TS: Thank you for taking the time to do this interview with me. I have been wanting to talk with you for a long time and now is an especially good time because you have some exciting news going on with you and Duncan Bolt. But, before we get into that news, let’s get some background information on Andy Cohn.
I’ve know the name, Andy Cohn, for a long time even though you and I have not had the opportunity to really hang out together or spend time together. So, I thought maybe a good way for us to do that was to do a 10 minute segment with you. Yet, I do feel like our paths have crossed in many ways. You went to college at Case Western Reserve in Cleveland, Ohio. And, I understand you worked for a period of time in Strongsville, Ohio, my home and the current fastener epicenter of Ohio. Also, I understand we have both had the extreme pleasure of working with the famous fastener veteran, My. Tom Hipp! So, let’s just jump in and get this started.
You’re originally from, New York, went to school in Ohio and are best known for running Duncan Bolt located in California. How did you get out to California and what’s your fastener background? Let’s talk about how all that developed.
Andy: I grew up in the fastener business. My dad worked for his dad importing men’s hats in New York City. At one point someone asked him to bring some hardware in (from Italy) and he was off and running. I remember one summer he had every kid in our neighborhood sorting kegs of hex nuts that were mixed ¼-20 and ¼-28- I believe we got 15 bucks for sorting a 20,000 pc keg.
Anyways, if there is one thing I knew in my heart it was that I was not going to get dragged into this business! I had a lot of different plans as I grew up but none of them had anything to do with Bolts or Nuts.
When I graduated from college (in Cleveland no less) I still knew one thing for sure, NO FASTENERS! , I followed a college friend out to San Francisco looking for a job in the Television business-and still, NO FASTENERS! It wasn’t until I had been unemployed for 5 months that my dad called me one day and said “oh by the way, we have a customer out there who just got a big packaged fastener contract and was hiring packagers at $ 1.00/ hour” , that finally got my attention. Bay City Screw and Bolt in San Carlos, CA was my first job in the fastener business in 1974. For the first three months I packaged 5/16-18 Hex Jam nuts! So, after a year I was the “kid” who filled orders but I also got to answer the phone if everyone else was busy. Back then, half of our customers would take import or domestic on Gr 5 bolts but no one accepted an import Gr 8! (well Infasco if they had to.) Everything had to be from Lake Erie or from the new kids at Nucor. By then I was hooked. Money was decent and I was able to move into a swinging singles complex in Burllingame. Also, I quickly learned that I was not going to make it as a swinging single!
TS: OK, but that still does not get me to Duncan Bolt. So, what happened next?
Andy: So, two years go by and one day my dad calls me up again and says “any chance I could interest you in moving to Denver? We’re going to open a branch there and there’s a job as the Regional Sales Manager! Pays real money!” So, I moved to Denver and our huge import warehouse (3700 sq. ft.) and it was fun. Selling to “distributors only” was way easier!
TS: What company are we talking about here?
Andy: This was Allied International. So one day a van pulls up to our dock (one dock!) and a young lady hops out and says “ok guys slide those kegs down the ramp carefully”! Before I know it I’m engaged to Jeannie Walker of Fasteners, Inc. and trying to decide whether to marry her and move back to NY to continue on with Allied International or accept her dad’s very gracious offer to come work at FASTENERS, INC.
TS: I was told by mutual friends that there are a lot of family ties that you have with other members of the fastener industry, so the story about Jeannie makes sense. Would you mind sharing more about some of those ties?
Andy: As I think over your question I have 2 thoughts- I never kept business and personal lives separate (most of my friends are in the industry) and I kept marrying young ladies in our industry! Maybe it was the only way I could get a date!
So after 6 years in Denver at Fasteners Inc Jeannie Walker and I divorced and went our separate ways.
Once again I had a chance in the importing business and I moved back to NY to work at Allied International & Allied Stainless. My dad had sold the business by then and the new owners sort of wanted me around for my memory but they didn’t want me too close so off to Los Angeles I went. Once again I meet a cute girl who is sort of double from the industry. Virginia Sullivan (her dad was Luke Sullivan of Sullivan Bolt and she was the younger sister of Anne Sullivan also of Sullivan Bolt and also head of the LAFA!) By the way you mentioned Tom Hipp – when I left the east my new boss had said- I know your going to leave Allied and find a business of your own, just don’t leave us in the lurch when you do. That’s when Tom got promoted to branch manager, and he was great at it. Virginia and I looked for a distributor we could buy while I continued at Allied. At the end of ’88 we found Dave Duncan at Duncan Bolt-Dave was 80 and had just remarried- he wanted to sell the business and live happily ever after with his new bride. So it was a good fit. Dave was a distributor and an importer. He only brought in the weird sizes that the Heads & Threads of the world wouldn’t bother with (Heavy Hex Jam Nuts 2” thru 4” and stuff like that)
TS: Tell me about Duncan Bolt. You purchased it many years ago but have taken it to another level. I know you are a Huck distributor but for what else is Duncan Bolt best known for?
Andy: Well I would like to say we are best known for being a responsible partner who helps OEMS with vendor managed inventory with a technical sales staff that actually still knows something about fasteners.
TS: And now, after all these years, you are selling the company. That is big news! What can you share with me about the sale of Duncan?
Andy: Pre-pandemic, my VP and General Manager Steve Somers asked if he could explore the different options for buying us out and we said yes. Ultimately he and some of our other execs proposed an ESOP as the solution that worked best for all. That tasted right to Virginia and I since it gave us some tax advantages that allowed us to be more reasonable on the price and it felt right since all the employees were getting a piece of the action as well.
TS: So, this is a done deal? Your sale of Duncan Bolt is complete?
Andy: Yes, as of Thursday, December 30.
TS: Well, congratulations on that all coming together. Sounds like it works out well for you and the employees.
I’m going to come clean with you Andy and share another reason I wanted to interview you. I heard, few years ago, you hosted a joint NFDA/Pac-West cocktail hour at your house as part of the joint meeting. I want to be kind to you in this interview to make sure I get invited to the next one! So, what has been your involvement with fastener associations?
Andy: I have always believed that there is a lot of power in associations- easier for suppliers harder for distributors because you have to be willing to accept that you can learn from your competition and still stay sharp and try to be the best distributor in town. But it takes a certain personality- some distributors are just not going to share. The year your referring to, there was a joint meeting here in LA and we had just moved into this big old house in Long Beach with a great backyard so we offered to host the opening night party – a good time was had by all – the joke in California has always been show distributors from Boston or Chicago our weather and you will end up with 10 more competitors. There is some truth to this I believe. But mostly we can still scare them off talking about how high the taxes are here (and its TRUE!!)
TS: When we started first talking, California was just starting to open back up after months of shut downs due to Covid-19. Now it looks like you could shut down again. How has that whole situation affected your business?
Andy: Scary- today they just tightened the rules back up again! I would say the pandemic has hurt our business by 30% and most people I talk to are in the same range- depends on what your customers do. But how long will this go on? WHEN ARE YOU READING THIS? ARE WE DONE YET?
TS: Irrespective of the Covid-19 situation, what do you see on the horizon for the fastener industry? What changes do you see coming? What things will affect our industry?
Andy: As long as somebody is still making something here in the U.S. I think we will continue to see more consolidation. Fastenal and the like will continue to grow and specialty distributors will continue to provide “boutique” services and thrive. When I think of the fastener business I still think about my dad sitting in my grandfather’s office on West 39th St. in New York and having a hat customer ask if they knew anything about bolts and could they possibly get him some. How you reply to that question is still the essence of what we do.
Regarding Covid and looking at 2021, the pandemic makes our role harder and yet the need for custom services and customer service is still there. Bolts are not expensive, but NO BOLTS or the wrong bolts are very expensive!
TS: So, will you no longer be involved with Duncan Bolt? Are you a retired man? And will the fastener industry see Andy Cohn at any industry related events down the road?
Andy: Retired? Yes. Will you seem me down the road? If I can’t learn golf I’ll have to do something.