Some Like it Hot — International Tool thrives in Florida’s global markets

Contractor Supply Magazine, April/May 2014: International Tool & Supply

Dean Barnett and his family team lead International Tool and Supply in serving an eclectic and global customer base from its two "loaded to the gills" stores in Davie and Miami, Florida.

Unlike many distributors who tend to cluster in industrial districts, International Tool & Supply in Davie, Florida sits on a broad, sunny, palm-lined street in a commercial neighborhood of metro Fort Lauderdale. Florida 595 is less than a quarter mile straight down the street. Despite the area’s dense population, the store is uncannily easy to find.

“I can get somebody here from 300 miles away in two turns because Highway 595 is the main east/west road in Broward county,” states Dean Barnett, company president and CEO. “Then it’s just three miles to I-95. West of us is I-75 and that’s all there is: We are on a strip of land just 14 miles wide from the Atlantic Ocean to the Everglades.”

“But in that strip, Broward and Dade Counties have over 4.5 million people,” adds Barry Barnett, vice president and general manager, Dean’s younger brother.  

A large sign on the street advertises International Tools’ leading brands: Bosch, Delta, Freud, DeWalt, Milwaukee, Makita, Festool, Jet, Powermatic, Porter-Cable and Skil. The street sign also advertises, “Tools and Machinery
at the Guaranteed Lowest Price!” Now that’s unlike most distributors, but it is a key piece of the International Tool model, which holds that no sale shall be lost solely on price.

“We have the largest retail Makita display in the state of Florida. If this doesn’t send a
message to people that we are the Makita distributor,
nothing will.”
— Dean Barnett

“We guarantee the lowest prices in the country on every item we sell — we also say that on our website,” Dean states. “I go to a lot of STAFDA and Evergreen meetings and I know that most distributors sell on service —if you lose a sale to a big box or the Internet, so be it. My philosophy is totally different. When a customer comes in — and they do it all the time — and says, ‘I saw this priced lower on the Internet; maybe I’ll buy it there,’ I just match that price. That customer is in my store — I want him shopping with me. We’ve lost money on products matching prices and I will continue to do it. But once customers get past the price objection, they also start to see everything else that we offer. I think we can win them for life at that point.”

So rather than live and die by the lowest price, International Tool uses low prices as a lure and then hooks customers on its selection, service, knowledge and expertise.

“We offer a definite value proposition here,” Dean continues. “We are huge proponents of training our salespeople through Evergreen, STAFDA and local manufacturers. The more knowledgeable my salespeople are, the better able they are to accurately diagnose customer needs the first time, and the less likely that customer will be to shop at a big box store or on the Internet once he has seen what we have here and what we can provide them.”

Needless to say, this model has its challenges. Margins on power tools are famously slim, so to even the scales the company invests heavily in higher margin accessories, building supplies and other items. One counterbalance is built right into the company line card and website: “International Tool carries each and every tool in the manufacturer’s line.”

Steven Barnett (center) helps out at the sales counter during a burst of activity. Windowed offices along the counter’s back wall allow managers to see the action in the store and act within seconds when things get busy.

“That’s right,” Dean says. “Carrying all the items of all our major manufacturers dates back to the philosophy of our stepfather, Louis Wild. When he founded the business in 1970, he wanted people to be able to walk in the store and get the feeling that if they weren’t able to find it here, they just weren’t going to find it. But if we have what they want nine times out of ten, then we’re going to be their first thought when they need something from any of the manufacturers we represent. That’s the theory behind the huge inventory we carry.”

"We export worldwide and are an authorized repair center for every major brand of electric and gas-powered machines we sell. We have a very strong Internet division.”
— Barry Barnett

That said, there’s no substitute for buying power. Buying key lines deeply and in large quantities enables International Tool to compete against big box stores and Internet competitors. The company’s diverse customer groups enable those large buys.  

“The industry has changed radically over the last 10 years and we have changed with it. We used to be mainly a woodworking store. Now we are much more construction focused. When we joined the Evergreen Marketing Group 11 years ago, we did business with just four preferred suppliers. Today that number is 33 and growing. Our customer list is literally tens of thousands. Our local customer list right now is probably around 16,000.”

“We sell to commercial contractors, woodworking shops, DIYers and the government,” Barry adds. “We export worldwide and are an authorized repair center for every major brand of electric and gas-powered machines we sell. We have a very strong Internet division.”

Dean’s son, Steven Barnett, is one of three people who manage the company’s website and growing arsenal of social media tools, including Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.  For late arrivals to the big tech ball, Steven explains their attributes and basic differences.

“The difference between Facebook and Instagram is that on Facebook the user has to come find you, whereas with Instagram you can find tool users and go after them,” Steven says. “With Twitter you can search for your end-users, too, but on Twitter people mainly just post their thoughts.”

"I will post our promotions on Instagram and then search hash tags for words like “Makita” or “Bosch” because the people who use those hash tags also typically buy the products. I find those and bring them to us by liking their photos and following them.”
— Steven Barnett

“On Instagram people post pictures from their everyday life, which could be on a job site using a Makita or Milwaukee power tool,” Steven continues. “For example, I will post our promotions on Instagram and then search hash tags for words like “Makita” or “Bosch” because the people who use those hash tags also typically buy the products. I find those and bring them to us by liking their photos and following them.”  

Last fall, International Tool switched its web platform to eBay’s Magento ( platform and company webmaster Christie Parkhurst has been repopulating and refining the site ever since. By the end of 2014, Parkhurst hopes to have 100,000 products listed on the website.

International Tool also makes buying tools easy by accepting PayPal, which it has been doing for years. Parkhurst explains that although attitudes about online buying have changed, some customers still feel safer using PayPal. Plus, PayPal’s ‘Bill Me Later’ program adds a credit component for both the seller and the buyer.

“We sell quite a bit on Amazon,” she says. “You get a huge audience but it’s not the one-to-one interaction with the customer that we would prefer. Our goal is to draw those customers straight to us, but Amazon of course works to keep people shopping on their site.”

The company also meets online mega-retailers head-on with free stateside shipping on orders over $199 and free freight on certain items like Generac generators.

“We sell quite a bit on Amazon. You get a huge audience but it’s not the one-to-one interaction with the customer that we would prefer."
— Christie Parkhurst

“Home standby power has really grown in the last few years,” Barry explains. “Power outages down here are an inconvenience, but up north they can be genuinely life-threatening, especially when it’s below zero outside. After Superstorm Sandy, nine of every 10 incoming calls were for generators. After this past winter’s bitter cold, people are a lot less willing to risk that anymore.”

1,000-foot Customers
Miami is enjoying a new building boom and a race is on to build the tallest skyscraper. Plans are in place for several buildings that will approach or top 1,000 feet in height.

“Our outside sales team focuses mainly on Dade and Broward counties — the Ft. Lauderdale/Miami area,” Dean explains. “We don’t do much in the residential sector; we focus on commercial construction, the big buildings that are going up, the shopping complexes and hotels. South Beach in particular is booming right now, so one of my guys spends all day, every day, in South Beach.”

Other ‘large’ customers, however, are not 1,000 feet tall, but 1,000 feet long. And that leads into some really interesting waters.  

“Miami is the largest cruise ship port of call in the United States so lot of the cruise line companies have their main offices here — Carnival Cruise Lines, Royal Caribbean,
Disney, Norwegian, Princess Cruises and so on,” Dean says. “Their purchasing is done out of their Miami offices. The ships are built in Europe, and all have 220-volt power. Well,
25 years ago our stepfather contacted Bosch about importing a few 220-volt tools to sell to those cruise lines. The business just mushroomed from there.”

International Tool & Supply
at a Glance

Founded: 1970
Ownership: Privately held
Branches: Davie and Miami, Fla.
Employees: 23
Sales Staff: 7 (4 outside, 3 inside)
Markets: Commercial construction, woodworking, manufacturing, oil, government and municipal, marine, cruise lines and shipping
Services: Export, tool repair

Line Card Advertisers in this issue are linked here: Calculated Industries, CMT USA, Coleman Cable/Southwire, Empire Level, Johnson Level, Keson, Lackmond, Makita, Mercer Abrasives, Powers Fasteners, Simpson Strong-Tie, Wacker Neuson

Line Card: 3M, Affinity Tools, Benchdog, Benner Nawman, Bosch, Bostitch, Briggs & Stratton, CEP, Champion Chisel Works, Chapin, CST Berger, CLC Work Gear, Delta Woodworking Machinery, DeWalt, Diamond Products, Dremel, Drill Doctor, Fein, Festool, Freud, Generac, General Tools, Gorilla Glue, Greenlee, Grex, Hitachi, Husqvarna, Incra, Irwin, Jet, Jorgensen, Klein, Kraft Tool, Kreg, Lamello, Metabo, Milescraft, Milwaukee, Mirka, Mitutoyo, MK Morse, Motorola, Northrock Industries, Olson, Oztec, PLS, Powermatic, Proto, QA Worldwide, Rotozip, Rustoleum, Safewaze, Saw Trax, Sawstop, Senco, Shop Vac, Skil, Stabila, Stanley, Stiletto, Swanson, Titan, Trimble, United Abrasives/SAIT, Urrea, Wagner, WernerCo,  Woodstock, Zipwall
Memberships: STAFDA, Evergreen
Marketing Group
Systems and Service Providers:
Dydacomp, Magento, PayPal

Kings of 220
That foresight 25 years ago and the Barnett’s work since then to secure exclusive marketing agreements means that today all of those major cruise lines are customers — and that International Tool is the United States’ sole distributor of 220-volt power tools.

“It grew into a great division for us, which I manage today,” Barry says. “It started with 220-volt tools but we have ended up becoming a quasi ship’s chandler for a lot of cruise lines. We would get these long requisitions and we would say, ‘You know, we can get you a lot more than just your 220-volt tools; we can get you a lot of this stuff.’ We have sold them medicine cabinets, clay pigeons for passengers to shoot from the deck, cases of toilet paper and all kinds of products.”

The company also sells 220-volt products to offshore oil rigs, relief organizations like the United Nations, the U.S. government and U.S.-based contractors who do contracting and marine work all over the world.

“Our main 220-volt brands are Bosch and DeWalt,” Dean says. “We also sell some 220-volt Milwaukee, Makita and Metabo, but Bosch and DeWalt are our main import brands. In fact, we are the country’s only distributor of 220-volt Bosch and DeWalt tools.”

“In some cases we’re almost like a ship’s chandler to the construction industry as well,” Dean adds. “Barry prides himself in finding tough items. We will get a call from a contractor who can’t find what he needs anywhere. Barry loves that challenge, and we tell our sales guys all the time, ‘Never say no. Come to us with those challenges and we will burn up the phones finding it.’ We might not make a huge profit on that item but let me tell you, that customer loves us at the end of the day and he becomes a customer for life.”

Export Central
Thanks also to its location near the Port of Miami, International Tool does a healthy export business, especially with customers from the Caribbean, Central and South America. Dean estimates that export accounts for between 10 and 15 percent of the company’s annual revenues. Government sales make up another 10 percent, as do sales of 220-volt tools. Between five and eight percent is wholesale, 30 percent is Internet and the remaining 30-plus percent is in local sales.

Three generations of the family business: (L-R) Steven Barnett, his grandmother Renee Wild, Dean Barnett (Renee's son and Steven's father) and Sondra and Barry Barnett.

So why is there so much woodworking machinery in the showroom?

“There is a tremendous amount of woodworking here,” Dean says. “People say that Miami-Dade County has more cabinet shops per capita than anywhere else in the country. People know there is a large Cuban population here, but not many know how heavily they are into woodworking and furniture manufacturing. Drive down some streets in Hialeah and you will see shop after shop. Some produce regular furniture and others build $200,000 kitchens.”

International Tool & Supply offers an extensive range of woodworking and metalworking machinery for both local and regional customers as well as to international buyers worldwide.

“Actually, we have more woodworking equipment in this store than we do in Miami,” he adds. “Our 7,000-square-foot facility there is much more construction-oriented. This is a true tool showroom.”

Out in the showroom, which occupies 5,000 of the Davie facility’s 15,000 square feet, massive displays show off International Tool’s depth of product in Bosch, DeWalt, Milwaukee, Festool and perhaps the largest display of Makita products anywhere.

“We have 32 running feet of Makita; that’s the largest retail Makita display in the state of Florida,” Dean says with pride. “If this doesn’t send a message to people that we are the Makita distributor, nothing will. We have similar displays of DeWalt, Milwaukee and Bosch and so on, to Metabo, Hitachi, Festool, Freud, Fein, Mirka and on down the line.
We were the first Bosch Systems Specialist store in the entire country.”

“You’ll never see anything like this in the big box stores,” Barry asserts. “They have 15 or maybe 20 tools of each brand. We have them all.”

One-third of the Davie store is devoted to contractor tools and equipment, including safety and PPE, nail and staple guns and compressors, generators, core rigs, lasers and masonry tools.

The showroom also features a house brand, Gator Claw. Currently, the brand is focused on diamond saw blades, which Dean sources from Lackmond Products.

“Lackmond makes a wonderful product and naturally our contractors really like them. And we like that fact that customers come in and ask for them by name — ‘Gator Claw!’ It’s a winning situation for Lackmond and for us.”

“Our main 220-volt brands are Bosch and DeWalt,” Dean says. “We also sell some 220-volt Milwaukee, Makita and Metabo, but Bosch and DeWalt are our main import brands. In fact, we are the country’s only distributor of 220-volt Bosch and DeWalt tools.”

“You know, I read in Contractor Supply about how distributors feel about displaying products by brand or category,” Dean continues. “I’m a big proponent of displaying them by brand. If somebody comes in looking for a circular saw, I don’t want him to go to one area, pick the saw and then check out. I want him to walk from Makita to Bosch to Milwaukee and DeWalt, because as he walks around he will see other products and think, ‘While I’m here, let me get some of these.’ I truly believe that has proven to be successful in our sales growth.”

Always Sunny and Bright
The store is very colorful, which itself is interesting because the building has one glass double door and no windows at all. The Barnetts designed it this way for security; the place is an understated bank vault for tools, lasers, blades and high-end products of
all kinds, but your eyes adjust with deceptive speed from the sun outside to this bright interior.

“Bright sells, dark and dingy doesn’t,” Barry states. “We changed all of our fluorescent lights to electronic ballasts with T8, 5,000 Kelvin daylight bulbs, which give us great lighting in the showroom and natural looking color rendition. They have been in the store for a little over 18 months now and the investment has paid off.”

Just out of sight to the right of this Bosch System's Specialist display, the country's first in fact, are the store's glass double doors. Those doors are the only source of natural light in the entire store, yet, thanks to high-efficiency fluorescent fixtures and bulbs, the store is bright and welcoming
from corner to corner.

We have to agree. The store looks terrific. It is packed with top-tier brands, including many items that can’t be had anywhere else. In South Florida’s densely packed market, International Tool has found several niches in which to take root and grow. Yes, it’s hot down here, but inside International Tool the tools are always cool. And there’s a lot to like about that. CS