Kris Sabol runs his business, Northeast Industrial Bolting, out of his van. He sells, rents, repairs and calibrates specialty tools for large businesses like power plants and refineries where oftentimes the cheapest tool costs $4,500.
“I sell tools, but it’s the kind of tools you can’t just go on the shelf and buy anywhere,” says Sabol.
Typically, his competitors receive tools for repair and either send them back to the OEM or work on them at their shop or home, but Sabol saw an opportunity to create a niche for himself. By going mobile, he would be able to offer faster services at a premium.
To do this, he bought a used 2010 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter 2500 with 40,000 miles and upfit the interior so he could run his business from out of his van, on-site, on-call. Customers looking to rent or calibrate a tool could have the job completed in less than an hour, compared to days.
A Total Conversion
Sabol paid about $28,000 for the Sprinter in 2012 as an upgrade from a Toyota RAV4. “I built a wooden box for my RAV4 and I would just throw my stuff inside there,” says Sabol.
The Sprinter’s initial shelving and toolboxes weren’t made for the job and didn’t fit the professional image he wanted. What he wanted turned out to be a lot.
He installed a workbench, shelving and drawers by Ranger Design, two extra batteries, LED lights, a low-power electric AC, a diesel-fired bunk heater with remote start, glossy white walls with insulation and a rubber floor mat. He wired three 110v outlets to power electronics and tools and added solar panels for a battery boost.
Sabol says this power self-sufficiency means he does not have to tap into outside power on a job site. “I can just close my door and do my thing,” he says.
By the time he was finished upfitting his Sprinter, the bill, including the cost of the van, totaled around $130,000. But with the ability to open up new business and collect more for his services, the decision to spend the money was a no-brainer.
The Money Makes Sense
What was once a slightly used, full-sized van became a full-service tool shop on wheels. With his Northeast Industrial Bolting (NIB) Torque decals and paint job, Sabol is confident that he is projecting the image that he always wanted for his business.
“Now when I roll up to a job site and they see this big van with a logo on it, they know that I’m a legitimate company and not some fly-by-night guy,” he says.
With a two-tool minimum to repair and calibrate on-site, Sabol can now charge more. He also carries an entire stock of tools to rent or buy, which leads to extra business when he arrives on-site. Because he primarily deals with large businesses that often spend as much as $3,000 on his services, they are more interested in fast work done right than a cheaper price.
“If we had been in the back of my car and going in my trunk, it just wouldn’t have been the same,” he says. “If I’m offering this extra service and they see a value, they’ll say just go ahead and do it.”