And this is how it all started….
As I was scrolling down through TV stations during my morning attempt at exercise I stopped when I saw David Letterman being interviewed. I always enjoyed his show but rarely stayed up late enough to watch it on any kind of regular basis. The retired Letterman was told that Colbert, Kimmel and Fallen all consider him a mentor and they asked him to comment on that. While flattered he kind of admitted that he was just busy putting his show out and did not anticipate that he would one day be considered a mentor. And then he gave credit to Steve Allen for being a mentor to him. It was an entertaining segment, at least for me it was. I’m a fan.
How I drag this topic back to the fastener industry is puzzling even to me, but I have a linear connection from stuff that goes on daily back to the fastener industry. Well, maybe not directly to the fastener industry but back to work, daily life, etc.
As they talked about mentors I recalled that the NFDA launched a mentorship program a few years ago. For all I know the program might be thriving and churning out a host of well mentored fastener industry professionals. I suppose if there is one person enjoying that kind of relationship then it was a worthwhile program. But just like Letterman being a mentor, sometimes the person acting as a mentor or being a teacher, an example or whatever – sometimes they do not even know they are, in essence, being a mentor. I’m a “son of” from the industry. It is not like my dad would sit me down and say “OK, in the fastener industry you have to do this, that and the other”. I just kind of watched, repeated some of the stuff that worked (and was still comfortable for me) and through time he was, of course, a mentor. Lucky for me, I have had several other people I consider mentors and I value each of them. Lots of sons and daughters have this same experience. I’m lucky, I got along with my dad. Some people have mentorship experiences where they NEVER want to do it like their parent did it. I have a nephew who teaches who was raised by my brother, another teacher. When a cousin said to him “hey, a teacher, just like your old man” my nephew quickly and emphatically answers “NO!, nothing like him. I had him in class and I go to work every day trying to do the exact opposite of what he did”. It’s kind of hysterical because the two of them actually get along but my nephew does not budge on their approach to their line of work. So, was my brother a mentor?? I don’t know, but probably.
Mentors don’t always show up when your young or starting out in your job though that is often the case. I still am meeting people in our industry who are dealing with situations I have not yet encountered and they are, in fact, mentors. This is not my personal example but an example that apply might apply to other industry old timers. There are many owners of distributors who have run a great business for years who are now looking to sell because there is no family member there to take over the business. In that situation, a 65 year old business owner might need a mentor to help them sort out the questions of how to go about selling their business. OK, they need a mentor and accountant and a lawyer. But I’m sure it is helpful to have someone to bounce ideas off of it they’ve been through the process already.
So, I’d be curious to hear feedback from anyone in the NFDA on how the mentorship program has worked out. I hope it has and is going well. But I’m not sure you can just sign up a mentor and say “OK, you’re going to mentor this person”. Like with Letterman, sometimes people just watching you do your job is the best form of education one can offer. Maybe someone is watching you, maybe not. It would be like a “best friends” program. “Hey, sign up and Joe will be your best friend for the next year”. Best friends, or even good friends just happen. You don’t plan them, and sometimes you simply end up being best friends just because you grew up together, or experienced college together or got in trouble as little kids together. Some mentors become mentors because someone watch what they do and how they do it over a long period of time.
This blog site is not really very good at getting people to respond or engage in conversations. That being said, I would welcome people to respond with examples of people you consider mentors. Feel free to share a story. Or even just respond with the name of someone you consider a mentor. Or don’t do it. Whatever suits you on this lovely Sunday morning.
Based in Toronto and NYC, Mark Robbeson is a designer, builder, Co-inventor and Co-founder of the 1 Shot steel stud anchor. A 1SHOT™ Steel Stud Anchor is a fastener designed specifically to be used with 25-gauge steel studs on interior walls of today’s condominiums, hotels, hospitals, schools and other modern buildings.
Their website is www.steelstudanchor.com.
TS: I was recently introduced to your product line by industry veteran, Mike McGuire who was very familiar with your products. 1Shot is interesting. Where do you see the biggest opportunity for this product? Where is it going to be used?
Mark: The biggest opportunity I see today is implementation in the installation of kitchens and bathrooms in steel framed High rise buildings so common today in the United States and Canada.
This simple device saves builders time and money. Plenty of both. I also see a great synergy alongside IKEA and have been discussing the possibility of licensing the use of our patented technology to them. This product works flawlessly with the Ikea Sektion rail used to mount all IKEA kitchen cabinets.
TS: Does it replace other products or is it a new solution to an old problem?
Mark: Yes, It replaces a couple of products. Typically the builders use solid plywood backing between the steel studs so they can mount cabinets and the mounting cleats to the walls with wood screws. This is done because the typical stud (by code) is 25 gauge. Something too light and thin to properly and securely thread in conventional fasteners.
Adding plywood and the requisite mounting hardware is expensive and time consuming when compared to the use of our simple product. Aftermarket installations necessitate cutting open the drywall, adding that wood inside, repairing and repainting the drywall and then mounting your millwork or TV or stereo set up or whatever else you’d like to wall mount.
Butterfly clips and toggle bolts were an answer to this but frankly they are pesky. They frequently cross thread, requiring a messy cleanup and they sink down the wall underweight, usually by and 1/8” or more. This makes lining up all that millwork somewhat more challenging.
Both of the aforementioned fasteners also take longer to install than a 1SHOT™.
TS: What is your background? Do you have background in the construction industry or do you have more of a product engineering background?
Mark: My background is thoroughly in construction. I went to Mohawk College here in Canada more than 20 years ago for steel stud construction. I remember asking back then “why we had to add in the plywood”.
After this I worked extensively in construction and also studied extensively in interior and industrial design along the way. One of my partners, Franklin has more of an engineering background and has run a machining and prototyping business for many years.
TS: When I first saw the 1Shot anchor and its simple, practical application my first impression was, “well, that makes sense”. But it is a new product. So, where did it come from? How did you develop it and what were the biggest challenges?
Mark: Being a long time resident of Toronto Canada and someone working in the construction industry I was constantly having to mount my millwork in steel framed apartments and condos.
(As you know Toronto is second only to NYC in its total count of high rise buildings, #2 in North America)
I had tried all the off the shelf solutions and all the things my boss had told me to use and frankly I just knew we could do better. I started sketching thread profiles on cocktail napkins and searching for something similar. As you can imagine I found nothing like this. Sitting in my shop one day, I wrote a letter to a fastener company detailing the specs and benefits of this idea explaining that if they made them I and I’m sure many other builders would buy them all day long.
I put the note in an envelope and started to walk to the mailbox. Somewhere along the way I had a brief lapse of sanity and said “to hell with this! It’s time to build a team”. It just didn’t seem right to give it away. I started looking for people that could get the job done and just put one foot in front of the other.
TS: You are rolling out the product to a mature construction and fastener marketplace. What are your biggest challenges introducing your products?
Mark: I think the biggest challenge was getting the word out and working through the intellectual property around the idea to properly protect it going forward.
Actually, it’s all been challenging but I’m now part of a team I love and trust that works alongside me to do better and be better at every step.
TS: I know you are just getting started with the 1Shot product line but do you have other product line ideas that you’d like to introduce down the road?
Mark: I’m glad you asked we do indeed.
Both myself and Franklin love getting our hands dirty and figuring things out. Simply put we thrive on problem solving via hard work and tinkering. We both come from a long line of makers (frankly I think we were both raised with a “can do” “figure it out” disposition). We have designed a line of products that integrate perfectly with or fastener to simplify mounting many things around the home and office. From mirrors to wire utility shelves.
We are also developing a rather exciting type of eco friendly sheet good to compete with or replace MDF commonly used in the manufacture of home and office furniture all over the world.
The time is upon us – the Vegas Fastener Show (International Fastener Expo) is next month. September 17-19 to be exact. The big show, at least in the U.S. Still finding myself getting used to the show being in September. Not saying I like or dislike the time, just saying I’m still getting used to it. In the past when the show was later in the year it almost felt like there wasn’t that much time left in the year when you got back from the show. Now, It’s like we have the entire 4th quarter of the year to act on stuff we discuss at the Vegas Show. Small difference, but there is something there I’m still wrapping my head around.
I recently has a very nice opportunity to join Eric Dudas on a Fully Threaded Radio episode interviewing Georgia Foley, the CEO of STAFDA. I imagine most of you know this already but just in case you do not know how to find Fully Threaded Radio, go to www.fullythreaded. com. Georgia is just a great person to talk to and interviewing her was a pleasure. I bring it up because of some of the big differences I see when comparing fastener industry trade shows to the STAFDA, construction trade show. One obvious difference is that in the construction market there is pretty much one show – STAFDA. Conversely, the fastener industry has a plethora of trade shows. We have Vegas, Fastener Fair, Fastener Tech and then there are a number of regional trade shows frequently put on by regional fastener associations. Then, there are a number of companies like Fastenal and Grainger that hold their own shows. With these shows the exhibitors are asked to occupy tables and the attendees are only from the companies holding the events – not open to the public. An industry friend recently told me her company attends something like 70 trade shows a year throughout various industries and locations. When I catch up with guys like Kameron Dorsey of Beacon Fasteners or Bryan Wheeler of Star Stainless I’m exhausted listening to all the shows they have to attend in a year. I don’t know how they get to all of them. I’m not bringing up a new topic here but, eventually, something will have to give. All of these events will not last. Or, they will change. This is not just MY observation, people talk about this all the time.
What are some of the differences between STAFDA and the other show? Technically speaking, no one owns the STAFDA show. STAFDA members own the show and the show is simply one of the products that STAFDA management operates for their members. The show isn’t free, you still have to pay to attend, but the cost/value proposition is very good for members. No need expound upon it here, you can go to the STAFDA website to read more, or better yet listen to the Fully Threaded interview. Another interesting thing about Georgia Foley’s involvement in STAFDA is that she has been involved with STAFDA since she was a kid. Her father was one of the founding members of STAFDA and he agreed to run the organization in 1976 until he passed the torch to Georgia in 1999/2000. Since its inception in 1976 STAFDA has grown from 18 founding members to over 2,500 member companies including 1,052 distributors, 1,130 associates, 22 publishing affiliates, and 305 manufacturer rep/agents. They seem to embrace manufactures reps/agents and even let them join as full members! Hmmm???
I continue to be a big fan of the fastener industry trade shows. Networking is a huge part of the shows and each one offers an opportunity to meet with customers, suppliers, and all kinds of industry peers. I tell people, if I get five good meetings out of a show it was probably worth my time and effort to attend. But, I’m attending the shows and walking the aisles and not generally paying for the booth. That investment probably requires a better return on investment than five good meetings.
The challenge of all the trade shows, national or regional, is to get people to attend and, in particular to get those people to attend that the exhibitors want to visit with. Exhibitors don’t mind visiting with other suppliers but who they really want to visit with are new and existing customers. If you do not get them to attend then the show will not be worth the money.
It can be a challenge to come up with a new fastener show format but that will be the challenge for shows in the future. How many seminars on hydrogen embrittlement do we have to have before that ship has sailed. For crying out loud, if you need to know more about hydrogen embrittlement just call Carmen Vertullo like the rest of us!! So, what topics do we want to see at shows in the future? That’s the magic question. What business topics do we want to see covered? Marketing to Millennials? Future trends in technology? Personal Branding?
At STAFDA there will be a “Speed Interviewing” event where STAFDA members have the opportunity to talk one-on-one with potential interns and employees. STAFDA invites upper classmen with industrial distribution, construction management or related majors from leading universities and they help to facilitate interviews between the students and potential employers. How often do we hear how difficult it is to find good employees? This seems like an idea worth looking into for fastener associations or trade show operators. Forward thinking!
Well, I’m excited for Vegas and I’m also excited for Nashville which is where the STAFDA show will be held in November. Like I said, five good business meetings or conversations and I’ve paid for the event!