you’re gonna set the business up, but at the same time, never allowing the customer to not be taken care of regardless of the franchise agreement. And that’s really what we’re trying to do with SP Tools.

Jamie Irvine:

That makes a lot of sense. So when we’ve talked about how this model has been in place since the Great Depression, other than just the limitations or challenges that come up with the franchise model, what else is changing in the industry that dictates that we need to look at how tools are sold and distributed and why is that changing right now? What other factors are going on that are really mandating that this changes?

Lee Locklear:

Literally, since this business model was put in place, we have put a man on the moon, we’ve got international space stations, we have mobile phones, the world doesn’t even vaguely resemble the world that this business model was created for. We’re global economies. All mobile tool companies are dealing with manufacturing overseas, whether that’s Europe or Southeast Asia, you know, it may have, you know, somebody’s stamp or logo on it but there’s only a few manufacturing facilities overseas that manufacture for everybody. And everybody has their own intellectual property and things like that. But the actual forging of the wrench, so to speak or whatever the tool happens to be, happens a lot in different areas. So the access to professional tools because of the global economy has gone through the roof. You can get professional quality tools just about anywhere today.

You can find them online. You know, Amazon is pushing really strong towards professional automotive tools and equipment. They’re courting a lot of companies that specialize in automotive tools and equipment because they see that as a great growth opportunity. Domestic manufacturers have waned a lot and then what they do actually produce in the U.S., which used to mean a lot, is relegated to very specific products nowadays. So for example, picking on Snap On again, their core product, sockets, ratchets, wrenches, things like that are made here. The rest of their stuff is acquired globally just like everybody else. The difference is on that same professional rereading kit you may pay $160 to Snap On where you may pay $120 to SP Tools. So the access to those tools comes down to who’s gonna service you better or should, in my opinion, should come down to who is gonna service you better.

Jamie Irvine:

We’re gonna take a quick break. We’ll be right back. Don’t have a heavy-duty part number and need to look up a part? Go to parts.diesellaptops.com or download the app on Apple or Android to create your free account. Looking for high quality fuel injection for heavy-duty applications? Having one supplier for fuel injection allows you to better serve customers by providing them with a complete line, which increases your sales and profitability. Learn more at ambacinternational.com/aftermarket.

We’re back from our break. And before the break we were talking about the traditional model for distributing tools has been around for a very long time, really since the Great Depression, but the world has changed. And there’s a lot more at stake Lee for repair shops, commercial fleets, the repair technicians themselves. So when we look at the situation right now, what’s at stake if mechanic or a diesel technician doesn’t have access to the right tools at the right time?

Lee Locklear:

Like you said, in the very beginning, if you can have the greatest parts in the world, you can have everything else, but if you don’t have the technician and the tools to complete the job, the vehicle still doesn’t get fixed. It’s that simple. So tools for profession technicians are no different than shoulder pads and cleats for professional quarterback. It’s the same thing. You know, you might be able to walk out on the field barefoot and no shoulder pads, and you’re gonna last about one snap.

Jamie Irvine:

And then something’s gonna snap!

Lee Locklear:

Yeah. And then something’s gonna snap for sure. One of those big lineman’s gonna get you and you’re not gonna feel very well. I mean, you’re not gonna be efficient at what you’re trying to do. So it’s literally that analogy is the same for professional technicians. They have to have good quality tools that are reliable that will allow them to do their job. They have to be able to get the warranties taken care and the service items. It’s the little spring that makes the difference in that air impact, that spring is worth a quarter. To most guys, you know, it’s not important enough for them to spend an hour running down that little spring that the customer needs, but for the professional technician, it’s life and death. It’s, you know, the ability to do their job or, or not have the tools that they need to do their job

Jamie Irvine:

And people on the automotive side, they need their vehicles. I’m not trying to minimize that, but it is a whole other game with work trucks, because those trucks are revenue generating parts of a fleet’s business. And downtime is just such a killer. The parts, the cost of the parts, even the labor can be almost nothing when you consider how much it might cost to have a unit down for a few extra days, because it can’t be fixed. So the stakes are pretty high for everyone involved, regardless of whether it’s the repair shop owner, the technician that works at the repair shop or the customer, that’s bringing their commercial vehicles to these repair shops. How are you changing the way tools are sold repair technicians? I’m interested in learning more about the evolution of your model and how you’ve addressed some of these issues that you saw with the traditional way that tools have been distributed and sold.

Lee Locklear:

That’s a great question. So one of the things that we wanted to do was merge being on the outside looking in. I noticed some trends in the equipment industry that led me to believe that we could blend this into the hand tool side of the business as well. And what I mean by that is the parts industry has taken a big chunk of equipment sales whether that’s lifts or diagnostics, whatever the case may be, and no offense to the parts guys, they’re just not tool guys. And they’re not diagnostic guys. And you know, the tools and equipment today are pretty complex. So the challenge that you run into is you have somebody that provides excellent service because you see the outside sales guys, you were an account manager yourself. So you see that, that outside sales guy all the time, right?

Lee Locklear:

How many times a day does a NAPA delivery driver show up at the shop dropping off parts or whatever the case may be. So when you look at the business, the parts guys out service the mobile guys ten to one all day long, twice on Sunday, but they don’t have the experience and the knowledge that the mobile tool guys do to properly service the customer’s tool and equipment needs. A lot of times, the customer ends up with the wrong tool for the wrong job, especially when you get into the complex stuff like diagnostics and things like that. So my thought process was to find a way to provide that level of service that the parts guys deliver to the shops on the parts side, combined with the industry knowledge and experience from tools and equipment and a big focus on diagnostics on the other side.

Lee Locklear:

And the ways that we’re going about that is to merge those two businesses. You still have to have that relationship guy because that relationship with the tool truck driver is really what makes that whole relationship work. That’s why the mobile guys are still around it’s that one-on-one personal relationship. So you still have to have that element, but there’s a lot of other things that you can do. For example, you can have a lower cost labor, which would be like a delivery driver that can also handle warranties, that can handle payment collections, if you miss each other, a lot of the service side of the business, so that your relationship guy or your sales guy, as it were, can focus on making sure that the customer’s getting the tools and equipment that they need. Your delivery drivers can take a care of a lot of the service issues that the customer has. And then it’s also branching out and utilizing modern technology.

So we developed an app that can be found on the Apple store or the Play store. We designed the app to mimic the relationship that you have on the tool trucks. So in the app, you can request warranties, you can look at your purchase histories. You can build wishlists, you know, pretty much anything that you would normally do on a tool truck. You could do directly through the app. And again, with the delivery drivers and everything else, we can see that customer, touch that customer more often than a mobile tool guy that generally is gonna see him once a week, sometimes once every other week. So when that 10 mm socket does break, we can get you one today, tomorrow, versus, you know, next Tuesday or next Wednesday, when the guy shows up. Backing that up is a brick and mortar location. Traditionally, like I said earlier on, we don’t want the technicians coming in stopping what they’re doing, having to come to the store. But what the store does provide is the ability for us to carry a larger inventory locally than what a mobile tool dealer general can have. So we can have more of the specialty tools. We can have more of the things that when the customer has to have it, they’ve gotta have it now, without having to pay overnight freight and everything else, because we can carry a larger inventory.

Jamie Irvine:

So it sounds to me like this is the real merger between the traditional distribution model and setting up a digital sales channel and leveraging digital tools. I love it. I think that that is the way that parts companies, tool companies need to go. Like to your point, the world has changed. And a lot of people in our industry, they’re just kind of catching up with what is being called, like web 2.0, meanwhile, we’re in the process of actually going into what they’re now gonna call web 3.0, which is going to include augmented reality and virtual reality. So it’s really important for companies that serve the automotive and heavy-duty industries to get caught up and to move into the 21st century, because the changes are gonna come fast and furious as we move forward. I’m curious though, you’ve had some time now with this model, you’ve seen the impact it’s had, you’ve tried to address some of the problems and provide a better solution. What has been the economic impact on your customers?

Lee Locklear:

We can service them better and also save them money. And, you know, sometimes you have the greatest ideas in the world and something carries on forever and ever, and ever like the mobile tool bottle. And then all of a sudden that changes. And I think the world changed in 2020 with COVID. But the reality is that there are shop owners out there that are concerned about how many people are coming into their shop and how often. Our business model had an unintended consequence, which is the app allows us to still continue to do business in the way that the technicians are doing business. But at the same time, we can keep our employees from having to be in, you know, we can put a lockbox outside the shop, for example, and place the tools or warranties and things like that inside the box, and never have to go into the shop.

 It’s not necessarily the relationship that the techs are looking for, but in a world of uncertainty and the concerns, you know, especially in Canada, I have a lot of friends in Canada. You know, you guys seem to be on pretty strong restriction. You know, I have some friends that are Mac dealers up in Canada, and they’ve expressed to me a lot of shop owners just don’t want them in the shop. They just don’t want them there. That makes it very difficult for them to do business. And so one of the unintended consequences that we’ve had that I think helps is being able to get customers tools and equipment without having to have a presence inside the shop. The financial impact to the shop is efficiency goes up because if you do have a good relationship with the tool guy, you’re likely gonna be on the tool truck for a little while, you got five or 10 technicians, how much productivity time do you lose when the tool guy’s there. Multiply that by four trucks. And so you’re losing 5, 10, 15, 20 hours of production time. If your techs are, you know, a hundred percent efficient, it’s 20 billable hours. If they’re 150%, you know, it’s, it’s 30 billable hours at $150 an hour. You know, that’s a huge impact, I think financially.

Jamie Irvine:

So as things have become more complex, we think of diagnostic tools, if you’d like to leave our audience with maybe just one thing that they need to know about how you are helping your customers with those more complex tools, what’s that one thing?

Lee Locklear:

Training, education and transparency. And I think the three go together, there’s a lot of companies that sell what they wanna sell, or they sell what they have. We run with a philosophy that our job is to educate the customer. And if we educate the customer, then we’ve done our job and hopefully we’ve earned their business. We don’t always have the right tool and we don’t always have the right solution. And if we don’t offer it, we will point them in the direction where they can find it. And we feel as though that, that hopefully in the long run, the customers will appreciate that. And when we do have the right tool that fits the need, that that they’ll patronize our business.

Jamie Irvine:

You’ve been listening to The Heavy-Duty Parts Report, I’m your host, Jamie Irvine. And we’ve been speaking with Lee Locklear, the CEO at Cutting Edge Automotive Solutions. To learn more about Cutting Edge, visit ceasusa.com, links will be in the show notes. And this is the company where training, education and transparency is what you’re going to find. So go over there and check them out. I think you’re going to really enjoy the experience. Lee, thank you for being on The Heavy-Duty Parts Report. So glad to have you here.

Lee Locklear:

Thank you, Jamie. Really appreciate your time. And it was a pleasure.

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