Mark Klein on his Role with Klein Tools, Leadership, and Promoting Skilled Trades
Sept 13, 2021
By Blake Marchand
Mark Klein is Co-President of Klein Tools, managing Sales & Marketing activities, alongside Co-President, Tom Klein Jr., who manages Operations, Research and Development.
Mark pursued a career in marketing after attending the University of Iowa, gaining experience in the electrical industry with Anixter before being offered a job by the family company.
He started as a Buyer for Klein Tools, which is what he was doing while with Anixter. Early on in his time with the Klein, Mark was sent to work a tradeshow to help give him a better understanding of the company and customer base. The experience ended up being a meaningful one, highlighting the brand loyalty the company had cultivated over its long history.
“I had an electrician come up to me and he was telling me about how much he loved Klein Tools – next thing I know he starts undoing the cuffs of his shirt and he’s got the logo tattooed on to his arm and says, ‘this is how much I love Klein Tools.”
“That was the first opportunity I had to realize how strong the brand was.”
Getting that firsthand understanding of the impact Klein Tools had already established was a key realization for Mark in terms of the potential for growth.
From there, Mark began thinking about the company’s market base and how they could grow by paying more attention to channels outside of their core product offering—the core areas of the business being the electrical and retail channels—starting with HVAC.
“I wrote a marketing plan and created about 20 new products, marketing promotions and hired rep agencies across the U.S, Canada, and Mexico. I packed up a suitcase and went traveling for a year,” he said in support of growing the company in the HVAC market, signing on new distributors and pushing the distribution of the products.
The success of that project led to more opportunity for Mark as he set out to do the same thing for other markets.
Then the focus turned to international markets and acquisitions to support the growth the various markets they were growing into.
That success allowed Mark to progress through the company before landing in his current role as Co-President in 2015.
“I saw an opportunity to do deep dives into channel segmentation of the brand and really put some resources into that to focus on and grow those channels. And that’s what we did.”
The company put more emphasis on HVAC, hardware, construction, and utility segments, “and a lot of positive results came out of that.” With the pandemic the company has also put a greater emphasis on developing PPE related products.
“The brand was so sticky and so strong that people knew about it in other segments but didn’t have as easy of access to buy it. By signing up new distribution, it allowed for that access, and market share to start accruing.”
The company also put an emphasis on their new product strategy for retail, “that drove new products into other channels. That was a major factor in our success, as well.”
“That’s how we grow the brand. We try to find solutions to problems that are happening with trade professionals. We’re constantly doing focus groups, we’re doing research all the time, and that’s allowed us to develop a strong pipeline for new products.”
“We’re trying to make their jobs easier because time is money,” Mark noted, adding that, “A lot of multi-tools have been popular. That was a big thing for us in the past five years because we realized a lot of these trades are satellite employees, they’re ‘off the grid’.”
A good chunk of tradespeople are operating in the field and that makes time and space essential, “we started to do multi-tools so that professionals have less in their bags, making their bags lighter – but still with the same quality dependable tools they’ve come to expect from Klein.”
Retiring Trades People
Klein Tools recently released a report in the U.S on the state of the skilled trades workforce. Right now, there are more tradespeople retiring than there are entering the workforce. This provides context as to why Klein promotes the broader industry along with its brand.
In the U.S and Canada many trades are heading towards a tipping point where more people are retiring than entering the workforce. This is obviously concerning because the trades are essential to critical infrastructure. Particularly as we transition toward a more electrified society, electricians and trade professionals will be instrumental in the installation and maintenance of these technologies.
Klein Tools’ State of the Industry survey, Electrician of the Year Award, and National Signing Day all aim to promote skilled trades and celebrate the opportunities that are available.
“That’s a major focus for us because without these tradespeople there’s no construction.”
“We’ve been bringing a lot of positive reinforcement to the vocational side of things, we’re constantly awarding scholarships, giving free tools and products to trade schools to help training, we’re helping with the latest and greatest in safety; and just bringing the positive reinforcement going into the trades. We want people to realize college isn’t the only option. Going to a vocational school you have very little debt, and the opportunity is extremely high to make good money and quickly find a job.”
With National Signing Day, for example, with NFL quarterback, Jimmy Garoppolo, Mark said, they wanted to make it a celebratory day for young people intending on going into the trades, emulating when professional athletes official sign with their new team.
Leadership and Success
Collaboration and communication are two key aspects Mark focuses on terms of his management style, which goes along with attracting and developing quality employees. “Great employees make everybody’s job easier,” he said. The success of a company ultimately comes down to individual people, and as Mark explained, good employees and good teams, along with strong company culture and commitment to well-crafted products Klein has established, translate to new ideas, processes, and innovations.
“I’m a big believer in collaboration, I work very closely with my team. I think it’s important to stay in front of the team, to make them feel like they’re family.”
A big factor in Klein’s success is replicating the vision and skill of the company’s founder. Mark’s philosophy leans towards the idea that if employee’s feel valued, if their opinions are respected, then they will be more invested in the overall success of the company – so that, ultimately, individual successes equate to company success.
Throughout his time with Klein, Mark has not only made significant contributions to the growth of the company but has demonstrated a commitment to promoting the broader industry. Starting initiatives like Klein’s Electrician of the Year Award, which aims to celebrate the work of electrician’s commitment to the industry, community, and professional excellence, as well as the Klein’s annual State of the Industry survey. Those efforts, along with his expertise in sales and marketing, earned him a spot on tED Magazine’s 30 under 35 and ACHR’s Top 40 Under 40 list.