Rick Paulus is a firm believer in education. He was working as general manager and director of operations for Stark Professional Tool, LLC, in the Sheboygan area. The company had suffered some financial losses and was having issues with distribution.
In a quest for advice, a friend suggested that he talk to Paul Tutskey, Green Bay SCORE mentor, who had been a leader at Snap-On Tools, a company that had $3.1 billion in sales. Now retired, Tutskey was happy to help.
“I’ve been in business all of my life, and business has been good to me,” Tutskey said. “When I retired, I wanted to give back to the community that gave so much to me.”
Paulus met with Tutskey and Paul Carron of SCORE and also applied to the Green Bay Packers Mentor/Protégé program, a program that connects emerging businesses with experienced mentors. The one-year program includes goal setting and frequent meetings along with educational seminars.
At the same time Paulus was applying as a protégé, Tutskey was applying as a mentor. It was no surprise that the two were chosen to work together for the 2017 session.
“Rick presented a tool that I thought was unique and was looking for help in taking this tool and a few other ideas he had in his head and trying to find a place in the market,” Tutskey said.
The tool, a ratching torque wrench head that had been issued a patent, impressed Tutskey. As specifications for fittings become more sophisticated, the tool fills a need in the market.
“It was a niche tool,” Tutskey said. “The product has a market, but in the infrastructure Rick was working in, distribution was an issue.”
To identify solutions, Tutskey helped Paulus do a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis and write a business plan. He said Paulus was excellent to work with. He met every deadline.
“Rick did everything he was supposed to do," Tutskey said. "He was ‘Johnny on the spot’ and I couldn’t have asked for a more hard-working client. The business plan was great, but it also revealed that there were challenges.”
There were two partners in the company, and while Paulus had a plan for the future, previous losses required more immediate action in a market that is difficult to penetrate.
Tutskey explained that large companies like Snap-on Tools make it hard for the little guy to find distributors. Most distributors take a percentage of sales and may ask for a percentage regardless of how the sale originated.
“Distribution is a nasty business," Tutskey said. "If you have to go to the secondary market, a lot of these guys will make promises and if there is a sale, they will want to get paid for it. It’s tough. If you are fortunate enough to have a direct distribution system and can pay on your own dime, that’s the best situation.”
Paulus tried to make connections by talking to customers about the tool and building a relationship with distributors. Customers liked the tool, but the distribution network didn’t come together.
Tutskey said that Paulus did everything he could, but at the end of the day could not turn around the company. He left to take a full-time management position with another company, and continues to invent on the side.
“Rick would be a fabulous employee, but he could also be a successful business owner if he decides to do so in the future,” Tutskey said. “He has enough knowledge, and did a fabulous job trying to turn around Stark Professional Tool.”
Tutskey also complimented the Green Bay Packers Mentor/Protégé program and Anna Steinfest, program administrator. He said the program is a great asset in the community and there is success in learning even when you don’t get the desired result.
Next week, Rick Paulus will tell his story.
Tina Dettman-Bielefeldt is co-owner of DB Commercial Real Estate in Green Bay and past district director for SCORE, Wisconsin.