Showroom Seminar – Tool Talk Stocking hand tools can boost your bottom line
July 1st, 2007

July-August 2007

By Kathleen Furore

When customers walk in your dealership’s door, they’re likely there for one reason: to buy tile. But if you’re focusing on tile and forgetting about the hand tools and accessories used to install it, you’re missing out on an important profit source, experts say.

“Most dealers treat tools like a step-child. They have them as convenience items, but aren’t willing to put energy into finding out what the tile setters in their area are doing,” Clark Pade, general manager at Raimondi Tools USA, says. But with residential construction waning and competition on the rise, tile dealers must discover new ways to generate profits, Pade stresses. “The gross margins on thinsets and additives are 20 to 28 percent tops. But with tools, dealers can be making upwards of 35 percent,” he explains.

That fact alone makes trowels, spacers, sponges, grouting tools, nippers and other tile-setting tools ideal items to learn about and to inventory for a more robust bottom line.


While there are no hard and fast rules to follow, manufacturers say guidelines exist to help dealers decide not only the kind of tools to carry, but how to display and promote them, too.

“Dealers should not display what can be found for little cost in the home improvement or Do-It-Yourself markets. They can’t compete with their prices,” Ky Mierendorff, president of Tile Eze—Keil Anchor, Southwest Equipment Management, Inc., says. “Display and sell only top-notch tools, which are too costly for the DIY markets.”

Brian Turner, president and CEO of North American Tile Tool Company, agrees price drives the market, with do-it-yourselfers often opting for lower-priced items than their professional counterparts. But there are reasons do-it-yourselfers shouldn’t skimp when buying tile tools—reasons dealers who serve professional and DIYers alike should remember.

“In certain categories of tools this is a mistake consumers make. For example, tile isn’t cheap and they’ve spent a lot of money only to get the cheapest cutter. A tile cutter has to be strong enough to overcome the strength of the tile,” Turner explains. “And if you are going to do a lot of tiling it is worth investing in a cutter with good quality bearings for the ease of cutting factor, a tile cutting guide for repetitive cuts, and a tile extender arm to support larger format tiles. Also, inexpensive trowels are a good buy for the non pro, cheap sponges are not.”

Knowledge about the industry and the specific tools available to tile setters can mean the difference between success and failure in the small tool market, experts say. “Typical residential tile installers will go where they get the best service—and that means information!” Pade stresses.

“Durable tools from well-known manufacturers are easier to sell when one sales clerk at the dealer location has tool knowledge and can show and demonstrate the tools,” Mierendorff adds. “For example, a designated person [who is knowledgeable about tools] will select the right tile cutters for his customers. He will take on several brands and then follow up with his customer about the performance and reliability [of each product.”

A dealer’s tile-setting tool stock likely will vary—at least slightly—from market to market. Industry pros say it should. “Tile installers differ from location to location and so do their needs. This can be because of extreme temperatures, rain, or even snow,” Jessee Cogswell, president of Gemini Saw Company, explains.

“Think about all the places with different temperature, different building concepts. The products, tools and methodologies change from market to market,” Pade adds.

There are, however, items considered crucial for dealers to carry, manufacturers say.

“The short list of core items would include notch trowels, margin trowels, grout floats, sponges, tile cutters, buckets and knee pads,” Jon Miller, senior project manager of SuperiorBilt Tools, manufactured by Custom Building Products, says.

An all-around saw for basic cutting needs, plus saws designed for curves and portability, are also necessities, Cogswell notes. “With the popularity of glass tile growing daily it is essential to be able to address the differences between regular tile and glass tile,” he explains. “This means being able to supply a small portable saw for the purpose of cutting glass. Special grouts and fixative are also essential for this purpose.”

Miller offers this tool selection advice: “With tile cutters, size matters and cutting capacity is key. Sponges need to be hydrophilic. A good hydrophilic sponge won’t load up with sand and stays absorbent. Notch trowels should have a flexible enough blade. Stainless steel prevents rust, and SoftGrip™ handles reduce fatigue,” he says.

Other tool selection tips: Offer different kinds of floats; softer ones for textured tiles and stone (because they leave less grout residue behind) and harder floats for epoxy grout, Mierendorff says.

Whatever you decide to stock, Mierendorff says the way inventory is displayed can help drive sales.

“The tile dealer servicing the tile contractor/installer should have the basic tools readily available in eye sight—behind or next to the contractor counter. There also should be an area in which to display the industry’s latest tools and equipment,” Mierendorff concludes.

Tool List

A dealer’s stock of tile-setting tools will vary by dealer size and location. The following list, culled from manufacturers’ recommendations, includes some of the small tool products dealers should consider carrying:

• Backerboard knives

• Buckets

• Chalk

• Chalk lines

• Chisels

• Counter dusters

• Grout floats

• Hole saws

• Knee pads

• Levels

• Margin trowels

• Measuring tapes

• Mixing paddles

• Notched trowels

• Paddle mixers

• Rubber mallets

• Rubbing stones

• Scrapers

• Snap lines

• Sponges

• Straight edges

• Tile cutters

• Tile-grouting tools

• Tile nippers

• Tile spacers

• Trowels

• Washset

• Waterlevel

• Wet saws

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