After two decades of helping people to find affordable tools for the job, this small-business owner finds he’s right where he wants to be.
For 23 years, Dave Stenberg has been making people happy, one used tool at a time.
“Talking with people and helping them out is what I love to do,” says Stenberg, owner of ReTool of Rockford, 3622 E. State St., at Rockford’s Fairview Shopping Center. “I definitely found my calling.”
Stenberg purchased the used tool store in 1998, first as a franchise and then as an independent store when the franchise company folded in 2000.
“I got into the business when I finished my house and it was time to pay the mortgage,” says Stenberg. “I was looking on the internet and typed, ‘business opportunities,’ and this popped up.”
To stock the store, Stenberg spent the first two years frequenting garage sales and auctions.
“It was a little rough in the beginning,” he says. “I had a lot of stuff in my garage and a lot of stuff in storage units and warehouses. But when we had our opening, we started to have some success.”
As Stenberg learned more about the industry, ReTool transformed into a place to buy power tools at a discounted price – and that’s what continues drawing people to the store.
“I don’t carry everything,” says Stenberg. “It can be hit or miss, but inventory comes in every day. The customers who come in on a regular basis get phenomenal deals. The more you check in, the better deal you’re going to get.”
Stenberg enjoys seeing the reaction of new customers.
“Most people, when they come in, have seen my commercials. But the commercials only show so much,” he says. “When people first come in, they’re not even a foot in the door and they’re looking around saying ‘Wow!’”
Every square foot of ReTool is dedicated to all nature of merchandise, which towers up the walls and spreads back into the store’s depths.
“People really enjoy coming in and searching through the vast inventory,” Stenberg says. “We use every square inch, and it’s a fun store to shop in. People like to dig.”
And if a customer has questions, Stenberg is always right there to offer advice.
“We pride ourselves on customer service,” he says. “We feel as though we know what we’re talking about.”
One of the reasons ReTool has so many repeat customers is Stenberg’s relaxed approach to sales.
“My items sell themselves,” he says. “I don’t force sales and I’m not high pressure. If you want an item, great. If not, that’s fine, too.”
As the sole salesperson, Stenberg pretty much does it all. That’s something he prefers.
“I’m the only one here, open to close, so I get to know the customers,” he says. “I also get to know the brands that they like to use.”
Those customers range from large-scale contractors down to small-scale hobbyists. If there’s a tool they need, it’s a good chance ReTool has it.
“I sell 49-cent screwdrivers and I sell $500 pieces of equipment,” says Stenberg. “I’m not geared just toward the smaller guy. I’m geared toward everyone.”
These days, most customers are homeowners looking to renovate or repair their homes. The more homeowners sit in their homes during the pandemic, the more projects they take on to improve their living space and keep themselves occupied.
“We’ve got the tools that can help them solve their problems, and we can give them advice,” Stenberg says.
Another advantage to being a smaller operation is Stenberg’s ability to place smaller specialized orders.
“We do a lot of special orders,” he says. “With a smaller store, I can order onesies or twosies. A big-box store will say, ‘We can get that for you, but you have to buy 42.”
In addition to selling tools, ReTool also buys them. Purchases are made by Stenberg continually throughout the day. He estimates that he buys between $500 and $1,000 worth of tools each day, ensuring that ReTool always has something new to offer its customers. Stenberg bases his decisions on supply and demand as well as the condition of the tool.
“Everything we buy has to work 100% of the time,” he explains. “We don’t buy everything we see. If there’s a problem with the tool, we won’t buy it.”
Of course, ReTool also offers a repair service, with an in-house technician at the store a few hours each day.
“If someone wants to sell a tool and it doesn’t work, we’ll help them out,” Stenberg says. “If, for some reason, we can’t fix it, I can give them a direction of where they should go.”
For many newer customers, the problem isn’t with the tool but with a lack of knowledge of how it works. That’s where Stenberg’s expertise comes into play.
“There are so many little things with power tools…a lot of people just don’t understand,” he says. “Customers can come here and I can walk them through things and tell them about the tool, what it’s used for, what it’s not used for, why it might not be working and, worst case scenario, if it’s broken, we can fix it.”
With ReTool’s massive, constantly shifting inventory, it can be challenging to make sure the right item is in stock at the right time. Another challenge is making sure the things coming in the door will also go out.
“It’s taken many, many years for us to figure that out,” says Stenberg. “We really like to buy in small quantities, so I don’t end up with too many lame ducks.”
Over the years, Stenberg has learned ways to avoid ordering or spending too much. Tricks like buying tools when they’re out of season can help keep costs down. And he’s willing to pass those savings on to his customers.
“If I can buy something at a better price, I can sell it at a better price, too,” he says. “We don’t have a set buy price or sales price because, with used tools, everything is a little bit different.”
For that reason, Stenberg doesn’t offer price quotes over the phone.
“People need to bring their tools into the store so I can look at them, listen to them and make sure they’re in good shape,” he says. “A lot of people call and say, ‘I’ve got a $100 tool. How much will you give me for it?’ I don’t know until I see it.”
Once Stenberg buys the tool, it immediately goes on the shelf for sale. Sellers also need to provide state-issued identification.
“We’re very, very careful with what we buy,” he says.
After more than two decades, Stenberg is still surprised by the longevity and success ReTool enjoys. One simple internet search all those years ago has led to a satisfying career buying and selling the tools his customers need.
“We’re doing something right,” he laughs. “I don’t know what it is, but we’re doing it right. The future is bright. It’s very, very bright.”