Matco Tools implemented standards and processes to create consistency
among its more than 1,700 mobile franchisees.
By Tim O’Connor
The toolbox industry looks vastly different today from when Allen Plunk started in the business 33 years ago. Simple workstations have morphed into technology centers, complete with charging outlets for laptops and power tools and diagnostics. “It just makes it a total workstation, unlike in the past where it was simply a place to put your tools,” says Allen, director of franchising sales for Matco Tools Inc.
Matco has been innovating the tool business for 70 years. The company was founded in 1946 as the toolbox manufacturing division for Mac Tools. The division split with Mac in 1979 and became its own company.
The company is headquartered in Stow, Ohio but operates distribution centers in Salt Lake City and Nashville, Tenn. A facility in Jamestown, N.Y., manufactures all of Matco’s toolboxes. In all, the company has more than 20,000 items in its product line. These tools are sold by Matco’s network of franchisees or, as the company calls them, distributors.
Each of Matco’s 1,744 franchisees in the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico works out of a mobile store, a white truck featuring the iconic Matco blue and red hex eagle logo. The truck’s cargo area holds hundreds of tools, each neatly organized and on display for customers. The mobile stores make stops at independent repair shops, selling reliable and durable tools directly to technicians.
Plunk, Director of Franchise Sales, has spent 17 of his 33 years in the industry working for Matco, giving him a wider perspective of the industry than someone who worked with a single company their entire career. Having started with Matco’s competition, he can truly appreciate the difference the company makes for its franchisees. “Our level of training and the support we provide is second to none,” he says.
Matco implemented uniformity wherever it could. Even the stores are standardized now, so that the merchandising display and available tools are the same in every one. “No matter where a franchise opens in the country we know it’s opening with the same setup and structure,” Plunk says.
The result was record franchise sales and retention in the past three years. “We strive for continuous improvement,” Plunk says. “We’re not complacent, we don’t like the status quo.”
The process-driven culture does not end at the corporate level. Franchisees are integrated into the company’s established methods, and Matco wants its franchisees to be well prepared for running their own business. Before they can go out on their own, franchisees are required to complete two weeks of classroom training and then ride along to a sales meeting with an established distributor.
The experience is meant to give prospective franchisees an unfiltered glimpse into the work expected of them and the reality of running a Matco mobile store. “We want them to see a day start to finish, then be able to ask questions,” Plunk says.
The new owners that move forward are equipped with a training playbook they must follow through the first two years of the business. The set process is there to teach franchisees how to operate successfully. Business reviews between the franchisee and corporate are held to smooth out any difficulties and make adjustments in the approach. The schedule is flexible enough that Matco can make adjustments when the need arises. “If a new franchisee has concerns about his business and wants a review we’ll come sooner,” Plunk says.
“That dedication to process and commitment to success and excellence is what’s driving our retention and longevity,” Plunk says.
Matco’s proven processes are only part of how it helps its franchisees succeed. Each operator is also given a protected territory containing at least 325 exclusive potential customers. Every six weeks the company holds a sales meeting that includes training opportunities, and once a year Matco hosts an expo for franchisees in cities such as Las Vegas, San Antonio and New Orleans.
Building on Unity
Plunk credits the company’s leadership for developing a unified environment focused on franchise success. Every initiative or program is the result of a group evaluating the options and possibilities until they determine the best strategy. “We take on things as a team and work together,” he says. “Everybody’s voice is heard and considered.”
Matco’s goal is to reach over 2,000 franchisees. The bulk of those will be first-time operators, but the company is also seeing growing interest from established franchisees wanting to add a second or third truck. In many cases, the franchisee’s spouse or children operate those additional mobile stores.
“People don’t refer friends and family into a business they’re not convinced of and confident in themselves,” Plunk says. “It just speaks to the confidence that our franchisees have in us as a franchisor that they will put their own family members into the business,” he says.