TS: It is pretty unusual these days to have a new fastener company opening up. On the contrary, we seem to see more consolidation and companies disappearing. So, it is kind of inspiring to see you jump in to this new endeavor. Why did you start up Fair Wind Fasteners?
Rob: I started Fair Wind Fasteners for a few different reasons, but principally because finding good quality marine grade fasteners is getting harder and harder to do these days and I wanted to solve that problem. Years ago I was working on my classic wooden boat and fell in to the trap of buying the cheapest silicon bronze wood screws that I could find. Several twisted shanks and stripped heads later I realized that cheap also meant chintzy, and the “silicon bronze” I had bought wasn’t actually silicon bronze. The market is full of imitations, especially when buying online. It’s difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff from merely a picture.
Sailing and boating in general is something I’m quite passionate about so being able to work with fellow boaters, shipwrights, and home boat builders is a perk of the business for me as well. While I’m new to the fastener industry, the marine industry is one that I know well and have a life long love affair with. When customers call it’s not just about supplying the fasteners they need, but it’s also an opportunity for me to talk about boat building and swap a few sea stories.
TS: OK, you need to indulge me for a minute before we talk about fasteners. You said you sailed all over the world before slowing down to start Fair Winds Fasteners. Let me live vicariously through you for a moment and tell me about your sailing around the world adventures.
Rob: I did. I have enough nautical miles under my belt to round the globe nearly 9 times and have spent the better part of the last 15 years at sea. I’ve always loved being on the water, and was lucky enough to turn it in to a career. One of my first jobs as a kid was working on the fuel dock at Toledo Beach Marina in Michigan where I met sailors at the local yacht club that would take me out to do some regatta racing. That job turned in to being a Mate on a Walleye charter fishing boat, which progressed to a few yacht deliveries, and eventually progressed to me being the Captain on a 160′ sailing ketch travelling the world with 8 full-time yacht crew. I worked as a Captain for several billionaires, running their private yachts for them. Have you ever seen the show “Below Decks?” Like that – except without the drama and with far more fun and adventure.
TS: OK, thanks for that, so now let’s talk about fasteners again. How big of a market do you think there is for the types of fasteners you plan to sell?
Rob: My target market is very niche. I deal in marine grade fasteners – principally in silicon bronze but also in other alloys that work well on the water such as 316 Stainless, Monel, Inconel, and even Titanium. As niche as it is, my customer base is very loyal and make their purchases based on reputation. It’s not all about price in the boat building world. The yachts these craftsmen are building sometimes take years to complete. They pour their hearts and souls in to the construction and simply have no time or patience for junk fasteners that don’t meet the quality standards of the yacht that is being built. Saving $3 only to find out 5 years later that the fasteners have corroded because they aren’t the correct alloy just isn’t worth it. Boat guys and gals know that, and while the market is very niche I want to capture a portion through the loyalty and trust that is built over time by supplying the best fasteners available.
But to answer your question a bit more directly: I simply don’t know how big the total market is. I’ve run a google search and see I can buy a marine fastener market industry report for $3,500, but I think I’ll pass on that for now! I know that it’s a single digit number that starts with “B”, but I’m not concerned with it. What I do know is that the shipyards and boat builders that I have spoken to are ecstatic to learn that they now have an honest supplier they can rely upon for their non-ferrous fasteners. There are plenty out there.
TS: Is this your full time job or are you doing other things to supplement your income while you get your company started?
Rob: Fair Wind Fasteners is my full time job alongside a marine parts business that I’ve bought as well. The parts business deals in hard-to-find boating parts, and when thinking about expanding my inventory with that business I just couldn’t move off of the idea of marine grade fasteners. My experience in the marine industry taught me that there was a real need out there for quality fasteners. Well, that one little idea of expanding my product lines eventually turned in to a company of it’s own. Regardless, I am spending all day every day finding parts for the marine industry whether it’s the impeller for a rare 1968 Mercury outboard or fin neck carriage bolts in 655 silicon bronze.
TS: Do you still own your boat and get out so sail on a more local level or did you retire your captain’s hat?
Rob: Having moved ashore near the wrong end of summer I’ve held off on acquiring another boat to focus full time on my business for now. But after this coming winter has passed I’ll take the plunge and acquire something to scoot around on the beautiful Narragansett bay right here in my backyard of Newport, Rhode Island. Maybe your readers can help because I can’t decide: a vintage Chris Craft or a sailing catboat (wood of course)? For now I am doing a bit of yacht racing on other people’s boats, which is great because other people get to “Break Out Another Thousand” when the inevitable boat problems arise and I still get to feel the wind in my hair and trim a sail or two.
TS: I mentioned to you that the fastener industry has another former ship Captain and that is Morgan Rudolph who is a rep up in New England working with his father Rick Rudolph at Rudolph & Associates. Maybe we can get the two of you together to put together some fastener industry cruises for members of the industry.
Rob: I’d be more than pleased to meet Captain Morgan. I’m sure we could break out a bottle of rum (but not that spiced stuff that his name resembles, proper rum)! There are actually a good handful of fastener industry people here in New England, and I would be happy to meet all of them. Having just started the business, forming contacts and simply letting people know I exist is half the battle. For that matter, if anyone wants to get in touch to talk about fasteners (or boats, or rum) I encourage them to get in touch.
That last suggestion of yours about putting together cruises for industry members: Are you trying to arrange a free boat ride?
TS: You caught me, I’m not going to lie. A boat ride sounds great! But let’s continue with one more question. You are pretty new in the industry but do you have any observations you’d like to share?
Rob: Haha, no problem. Never hurts to ask. So, I touched on this a little bit already, but my greatest observation is that quality control is difficult when sourcing from overseas. It seems like many overseas manufacturers like to cut corners on quality and that’s disappointing to the end user. Further to that, it also seems like finding a good range of quality fasteners here in the United States is getting more and more difficult for a small guy like me. The big manufacturers seem to be merging, and with those mergers come higher minimum order quantities and less time to deal with smaller orders. There are plenty of domestic manufacturers out there that I know can do the job and deliver an excellent product, but when the MOQ is 25,000 pieces of each size and variation it’s difficult to get started with them.
However, when I do find and eventually stock the quality of fasteners that I require, I find the demand from the marine industry to be high!
Thanks for the opportunity to do this interview, I look forward to your reader’s comments and to connecting with some of them in the future.
Owner, Fair Wind Fasteners