Revised and updated February 1, 2020.
Every kind of vehicle that has a motor eventually needs repairs or maintenance performed by a mechanic. In turn, the mechanic has to have the right tools to do their work. And that’s where the companies on this list come in. Entrepreneurs who want to help keep mechanics (and themselves) in business have several options to explore on this list of the top 4 tools distribution franchises of 2020.
There are a mind-boggling 276.1 million registered vehicles in the US, which is up by more than 7.3 million from the previous year’s total of 268.8 million – an increase of 2.7%. This is why the number of businesses in the automotive repair industry has grown to more than 273,000, which doesn’t even count the service departments housed at many of the nation’s nearly 17,000 car dealerships. Needless to say, there are a lot of mechanics, and they all need tools.
The clear upside for this industry is strong, constant demand. And the figures quoted above are just for automobile mechanics. There are hundreds of thousands more vehicles that need repairs and maintenance in the form of commercial trucks (of which there are more than 36 million), marine craft, airplanes, and other types of small engines.
Here are the 4 best tools distribution franchises of 2020:
1. Snap-on Tools
Snap-on Tools is celebrating its 100th anniversary in 2020. It doesn’t just sell any tools, it both designs and makes the tools it sells. It produces an astounding array of tools and has become a truly major player dominating this industry.
The numbers are impressive: More than 65,000 SKUs in its product line, 3,300 active and pending patents all over the world, and quarterly cash dividends paid out to investors without interruption or reduction since 1939. The company has a presence in more than 130 countries and employs more than 12,600 people. Net sales in 2018 exceeded $3.7 billion.
Franchisees drive large custom-built vans to sell and deliver tools to customers on specific routes. This “mobile” approach avoids needing to acquire and maintain expensive real estate for a storefront.
Founded by Joseph Johnson in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 1920 and franchising since 1991, the number of locations has climbed slowly but steadily in recent years to the current total of 4,804 (up by 171 from the previous year’s total of 4,633), of which 207 are company-owned and 1,285 are located outside the US.
2. Matco Tools
Matco Tools is similar to Snap-on in that it manufactures and distributes tools for vehicle repair. Selling is accomplished primarily through franchised mobile operators in customized trucks on specific routes, but the company also sells to central purchasing operations and other institutional customers through industrial sales representatives. There are currently more than 13,000 different tools and tool storage solutions in its catalog, and its range of distribution includes the US, Canada, and Puerto Rico.
Mechanics in training can sign up for Matco’s TechEd student discount to start putting together their own collection of tools they’ll need to start their career. Most franchisees start out with a territory that includes around 325 customers. Mechanics or others with an idea for a new tool can submit it to Matco, and if they end up making and offering it, you’ll get 2% of the tool’s first-year sales.
Founded in 1979 and franchising since 1993, the number of locations has grown in the last five years to the current total of 1,814 (up by 21 from the previous year’s total of 1,793), of which two are company-owned and 63 are located outside the US.
3. Mac Tools
Mac Tools has been around for many decades, but is the new kid on the block in terms of franchising, which only started in 2011. Similar to Snap-on and Matco, Mac Tools has chosen customized, branded trucks driven by franchisees on designated routes as its primary way to sell its more than 42,000 tools directly to the mechanics who need them.
The company also services commercial and government accounts, and offers a Student Tech discount for learning mechanics to start building their set of tools.
Founded in 1938 but franchising only since 2011, the number of locations has grown rapidly to the current total of 1,125 (down by 149 from the previous year’s total of 1,274), of which only one is company-owned and 432 are located outside the US.
4. Cornwell Quality Tools
Cornwell Quality Tools has made a name for itself by going the extra mile to craft hand tools that last longer than most, and its two domestic foundries use steel from US companies to make its tools. The company’s confidence in its tools is backed by a lifetime warranty on all of them.
Cornwell primarily sells its tools in the same way as the other companies on this list, through franchisees who drive branded trucks in designated geographic territories. Prospective franchisees are free to do a “ride-along” with an established franchisee to see what a typical workday would be like if they were to join this company.
Cornwell recently sealed a deal with NHRA Championship Drag Racing for exclusive marketing opportunities, including at-track activation and digital marketing initiatives, similar to a deal it made with John Force Racing in 2019.
Founded by skilled blacksmith Eugene Cornwell in Wadsworth, Ohio in 1919 but franchising only since 1997, the number of locations has expanded in the last several years to the current total of 698 (up by nine from the previous year’s total of 689), none of which are company-owned and all of which are located in the US.
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.