Monday, October 22, 2007

Economic & Market Trends in the US - Part Two

On Friday, it all sounded so good - orders are up, prices are up, business is good. It's a bull market! But today, the bear steps in.
New Housing Units Started: Everyone's heard this news. Down, down down. From a high of 2,300 in January, 2006, the new housing starts fell to a low of 1,400 by June, 2007. This is the lowest rate since before 3rd quarter, 2002. Numbers have been seasonable adjusted.
Five-Year Unemployment Rate: Low, low, low. Today it is just over 4.5%. That means that practically everyone who wants to be employed, is working. Makes it tougher to get new employees and to keep them. Could cost employers profit dollars as you develop new ways to recruit new help. Sometimes salary alone is not enough.
Initial Jobless Claims: When initial claims for unemployment insurance benefits start to increase, the result is a bearish market. Claims are climbing my friends! It means some employers are reluctant to hire (afraid of the future?)so those people who have been put out of work, are making new claims.

In summary, the good news comes to us from the GDP, CPI, PPI, factory Orders, Durable goods Orders and Oil Prices. These all bode well for our businesses in the near-term future.
The not-as-good news is in housing starts, the housing index, the unemployment rate, and initial jobless claims.

In our little tool world, here's how the big boys have done recently. Using a sales index that includes Cooper, Emerson, Snap-on, Stanley, Black & Decker, Danaher, and Newell Rubbermaid, by year-end 2006, this group represented a 6.4% increase in sales. Through the first half of 2007, their sales index was up only 3.1%

Friday, October 19, 2007

Economic & Market Trends in the US - Part One

What! Economic stuff on a blog for shop owners and technicians? In an effort to provide a snapshot of our economy that you may find useful to your business proposition, read on - Not to worry, it won't be high-falutin. It's very bare-bones, my take on what's happening in our world and how it will affect our market.
Gross Domestic Product (GDP) - currently Bullish. GDP was a little over 1% in 3rd qtry, 2006, less than 1% in 1st qtr 2007, but through the end of 2nd atr 2007 is almost 4%.
Consumer Price Index - This tells us about out-of-pocket expenditures for the consumer, based on 200 products. When a change is greater than 0.4, the government considers that to be inflationary and is bearish. Growth of 0 to 0.4 is normal and is bullish. Through July 2007, the CPI is just at 0, considered normal/bullish.
Five Year Producer Price Index: the Bureau of labor Statistics PPI measures the selling price that manufacturers get for their goods and services (basically - what you are paying). Through July, 2007 reporting, the PPI is just over 0.05, so it is normal for growth and is bullish.
Five Year Light Sweet Crude: Not even going to give you the numbers. We all know they're on the rise.
Factory Orders: Non-durable goods have been on a steady increase since 3rd quarter, 2002. They dipped a little earlier this year, but appear to be on the rise again. Bullish. Durable Goods New orders: Same story. Though they dipped dramatically in the first quarter of this year, they have been strong since 3rd quarter, 2002 and continue to rise through July, 2007.

Shipping Containers: Your Next Workshop?

Not only are we stuck with a bunch of Chinese tools and equipment, now we have to figure out how to do something with the containers they come in. Check out this post, originally posted on the

Toolmonger » Blog Archive » Shipping Containers: Your Next Workshop?
A enormous trade deficit with china has left the United States with a glut of shipping containers stacked up so high that neighborhoods near Long Beach harbor experience sundown an hour earlier than the surrounding area. But the news isn’t all bad: these standardized 40′ X 8′ X 8-1/2′ boxes are being repurposed by people all around the world into low cost housing, internet hubs, and even workshops.

Pretty much any international shipping hub in the US has a glut of these giant lego blocks piling up around their necks. The most common size is 40′, but they come in lengths from 8′ cubes all the way up to 53′ tractor-trailer types.

Companies like Sea Box, Inc. have seized this opportunity and started to market to small businesses and DIYers. While a smaller cubes can be used as a simple tool sheds, the larger versions are a simple platform to add storage and/or workshops to a yard. And while they aren’t light — at about two tons — they are meant to be moved, and hauling companies will drop them on site for a reasonable fee.

A standard used 40′ container sells for roughly $1,500.00, but if you’re going to alter it by cutting out walls and adding windows anyway, you can often find damaged units for much less. A simple pier-type foundation will give the container a good stable foundation. The possibilities are endless once you get one of these set up.

Sea Box’s Example Workshop []
Shipping Container Auctions []
Free Storage Container Price Quotes []
DIY Shipping Container Construction Videos []

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

M. Eagles Tool Warehouse - New Digs Y'all

We're thrilled to announce that our friends at M. Eagles are growing! M. Eagles Tool Warehouse announces its expansion to Charlotte, North Carolina, so now you have a Cousin in the Tool Business in the South as well. This second distribution center will serve all their customers throughout the South and give them selected one day shipping service from the New York/Vermont Canadian border to Atlanta, Georgia, and two-day shipping service will be attainable to most points east of the Mississippi. Eagles will be stocking a 32,000 square foot facility projected to open January 2008. They will be expanding in the original location as well by building a new customer service department geared to accommodate the increased business.

Since 1971, Eagles has been an Automotive Aftermarket Tool Supplier to the Jobber only. Their customers make up an exclusive network of successful business people who service and sell tools to the repair trade. Marketing to their distributors is done through a 156 page full color flier released each quarter, and supplemental eight page fliers featuring new products; their web site is makes available secure access for its customers to place/track orders, check inventory availability and product info, or view account specific details. New customers are welcome to apply, and then browse the unregistered area where only products with recommended selling prices can be viewed. Once the distributor verification process is complete for registration, new customers will get full access to the main website.

The fully interactive secure site gives ordering capability to distributors with access to actual inventory and pricing for over 23,000 products. Customers can be assured that merchandise ordered on the website will be shipped the same business day if processed before 2:00 p.m.

For more information, contact Michael or Howard Gering
M. Eagles Tool Warehouse Inc.
The Nations Automotive Tool Box®
Newark New Jersey Charlotte North Carolina
(800) 631-2002

Extreme Pumpkins Require Extreme Tools

It's October. It's Autumn. A chill is in the air. Halloween, AAPEX, SEMA, and the NACE Shows are right around the corner. I found this website sometime last year, and since I love Halloween and all things Jack-O-Lantern-y, I bookmarked it. Tom Nardone is the king of extreme pumpkin-carving, and here are the tools he recommends: (My apologies ahead of time to any specific tool maker who might be offended by Tom's opinions. I think he has a great sense of humor - and I love his Jack-O-Lanterns!)

Lifted directly from his website, with slight editing:

Tools for Terror

Here is some great advice on how to easily carve a pumpkin using power tools. I prefer tools that can make pumpkin carving go quickly because I am lazy.

My favorite Pumpkin Slashing Tool: The Jigsaw.

A regular kitchen knife is a piss-poor choice if you need to quickly carve a pumpkin. The holes that you create are so uninteresting. Beginners will only be able to make square holes using just a knife. Creative types could make triangles, but circles are pretty much impossible. Certainly if we want to write a message on our pumpkin, we need a different tool.

Why doesn’t everyone just use a jigsaw to carve pumpkins? Jigsaws make nice smooth curves and quick cuts. You can start a jigsaw anywhere. Just plunge the blade into the pumpkin and pull the trigger. The blade goes in and out of the pumpkin so easily it is as if you were cutting a lump of jell-o. Even the smallest jigsaw has plenty of power to slice and dice. I do suggest getting the longest blade you can to make your work easier. It is amazing that more pumpkin carvers don’t use power tools.

For Heavy Work: The Reciprocating Saw (Sawzall).

If you were a pumpkin carver in a place where the pumpkins are larger, you might want to choose a reciprocating saw as your weapon of choice. Unlike jigsaws, which have short blades, reciprocating saws can often handle blades 10 or more inches long. A long blade can easily cut through the biggest pumpkin or take the stem-cap off the orneriest pumpkin.

If you happen to grow one of those humungous pumpkins, a sawzall is the only tool to use to carve it. A sawzall will allow you to carve intricate designs on even the largest vegetable. By using a reciprocating saw you can save time too. It will only take you 5 to ten minutes to carve a huge pumpkin. Sawzalls kick butt.

For Flaying: A Router.

In order to be a master pumpkin carver, you don’t need a great vocabulary but lets review one important term: flay. If you were a mass-murderer and your specialty was removing all of the skin from your victims’ bodies you would be flaying them. That is your new word for today, to flay.

If you wanted to flay a pumpkin for a lighting effect when you place a high powered light inside them, I suggest you use a router. A router will let you set the depth of material you remove from the outside of the pumpkin.

By removing just the skin from the outside you can let some of the light from within diffuse outward. This creates a cool, creepy glow.

Clean Up The Crime Scene: A Power-Washer

Pumpkin guts attract flies and get sticky over the course of a day or so. I like to cleanse the grime scene with a power washer. I use only the strongest trash bags as well. I don’t like to drop any pumpkin guts on my way to the curb.

For Detail Work: A Boning or Filet Knife

Let’s face it, when you want to create fine detail, you need something more delicate that a jigsaw. That is when I grab a boning knife. It is long and thin enough to slide into any cut and pop out the chunks of pumpkin pulp.

For Goop Removal: A Big Spoon

Pumpkins are full of goop. Removing that goop goes faster if you have a bigger spoon. I like one made of metal to scrape the guts from the inside of the pumpkin. It is about the same size spoon that the lunch-lady in the high school cafeteria uses.

Tools that don’t work so well:

As an experienced pumpkin carver, I have tried a number of tools. Some don’t work very well. You can save yourself some trouble by not using these.

A dremel tool or roto-zip: The fibrous nature of pumpkins make it difficult to hold rotary tools in a straight line. You can hack-up a pumpkin, but it is difficult to leave them looking artistic.

Torches, plasma-cutters, any flame cutters: Since a pumpkin is made mostly of water, it can’t be burned easily. Don’t worry though, the fact that they don’t burn allows you to light giant fires inside their head without burning down your porch

Friday, October 12, 2007

75 Years and Still in Business!

I just returned from a trip to San Antonio to celebrate the 75th anniversary of an independent sales rep company, Hirsig-Frazier. You think it's tough to run a manufacturing company, a publishing company, or a repair shop for 75 years? Try being a sales rep. Current President, Wally Lyssy, runs the rep agency out of Dallas, TX, but they have a satellite office in Springfield, MO. From an agency that began in Dallas in 1932, it has grown to an eleven-state agency that covers the automotive aftermarket, including traditional, retail, and heavy-duty. Harley Willey, a former co-owner of Hirsig-Frazier said a few words at dinner the other night. He said when he started with Hirsig-Frazier in Dallas, there were over 50 sales rep agencies in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area alone. Today? How many are still in business? Not many. I'm sure you could tell similar stories about your businesses.

I have to say, sometimes a sales rep is considered to be the bottom rung of the ladder - one you can sometimes skip, and still get up the ladder. Over the years, I've seen many companies go through the exercise of dropping their reps, adding regional sales people, dropping regional sales people and bringing independent reps back on-line. The independent sales rep does not have an easy job, luckily for them, smart companies understand the value independent reps can provide.

As a testament to their longevity and their importance to their vendors and distributors alike, more than 80 people showed up to celebrate with Hirsig-Frazier on Tuesday. Many of the discussions centered around the friendships that had been forged over the years, some commented on their success as sales people, others as business people in general in an ever-more-competitive environment. Everyone had a story to tell. Roy Hurley, with the Stant Corporation, has been sales manager for 32 years. He pointed to every Hirsig-Frazier rep in the room, one at a time, saying - "you see him? I trained him in 1989. See him? Trained him in 1993. I've trained every single one of the Hirsig-Frazier guys here today." By the end of each evening, there was a whole lotta lovin goin on.

In addition to recognizing Hirsig-Frazier for 75 years of continued business, Wally Lyssy recognized sales professional, Jack McEvoy. He has been with the H-F Company for 23 years!

Wally acknowledged their rich history in the automotive aftermarket, and their continued commitment to the future. They currently have 28 people employed, four of which graduated from Northwood University.

Congratulations Wally, Stephen, M.J., and your entire team! You represent a great group of professionals, and we wish you the best for (at least) the next 75 years.

(come back next week for photos.)

Friday, October 5, 2007

Maintain a Safe Workplace: Reduce Risks

Here is some helpful information for shop owners, sent to us by our friends at Nationwide Insurance in Columbus, Ohio.

Auto service businesses repair vehicles to get their customers back on the road and on with their lives, but they may pose a threat to these same customers if shop conditions aren’t properly maintained.

Customer and employee safety is critical for building and upholding an automotive service’s reputation. Nationwide Insurance combines simple safety tips with online training courses for a complete safety and loss prevention package. The goal is to assist small business owners with keeping customers safe while reducing risk and insurance premiums.

“Customer service and safety are every small business owner’s top priorities,” says Dave Gettles, vice president of loss control for Nationwide Insurance. “A few preventive measures can go a long way to protect your business and keep customers returning again and again.”

Nationwide Insurance offers online safety-training courses for auto service establishments, many available in both English and Spanish. The training website allows users to select the courses that fit their needs, learn at their own pace and track results. These courses are part of a larger online safety-training resource from Nationwide, which offers more than 300 classes to assist a variety of business needs. For more information, please visit

These simple tips from Nationwide Insurance also offer easy ways to maintain a safe workplace for employees and patrons at minimal or no cost:

§ Maintain the interior and exterior – Keep parking lots and sidewalks in good condition. Provide dusk-to-dawn lighting for the exterior of the building and vehicle storage area(s). Protect utilities (gas meters, transformers, etc.) with physical barriers.
§ Keep walking areas free and clear – Make sure areas where customers walk are in good physical condition and are clear of equipment. Clear exterior walking surfaces of ice, snow and debris.
§ Use signage – Clearly post personnel signs to indicate restricted access, delivery routes and vehicle drop-offs. Post signs in reception areas citing lack of liability for any items left inside vehicles.
§ Security measures – Monitor exterior grounds with surveillance equipment. Store all vehicle keys (company and customer) in a secure place. Educate employees with proper training and establish key control procedures in the event of an emergency.

Nationwide, based in Columbus, Ohio, is one of the largest diversified insurance and financial services organizations in the world, with more than $160 billion in assets. Nationwide ranks #104 on the Fortune 500 list. The company provides a full range of insurance and financial services, including auto, motorcycle, boat, homeowners, life, farm, commercial insurance, administrative services, annuities, mortgages, mutual funds, pensions, long-term savings plans and health and productivity services. For more information, visit

Nationwide, the Nationwide Framemark and On Your Side are federally registered service marks of Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Opportunities Abound for the Independent Repair Shop

October is Car Care Aware month. You may have noticed information about Be Car Care Aware on your local network. The Care Care Council recently announced the results of last year's vehicle check-up events during Car Care Aware Fairs across the country in April and October 2006. What do you know? People just aren't taking care of their cars like they should. The CCC revealed that nearly nine out of 10 vehicles need service or parts, underscoring the huge untapped DIY and DIFM sales opportunities for the automotive aftermarket. The unsatisfactory condition of vehicles also reinforces the continued need for consumer education about the benefits of regular vehicle care, maintenance and repair.

An analysis of nearly 1,000 vehicle inspection forms, submitted from event coordinators in 16 states, show that 88 percent of the vehicles checked during National Car Care Month in April and Fall Car Care Month in October needed parts replacement, service or fluids. The top problem areas were motor oil, Windshield wipers, air filters, belts and hoses and lights. Any time a customer brings their car into your place for service, you should ALWAYS ASK, "May I check your oil, wipers, filters, belts, hoses and lights? Or at a minimum, have a place to check them on your work order, so you can discuss their condition with the vehicle owner.

“Vehicle check-up events are typically the focus of Car Care Aware Fairs sponsored by repair shops, parts stores, distributors in cooperation with local vocational schools, media, civic groups and others,” said Rich White, executive director, Car Care Council. “While these events are free to consumers and serve as community-relations builders, most aftermarket businesses who participate experience an increase in sales and customers as a result.”

When checking lubricants and fluids, the three top failure rates were: low, overfull or dirty motor oil at 30 percent, inadequate washer fluid levels at 28 percent, and low, leaky or dirty coolant at 28 percent. Transmission, brake, power steering and clutch fluids were also checked and had failure rates of 26 percent and below.

Approximately 15 percent of vehicles had front windshield wiper failures and 9 percent needed service to rear wipers.

At least one belt was reported as unsatisfactory in 22 percent of the vehicles inspected and 14 percent required at least one new hose. New air filters were needed in 25 percent of the vehicles, while 8 percent needed new PVC filters. The “check engine” light was on in 8 percent of the vehicles.

Battery cables, clamps and terminals needed maintenance in 17 percent of the vehicles inspected, while 9 percent of the batteries were not properly held down. Eleven percent had either a green, dark or clear/yellow charge indicator light.

Improperly inflated tires were found on 20 percent of the cars and 11 percent had worn tread and were in need of replacement.

The leading failure rates for vehicle lights/vision were: license plate lights at 18 percent, brake lights at 10 percent and side markers at 8 percent.

The Car Care Council is the source of information for the “Be Car Care Aware” consumer education campaign promoting the benefits of regular vehicle care, maintenance and repair to consumers. For more information, visit

Car Care Council 7101 Wisconsin Ave. Suite 1300 Bethesda, MD
Tel: 301-654-6664 Fax: 301-654-3299

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

The End is Near: HCFC Production Coming to an End

International Agreement Reached to Accelerate Phase-Out of HCFC Production

The 191 parties to the Montreal Protocol announced Sept. 22 that they came to an "historic" agreement to freeze production of hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) by 2013 and accelerate the complete phase-out of production and use by 10 years. Under the original protocol, HCFCs had been slated for full elimination by 2030 in developed countries and 2040 for developing countries. However, according to signatories, evidence was mounting about the growing use of HCFCs, as well as the potential benefits to the ozone layer and climate change of an accelerated freeze and phase-out of HCFCs.

Specifically, the agreement commits developed countries to freezing in 2013, their production of HCFCs at the average production levels in 2009-2010. Developed countries would be committed to reductions in production and consumption of HCFCs from base-year levels of 75 percent by 2010 and 90 percent by 2015, with full elimination of production and consumption by 2020. Developing countries would be required to reduce HCFC from the base-year level of 10 percent by 2015, 35 percent by 2020, and 67.5 percent by 2025, with full elimination of production and consumption by 2030. Developed countries further committed to support, at a currently unspecified amount, the continuation of the Multilateral Fund for implementation of the Montreal Protocol when it comes up for renewal in 2008. The fund is directed at assisting developing countries in implementing the protocol.

Looks like we'll be looking for new refrigerant-exchange units in the near future....