Just a quick note here regarding the Nucor Tour with the MWFA, NCFA and NFDA. The tour was terrific and the people at Nucor were wonderful hosts. It is a very impressive manufacturing plant and Nucor product is all over the bridges, stadiums, vehicles, etc. that each of us use every day. The Auburn Cord Duesenburg Museum was also very cool Even more so than I was expecting. The cars in the museum were spectacular.
Needless to say, when you get over 75 people from the fastener industry to "road trip" to a common site, you can guess there will be some networking. The evening dinner at the museum and the cocktails afterwards were fun and the networking was as good as any that goes on at any of the trade shows. Great group of attendees.
Now, this week, I will be attending the North Coast Fastener Association Distributor Social in Cleveland, Ohio. I understand at this point there about 200 people signed up to attend. And, Lisa Graham of the NCFA assures me that there will be quite a few last minute sign ups. The event takes place on Thursday, May 2, so there is still time to sign up and join us at this event. Hope to see you there.
Then, it will be off to the All American Fastener Show in Kansas City. I will try to check in after each of these events. Thanks to Bob Fawcett (who acted as the coordinator with NCFA, MWFA and NFDA) and everyone at Nucor for a great tour.
They are coming fast and furious. I just wrote how the Elgin Fastener Group had acquired Telefast in my last post. Went on vacation for a week (spring break!) and come back to read that Elgin has also acquired Vegas Fasteners. After I got over my initial "WOW" experience, I could not help but ask, where is all their money coming from. And, it did not take too much effort to find that Elgin is owned by Audax. You can google the company and read more but here is little bit of what is on their web site:
Audax Group is a premier investor in middle market companies. Established in 1999, Audax manages over $5.0 billion of capital through its private equity, mezzanine debt, and senior secured debt funds. Audax focuses on building companies with leading market positions and superior management teams.
Our mission is to partner with management to build long term value in our companies. Our track record demonstrates we are results oriented business and financial partners. We have a long and successful history of investing across a wide range of industries and transactions, including leveraged buyouts and recapitalizations, corporate divestitures spin-offs and roll-outs.
Audax Group employs over 70 investment professionals in Boston and New York.
Then, I scrolled down to find out more about WHO is the Audax group and I found the following info:
Audax Group was established in 1999 by its Co-Chief Executive Officers, Geoffrey S. Rehnert and Marc B. Wolpow. Previously, Mr. Rehnert and Mr. Wolpow were Managing Directors at Bain Capital where they helped initiate the firm’s buyout and debt businesses. They founded Audax Group with the vision of building the leading investment platform to compete in the highly fragmented small cap and lower-middle market.
So, now the Elgin Fastener Group owns nine fastener related companies: Ohio Rod Products, Leland Powell Fasteners, Chandler Products, Silo Fasteners, Landreth Fastener, Quality Bolt & Screw, Northern Wire, Telefast Industries, and Vegas Fastener Manufacturing; plus Best Metal Finishing. That is some powerful manufacturing capabilities all tied up in one holding company or fastener group.
There are still so many "mom & pop" fastener companies out there it is somewhat shocking when an outside investment group comes in and starts to swallow up several of them. It does, and will, change the industry landscape. Unlike some acquisitions, these all appear to be domestic manufacturing companies that are part of Elgin's group. Imagine if Elgin were sold to another concern, not domestically based. There is a whole lot of domestic fastener manufacturing firepower that could be gobbled up in one helping should Audax ever divest itself of that division. Those are a lot of family run or individually owned and operated fastener operations that just disappear or are melted into a larger concern. But, removing all the fastener sentimentality, that is a powerful group of fastener manufacturers and one cannot argue that those are some solid acquisitions to gather up into one big manufacturing conglomerate.
If I were ambitious, I could try to do the same thing. First, I'd make a bid to acquire Fully Threaded Radio. Then maybe I'd make an offer for Fastener Technology and LINK and American Fastener Journal. Before you know it, I'd swallow up the Vegas Fastener Show and re-name it, "The Traveling Salesman's Vegas Fastener Extravaganza and Beer Tasting Exhibit", featuring Old Rusty Bolt , of course. I'd like to sit here and do some strategic planning but it is 65 degrees out and you should see the to-do list I have looking me in the face. So, my plans for fastener media domination will just have to wait another day. Just because I'm not involved in any mergers and acquisitions does not mean that I think that we are done with these. My guess is I will be writing about these all the way up to the Vegas show. But, enough for now. Time to go enjoy my first taste of Midwest spring.
A mission statement is a statement of the purpose of a company, organization or person, its reason for existing. The mission statement should guide the actions of the organization, spell out its overall goal, provide a path, and guide decision-making. It provides "the framework or context within which the company's strategies are formulated."
Boom! There you go. I think it is a real disservice that the Mission Statement has been relegated to a statement on the wall of a company or on some piece of literature. And, my guess is that most Mission Statements are old and have not been changed since the time that some business strategist came in, ran a few planning sessions and walked away with a healthy paycheck. I think I can summarize the Mission Statement most companies I work for have in mind for me:
"Go sell more fasteners and make sure you sell at a good margin".
There are a lot of different types and sizes of fastener companies in our industry. Some companies really could gain some benefits by determining exactly what is their "reason for existing". But, let's face it. We all deal with a lot of companies where the Mission Statement should read:
"Buy the fasteners as inexpensively as possible. If your current supplier raises a prices, shop the hell out of that item. If you can't get the price we need, see if you can shop that bad boy overseas through anybody you find in LINK, on google or at the Vegas show."
Sure, I'm exaggerating, but not by much with some companies. So, what should a fastener company Mission Statement look like? Something like:
"Sell as many fasteners as possible at an acceptable margin that allows us to offer excellent products and customer service and still make a fair profit." Hmm. That actually sounds pretty good.
To tell you the truth, I don't think Mission Statements are worth much anyways. In an ever changing marketplace, the true mission of a company could change and change frequently. During 2007 & 2008 it might have been a company's mission to survive and let go of as few employees as possible. No one was worrying too much about "providing a dynamic and challenging environment for our employees" during that time period.
Our industry is changing. The players in the fastener supply chain are bringing new tools into the market place from vending machines to on-line purchasing to expanded product lines to new, uniquely engineered products. Some folks are expanding and some are getting lean. As I have recently written, there seems to be a lot of mergers and acquisitions in recent months. Some companies are tired of the fight and some realize they just need more resources to compete in the new marketplace.
I personally am not a fan of the Mission Statement. I do not think many companies pay attention to them once they are written and plastered on some wall or piece of company literature. That being said, I am a huge believer that you must continuously review and update your company's mission. What are you trying to accomplish? Are you trying to hang on to what you have? Are you looking to grow this year? By how much? More importantly, if you plan to grow 3% or 5% or 12%...seriously, where the hell is it going to come from? Seriously? You cannot just pick a number out of thin air. Well, you can but if there is no real thought or plan behind it then what can you expect? Are you watching your competition? Who is coming after your business and what are you doing to go after theirs? What do you want to be when you grow up?
Next time you are in a business and see the Mission Statement on a plaque on a wall, ask yourself, "is this company actually working on and following this mission?" If they are not then they got swindled by a consultant once upon a time. If they are then perhaps I am wrong and some companies do take those Mission Statements seriously. And, good for them!
Was just watching an excerpt from "60 Minutes" and it touched upon some of the subjects covered by Charlie is the following post:
The Moving Target of Success
Long before my introduction to the Quality Assurance discipline, the idea that “there was always room for improvement” was a given. QA just gave it a mathematical spine and some form of conceptual reality. Perfection was something to strive for, more as an ideal than actual goal, because perfection represents an end to the beginning, the last star before perpetual darkness; the last gas station before the highway reaches into the infinite desert. Besides, it lacks the appropriate measure of humbleness that we normally display in the presence of God. Perfection hints at Nazi-like evil, or at least Nietzsche-esque arrogance, of a race of Supermen creating the perfect society, complete with perfect homes, perfect lives and perfect cheeseburgers. We practice Talmudic patience and Christian forgiveness in our lives – we live to learn and we forgive mistakes, our own as well as those of others. Our perfection of imperfection provides us with the ultimate paradox; in limiting our reach in order to taste some measure of success within normal societal constraints, what are we doing to the larger context?
Much of our time, we are riding with our proverbial foot on the brake. The concepts of team and cross-applicability in the business setting are meant to keep the slowest member within reach of the group. This is a carryover from military science, where a strong philosophy of interdependence means that squad members are responsible for the lives of their comrades. The difference between a combat setting and the business arena is both subtle and stark – livelihoods rather than lives may stand in the balance, but the training that generals invest in their foot soldiers is a quantum leap from that provided by most businesses for new employees. Training a lowly clerk away from the action is deemed a waste of resources for most business owners, especially in the current circumstance, where each new hire arises only after the need exceeds red-alert status. In the aftermath of such decisions, is anyone measuring the true cost of exposing their customers to an accelerated error machine that is a poorly-trained employee? If they do, they understand the degree of damage inflicted on the reputations of their businesses. And still, they cannot fully quantify the toll of destruction. Why? It is because most customers are reluctant to reveal the awful truth. They simply cease calling.
Meanwhile, most businesses do react belatedly to those customers who are kind (or livid) enough to register a complaint. They rarely fire the employee responsible (in part because the employee is rarely truly responsible); rather, they take some time to assess the employee’s skillset and determine if training or reassignment might yield better results. After all, none of us is perfect. Still, the cost for this process is the same, no matter at which point in the timeline it occurs. It makes sense to some of us that the ideal time to perform these actions is at the outset, before any customers experience adverse effects. Those business owners in a position to hire in the first place have already achieved some measure of success. Most of these people are inveterate gamblers at heart and don’t see any upside to buying insurance before the dealer reveals the hole card sitting next to the ace.
Going back to the military analogy, generals gamble with the lives of the soldiers in their charge only at the last resort. The greatest of them, having met situations that called for such sacrifice and come out on top, remain reluctant to repeat such actions. Most business owners do not exercise such thoughtful care with their troops, perhaps because they see only their own shadows in peril’s spotlight. The fact is that most small businesses have adopted such strict compartmentalization at a time when larger organizations have acknowledged the folly of overlaid business management structures that there is little direct communication of value between the front office and operational staff. What remains of middle management is so caught up in surviving the next downturn that they are mostly reluctant to deliver any bad news in either direction. Imagine the worst lieutenant in the Army; not communicating conditions on the ground to his commanders and not communicating command’s decisions to his sergeant. This is a poison filtering through the entire body of an organization that leaves it both blind and paralyzed. Middle managers who fail in this regard are unqualified because they have not received the advanced management training called for in such sensitive positions. Again, the value of training is impossible to measure until a postmortem is performed. Businesses die needlessly because they don’t know how to perform tasks as simple as taking their own temperature and reporting the results.
The cost of college-level management courses is minimal in comparison to the overall investment of a typical ten-year employee; it appears ludicrous to neglect such an important element in an ongoing business venture. The only alternative is to eliminate middle managers entirely and expand the reach of upper management. That might seem counter-intuitive, but I have seen situations where executive-level personnel worked within narrowed scopes of authority and responsibility, each managing his or her area both independently and in complete communication with other executives who are likewise assigned their own areas of concern. Even then, all executives should be required to attend courses for their continuing education.
In the end, success is not a static condition, nor is it reflection of one’s charity or virtue, nor is it a continuing deal from the blackjack shoe. Success is an attitude born from preparation for the next yet unseen challenge, a moving target that could easily disappear permanently from the view in the space of a single blink. The best defense of your vulnerable frontier is the trained lookout, the more of them the better. In the coming upswing, don’t just hire bodies – create a force aimed at systematically serving your company’s greater mission. Never stop training.
It has taken me about a week to de-tox from the Vegas show and get caught up on stuff that did not get done while I was at the show. And, there were a lot of things to follow up on from the show, so I've been a little bit lax about getting to my Review #2. Thank you for your patience.
In my last post I talked a lot about the "social" aspects of the show. Who was there? Where'd they hang out? What did the booths look like? All that is important stuff and some good fun. But it leaves out some other significant aspects of the show which I'd like to touch on here.
First of all, I already said I thought it was a great show. I think it was as just as active a show as 2011. And, 2011 was a good show with people finally coming back to trade shows after seeming to avoid them during the 2008/2009/2010 recession era. Every year, the beginning of the show has a wave to it like a group of fans doing the "wave" at sports event. Start at aisle #1 and watch as the early attenders make their way from aisle 1 to aisle 17. The wave. So, if you are somewhere in the middle, you see the first wave around 9:45 as people filter in from right to left. There are exceptions. There are always people on a specific mission, whether that is to visit a specific booth for a meeting or to pick up the new Stelfast monkey. But, in general, the show moves from right to left. And the show loses a significant number of people somewhere around lunch time as suppliers take a break or take customers out for a bite to eat. Then, after people trickle back, there seems to be a period from about 2:00 - 4:00 where some attendees leave the show to get ready for the evening or to drop stuff off at their room before they return for hospitality suite entertainment. Thursday night seems to be the late one. People try to behave on Wednesday night so they are ready to face the long show day on Thursday. But Thursday night is another story. Heck, anyone can struggle through the half day of show on Friday, so they let loose on Thursday night. I have heard people say they think the show could be a one day show. I totally disagree. There are several people who work the show hard on Friday when they can get more individual time with people that were too hurried to stop and converse on Thursday. But, more importantly, if there was no Friday some people might go home after the show Thursday. And that would be a bad thing. Thursday night makes the show! The time to relax and hang out with industry peers is invaluable.
Before the show in 2011, the big news about Heads & Threads was announced and that was widely discussed at the show. Right before the show this year, there was an announcement that Lindstrom had purchased Bossard Metrics. However, there did not seem to be much of a buzz around that story at the show. From a personal standpoint, I found the story interesting. During the early years of my fastener career, Bossard was "the cadillac" of metric suppliers. They had the "Blue Bible" (the Bossard catalog, filled with the cult like "BN" numbers) and they had Bruno Marbacher running around the country doing "Metric is Simple" seminars for those U.S. distributors who didn't know a DIN from an ISO or a JIS part. And forget about the metric tolerance system. But, if you did enough business with Bossard, they just might answer your phone call and even let you talk to Bruno and he would set you straight and you would pay a healthy price for the part plus a mark-up for the knowledge. Eventually, the market place realized that a metric part had about the same amount of steel content as an inch part (just some funny threads) and some of the magical price premium eroded. And, eventually, distributors became more familiar with metric fasteners, and they started shopping harder.
I represented Bossard back when they were a dominant player in the metric market. As Lindstrom started to make inroads into my customers, I told the current President of Bossard (and they changed every couple years), "You need to squish them right now. Lindstrom is gaining momentum with several of my customers. They are getting very aggressive". I was told by the President at that time that he was not too worried about them and that he did not think they were that big of a factor. Years later, after Lindstrom became a bigger player in the metric market, I told this story to Virgil Lindstrom (not sure if he would remember) and Mike French.
And Lindstrom grew to be a strong competitor, eventually eclipsing Bossard Metrics at their own game. First they acquired Bossard's Monster Metric operation (pre-Mega Metric company for you newer fastener people). And now, the Lindstrom purchase of Bossard Metrics is just the final chapter of a long story that has been taking place during most of my fastener career. The really sad part of the story took place several years ago when Henry Bossard passed away at an early age. I'm sure there are a lot of industry veterans who have their own memories of Bossard and their rise and fall in the metric fastener market.
So, I guess I was surprised that this deal was not spoken of too much at the show. But, this is a new generation and Lindstrom now has its own set of competitors aiming to knock it off its perch. Neil Young wrote the following lyric in one of his songs, "the king is gone but he's not forgotten...this is the story of Johnny Rotten". OK, so I admit I get a kick out of including Neil Young in a fastener blog post because I've long been a fan. But my point is that Bossard Metrics might be gone but it will not be forgotten. This is the story of Fastenal and Brighton Best and other companies who are shaking up the industry today like Johnny Rotten and the Sex Pistols were doing to the music industry when Neil wrote that lyric. While the overall response at the show might have been a collective yawn, the purchase was historically significant, though maybe overshadowed by what is up and coming in the fastener industry. And that is really what the show is about. What is up and coming? What is new in the fastener industry? And if you are one of the individuals who say, "I'm not going to the show this year, there's really nothing new there", then I think you are taking your eye off the ball. You're not staying on top of your game. Every year there is something new. Not every new thing will affect your business right away, but you need to be familiar with as many suppliers as possible and you need to know if they are growing and expanding or contracting and moving away from being a valuable supplier to your company. And I think a lot of stuff like that gets talked about at the fastener show from the show floor to the Bourbon Room.
And as we in the fastener industry know, "Rust Never Sleeps".
Earlier than in previous years, the Vegas fastener show is upon us. Looks like it should be a good one. Are you doing anything different to prepare for the show this year? Some years I go out there looking for a supplier that carries a specific product I want to add to my product offering. Other years I have had a lot of meetings set up by suppliers. This year, the economy has been pretty good through the first part of the year and I have less meetings to go to. Seems like the worse the economy, the more meetings get set up.
This year, I'd say I have more strategic plans for the show. While there is still a lot of 2012 left, I cannot help but to think ahead to 2013. I want to talk to some people about what we do differently in the upcoming year. I have already started to do this with some companies and it seems to always come back to the same topic - communication. Communication! What's going on in the field? What are competitors doing differently? Am I seeing quotes that are coming in? Who is following up?
I really like sales reports. I like Hi-Lo reports. Sometimes I get asked by companies I work with, "what do you need from us to sell more"? My answer is usually the same. I need to know what we sold last month, what we have sold year to date, what we sold last year YTD and what we sold last year in total. Where are we behind...where are we losing business? Who is ahead of last year...why are we growing with them? Who fell off the side of the earth (i.e., we see NO business from them any longer)? Sales activity sometimes does not really tell the whole story. A customer might seem busy but at the end of the year you realize they bought $200 less per month and they are down $2,400 for the year. But, "they seemed to still be busy"! Gotta look at the sales report. And whenever I get a sales report in an Excel spreadsheet I cannot help but to custom sort from low to high. I want to see who is down in sales. What am I losing or missing?
The Vegas show does not answer any of the questions above but it does give you an opportunity to hear what is going on in the marketplace. How are other people seeing business? It also gives you the chance to have constructive conversations in just a few days with more people than you could possibly talk to in weeks of phone conversations. Everything is there for you, you just need to work the show. Track down those people that you want to work more closely with next year and talk to them. Or set a date to talk with them after the show.
There will be time for fun in Vegas. And I certainly have used this site to write about Old Rusty Bolt beer, and I am sure I will make time for a couple of them. But, I am heading off to Vegas to work. My good friend, Don Shan of Solution Industries once commented to me, "Vegas is like your Super Bowl, isn't it?" I'd have to answer that it is for me and probably for a lot of other fastener people. Play ball!
Just in case you missed the latest edition of Fully Threaded Radio, #51, there was a major announcement regarding the Vegas Fastener Show, aka NIFSW. Yeah, yeah, yeah...there are lots of booths sold and gobs and gobs of attendees and all that stuff. But the Fully Threaded Radio announcement made by Larry Kelly of Buckeye Fastener might be the most important one yet. After extensive negotiations, Buckeye Fasteners has been granted exclusive rights to serve Old Rusty Bolt beer at the Vegas Fastener Show in October. They will be located in booth # 1043.
Try as I might, the distribution channels available to one solitary Traveling Salesman were insufficient to deliver the cold, frosty brew to hard working fastener professionals across the country (and world, for that matter). Larry, himself being an experienced connoisseur of craft beers, approached me and asked if he could serve Old Rusty Bolt at their Vegas booth and I thought it was an outstanding idea. So, my fastener industry friends, I would like to invite you to stop by the Buckeye booth and have a cold one. And, just for fun, log on in to Fully Threaded Radio episode #10 and listen to the Old Rusty Bolt jingle created by one of the many lovers of Old Rusty Bolt beer.
From California to Maine, from sunny Florida to the Alaskan north. All ye from across the nation who venture to the National Industrial Fastener Show West, you can count on a cold cool beverage waiting for you as you trudge through the ever expanding fastener trade show. Friends from China and India and Italy and Brazil...Korea and Taiwan, Germany and France...all ye who sweat and toil to fill the fastener needs of our growing economies...know that you have a friend that cares and wants to make sure you have a refreshing malted beverage after your long journey to America. Daniel Rivalin, my friend from France, I hope you can make it to the show this year because there will be a cold one waiting for you.
In a previous post I suggested that it could be fun to choose a time and place to gather out at the Vegas Show, once all of the Supplier Sponsored activities died down. The only time I think will work is at about 8:00 or 9:00 p.m. on Thursday night, after the first day of the show. I realize a lot of people get whisked off to fancy dinners that evening, but for me I am usually pretty well spent and am ready to chill out and relax after the show. If I go to dinner I am usually ready to sleep after that. So, instead of dinner, or if you do not have dinner plans for Thursday evening, consider joining up with our group and networking with people who Tweet, join fastener associations, read fastener industry blogs and listen to Podcasts about the fastener industry. Seriously folks, it is not nearly as pathetic as it sounds. Anyways, the final piece to the puzzle it deciding on a good place to meet up. I would like to field suggestions from my readers but I fear that no one generally responds to most of my posts and I will then have to actually do research and find a place near the show to hang out. Anyways, bottoms up and I appreciate any meeting places you can suggest.
T.S. (Mr. Beverage)
As I prepare for the upcoming Las Vegas Fastener Show, it occurred to me it has been almost exactly one year since I started up my rep agency. Really, the better description would be re-starting my rep agency. I started up my own agency in 1995 after working for another agency for 14 years. I built my business up, got engaged (a long story), sold my agency and left my home area of Ohio. Fast forward a few years and I made it back to Ohio, got rid of a husband and found myself employed as a direct sales Account Manager for Ifastgroupe. I was still in sales but this time I sold for one company, had benefits, an expense account and the feeling of security that comes with a regular paycheck. The people at Ifastgroupe were good to me and I enjoyed my time there, but deep in my soul, I am a manufacturer’s representative. I knew I was a rep and I wanted desperately to get back to being an independent rep.
I am not looking for sympathy here, but I will tell you candidly and honestly, when I restarted my agency in August, 2011, I had no income. Seriously, I had none. Zero. I did have the commitment from a few good companies that said they would allow me to represent their companies and pay me a commission on whatever I sold. That was what I needed, just a few good lines to get me started again. A year later, I am making a little money, I’m providing for my son and I’m paying my bills. As of now, there’s not a lot left over so if you see me in Vegas in some of the same clothes I wore last year, please be kind.
I could go on and on making this blog about me and my struggles and accomplishments but that’s not what this is about. I’ve got plenty of good industry friends that have supported me and encouraged me and they’ve heard the stories, good and bad. What I would like to touch on here is the differences I see between my sales life as a direct salesperson and my sales life as a rep.
Being a rep is inspiring to me. That might sound corny but it is true. Luckily, I am a self-motivated individual. I like the idea of being responsible for drumming up sales for the principals I represent and then asking them to pay me for my efforts. Don’t get me wrong, when I was a direct salesperson I did a fair amount of that. But it was different.
When you are a direct salesperson the selling process is completely different. You have only one set product line to market. You sell it. You report on it. You do budgets and forecasts. You go to a lot of meetings, many, many more than I ever go to as a rep. You work on new projects as they come up for that specific commodity. You try to come up with programs that will help maintain or increase your sales. Most of time the details of these programs and projects were dictated through management but it was my job to sell them as part of the sales team. This team represented 100% of my income, which was not motivated or rewarded by a commission plus sales structure. I could sell $100 worth of product or a million dollars and my pay schedule would remain the same. But, once again, there is security in getting a regular paycheck, especially when you are a single Mom.
I spent a lot of time working with my customers as a direct salesperson but it seemed like I spent a lot more time talking about those individuals in meetings in board rooms and in sales meetings. These meetings were meant to determine the value of specific accounts, which I didn’t always agree with. As a rep, I talk to people just as often but it feels like I’m talking about opportunities and how to land business, not scrutinizing their past or future sales. The product spectrum is much greater since I represent a wide range of companies that cover a variety of different products, both hard-to-find and standard parts. I find it very gratifying when I am able to introduce one of my principals as a potential new vendor or solve a problem with their product that has previously been a problem area for my customers. I talk to the people I need to in order to get something accomplished then I move on to the next thing. While I do keep in contact with my principals regularly, it just feels like I am discussing new opportunites more and not just budgets, call reports, etc. Being a rep is a unique sales position that I find very fulfilling. It is not for everyone and living on a straight commission based income can be frightening at times, but I have confidence in my ability and I look forward to many more years in the industry as an independent sales rep. Thanks to all of you who have helped me and encouraged me along the way! Hope to see you in Vegas.
Fasteners and Industrial Products
Please forgive me for this not being a "proper" blog post. But I'm starting to get meetings and dinners set up for Vegas and I'm curious who will be coming out there. More important, WHEN are you coming out there?
I will arrive on Tuesday, October 9 by noon. I know that might seem early but I've already got a meeting scheduled for 1:00 that day just because I am arriving early enough to make it.
I'd like to find a time to get together with other people who read this blog and with any of the #fastlink Friday Tweeters. Anybody that is attempting to make sense of social media in the fastener world is welcome.
Please respond if you have interest in coordinating some kind of get together in Vegas. Since so few people respond on this site, I would like to invite you to send me an e-mail at email@example.com. Or send to any other e-mail address you might have for me.
If we have enough people, maybe we could reserve a space or at least choose a site where we could gather.
One benefit of being a road warrior is I get a lot of time to listen to the radio and also books on CD's. A few months ago I made comments about the Steve Jobs biography that was published shortly after he died. Great business book with very interesting insights on Apple and on Jobs. Right now I am in the process of listening to the Walt Disney biography. I've always enjoyed Disney products including watching the movies as a kid and then again enjoying the movies and theme parks when I had my own kids. I still like Disney stuff.
The similarities between Steve Jobs and Walt Disney are uncanny. Not so much that they were similar personalities (though, in some aspects there are similarities) but rather they were both driven by producing the very best products they could imagine and envision. Both men put their companies in dangerously precarious financial positions as they re-invested everything they had in order to produce new products never before imagined. Profit was never really the main driving force for either man, rather they were both driven by a genius vision of what could be. Neither man personally developed the products that made them great. Walt Disney imagined Mickey Mouse but he was never the main illustrator of any of the Mickey cartoons, books or movies. Or, any of the other Disney characters. Jobs did not create the first Apple computer, he did not do the programming. Both men were visionaries that led teams of talented people to produce the products they knew would be popular with the masses. They did not give the people what they wanted, they gave them products that the people WOULD want. But no one questions that they orchestrated the production...they led the team...they were the creative catalyst behind the successful companies.
So, I asked myself, do I see any of these characteristics in the fastener industry? The old "build it and they will come" approach to fasteners. I'm sure some people would say that Brighton's movement towards online purchasing is innovative, but I think we all knew that was a direction a lot of businesses would go. They have just been earlier and more aggressive. I think of the early introducers of Vendor Managed Inventory programs. I think of Hillman and Midwest introducing the drawer concepts into hardware stores. Those seem like some innovative progressions that have caused companies and their customers to think differently.
One supplier that I find intriguing is Cold Headers. Say what you may, almost every fastener distributor, at some point or another, has found some special fastener that they wanted to get from Cold Headers. The story I was told was that the original founder of Cold Headers would order, and put into inventory, every part that he was called on to quote. If they did not have it, he found someone to make it and he put it in stock. I cannot verify that story but I would believe it as you can find just about any socket product in their inventory. Build it and Cold Headers will stock it!
I often talk about Fully Threaded Radio on this site. Brian and Eric have introduced the fastener industry to fastener talk radio and they have taken a completely new concept to the industry. In the process, they have also probably met more people from the fastener industry than any National Sales Manager or company owner. Between Fully Threaded Radio and Fasteners Clearing House, they have done more fastener industry networking in a relatively few years than any other two people I can think of.
Maybe the fastener industry does not loan itself to creativity like an Apple or Disney. But plenty of companies do try to innovate and come up with new ways to beat the competition. Is there any fastener company out there doing things so differently that you would consider them innovators or creative leaders?
Summers can be challenging. You take a vacation, a few other people you need to meet with take their vacation, and before you know it you need three weeks to get something done that might take a day or two normally. I took a week long vacation in June, returned on a Sunday night and left for Chicago and the MWFA Table Top Show on Monday morning.The show was productive and I saw many business associates, but by the end of those two weeks I felt like I had been away for months. So, for the next few weeks I attacked my territory like crazy trying to catch up on all the things I felt like I was ignoring the previous two weeks. It's ridiculous but, while my logical side tells me I deserve a vacation, some other part of me says "yeah, but you have so many irons in the fire..so many things that you should be working on...and what about that area...when were you last over there to see that customer?" I don't know if it is good old fashioned Catholic guilt or maybe, as Mike McNulty says, "I am still focused on fasteners", but I always feel like there are productive things I should be working on. It's the summertime fastener blues!
A lot of fastener companies that have veteran staffs have the challenge of fitting in everyone's vacation time. It's got to be a challenge for some companies as they are missing the equivalent of one inside salesperson for almost the entire summer. There are some people I know who choose to take off every Friday during the summer because they are due so much vacation time they could not use it up otherwise. I'm a commissioned salesman. I have that ever-present, nagging feeling that if I don't sell, I won't eat. I do take vacations but I swear I put so much effort in before I leave and then again once I return that I pretty much shoot to hell any of that relaxed feeling I had for the week I was gone. Good thing I do, in fact, like my job.
So, as I said, I have been traveling overtime lately trying to cover a lot of territory and see a lot of customers. Last year, everywhere I went, distributors were busy. Honestly, I would say that this year has also been very good. Not everyone is as busy as last year but plenty of distributors are just as busy. And more than a few are still having record months. About every week I hear, "well, it's an election year", but I cannot really determine what the exact affect of that is. If a company is struggling or sales have been down they say, "well, it's an election year." Then I go to another part of the state or even just down the street and they tell me they are extremely busy and business is great. So, it's a mix. And, legitimately, there are companies that do slow down during the summer. I like my summers to go by really, really slowly but I will be curious to see how business looks by about September.
The MFWA Table Top Show was as well attended as any I have seen in recent years. They had booths outside the main conference room, out in the hallways. I have read where the National Fastener Show West (Vegas show, to me) has had terrific booth sales and it looks like that is going to be a strong show. A lot of people are talking about Vegas right now as they are checking out flights and already making dinner plans. I'm heading out early on Tuesday so that I will have all day Tuesday to meet with people before the show even begins. If anyone else is going to be out there Tuesday, let me know if you want to get together for a beer or something. I have found that my schedule takes on a life of its own by mid-day Wednesday as I'll have meetings, the gathering bash and then dinners. I hope that by getting there on Tuesday I will be able to catch up with some people in a more relaxed atmosphere. If that doesn't pan out, then I'll walk the strip, do some people watching and do a little gambling. It's what we call a win/win!
I've read all the recent FINs and Fastener Journals and Fastener Technologies and there is plenty of news on acquisitions and China export jumps and Asian steel prices dropping and this, that and the other. Lots of big news but nothing quite as big as what was going on last year with stories like the closing of Heads & Threads. The fastener magazines and web site do a formidable job of printing and posting all the fastener news headlines. I like to try to bring more of the news from the street. NOT RUMORS! Mike McGuire long ago warned me about posting any of those. What I mean by "news from the street" is more what people are talking about when you visit their facilities. What are the people in the trenches talking about?? Yeah, there's some news out there. But it is more like, "I have been getting some terrific pricing from Porteous" or "Brighton is building an enormous place in Chicago" or "Stelfast has gotten very competitive on this or that product". It's more customer specific news. Right now, I am not hearing a lot of stories that EVERYONE is talking about. I guess it's the fastener summertime blues!
Well, for me, summer vacation has come and gone. Got a couple days set aside for college visits with my youngest kid but other than that I will be "focused on the fastener industry". Can I be honest? I wish I had thought of that line. I love that line. I salute Mike McNulty's catch phrase, and hope he does not mind me using it here. It's the highest form of flattery! And, the truth is, I will be focused on fasteners and I look forward to continuing to make good things happen through the rest of the summer and into the fall. Let me know if you will be out in Vegas on Tuesday and maybe we can round up a group of fastener people for a Fastener Focused gathering.
Ruth Dowling Coffman, formerly of Fastenal and Heads & Threads, is currently employed by Ningbo Jinding, a Chinese fastener manufacturer (www.jindingfstn.com). Ruth also serves as Board Secretary of the WIFI Association (www.fastenerwomen.com). Other blog posts by Ruth can be read at www.jinding.us.
One Woman’s Perspective on Life and the Fastener Industry
WIFI (Women in the Fastener Industry) Association Secret Revealed!
One observation I remember making as a young athlete was that male coaches made girls cry, but female coaches did not. The male coaches didn’t communicate any differently with boys than they did with girls. When their constructive criticism was handed out, often in the form of yelling, boys appeared to take it in stride and girls cried. What I was really learning at a young age is one of the fundamental differences between males and females. We communicate and respond to communication differently.
Women put a high value on communication. We have a deep need to talk about things. Sometimes we talk as a way to get our heads around a concept or as a means to problem solve. (If a woman ever tells you she’s “thinking out loud”, this is what she’s referring to.) Women are fulfilled through sharing feelings and relating to those around us. We communicate to build relationships, to help one another, to validate and to be validated, to reassure and to be reassured. We know that when we talk to other women we will be supported because women are instinctively nurturing.
Have you seen the ABC show, “Shark Tank”? If you’re unfamiliar, the gist of it is that entrepreneurs pitch their business ideas to a panel of investors (i.e. the sharks). If the investors (3 male, 1 female) don’t like a pitch, they offer sarcastic feedback. The entire set up is intended to be intimidating, undoubtedly for TV ratings, but to a certain degree mimics today’s business environment. Conversely, a company called Springboard Enterprises (www.springboardenterprises.org/dolphintank) has started hosting “Dolphin Tank”, an intentional word play on, “Shark Tank”. These “Dolphin Tank” meetings offer female entrepreneurs an avenue to pitch their ideas to other women without the intimidation factor and fear of being ripped to shreds.
So here’s the big revelation I promised you in the title. Ready? The WIFI Association is the “dolphin tank” of the fastener industry. It’s an environment built by women for women; a safe zone where women can interact, network, and have positive professional growth experiences without fear of sharks. Women in the WIFI Association support one another the best way we know how – we think, talk, and behave like women.
Finally, my male counterparts in the fastener industry, please know that we still need you! We need your help and encouragement. We need opportunities and experiences that challenge us. Most of all we need your support to learn and to grow in the way that works best for us.
Chicago is the heart of fastener country. So many manufacturers, importers, distributors all stuffed into one geographic area. When the MWFA holds an event, they have such a large membership that the events turn out great even if they do not draw from other areas. But, they DO draw from other areas including all the surrounding states and even some distributors from California were there. And, that is only a part of the story. Nancy Rich and her MWFA directors know how to conduct great events. The table top show was just awesome. Great attendance, good venue and lots of networking and mingling. The golf outing was very well attended. Originally, the start time was 1:00 but so many golfers signed up they had to add another start time at 7:30 a.m. to accommodate all those who wanted to participate. And the dinner after the golf outing was great.
I had never met MWFA President Matt Delawder of S.W.D. before the event, but he was an excellent ambassador for the group as he thanked everyone personally for attending. He went booth to booth and then again at dinner and again at the golf outing. Like I said, I do not know Matt but he seems like a really sincere guy and I felt like he meant it when he thanked me for coming. Left a good impression on me, for sure.
John from Global Fastener News, Tracy from LINK and the ladies from Fully Threaded Radio were all there representing our fastener industry media sources. Lots of pictures were taken.
Just an all around well run, great event in a great town. Would like to have caught a ball game when I was in town but I did not plan well. Maybe next year. Hey, keep that in mind MWFA. A night at the ballpark (either one) before next year's event.
In conclusion, I do not understand how any supplier/vendor does not attend this show if they are doing business with any distributors in the greater Chicago area. Where else can you find so many people in one gathering place other than the Vegas Fastener Show? And, honestly, that is a different event entirely. Vegas has more booths, more attendance and greater national exposure for sure. But the MWFA event does offer a sort of intimate setting that allows attendees really get some face-to-face time and that is also a very good thing.
Again, I want to once again congratulate Nancy Rich on an outstanding event. And, I cannot help pointing out something that I find really interesting. Between Nancy (MWFA and SEFA) and Vickie Lester (Pac-West & NFDA), our industry has two very talented women running four of the most active and influential industry groups we have. That is quite a dynamic duo.
Steering away from the show for a minute, I just read an article on the internet today about how Google is planning to manufacture its new "Nexus Q" in the United States. In direct response to Apple's claim that these types of manufacturing jobs are "not coming back", Google seems to be testing the waters to see if they can make their product here. According to the article by Karen Haslam, "The report in the New York Times notes that consumer electronics manufacture will be closely watching this case, to see if it disproves the accepted wisdom that consumer electronics products can no longer be made in the U.S." The article also noted that Google's device has a higher price than similar products made outside the county and Google is not disclosing the details about where the components are manufactured. Still, this kind of talk has got to make Harry Moser and the Re-Shoring people smile a bit. At least somebody is trying something, right??
The North Coast Fastener Distributor Social took place last night, June 7. I have attended the other past NCFA Socials and this one was again a great success. Each year they offer a twist to keep the event fresh. This year they held an hour long panel discussion on Domestic Fastener Manufacturing and the panel consisted of several Midwest manufacturers, several from right there in the Cleveland area.
The panel included:
Kerr Lakeside - Charlie Kerr
Telefast - Jeff Hepner
Dyson - Kelly Sawchick
Master Products - Jeff Walters
Seaway Bolt - Ray Gurnick
Lake Erie Products - Kevin Quinn
Ohio Nut & Bolt - Tim Morgan
Eric Dudas of Fully Threaded Radio (www.fullythreaded.com) and Fasteners Clearing House (www.fastenersclearinghouse.com) was the moderator and did a fantastic job. While Eric was not a panel member, he was able to interject many facts, figures and anecdotes from other panel discussions and radio interviews he has done. He kept the discussions flowing and just did an overall excellent job.
After the panel discussion came the Distributor Social where between 200-250 members from the industry gathered to network and share a drink or two. I laugh sometimes when people suggest that events like this or the Midwest Fastener Association's Fastener Bash are JUST social events. If that is what you think, well you are just flat out missing the point. There is a whole lot of business that is discussed at events like this, just as business also gets done on golf courses and ball games. This was no exception. I personally had some candid discussions with some influential industry people that I will not, and cannot print here. Cool, cool stuff. And I guarantee you, there is no way these discussions would have taken place had it not been for the Social. For the record...we were both stone cold sober. But, I will say that Old Rusty Bolt did make an appearance at the Social bar but could not be served because it had not been properly chilled.
The Social continues to be a great success due to the efforts of a lot of people from the NCFA. Volunteers are awesome. One thing I'd like to report that no one mentions is that, each year, Brighton Best has picked up the bar tab at the end of the night in support of the Distributor Social and the NCFA. They never ask to be recognized for this and George Hunt tells me every time I ask him about it that Brighton just thinks it is important to support the industry association. Folks, this is a group of fastener people. You know the types. And you know how they enjoy a cold beverage. We are not talking about a couple beers at a ball game and I just wanted to point that out because I think it is a terrific gesture on their behalf.
I'll probably blog again later about some observations from the panel discussion. The panel was impressive and had some interesting things to share. Truth is, I've got to get some work done. One last thing. Andy Graham of National Threaded Fasteners was taking pictures last night and I understand they will be posted on the North Coast Fastener Association Facebook page. For those of you on Facebook, go find their page and "like" it. More later.
Following up on my recent post regarding fastener training, Nancy Rich sent me the following information from the Mid-West Fastener Association. I wanted to post it now because I do think it is important for people to plan ahead and see what kinds of training programs are available.
Mid-West Fastener Association to Offer Several Education Programs in 2012
March 15th Milwaukee, WI-Iron Horse Hotel
This Seminar will featureDennis Dean and Greg Bennett of Dean Group Media. They will touch on many areas of social media and how your business can and should be using it to gain market share including: What is Social Media, Old vs. New Marketing, Marketing Spend Trends , Why Video? Effective Use of Videos, Does it Pay?, Top 10 Social Media Mavens, Case Studies-Wall Flowers Don’t Dance, Where to Start, Guidelines, Strategies, Social Networks vs. Social Media, and Social Media and Search Engine Optimizations. The days of ignoring social media, thinking it’s a short term fad, are gone!
Intermediate Fasteners-Hand on Learning Class
April 19th Elk Grove Village, IL
Those who have been in the industry over three years or have taken the MWFA Introduction to Fasteners class will find this especially helpful. Doing business, in the fastener industry, requires knowledge that only industry experts can teach. This class is more technical than the Introduction to Fasteners class. Topics include: materials, screw machining, print reading, inspection, PPAPs, accreditation, secondary operations and more.
Safeguards Against Ordering Wrong Manufactured, Plated or Imported Parts to Minimizing Risks and Loss of Profits
June 25th 10:00 a.m.-11:30 a.m. Addison, IL-Medinah Banquets
This seminar is designed to assist those in purchasing as well as sales/purchasing communication. Miscommunication and errors can create costly mistakes. There is little room for error in today’s business environment. Industry personnel, from various aspects of the industry, will teach you important safeguards. This seminar includes and precedes the MWFA Table Top Show
Introduction to Fasteners
September 13th Elk Grove Village, IL
The importance of educating those new to the industry is addressed in this seminar. Formal education will provide business education; however, fastener basics are best learned from peers and through hands on education. Topics included in this class include: making of a screw, nuts, washers, metrics, applications, prints, use of calipers and more. This class provides handouts, publications and samples for reference once back at the office.
What You Need to Know About Plating and Heat Treating
October 18th-1:00 p.m.-5:00 p.m. Morgan Ohare & SWD, Addison-IL
Learning about plating and heat treating can be very complex. With the assistance of onsite training, students will have the luxury of education through plant tour explanations. The class will be conducted at facilities with working plants where students will be instructed on metallurgy, zinc vs. zinc trivalent, overcoats, E –Coats and paints, importance of RoHS and Reach, passivation, conversion coatings, popular automotive platings, hydrogen embrittlement, baking of parts, the do’s and don’ts of strip and re-plating on various finishes and more.
Check for seminar and Fastener Information Directory details on our website: www.mwfa.net
Mid-West Fastener Association P. O. Box 5
Lake Zurich IL 60047
847-438-8338 Fax 847-438-7580 E-Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
In a recent post, I mentioned how regional organizations are so important to networking and training in our industry. The following was submitted by the Fastener Training Institute ® explaining some of the programs they offer. I am personally pleased to post this as I had the opportunity to participate in a seminar hosted by Bengt Blendulf back in....back in...let's just say a long time ago. Bengt, on the other hand, I'm sure is as yourng and spry as ever!
Economist Adam Beaulieu posted an entry on his blog recently advising company owners to “invest in your firm now in order to maximize your growth potential over the next 18 months and to prepare yourself for 2014.
Invest in efficiencies, training, customer satisfaction efforts, new products and new marketing efforts.” (http://itreconomics.com/blog/measure-of-reality)
The Fastener Training Institute ® has a full menu of employee training programs to help you maximize your company’s growth potential.
Advanced technical training
The Fastener Training Institute® (FTI) offers a variety of highly acclaimed advanced technical training programs throughout the U.S.
Our Certified Fastener Specialist™ advanced technical training program is offered in two different formats. Each of the seven classes is offered individually in Southern California beginning in April of each year. Or consider the intensive version of the program offered in Southern California in the winter and again in Cleveland (taught at IFI headquarters) in the summer. This year’s Fastener Training Week-Cleveland will take place July 23-27.
FTI also offers an advanced class on Automotive Fastener Technology, taught every spring in Troy, Michigan.
Do your customers need more information about fastener technology? FTI has a class for that too. Bengt Blendulf offers a two-day seminar, Fastening Technology and Bolted/Screwed Joint Design, specifically to give OEM engineers a better understanding of the bolted joint. This course will be taught in Rosemont, Illinois June 6-7.
This three-course program was designed to teach employees in the fastener industry about the products they buy, sell and warehouse. While it is intended for people new to the industry, it will be beneficial for all who want to expand their knowledge.
The curriculum for each class is different, focusing on different products and fastener industry information. Classes do not need to be taken in sequence. If a class is missed, it can be made up the following year. Upon completion of the program and passing a take-home exam, students receive an engraved plaque.
We also offer one-day condensed versions of the product training program, called Fastener Basics. These are scheduled for August 21 in Southern California and November 8 in Scottsdale, Arizona.
If you want in-house customized training, FTI can put together a curriculum that meets your needs and bring trainers to your facility.
Certified Fastener Specialist
To receive the CFS™ designation, students must complete seven full-day training programs offered throughout the year or the week-long intensive version and pass a final exam at the end of the training. Upon completion of the program, students receive an engraved plaque designating their certification as a fastener specialist, according to the requirements established by the Fastener Training Institute™.
Individual classes in the CFS series include:
* Fastener Manufacturing Plant Tour
* Fastener Secondary Processes Plant Tour
* Fastener Specifications & Terminology
* Understanding the Bolted Joint
* Dimensional & Material Specifications
* Fastener Quality Assurance
* Fastener Testing
More than 800 students have participated in the program since its inception. We now have nearly 300 graduates. Classes do not need to be taken in sequence. If a class is missed, it can be made up the following year. Classes are taught by recognized industry specialists and include every-day hands-on case studies and lots of real-life information.
Bengt Blendulf was on faculty at Clemson University in the College of Engineering and Science until 1996, when he formed EduPro US, Inc. to focus on education and consulting in the area of fastening technology and bolted/screwed joint design. He is a founding member and formerly served as chairman of the Bolting Technology Council (now ASTM F16.96 Bolting Technology). Educated in Sweden (mechanical engineering), Mr. Blendulf moved to the U.S. in 1974 to start a subsidiary for a leading European fastener manufacturer. He is the author of more than 100 technical papers in addition to published articles related to fasteners and international standardization.
Salim Brahimi is president of IBECA Technologies, a consulting firm that provides engineering and business process improvement services. He is a licensed member of the Quebec Order of Professional Engineers and is an active voting member of numerous ASTM, SAE, IFI, and ISO standards and technical committees. In May 2004, he was awarded the Fred F. Weingruber Award, bestowed by ASTM Committee F16 for his outstanding contributions to the development of fastener standards, especially in the field of hydrogen embrittlement. Mr. Brahimi is also currently completing a doctorate at McGill University in Montreal on the topic of fastener hydrogen embrittlement.
Joe Greenslade is Director of Engineering Technology for the Industrial Fasteners Institute (IFI). He has served in many capacities in the fastener industry since 1970 and has written more than 300 technical articles for fastener trade journals. Mr. Greenslade serves on all of the fastener standards organization committees for the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, the American Society for Materials and Testing, SAE, and ISO. He also served as the technical representative for fastener distributors on the Fastener Quality Act Task Force that worked with the federal government during the creation of the FQA.
Carmen Vertullo CFS is the founder of CarVer Consulting, a San Diego-based consulting, engineering and training company specializing in fasteners and bolted joints. He has experience in fastener quality assurance, manufacturing, sales, and inventory management programs. He has developed and teaches a series of advanced fastener training classes for the Fastener Training Institute®. Mr. Vertullo is a Certified Fastener Specialist through FTI, and he holds a BS in Manufacturing Engineering Technology from National University, San Diego, CA.
The Fastener Training Institute®’s core purpose is to enhance fastener use, safety and reliability.
For more information about the Fastener Training Institute® and its programs, visit www.fastenertraining.org
Dave Audia of Advance Components recently traveled to the Hannover Fastener Fair and, as one Traveling Salesman to another, I asked him to share with us some of his experience and observations. Dave was kind enough to be a guest blogger and submit the following:
As a pure master stocking distributor of specialty fasteners, Advance Components is always looking for new ways to grow our business. We had noticed a small yet intriguing group of customers in Europe who were buying some of our products and having us ship them across the pond. We considered going to individually visit these customers to explore what other opportunities may exist but considered that to be an inefficient option. We researched the many Fastener Fairs that exist around the globe and decided to purchase a “stand” and exhibit at the 2012 Fastener Fair Hannover in Germany.
After a refreshing combination of 2 flights from Cleveland thru Newark totaling 9hrs 47min plus a 2 hour layover, I hit the ground in Zurich Switzerland to meet my boss (who had flown in from Texas) in need of a shower and a nap – of course we got neither as it was already 8am Saturday morning and our hotel would not be ready until later that afternoon. I had never been to Europe and I must say the city of Zurich and its architecture were absolutely stunning – we spent all day Saturday and half a day Sunday exploring the area and just when we had finally figured out their bus system it was time to leave.
The more business you can fit in on a trip like this the better and we were fortunate enough to be able to set up a visit at A Raymond Tinnerman’s manufacturing facilities in southern Germany. We took a train from Basel to Lorrach on Sunday night arriving just in time to miss dinner as all restaurants in this small German city were closed – fortunately our hotel manager was able to order us a pizza which we ate at the lobby bar (which was closed by the way). So much for European cuisine!
Monday morning we had excellent visits at 2 of A Raymond Tinnerman’s plants as well as promising conversations about new products and markets that we should be able to participate in with them – then it was back to the train station for a 5+ hour train ride north to Hannover – we arrived after 8pm and had to rent a car to drive 45 minutes to our hotel. Note: if you don’t know how to drive a standard transmission specify that BEFORE you rent the car – and a GPS that speaks only German is kinda useless. We finally reached our hotel well after 10pm, ate subs purchased at the train station for dinner - again in the lobby - and hit the hay in preparation of the big show for the next 3 days.
The show itself was a tremendous learning experience for us. What I did not realize is how drastically the people and business cultures differ from country to country in Europe. We were able to meet with several of our current customers who were also attending the show, including Earnest Machine who helped us out considerably as they have both a US and European presence. We were pleasantly surprised at the interest from both the show attendees and the exhibitors in the products that we displayed, but the fact that we currently have no warehouse or sales presence currently in Europe will be a barrier to overcome. But you don’t learn and grow by sitting in your ivory towers right???
After 3 full days of the show it was back to train station for another 2+ hour train to Frankfurt on Thursday night, then back to the airport early Friday morning for the long flights home ( I won’t bore you with the details of having to be evacuated from Newark airport before finally catching the plane home). But to end on a serious note, there were over 30 countries exhibiting at the show that included several German and Italian companies, excellent representation from the US as well as China, Taiwan and India. There were also companies from Turkey, Great Britain, France and the Netherlands. We learned a lot, have several leads that we continue to follow up on, and own a much better understanding and respect for what it takes to succeed in the global market. I would also be happy to discuss further or try to answer any questions that you might have concerning this experience. My e-mail address is email@example.com.
April gave out a lot of mixed signals. A lot of people I spoke with about April shared with me that April was not bad but a little bit flat. For instance, I spoke with someone from Fastenal who confided that while year-to-year growth in April was still impressively high for the company, the rate of growth over 2011 was down from the previous months. April was good, but not as good. And I have heard that from many other places I visited. Sure, there were plenty of companies that had crazy good Aprils, but from what I can see that was more an exception.
Further supporting this notion are the results from the Fastener Distributor Index (FDI) as reported by Holden Lewis of BB&T Capital Markets in his newsletter dated May 2, 2012. Specifically, the report read "April's reading suggests more tepid growth to begin Q2'12" and then later "Why april was not so robust is hard to say". To learn more about the Fastener Distributor Index go to http://www.fdisurvey.com.
So, what is in store for the immediate future of the fastener industry? Does May seem better? I think so. And I still think the rest of the year will be strong. I just think that 2011 seemed busy everywhere I went and this year is not as consistently robust. Another question asked in the FDI questionnaire was something like "What will the economy look like in six months" and 70% of respondents said it would look better than it does today.
But what about longer term? Where is the industry headed? The Holden Lewis interview on Fully Threaded Radio was very interesting, so much so that I was taking notes while I drove. No driving and texting, just some casual note taking and mostly on uncrowded highway miles. The comment that caught my attention most was the idea that distribution was a "lifestyle business". In more detail, Lewis suggested that, historically, distribution was a great cash business that could "provide a living", "send the kids to college", let one "take a few vacations" and "earn a living". And then he suggested that, increasingly, the business is moving away from that as distribution consolidates and moves more towards cost cutting and increasing of services. Lewis, made several comments about Fastenal installing over 10,000 vending machines in customer locations. This information was reported by other news sources where it was also noted that the rate of new store openings has reduced in recent years. I have had an opportunity to see the Fastenal vending machines and they come in all sizes. They have vending machines that remind one of their high school gym locker (open it up and you could fit a power tool or 1/4 keg) and others that are smaller and look like old gum dispensers which they can use to monitor the expensive cutting tool inventory at a customer. And they have every size of vending machine in between. I mentioned Holden's comments because he was responding to a recent question about how fastener companies are investing in order to grow. Many companies are adding sales people, while others, like Fastenal, are investing in new technologies. But, does that mean we are moving away from the old family run fastener distribution business?
It is an interesting question. Clearly, when I started in this business some 25+ years ago, there were a lot more small distributors popping up on a fairly regular basis. Some outside salesman would get hassled by his boss about not turning in his expenses properly and BOOM!! there would be a new fastener distributor running out of a garage with a new name and and old face. That does not happen nearly as much anymore. But, will small Mom & Pop distributors just go away in 10-15 years?
I think vending machines are going to make a huge impact on MRO accounts. No more throwing gloves away at coffee breaks and no more battery tools slipping out the back door at Christmas time. The vending machines track everything and the user I.D. lets the company know just where the stuff is going and who is taking it. But, will kegs and kegs of bolts really ever end up in vending machines? I don't know. Maybe, but I don't see that yet. Furthermore, I just do not see fastener specials falling into a category where a vending machine dispenser is the way to go. That is why I love "specials". Better margin, more value and you just cannot replace them as quickly. "Son, let me tell you...the future of fasteners is in SPECIALS!!"
While I cannot pull out my crystal ball and give you a real good idea of what the fastener future might look like, I can offer a few ideas here and there and at least start up some conversations. And for today, there is still a lot going on within the industry. Out in the midwest there is a lot of talk about two upcoming events: The North Coast Fastener Association's Distributor Social and the Mid West Fastener Association Fastener Show. Both will take place in June and are right around the corner. The regional fastener associations are so important to promoting great networking opportunities and educational programs. Also, I am proud to say I have booked my Vegas flight and made hotel reservations for the show in October. Two non-stop flights and a hotel rate that suits the budget of a thrifty Traveling Salesman. So, I'll just go about my business with both eyes wide open but feeling OK that the fastener distribution marketplace will not change SO quickly that I get caught off guard. But, it is always wise to read, listen and blog about what is happening so we move forward with as much knowledge as possible.
Just was included on a private note from Heidi Voltrauer and thought I would share it below. Looks like the All American Fastener Show is on again in 2013!
I just wanted to let you know the good news! The All American Fastener Show will be held in Kansas City, MO in the Intercontinental Hotel at the Plaza and it looks amazing. I went to visit the hotel and area last week and I am very impressed. The show dates will be May 8-9, 2013 with rooms available on the 7th as well. Golf tournament will be the 8th along with set up and fastener bash that evening. The 9th will be the show with a lunch available and a presentation on social media. The website is in the process of updates and it will be up and going very soon! Take a look at kansascityic.com for more information about the venue.
All American Fastener Show
It seemed like a lot of industry people were on the road last week. There were a lot of Tweets from the PacWest meeting in San Francisco and also a lot from Houston, the location of the Southwest Fastener Show. Just about a week before that I received notice the the All American Fastener Show had to be canceled for this year due to tornado damages at the hotel where the show had been hosted the last few years. While I did enjoy the Shows in Branson, I look forward to attending the one in 2013 at the new location, wherever that ends up being.
If you are a STAFDA attendee then you know that the show moves from city to city each year. NFDA also moves their meetings regularly. I think the NIFS show has pretty much nailed down the best location in the nation for its trade show although even they have moved the show up and down the trip. But, no matter what your taste is in entertainment, you can always find something to do in Vegas.
For me, I like to attend the Mid-West Fastener Show whether it is the table top show or the Fastener Tech show. Chicago is pretty much the Industrial Fastener Mecca and so many suppliers and manufacturers are located there that it seems like a natural place for a national show. Lots to do and plenty of great places to eat and eat and eat.
Because the All American Fastener Show has suggested that it was looking to hold the 2013 show somewhere other than Branson, it made me wonder - where would be another great location for a fastener show. I think Heidi is pretty committed to holding the show in the central area of the U.S., and that's a fine idea. But, if someone were trying to decide where would be a great place to attract the most fastener industry people, where would that be?
Before you answer, remember that Columbus, Ohio was that place for a couple decades.
I'm going to toss this out as a topic for #fastlink Friday for all you Tweeters. And, if you are not on Twitter, you should be.
"The fastener buzz these days seems to be re-shoring. While I believe it would be fantastic for our economy and make my job a lot easier, I don’t think even small distributors like me will completely stop importing. After 20+ years of working with Asia, I know it’s not difficult to develop sources that are willing to work with smaller volumes and that allows us little guys to remain competitive. But the market has definitely changed post-HTI. Handling fees that used to be waived are now being enforced. Quote turn-around time has increased. Suppliers are not following up on quotes. There was a time when you could email a quote, have a response in 24 hours and have a follow up in 48-72 hours asking for the order. It is strangely quiet these days. " --- Janet Schiopota, Senior Manager, Procurement - Great Lakes Fasteners Inc./ CMI Industries Inc.
I found Janet's note interesting for many reasons. Sure re-shoring would be great for fastener distributors, even if the fasteners themselves are still imported. If more things other than fasteners are made here it is good for anyone supplying parts or MRO materials to the manufacturers.
More interesting to me was her comment that she has seen a change in how she is being treated by her Asian sources. As she noted, Janet has imported products from Asia for over 20 years, some of the time importing fasteners and part of the time importing other non-fastener products. She is suggesting that she has seen a change ever since Heads & Threads went out of business. It makes sense that Asian suppliers would be more careful with companies importing fasteners because if a concern as large as HTI could fail, what would keep smaller companies from failing? I suppose there could be many reasons why she is having longer turn-around time on quotes, more handling fees, etc. If business is brisk, that could be a reason.
Are other small or medium sized companies experiencing a change with their dealing with overseas suppliers?
I remember when Heads went out of business, an experienced importer friend of mine warned that the Asian suppliers were going to have to make up their losses somewhere. You don't just say "oh well" when you do not get paid for large amounts of product. Either prices go up or fees go up or credit is restricted or companies just get a lot more careful about how they do business. SOMEBODY lost money, and probably a lot of it. But this note from Janet was the first time a smaller/medium sized company directly suggested that she noticed the change post-HTI and I was curious to hear from others out there if they have noticed the same.
I've got an older brother. Coached high school sports, kind of acted line a teenager his whole life so it is no surprise he was a good coach. He could kind of relate to the mentality of the players he coached. He was not such a good husband because, frankly, he thought (and still does) like a teenager in many ways. He was 5-night-a-week-softball-guy. Those kind of guys are great buddies. Not always great husbands.
He is also the "I'm not doing THAT" kind of guy. "I don't Toot or Tweet, I don't Facebook, I don't do LinkedIn, I don't do any of that crap" he says with great Guy Pride. This is the guy that fought using e-mail and did not want someone to be able to reach him whenever they wanted...so you can imagine his reluctance to getting a cell phone, let alone texting. He has fought it all.
He now has a cell phone, he has added texting, he has a LinkedIn account and continuously is shown family related Facebook posts by his children. Believe it or not, he would really enjoy a Twitter account if he wasn't...well, if he wasn't HIM.
Why would he enjoy a Twitter account? Because every news agency in the modern world is posting the latest information on any given subject the minute it happens. If you are a sports junkie (which my brother is), there are countless local and national commentators Tweeting about sporting events the minute they happen. Or, you can follow the good columnists and they post information daily with their opinions and observations.
If you are into technology I am sure there are plenty of technology Tweeters to follow. Fill in the blank. For anything that interests you, there are numerous people flooding Twitter with interesting links to articles or quick commentaries on a subject.
That being said, I really do not care if you are on Twitter or if you like it. I do not hold stock in Twitter and I gain nothing if you are, or are not, on Twitter. It does not change my life one bit.
We have been experimenting with #fastlink Friday and I think it has gone pretty well. But, like anything new, it is kind of a mystery still how Twitter can be used by the fastener industry. I know that young people today use it A LOT to communicate with their friends and different groups. And, tomorrow those young people will be working in our industry because there's a whole bunch of old people working in it right now (except for at Fastenal who has cornered the market on young people in the fastener industry). Maybe a use for Twitter in the fastener industry will present itself, more than I have been able to observe so far. Then again, maybe not.
I just look at our industry and I see a good many people who remind me of my brother. "We don't ship after 3:00." "You didn't meet our $75 minimum and our accountant told us we lose money on every transaction under $75". ""If you don't do $2,000 with us, we cannot serve you". "We're not a plater. NO, we will not quote it complete." "We only ship in our boxes". "We cannot do EDI". "We need a hard copy of an order before we will ship it". "We have one e-mail account that all e-mails go into to. Just send it and I'll get it". If I tried, I could come up with 50 more objections I have heard. Often, new companies or competitors gain business from their competition by saying "I'll break a box and ship in a plain box with your part number and provide a packing slip with your name and it is fine that it is just a $45 order because, by the end of the year, I will have gotten in the door and might get a piece of that $200,000 spend you do in my product line".
Sometimes you have to bend a rule, or drive a part out to a customer who is two hours away. Sometimes you have to make something happen to keep a customer happy. You have to earn loyalty.
Sometimes you have to try something different. A few years ago, a distributor customer of mine brought in the son of the manager to work at the company. When he was given a standard cell phone he objected and said the phone was too basic and was not really good for conducting business. It was explained to him (by the older managers) that this was standard issue technology but he argued, "If you get me a smart phone I'll be able to answer e-mails and look at spreadsheets. Also, I will be available to you 24-7 as my generation does not turn off their cell phones even after 5:00 or on weekends". He got the smart phone and so did the rest of the managers once they saw what he was able to do with a smart phone. That was only like 3 or 4 years ago. Does anybody out there now not have an IPhone or Droid or Blackberry?
Companies used to mail out flyers and advertise their products in magazines. Still do. Eventually, companies started to fax advertisements out to customers. Eventually, the e-mail blast became the thing to do. We have an industry Podcast (Fully Threaded Radio) with fastener company commercials. I recently received a note from a rep friend who was watching business news and told me he saw a commercial from Aztech Locknut! Crazy. Grainger advertises regularly on radio stations in my home town and Fastenal (and probably others) advertise on race cars. It takes all kinds of creativity to sell a fastener.
So, why Tweet? I don't know. Why fax, why e-mail, why text? Because we can! And to the Victor go the Spoils!
Here's a quick post on our attempt to get fastener people involved in using Twitter. We posted a blog and sent out some Tweets asking Twitter users to use the hashtag #fastlink so we could try to get a feel for how many people in the fastener industry are using Twitter. We tried doing this on Friday, March 6. Here are some of the results.
Using a site called HashTracking.com, we were able to generate a report that showed there were 138 Tweets generated that included #fastlink. This report gives you data for only a 24 hour period. Specifically, the report said: "138 tweets generated 44,830 impressions, reaching an audience of 22,935 followers within the past 24 hours".
I tried counting how many different Tweeters were involved in #fastlink Friday and I think there were 45 of us.
I'm not sure what the Hashtracking.com report is referring to when it says that "44,830 impressions reached 22,935 followers". Clearly, 22,935 people were not Tweeting about fasteners. Maybe someone can provide some more insight on this data.
I did meet link up with some people through #fastlink Friday that I did not know before. Now I am following several new Tweeters. I cannot tell you that these new connections will lead to me adding new customers or new suppliers but I did link up with a few more people who are interested in the fastener industry. That is good for something, I suppose.
It is interesting to see who is on Twitter. Some of the industry magazines and online news organizations were involved in #fastlink Friday, while others were not. Honestly, I would think every industry media source would be involved on Facebook, LinkedIn and, yes, Twitter just to keep on the cutting edge. Several of the regional fastener organizations were involved as was a representative from NFDA. The WIFI group participated, the domestic fastener show groups did not but then a representative from Fastener Fairs took time to Tweet and promote the upcoming show in Hannover, Germany. Several importers checked in but not all of them. I checked and there is at least one major importer without even a Twitter account, as far as I could see.
Please feel free to comment if you were involved in #fastlink Friday. I have already had suggestions that we do this every Friday so that those who are not actively involved will at least check their accounts once a week. Again, all new and creative ideas are welcome.