Sonic Tools, a new brand of professional mechanics' tools from Europe, aims to make inroads in North America by setting itself apart from the competition in two key ways: a business model that uses no franchisees and a tool storage system that it says enables technicians to work more efficiently.
The established players -- Matco, Snap-on, Mac and a few others -- dominate sales of tools to techs at new-car dealerships and independent repair shops. Typically, a technician buys tools and toolbox upon finishing school and takes the equipment to the job.
Independent franchisees of those brands travel in tool trucks to dealerships and repair shops, replacing broken and worn out tools and selling new ones to technicians. That's been the business model for decades.
Sonic Equipment, founded 11 years ago in the Netherlands by Remko Papenburg and Niels Veldt, set up shop in North America in September in Auburn, Ala., as Sonic Tools and has started getting business from franchised new-vehicle dealerships.
"The reason I think we are going to make an impact is that we are approaching this market a little differently," Sonic Tools CEO Stephen Hooks told Automotive News. "And that is because we are not a legacy brand here. We've analyzed how the market and distribution systems work and we've tried to find some areas that allow us to be unique."
Hooks outlined some approaches that Sonic hopes will help it gain a foothold in North America:
n Technicians order tools online. Hooks said the savings over tools from competitors' franchisee systems can be as much as 30 percent. Sonic's tools, like those from the competition, carry a lifetime warranty.
Broken or defective tools will be replaced overnight. Each customer's secure online account lists all items that have been purchased. "You click on the part number of the item you broke, you get an approval right then," said Hooks. "The next day you have a new tool in your hands. We just think that's where the Internet and Amazon and the world is taking us. We think tools shouldn't be any different."
n Sonic's toolboxes contain a foam storage system marked with what tool goes in which spot, enabling technicians to quickly select and replace tools without hunting through tool drawers. Hooks said the storage system can improve a technician's efficiency as much as 15 percent per day.
"Everything we do is built around the concept that the more efficient a technician can be, the more money he will make and the dealership will make," Hooks said.
The tools, made in Europe and Taiwan, are also designed to reduce wasted effort. The socket wrenches, for example, are all knurled and chamfered, which improves a technician's grip when the wrenches are oily. The sockets also are thin walled, allowing them to be used in tighter spaces.
Among the first dealerships to use Sonic's tools are the CJ Wilson Mazda stores -- three in northern Illinois outside Chicago and one in Ventura, Calif., northwest of Los Angeles -- as well as several motorcycle dealerships.
Wilson said he chose Sonic's tools for his stores because he is impressed with the company's business model as well as the weight and quality of the tools and the storage system.
Wilson's service departments are installing wall storage systems, where the tools are stored in cabinets that are part of the building, not in wheeled toolboxes.
"We want to come up with a process that works across all of our product ranges, motorcycles or cars," said Wilson. "Our idea is to have the Sonic array and have everything organized and everything simple. A dealership runs best when it is most efficient. The Sonic system is very good. It felt very complete, very developed."