Updated March 26, 2019.
Anything that has a motor is eventually going to need the maintenance or repair services of a mechanic, and that mechanic needs tools to do their job. Entrepreneurs who want to buy into a proven concept to serve this need have a short but solid list of options in the top 4 tools distribution franchises of 2019.
All four of the companies on this list have achieved rankings on Entrepreneur magazine’s Franchise 500 list. And three of them are in the top 50: Snap-on Tools at #18, Matco Tools at #37, and Mac Tools at #54 (and Cornwell Quality Tools is in the top 100 at #81). How is this possible? Think about the market being served and you’ll understand why.
There are 268.8 million registered motor vehicles in the U.S., and they all need maintenance and repair services at some point (and usually at several points over their useful life). This is why there are nearly 260,000 auto repair shops and another 17,000 franchised new-car dealerships with service departments – and all those mechanics in all those shops need the right tools to do their jobs.
In other words, the market and the demand are there to support multiple high-ranking franchise opportunities in the tool sector. And don’t forget there’s all those commercial trucks, small engines, marine craft, and airplanes that need the attention of mechanics – and all those mechanics need tools.
Here are the best tools distribution franchises of 2019:
1. Snap-on Tools
Snap-on Tools designs, manufacturers, and markets high-end tools and other equipment specifically for professionals in the automotive, marine, aviation, and railroad industries. The idea goes back to the 1920s when Joseph Johnson had the idea of making a set of sockets that could “snap on” to interchangeable wrench handles. He went to the worksites where people use such tools and demonstrated how handy they were.
Snap-on Tools now has more than 22,000 products that include hand tools, power tools, diagnostic tools, tool storage, and shop equipment. But the way the products are sold is similar to how it was in the beginning – franchisees drive trucks full of tools to car dealerships, mechanics, marinas, airport and railroad yards, selling directly to customers. The tools are not available in any retail stores and the company’s philosophy is that the professionals they sell to don’t have time to go tool shopping off-site.
This company currently ranks #18 (up from #30 last year) on Entrepreneur magazine’s Franchise 500 list. Founded in 1920 and franchising since 1991, the number of locations has climbed slowly but steadily in recent years to the current total of 4,633 (down slightly from last year’s total of 4,858), of which 170 are company-owned and 1,317 are located outside the U.S.
2. Matco Tools
Matco Tools manufactures and distributes professional automotive repair tools, diagnostic equipment, and toolboxes. It got its start back in 1946 and started selling its products directly to mechanics in 1979 in the same way Snap-on does – via independent franchised mobile distributors in the U.S., Puerto Rico, and Canada.
Matco’s offering includes more than 13,000 items that it sells to professional mechanics who work in independent repair shops, dealerships, small engine repair, farm and industrial service, marine, motorsports, and aviation. People who know mechanics know that their tools are everything, which is why Matco offers both standard and custom tool storage solutions to their customers, ranging in price from $1,500 for a very small setup to $20,000 or more for their largest and most complex setups.
Those who are in training to become mechanics can take advantage of the company’s TechEd student discount program to start building their tool kit.
This company currently ranks #37 (down a notch from #36 last year) on Entrepreneur magazine’s Franchise 500 list. Founded in 1979 and franchising since 1993, the number of locations has grown in the last five years to the current total of 1,793 (up from last year’s total of 1,757), of which two are company-owned and 70 are located outside the U.S.
3. Mac Tools
Mac Tools got its start back in the late 1930s when seven men formed the Mechanics Tool and Forge Company in Sabina, Ohio with the goal of manufacturing world-class tools with only $5,000 in capital to get them started. But World War II brought a lucrative government contract that allowed the company to expand and eventually it changed its name to Mac Tools in 1963.
Now a division of Stanley Black & Decker, Mac Tools may be new to franchising (it started franchising in 2011), but the company had a solid base to start from, and its product line of automotive tools and equipment includes more than 42,000 items.
Like the other companies on this list, Mac Tools sells its products through mobile franchises who take the tools directly to the professional mechanics who need them.
This company currently ranks #54 (down from #40 last year) on Entrepreneur magazine’s Franchise 500 list. Founded in 1938 but franchising only since 2011, the number of locations has grown rapidly to the current total of 1,274 (up from last year’s total of 1,166), of which eight are company-owned and 438 are located outside the U.S.
4. Cornwell Quality Tools
Cornwell Quality Tools dates back to 1919 when it was founded in Wadsworth, Ohio by skilled blacksmith Eugene Cornwell, whose passion became the crafting of high-quality, longer-lasting hand tools. It is a privately-held company still owned by the Cornwell family along with the company’s other employees.
It is proud to use USA-sourced steel in its two foundries in Ohio and Pennsylvania to make its hand tools, all of which carry a lifetime warranty.
Like the other companies on this list, Cornwell sells its products through franchised trucks that take the tools to where mechanics work in specific geographic territories. It also carries a variety of air, cordless, diagnostic, and hand tools made by other manufacturers. Those interested in exploring becoming a franchisee can schedule a ride-along with an established dealer to see a typical “day in the life.”
Although the company’s sales were down during the Great Recession, they have more than bounced back, allowing them to acquire a new manufacturing facility and build a new warehouse.
This company currently ranks #81 (a big jump from #145 last year) on Entrepreneur magazine’s Franchise 500 list. Founded in 1919 but franchising only since 1997, the number of locations has expanded in the last several years to the current total of 689 (up from last year’s total of 677), none of which are company-owned and all of which are located in the U.S.
An Important Note About Our Methodology
The franchises on this list were ranked according to the number of units in the franchise system. If you are a prospective franchisee searching for franchise opportunities that meet or exceed certain performance benchmarks for sales, profits, and return on investment, please check out this list of America’s Most Lucrative Franchises.