The Little Guy Network (Epstein's Day 2013)
Of course, I want to thank everyone that participated in Epstein’s Day. You made it a huge success. But I feel like, if all I did was thank you for your business, it would be missing the point. I’d like to take a little time here to try and explain the larger effects of things like “Epstein’s Day”, not just on us, but on the tool business as a whole.<br />
Before the internet, there were two outside forces that molded and shaped Epstein’s (as much as we could be molded and shaped). The first was the network of mom and pop stores across the country. As a wholesaler we would supply them with everything from sleigh bells to screwdrivers to tiny saddles. They liked good quality American made products, because their customers were sensitive to the quality of those products. These relationships (from manufacturer to wholesaler to retailer) formed a network of human connections that developed over many years, over many handshakes, that floated out there in space, propelled by a mutual trust between everyone involved. That web of relationships slowly spread out over the country, and kept us afloat in times when the local economy dipped and flattened. These bonds were kept alive over the phone, or once or twice a year at conventions, where we would see each other again, shake hands and catch up.
The second force that molded and shaped us was the local contractor and construction business. They also demanded good quality American made products. There was a time when it was a dangerous proposition to show up on a job site with an imported tool. The human connections in these types of relationships were a little easier to keep track of because these people were in and out of our store everyday. They would sit at our counter, tell jokes, or let us in on the latest crazy thing to happen on the job. These companies were small, like us, and liked that we were as easy going and accommodating as they were.
With the growing consolidation of these smaller companies into a few large conglomerates, we have witnessed the speedy dismantling of this “little guy network”. Big guys only want to deal with other big guys. Little guys get swallowed up or are put out of business. These big guys successfully appealed to that part of everyone that loves to buy things cheaply, and for a while, there didn’t seem to be a bottom in terms of how cheap you could make something. The sensitivity that consumers had to quality goods was drowned out by the thrill of seeing how little we could spend, by how good a deal we could get for ourselves. This race to the bottom didn’t just touch the retail market, but swept through the surplus market, the construction and contracting industry as well as all the mom and pop stores across the country. From our vantage point, this seemed like a foreboding irreversible trend. We were put in the position were the forces that once demanded quality American products, now wanted cheaper and cheaper imports. In this environment, if we were to stick to our “principles” and carry USA tools, we would go out of business.
The great (and sometimes not so great) thing about technology, is that it always shakes things up. With the invention of the internet, ordinary people have started to recreate the “little guy network” again, but instead of phones, fax machines and hand shakes, it is being done through emails, forums, and Facebook. This new digital universe gives like-minded people a chance to band together and become a sizable counter force that can have a tremendous effect on the direction of business. Having a community of online people that respect quality tools and takes pride in domestic manufacturing creates demand. That demand gives us the ability to continue to support US tool manufacturers. The speed and personalization that is required to navigate these types of networks, seems to be too much for the big guys to handle (at least for now), and so the little guys, once again, have found a niche in which they can succeed.
A perfect real world example of this is our relationship with Wilde. Before the internet we were a small distributor for this family owned Kansas tool manufacturer. Now, because of word of mouth on forums like Garagejournal, Garagegazette and ToolGuyd, we are the largest distributor of Wilde in the country, by a pretty big margin. This doesn’t just inform us about which direction we should move our business, this also informs Wilde as well. When you place an “Epstein’s Day” order you are not just helping a small tool store in downtown Kansas City. You are helping to rebuild the “little guy network”.
With these public displays of support, like Epstein’s Day, you are turning the heads of some important decision makers in the world of tool manufacturing. You are becoming a counter force that more and more businesses will take seriously. The solidarity and organization that you displayed over the past few years does not go unnoticed. You are becoming a network of individuals that by banding together and acting as one, have had a significant effect on the microcosmic world of domestically produced tools. While the larger conglomerate multi-national tool companies will never be sensitive enough to respond to these subtler rumblings in the market, the smaller family owned companies will. Companies like Channellock, Wright, Norseman, Wilde and Vaughan-Bushnell are listening.
I’d like to end this by not only thanking all of the customers that participated in Epstein’s Day, but by thanking the manufacturers, the resellers, the liquidators, the independent tool truck drivers, the family hardware stores, the contractors and construction companies that still buy quality tools, the ebay dealers, flea marketers, tool junkies, garage mechanics, and everyone else that is proud to be a little guy.
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