TS: A lot of people might not know this but I have a long background with Buckeye Fasteners, Ohio Nut & Bolt and Modern Fasteners. Actually, not so much Buckeye but the other two companies. Before my father became a manufacturers rep he was a sales manager for Modern Fasteners for over 20 years. When was Buckeye actually created?
LK: Buckeye was set up in 1972.
TS: OK, and I believe my dad left in 1976 so there was overlap. Briefly, share with us the history of Ohio Nut & Bolt and Buckeye.
LK Our company was founded in 1905 as the Ohio Nut and Bolt Company. The first products manufactured were bicycle chains back when bicycles were a main mode of transportation. In 1928, Ohio’s first large, commercial use of weld screws were on the Model A Ford. The first HW weld screw was used on the frame of the Model A to allow one handed assembly of the fenders. In 1972 Buckeye Fasteners was set up to sell and distribute products to our ever expanding customer base.
TS: Well, somewhere in the 1960’s and early ‘70’s when my dad had to go into the office on Saturdays, me and my brother would run around the warehouse and roll boxes down the conveyor belts to amuse ourselves till my dad was done. And, we raided the coffee area and ate sugar cubes from out of the cabinets!
LK: We have always been aware of missing inventory and some accounting discrepancies and I think you just solved that for us.
TS: Yeah, we raided that sugar cube inventory, that’s for sure. But moving on from that… your company is an employee owned company (ESOP). When did that happen and how did that come about?
LK: Late in the year 1979, the family owners decided to sell Fastener Industries, Inc. Richard Biernacki, then Treasurer of Fastener Industries, knew of Employee Stock Ownership Plans (ESOP’s) and suggested that the employees buy the Company. The employees could do this by individually transferring monies from their profit-sharing accounts to an ESOP and with a loan from National City Bank could meet the total asking price. The all-cash offer was accepted. The employees individually invested 85% of the total profit sharing monies to buy the company. The transaction closed on June 30, 1980 making Fastener Industries, Inc. a 100% ESOP-owned Company with all employees owning common stock as of the year-end.
TS: What are some of the benefits and challenges of being an employee owned company?
LK: The culture in an Employee Owned Company is very unique since each employee has a stake in the company. Every Employee Owner is aware that their job performance has a direct impact on the company and ultimately a direct impact on them as owners. All of our Employees know how the company is doing on a daily basis since financial information is shared with everyone. One of the biggest challenges is trying to avoid the sense of entitlement since everyone is an owner. We consistently need to remind ourselves that the ESOP is the type of company we are, however, we do not run our business and make decisions based solely on this fact.
TS: How long have you been with Buckeye?
LK: I’ve been with Fasteners Industries, Inc. for 35 years. 27 years with Buckeye Fasteners and 8 years at Ohio Nut & Bolt.
TS: To me you are one of the “faces” of Buckeye Fasteners. You are at the trade shows, you are out in the field making sales visits. But what was your pathway to get to that point? What jobs have you held along the way?
LK: I started my career with Buckeye in 1984 in the warehouse picking parts and shipping orders. A year later I transferred to Ohio Nut and Bolt and took a job in the maintenance department where my responsibilities included repairing manufacturing equipment, making tooling and maintaining the building. In 1989 I took a position in the Nutformer department were I set up and ran two headers and four tapping machine. It was here were I really learned about cold heading and the manufacturing of fasteners primarily weld nuts. This was the only department at the time which did both the primary (cold heading) and secondary(tapping) operations to make a finished part. In 1993 I moved back to Buckeye taking a job as an inside sales representative dealing with customers on a daily basis. Throughout all these career changes with the company, I was attending Cleveland State University in the evening working my way towards a college degree. I graduated in 1999 with a Business Administration degree and was appointed Sales Manager for Buckeye Fasteners. I worked as the Sales Manager for 15 years and I’m currently the Business Development Manager. I’m also serving my second term on our company’s five-member Board of Directors.
TS: In my earlier years in the industry I don’t recall Buckeye being involved in the fastener associations or trade shows quite like I have seen them in more recent years. I think you have had a big influence getting Buckeye more involved in these groups.
LK: Our company always had a history of being involved with the ESOP Association and various manufacturing related groups like AWS, SME and RWMA. We didn’t have a presence with any of the Fastener Associations to speak of so when a was appointed Sales Manager I started looking into some of the associations. The company decided to become a member of the NCFA which was the start for us getting more involved in the fastener associations.
TS: And you did get involved! In fact you were the NCFA resident for three years.
LK: I’ve always believed if you are going to get involved with something you need to really get involved. When we joined the NCFA I looked into becoming part of the board and was appointed as a Trustee. I served as Trustee for a few years and was fortunate enough to be elected Vice President for a two year term. After serving as Vice President, I was again blessed to be elected President a position I held for three years. Being President of NCFA was a tremendous honor since I got to meet some of the most influential people in the fastener community. Bob Baer, Rich Cavetto, Rick Rudolph, John Radel and Hall a Famer Marty Nolan just to name a few. My experience with the NCFA also lead us to join other associations, MWFA, NEFDA and NFDA all of which provide a tremendous amount of networking opportunities for our company.
TS: What are some of the current challenges for fastener manufacturers in today’s fastener industry?
Making a quality part at a fair price and providing the best customer service possible is a challenge for any fastener manufacturer. Quality is becoming more and more challenging since customers are demanding zero defects especially when dealing with the automotive industry. Being a domestic manufacturer since 1905, we are constantly feeling the pressure from non-domestic sources competing for our business. The recent round of tariffs also created challenges for us since many of the materials we purchase to manufacture are products that were impacted by these tariffs. Technology is an area any fastener manufacturer needs to keep themselves educated and up to date on. There have been so many advances in our industry such as 3D printing and the newer types of materials being used by our customers to manufacture the products they produce. We are constantly attending conferences and seminars to insure we have the tools and resources to stay competitive.
TS: What does the future look like for Buckeye Fasteners?
Buckeye Fasteners is constantly expanding our product offerings to meet our customer’s demands. This includes parts we manufacture as well as products we distribute. We are also on lookout for potential acquisitions to help increase our presence in the market. As mentioned earlier, technology is a big part of our focus and we recently launched our own Buckeye Fasteners App available in App Stores (Thanks George Schrull). The App basically does everything our website does and more. With more and more business being conducted on mobile devices we thought it would be important to adapt to this technology. We’ve also put a lot of effort into our website to reach a more tech savvy audience.
Four legs and wings would basically sum up what keeps my beautiful bride of 32 years Jackie and me busy. We have two Golden Retrievers, Finnegan and Theo who keep us quite active. You can typically find us walking them first thing in the morning before we head off to work and again in the evening. We walk them around 3 miles per day regardless of the weather. The only time we won’t walk them is if it’s below Zero. We have also been enjoying the wonderful world of Beekeeping and we are in our fourth year. Jackie was always interested in Honeybees (mostly out of her love for Winnie the Pooh) so we decided to take some classes and learn more about it. The classes educated and encouraged us to start an Apiary. We wanted to help the Ecosystem since the Honeybee is so important to our existence. Honeybees are responsible for pollinating 70% of the fruits and vegetables we put on table and the honey we extract is the sweet reward we get from keeping bees. Family and Friends have come to expect receiving some of our honey for special occasion like Birthdays and Christmas. As I mentioned earlier, I really like getting involved and so I’m currently the Vice President on the Great Cleveland Beekeepers Association which also keeps me busy.