The fastener magazines and Fully Threaded Radio can report on the Table Top Show. For the record, I thought it was excellent. But one thing that might get unnoticed or overlooked that I think is worth noting. The sports bar that is right across the alley from the host hotel is one of the best meeting spots in all the fastener industry. It comes closest to the old days of Columbus. Whether you go there for lunch, mid-day between events/classes or in the evening, it is the go-to place for fastener people to hang out. More business and networking getting done in that sports bar than at most trade shows across the country. At least that is my observation.
TS: Matthew Boyd, you are the Vice President of Sales for Parker Fasteners. How long have you been with Parker and how did you end up with the company?
Matt: Thank you, TS, for the opportunity. I have been with Parker Fasteners for eight years, September of this year. Previous to Parker Fasteners, I spent almost 13 years in distribution, working the last four years as a District Manager for the Fastenal Company. When Parker Fasteners started to call on me as a local customer, I was intrigued by Parker Fasteners. Not many fastener manufacturers are starting from scratch these days, so my interest started from that point. Overall, making the transition from distribution to manufacturing was a challenge, however I would do it again in a heartbeat!
TS: Please share with us a little bit of the history of Parker Fasteners
Matt: Parker Fasteners was founded by Robert Parker in May of 2012. With over 20 years of experience in fastener manufacturing, Robert brought instant creditability and know-how to the operation. I call it the “Original Fifteen” of employees who started with Robert in the beginning. This group of employees have shown grit and the willingness to take a chance together, with Robert’s dream of creating a company that values employees and takes care of its customers at the highest levels possible. This philosophy has set myself and the rest of our sales team up for long-term success in the market.
TS: Your company slogan is – “Parker Fasteners – Forging the Future”. You’ve got it printed on t-shirts, it is on your website. Why is that slogan a good fit for your company? What are you guys trying to say to the fastener industry?
Matt: In the beginning, many folks in the industry didn’t take us seriously. It was almost like our age in the industry was working against us. After our second year at the Fasteners Show in Vegas, walking down the aisle to our booth towards the back of the show, Robert mentioned to me that we were “Forging The Future through Quality Products and Customer Service.” I quickly took out my phone and took notes on what he had just said, so unassuming. Once we made it back into the office, we revisited the thought he had and boiled it down to “Forging The Future.” The slogan is the rally cry to our employees, customers and vendors today. For employees, the company wants to reinvest and give back for all of the hard work and dedication that they make daily. For customers, the company is continuing to reinvest in itself to improve the offering, so each order that is made to Parker Fasteners is an investment in everyone’s future. Concerning our vendors, making sure they understand our plans to growth is key to our success. So, as you can see, our company’s aggressive approach is communicated throughout the business.
TS: You moved into a new manufacturing facility during 2020, and during Covid. Tell us about the new facility.
Matt: Can’t say enough about our new facility, located in Buckeye, Arizona. It was a challenge moving in April/May of 2020, however with all of the efforts that we put in, we were very careful and completed the move without any COVID related issues. Operating from 66,000 square feet, in one building, 100% climate controlled has made all the difference. Our team has done a wonderful job of laying out the facility, organizing it and we are setup for years of growth. We are also sitting on 10 acres in total, so we have another 100,000 of square feet of future expansion. Our employees have responded very well and we have almost doubled our production since we moved. If anyone in the industry is interested in taking a tour, please reach out to me and I would be happy to schedule it.
TS: While Parker Fasteners has a wide range of capabilities, you really seem to concentrate on socket head cap screws and mostly product made from stainless steel. But you tell me – what products do you consider to be in the Parker “wheelhouse”? What markets do you target and serve?
Matt: Yes, Stainless Steel and A286 sockets are over half of our business today. Being so close to California, we are able to rely on our vendors to keep us competitive on those types of raw material and outside services that are required for socket head cap screws. With that product offering, we also offer button, flats and related products that require the deep recess. Other materials that we offer are alloy, monel, brass and nitronic 60. What the industry also needs to be aware of, is that we offer the longest, precision cold die cold heading capabilities in the country. Capable of producing 12” from under the head, this is a unique product offering for domestic manufacturing. We also offer expanded products for the military and aerospace markets including per print specials.
TS: The company could have moved in many directions, so how did the company come to concentrate on those products and markets?
Matt: Starting nine years ago, we were looking to fulfill any needs in the open marketplace. We quickly found our niche’ in the socket drive business, just by listening to our customers. Being diversified in as many different markets is an company goal. We currently service many markets domestically and globally. As a growth company, it is always best to engage us to see if a part would be a good fit for our equipment or not. We are always willing to recommend other proven manufactures who we know if the part isn’t a good fit.
TS: In the Midwest it is very difficult to hire machinists and individuals who can operate heading equipment. Is it the same in Arizona? What are you doing to recruit and train?
Matt: Yes, the labor market is very unique right now. In past years, we would look for experienced labor from other states to recruit, and we still do today. However, we have found success from developing our own internal training plan for candidates without hands on experience. This has proven track record for the company. Regarding retention, when employees see that a company is investing in them and their future, they are most likely to stay and match that investment with their own personal goals and efforts. This has been our strategy over the past two years and it has given us the talent required to grow our business.
TS: What is in store for Parker Fastener in the upcoming years?
Matt: Working smarter, not harder is the mantra that we have used since our move into our new facility. To explain further, we have invested heavily in our ERP System, Quoting Software, equipment and our people. Staying competitive in the marketplace, providing reasonable lead times and engaging our customers to meet their needs, is what we are all about. The reinvestment outlook that we have will continue our company’s efforts to “Forge The Future!”
TS: What are a couple things people do not know about Parker Fastener or its people that you want to tell the fastener industry?
Matt: The culture at Parker Fasteners is one of a kind. From the way that we engage our customers, employees and vendors we are constantly looking to find the win-win for everyone. It’s one of a kind effort that we put into our business daily, and it’s our goal to improve each day.
Note from TS:
I have a regular column in Fastener Technology International (FTI) magazine, called 10 Minutes with the Traveling Salesman, which can be read online at www.fastenertech.com. Subscriptions to FTI, print and digital editions, are free-of-charge for fastener manufacturers, distributors and users as well as suppliers to the industry.”
TS: I had a chance to review the Fastener Industry: Digital Landscape 2021 Report where you rated fastener companies and scored them on their websites, digital footprint, social media exposure, etc. You put a lot of work into this. I almost do not know where to begin so I will just dive right in.
You and Lisa Kleinhandler are involved in a lot of technology and fastener operations including Fastener News Desk and Product Genius Technology. And, you have a very strong digital footprint yourselves with all the sites you are involved with.
What made you decide to quantify everything and generate this report?
Cris: Product Genius Technology is focused on consulting and assisting both fastener distributors and manufacturers with their digital strategies. In order for our business to better understand our target market, we decided to take a closer look at the digital footprint of the fastener industry in 2021.
The global pandemic was an awakening of sorts for even the fastener industry. While deemed essential businesses they were forced into adapting to the new work environments that their customers were facing. A digital representation became the lifeline to clients and new prospects. It was a driving factor behind this report. We hope that our findings will be a useful tool for companies that are committed to improving their digital representation and overall customer experience.
In our 20-criterion evaluation we identified 271 fastener manufacturers and distributors that have an online representation. Each company was researched, analyzed, and scored for their digital performance. Our report will provide business leaders a better understanding where they currently rank and where they should be focusing their
digital strategies and investments.
TS: What was the most surprising discovery you made from doing this report?
Cris: Can you keep a secret Marty? A top 5 contender is not a publicly traded company? You will have to get the report to see who it is! (There is a link below to request a copy of the report – Click on Product Genius Technology icon below to connect to site where you can request the report)
Some of the key findings from the report:
24% of the businesses provide a fully functioning eCommerce storefront for their clients
75% of fastener websites are responsive and mobile friendly
22% of the websites in our report provide online purchase orders and invoicing
TS: You and I have had some lengthy and serious conversations about companies who lack a strong online presence. You often warn me that the majority of fastener and industrial supply commerce will be conducted electronically, a lot sooner than maybe even our industry expects. Tell me more about why you feel so strongly about this.
Cris: Follow the money! The number one ranked company in our 2021 report projects 80% of their sales to happen online by 2022. B2B eCommerce sales are projected to reach $20.9 trillion dollars by 2027. Technology is moving at the speed of light, either you participate in it or face extinction. Client interaction is digital, period.
TS: Tell me about Product Genius. What is it and who should care about it?
Cris: Product Genius Technology is a patented ecommerce experience application that simplifies the search, sort, and display of fastener products online. We learned through our own experience of creating websites and ecommerce for our distribution business that filtered or faceted search was the only way available for sorting complex products. Some items such as hex cap screws can have hundreds of pages of results based on these systems. This directly leads to a poor customer journey/experience which is of the upmost importance to today’s B2B buyers. Recent studies show 80% of B2B buyers are willing to change suppliers for better customer experience. This is reason enough for anyone selling fasteners and industrial supplies online to care. Who does not want to provide their clients with the best online buying experience? Searching 700 pages of anything is unacceptable. As distributors it is up to us to explain how fasteners are sourced and purchased to our technology providers so that our investments will provide our clients with the best user interface and customer experience.
We took the way fasteners had been represented in catalogs for hundreds of years and created a digital representation. A new product view feature if you will, that allows the buyer access to an entire product category from a one-page buying experience. It replaces filtered search for complex products with large volumes of results.
Most of the fastener industry is comprised of the small to medium size distributors/manufacturers, some are still family owned. These generational businesses are constrained by the lack of in-house IT and technology leadership. We provide our clients with the 95 years of industrial fastener industry experience, plus our knowledge of how distributors & manufacturers can leverage different types of technology to achieve their digital goals and investments. We are the IT team that knows your industry and helps guide the digital strategy your company will need to succeed in today’s online marketspace.
TS: How does Fastener News Desk fit in with all these other ventures?
Cris: Fastener News Desk is the industry’s #1 online source for anything fastener related. While it has no direct bearing on any of our other ventures, Fastener News Desk does provide educational content regarding digital trends that affect every one of us.
TS: Do you still own a lot of fastener domains? I think we did an interview many years ago regarding this topic.
Cris: Yes, we have a portfolio of premium fastener domain names. When launching an eCommerce brand online it is important to choose a domain name where people can find you. Some brands may opt to use their company name, and some choose a catchy more SEO-friendly name that will resonate with their digital clients. Some companies maintain multiple domains.
If you are interested, contact us: 1-800-Fasteners (327-8363)
TS: Where do you see the industry heading in the next 5-10 years?
Cris: That depends on how serious companies take the transformation into digital. While M&A activity has increased over the past few years, PE firms want to purchase companies that are on the top of their game. Getting your company digitally ready for growth or acquisition would be beneficial for short- and long-term goals and assist in a profitable exit strategy for family-owned generational distributorships.
TS: What are your plans moving into the future? Fastener News Desk, Product Genius, etc. Where is this all headed?
Cris: Fastener News Desk will continue to lead our industry online with pertinent content, networking, and business opportunities.
Product Genius Technology will continue to educate, train, and consult with fastener companies to assist them in achieving and maximizing their full digital potential.
TS: On a personal note, you and Lisa relocated up to Maine.
How is that going for you?
Cris: We love it here! We are four season folks, so this suits us. Surrounded by mountains and the coast we have plenty to explore and enjoy. The seafood and IPA’s are A-M-A-Z-I-N-G!
TS: What are the biggest things that concern you about the future of the fastener industry going forward?
Cris: The immediate concern is the lack of attention to digital technologies and how they can provide the growth we all work so hard for. Also, of concern would include the adoption of 3D and additive manufacturing capabilities for fastener companies. Of course, there are workforce, supply chain, logistics and tariff issues to be concerned with as well but these are more out of each company’s control.
TS: You were heavily involved in the early years of WIFI (Women in Fastener Industry). You were also an early representative to the Fastener Industry Coalition as a representative for WIFI.
Cris: As a founding member of Women in the Fastener Industry and its first two-year president I had the opportunity to meet with and learn from many of my female industry peers. I consider this experience invaluable! Every fastener company executive should donate their time to the industry organization of their choosing. It will provide you connections and opportunities that the benchwarmers will not get.
Any company with a website or social media presence runs analytics. We all want to know how many hits our site gets and how far we reach into the marketplace. But, to my knowledge, there has never been an analysis or comparison of fastener companies and how they stack up against the competition with regards to their digital footprint.
I am please to share with you this report created by Cris Young of Product Genius Technology. Chances are, your company is included in this report. If not, you have some work to do.
Link to report request page: https://productgeniustechnology.com/fastener-industry-report/
SIGN UP TO RECEIVE FASTENER INDUSTRY REPORT
FASTENER INDUSTRY: The Digital Landscape 2021
Learn what drives ecommerce success for distributors and manufacturers in the Fastener Industry: The Digital Landscape 2021 report.
Download today to learn:
- The importance of marketing opportunities in creating demand for digital commerce
- How distributors and manufacturers are making digital investments that drive growth
- Find out how to measure your digital status compared to leading industrial distributors
- Necessary strategies to best serve your digital success
- Why customer experience builds todays loyal clients
- Where does your company rank?
Cris A. Young | Industrial eCommerce Specialist
PRODUCT GENIUS TECHNOLOGY
TS: First of all, thank you for your patience and kindness with taking the time to answer all these questions from some Traveling Salesman pestering you from the United States. In 2019, I finally got the opportunity to travel to Ireland and since then it has been of interest to me to interview an distributor based in Ireland.
I see from your website you have three locations located in Dublin, Belfast and in Glasgow in Scotland. And when I look at your site I see you distribute several specialty fastener lines. Of course, you also carry show a lot of standard products too. And you have been in business since 1967 so more than 50 years. That is outstanding. Tell us a little bit about Appian. Who owns the company? Share a little history.
Des: Appian Fasteners was founded over 50 years ago as the sole distributor in Ireland for Avdel UK, manufacturers of rivets and riveting tools. That was the only product sold for the first 15 years. It was originally owned by a private individual who sold it to an Irish PLC in the early 1980’s. The PLC was operating a number of very diverse sectors including manufacturing, oil distribution, shipping and even electronic chip manufacturing. In the mid 1990’s the board made the decision to sell off all the divisions and formally leave the stock exchange. The Managing director and finance director at the time approached me and collectively we put together a Management Buyout of the distribution division of the Group which included Appian, our sister company Jones Oil and a number of UK Oil Distribution businesses. This was completed in 1998.I know you are thinking what is the link between the Oil Distribution business and a fastener business and to be honest there is not much of a link. However the collective experience all three of us Directors has been a real asset for both business units.
Believe it or not I am with the company since 1985, when I joined as an internal sales administrator when the company was expanding the product portfolio. Since then we have grown and expanded and I was made CEO in 1995 and then Managing Director in 2001. Over the years we have had to cope with many changes in the market. In the 1990’s Ireland benefited from the growth of the IT sector and we have most of the global manufacturers with facilitates in Ireland. These included Motorola, Erickson, and large sub-contractors to Nokia. In 2001 that all changed, Ireland had become an expensive region for manufacturing, the country practically had full employment and large OEM’s started looking east to a cheaper alternative. In the space of a year we lost 40% of our customer base as these manufacturing sites closed and moved to Eastern Europe, and the Far East including China.
Some tough years followed, as we had to remodel the company, reducing the stock locations to one on the Island of Ireland whilst still offering the same level of service to customers.
We opened in Scotland in 2014 as we looked to expand into the UK and culturally we felt that the Scottish market was very similar to Ireland and the Celtic connection is one that has helped along the road.
TS: Excellent. Thanks for sharing the company history. Let’s bring things up to date and tell me a bit now about the company as it operates today. What markets and industries do you serve?
Des: We service the following sectors, General Contract manufacturers, Distribution, HVAC, Truck/ specialty vehicles, Electronics, Industrial machinery, Power Generation and Plastic Molding to name a few.
TS: Are you looked at more of as a specialty fastener house or a traditional nut and bolt house?
Des: We very much see ourselves as a Technical Distributor aligned with global partners to service the market. Our partners include POP/ Avdel, Southco, Pem and Dirak where we offer the full technical support to our customers which includes engineering support and advice from our technical sales team. We also have a fully kitted Tool repair center in Belfast for all the Pop/ Avdel tooling where we sell and repair all tooling in house.
TS: I often wonder if the same suppliers in the U.S. are suppliers to the European market or more specifically to you markets in Ireland and Scotland. For instance, where does a “typical” fastener distributor in Ireland go for the commodity standards?
Des: We would generally use larger UK importers for the standards and if the volume allows source directly from various manufacturers in the Far East. Following on from Brexit we are sourcing more items from Europe as there are increased customs requirements with goods moving through the UK.
TS: Is there a lot of fastener manufacturing done in Ireland?
Des: There is very little fastener manufacturing in Ireland other than some specialty manufacturers.
TS: I want to ask some questions about how doing business in Ireland or Scotland differs from how we do business in the states. However, that might be a difficult question because you may or may not know how business is done by typical fastener distributors in the states is done. So first, let me ask this, do you do any business with customers located in the U.S.?
Des: We supply some branded product to the USA on an ad hoc basis where someone in the US is looking to source branded product and we happen to have stock available to sell through our website.
TS: Do you run Vendor Managed Inventory programs for you customers?
Des: Yes we run a number of vendor managed inventory programs.
TS: How important is it for a fastener distributor in Ireland to be ISO Certified? Are there other certifications that your customers require of you?
Des: ISO certification is key to the success of any fastener business in Ireland and the UK. To be honest it is a requirement, as not having this certification would result in removal from a vendor listing. We have no other certification.
TS: In the states, right now it is difficult to find qualified people to fill positions. This is especially true for skilled machine operators and this is a real challenge for U.S. based manufacturers as well as distributors. How is your labor market?
Des: We have similar issues here in distribution getting qualified people to fill roles in our organization. Although I believe post covid there will be a bigger pool of talent available.
TS: What are your biggest challenges in 2021? Like us, you too must be recovering from challenges posed by the Covid virus. How has that changed the way you do business?
Des: We in Ireland are behind the curve compared to the US on our recovery from the covid crisis, We are only this week seeing some reduction in very tough restrictions. Everyone has to work from home where possible, all hospitality has been closed since December with no date for return as yet. All our office team work from home, our warehouse team work in small group’s under strict guidelines to try and keep everyone safe. I think the future will be a hybrid of office and home working.
TS: If I wanted to sell product to a distributor based in Ireland, what would be my biggest opportunities and what would be my biggest obstacles?
Des: The market in Ireland is quite small so the challenge would be managing expectations. There are no real obstacles as Ireland is a true open economy trading with the world.
TS: How important are fastener trade associations in Ireland and in Europe?
Des: I think it is very beneficial for us to part of BIAF, since we joined it has allowed us to have a voice at the political table here at home and in Europe.
TS: Your locations are in Ireland and Scotland, but not in England. Is that a separate marketplace or could that be an area of expansion for your company?
Des: The Scotland facility was opened with a view to expansion into the UK and we plan expansion into England in the near future.
TS: Do a lot of fastener companies in Europe also set up operations in Ireland, Scotland or England?
Des: Some have but others sell directly into our markets without supporting the local distribution sector. It is key for the survival of companies like ours to have a broad stock portfolio and continuously adding new lines which has become our unique selling point.
TS: How do you see Brexit affecting your business in the coming years?
Des: In my humble opinion, Brexit is a disaster for both the UK and the European Union. It makes no sense to me to leave one of the biggest trading blocks in the world and start negotiating new trade deals with other trading blocks. However, it is done now, so we have to get on with the consequences. I believe it will have an impact on the UK economy for the next 10 years.
TS: What trade shows do you attend?
Des: We attend the annual Hardware Fair in Cologne and the Stuggart Fastener Fair, both in Germany. We also exhibit every year at the Manufacturing Ireland Exhibition in early spring.
Note from TS:
I have a regular column in Fastener Technology International (FTI) magazine, called 10 Minutes with the Traveling Salesman, which can be read online at www.fastenertech.com. Subscriptions to FTI, print and digital editions, are free-of-charge for fastener manufacturers, distributors and users as well as suppliers to the industry.”
TS: OK, I have got a lot of ground I’d like to cover with this interview, but let’s get you properly introduced to our readers before we get going. You are Joe Kochan from the Elgin Fastener Group. What is your exact title at Elgin?
Joe: I am the Vice President/General Manager
TS: Now, what do you really do at Elgin?
Joe: I am directly responsible for the operations, customer service, and inside sales of the company. As a key leader in the company I work with the rest of the Leadership Team, comprised of Brian Nadel, CEO, Dan Lawrence, CFO, Jason Swatek, VP of Supply Chain, and Joe Shoemaker, VP of Business Development to set the strategic direction and how we will deploy or achieve that strategy on an annual basis. It’s a great position to be in because I get to work directly with people like the CEO and also with the customers as well as the people making the product in the facilities.
TS: And before working with Elgin you did have some history in the fastener industry, correct?
Joe: I had the opportunity of working as a consultant then as an employee of Maclean Fogg for a couple years focused in Supply Chain. It was a great introduction to the fastener industry through a company that now has close to 100 years in the business. I have been able to take the many experiences I collected there and carry them forward to EFG. I’ll always look back at my fastener introduction, the experience, and the people there quite fondly.
TS: In addition to working in the fastener industry what have been some of your other work experiences?
Joe: Many people do not know that I actually started my career on the shop floor as a third shift press operator quickly shifting to welding at a Dana, Inc facility in Alabama. My first two professional milestones were achieved there. First by getting my blue shirt meaning I was hired as an employee. I started as a Temp. And then moving into the office (into accounting).
I’ve had opportunities of being in leadership roles such as Plant Manager, Director of Supply Chain, Director of Operations, General Manager, and VP of Global Operations. I’ve built, shipped, or sold various products in automotive, heavy truck, general industrial, and even technology/IoT.
While there is an experience or two I’ve left out, I can truly say I have done some pretty cool things and met many amazing people.
TS: Great, that is a well rounded background. So, let’s jump into the discussion about Elgin Fastener. We can start with the easy stuff – there are several different business units, what does each one do?
Joe: There’s no short answer but I’ll at least try to be concise. Here are the facilities:
The Elgin Fastener Group is made up of 8 facilities and 9 brands:
- Telefast in Berea, OH manufacturing internally threaded fasteners sizes from M6 up to M22
- Quality Bolt in Brecksville, OH manufacturing larger diameter and lengths pins and externally threaded product ranging from M10 to M27
- Ohio Rod in Versailles, IN producing longer externally threaded fasteners and threaded rod as long as 86 inches
- Best Metals in Osgood, IN. Best Metals is one of our best kept secrets not only providing Ohio Rod with plating serves but also a few strategic commercial partners as well.
- Leland Powell in Martin, TN manufacturing high volumes of rivets and externally threaded product ranging from M3.5 to 12mm.
- Holbrook in Wheeling, IL supporting customers with a full range of fastener related product with manufacturing capability from M2 to 12mm licensed externally threaded products.
- Rockford Fastener in Rockford, IL, acquired early 2020, capable of producing a full range of rivets, studs, and externally threaded fasteners in M3 to 12mm sizes.
- Northern Wire in Merrill, WI is EFG’s wire form operation able to produce product from .125 to .750 “ in diameter and ½ “ to 12’ long.
TS: Several of your plants are based in the Cleveland area so I also know that you shut down a plant last year, the Euclid plant. That could not have been an easy decision. What was behind that decision?
Joe: It’s never an easy decision to disperse a facility’s capabilities, assets, and products to other parts of a company. The most difficult part of those decisions is appreciating the impact to the people that started, grew, and were a part of that business. Fortunately, EFG had the ability to give people plenty of time to decide if they wanted to take advantage of moving to another facility or make a different decision regarding their future. We will always be grateful to those people.
Regarding the business decision, again it was not easy. Chandler Products has a lengthy and successful history in the marketplace that we wanted to preserve while becoming more effective in serving our customers and partners. When we looked at our footprint, capabilities, and ability to leverage talent it was apparent we could move the Chandler product line from Euclid, OH to Quality Bolt and Rockford Fastener. In doing so were able to keep the Chandler products alive, running, and growing while improving our effectiveness in customer service exiting the Euclid, OH facility.
TS: Just one final little observation – when you talk about the different companies. Northern Wire and the wire forms offerings kind of stand out from the others as they are not threaded and do not fall into the “commodity product” category. Tell me a bit more about Northern Wire.
Joe: Over the course of my past lives I have come to enjoy a quick tag question when I talk to people, “Wanna by a whatever?” At EFG Northern Wire has become the product I often use. So TS, “Wanna buy a wire form?”
When I do ask that question the usual follow-up is, “What is a wire form?” Then I get to describe it and people usually quickly understand. One thing to clarify though. Many of our wire forms are actually threaded. Didn’t know that eh? But yes it’s true.
While wire forms might not be thought of or included in the fastener commodity it is quite complementary to what we do and sell as EFG. If you think about it, and the fact that they are often threaded or have a pierced hole, fasteners are used to secure it in place.
Northern Wire is a really cool product line with mostly unique processes as compared to the rest of EFG. Even the threading process done on a CNC machining center (not cut but rolled). They are operating 10 to 600 ton presses (similar to what I ran early in my career), CNC wire benders (similar to the CNC tube benders in the first facility I managed), and many other processes. We are largely a JIT supplier for most of the customers we serve largely focused, for now, on the Lawn and Garden market.
Like many industries and facilities they are impacted by today’s common outside forces that most are. But they are overcoming these challenges quite well and remain an important and growing part of our growth plan. When we think about the EFG Advantage and selling multiple products to a customer, Northern Wire expands that opportunity.
By the way, “Did you want to buy a wire form TS?”
TS: Not at this moment but something might come across my desk later today. But you’re in my head now.
I have been in the fastener industry nearly 35 years and seen a lot of changes. Over the years there have been a lot of companies that have come and gone and many that have changed due to mergers and acquisitions. This is true both on the distributor side and on the supplier side of the business. Elgin is owned by private equity. How do you retain the history and brand recognition as you merge companies together?
Joe: This is a great question. As you know, EFG is comprised of companies that were either family or privately owned and yes each with a distinct culture. When companies are put together like EFG has been, there are decisions to be made around identify. “Do acquired companies get rolled into the acquirer without regards to its history?” “Are companies left alone to operate independently as though nothing changed?” etc, etc.
At EFG we have decided it is important for each facility or brand to both maintain their identity as well as feel they have an advantage of being part of a larger company. You will notice on our website and in our marketing information that each brand starts with the name of that brand with EFG beneath or following it rather that EFG leading.
Each business that has been brought into EFG was acquired for a purpose and with the knowledge they were bringing a certain value to the company we didn’t have. I can tell you after being part of this great company for almost two years it is not easy. The two things we will continue to remind ourselves to do as we continue our growth are do not lose site of why a business was acquired and when you think you are listening to your people and partners – listen more.
TS: What are the benefits of private equity and what are the challenges?
Joe: I have enjoyed working throughout my career in US and global public companies, family owned, and private equity sponsored companies. While I would say each structure does have various and ‘predictable’ nuances each is really about the people you work with and the culture you work in. Audax has been a tremendously supportive partner and sponsor to EFG. Our continued success and growth is a clear reflection of their buy and build approach.
So back to your question, benefits and challenges. I would say the primary benefit is having a strong, clear, and transparent partnership and access to people that are there to support the business whether in guidance or investing in growth and the future. When it comes to challenges other than day to day things that any business experiences the benefit I gave is a very high hurdle for any challenge to overcome. I truly believe that …
TS: Elgin is very active on social media. The “Elgin Advantage™” in often mentioned in promotional material. What is the “Elgin Advantage™ “?
Joe: Over the last couple years, we have come to appreciate the work our VP of Marketing, Joe Shoemaker (Shoe), has done on social media more and more. I’m not sure how he comes up with his ideas but it is definitely fun to be a part of and to wait and watch for his, at least, daily posts. You never know, I was our first, he is looking for the next bobble head now … TS??? Haha!
When it comes to the EFG Advantage there is a lot to those two words. When I first joined EFG our structure comprised of two divisions, Rod, Nut, and Bolt with four facilities/brands and Wire and Screw with three facilities/brands. Within those two divisions each facility or brand served their customers differently. This is what people would typically refer to as a House of Brands. While there is nothing wrong with that approach, we started asking ourselves questions like “Does this disconnection allow us to serve our customers the way they deserve?” and, well TS, we are here to grow so the next one was “Are we leveraging and selling our products and capabilities across all EFG customers?” When our internal answers to these questions were ‘no’ we searched for and received the same response through the voice of the customer.
We listened and learned and that propelled us to begin the transition from a being a House of Brands to a Branded House. The ‘idea’ of naming it the Elgin Advantage™ came from Joe Shoe. While we could take a whole 10 Minute Interview to focus on this it can really be boiled down to three key themes of Service, Selection and Success. We have a unique collection of capabilities for our customers and employees, so we needed to condense these into something easily digestible when communicated internally and to our markets. This led us to three key concepts.
The first is ‘Selection’. To our customers, we offer the largest selection of specialty fasteners, licensed fasteners, and wire forms from a single source. To our employees, our scale provides opportunities for relocation and advancement. There have been examples of team members advancing in roles or even taking on new roles within the company or at a different facility.
Next is ‘Service’. We serve our customers with high quality products, which is foundational for us. Our Blended Sourcing capabilities provides a low-cost solution for high volume runners while backing up demand spikes with local manufacturing, quality control and support. Internally, we serve our teams through employee development programs and making investments in our facilities, processes, and tools for growth.
Finally, there’s ‘Success’. As our customers enjoy success resulting from our partnership, we will grow though customer loyalty, satisfaction, and increased brand penetration. Internally, we will be successful by developing talent and being viewed as an employer of choice.
With the three key concepts in place, we just needed a ‘call to action’ which resulted in the tag line you have seen in our advertising and it has served us well.
TS: I agree and I admire how active Elgin is involved in social media including LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram and probably others I do not see as often. Have you seen positive, measurable results from that activity?
Joe: We definitely have. I spoke about Joe Shoe earlier and the super cool stuff he is doing.
From a measurable point, our marketing exposure has significantly increased. Whether it is LinkedIn followers, connections, likes, shares, etc. all are extremely favorable. The number of qualified leads, where people have followed us through to the website for quotes and requests, have increased in the hundreds of percent improvement. Just recently we hit 4,500 followers on LinkedIn!
Social media is going to continue playing an important and growing part in sharing with our people, our customers, and the industry what the Elgin Advantage can do for them.
TS: Combining companies together is not always easy or without some setbacks. Yet Elgin seems to have maintained and grown its business. To what do you attribute the growth you have experienced?
Joe: Without hesitancy or a doubt, it is the people of EFG. Without them there is no Elgin Advantage. EFG has grown by acquisition and organic sales because our people care about each other and serving the customer. When people started their careers I’m pretty sure it wasn’t because they grew up wanting to make nuts or bolts. It was first to take care of themselves, then their families, and then, of course, their team members and customers. We grow through their dedication, caring and desire to build and sell the best product out there.
Now, from a product and capability perspective, we offer the most complete fastener portfolio in the industry. Whether bolts, screws, studs, rod, rivets, nuts, wire forms, and everything in between we offer it. Do we have challenges, sure we do and we don’t avoid acknowledging them. Combining companies and cultures while enjoying significant growth is not a simple task. That said and getting back to the people, we have extremely strong people that care about what they do and understand the need for transparency and the need to be head over heels in serving the customer.
As we focus and improve our ability to serve the industry through the Elgin Advantage, offering our products and solutions as a whole rather than individually, our growth will continue to accelerate.
TS: Now that you have a few years under your belt at Elgin, along with your previous fastener experience, what do you find unique about the fastener industry that distinguishes it from other industries you have been involved in?
Joe: That’s a great question.
I don’t think people walking down the fastener aisle at their local hardware store really understand the amount of engineering and quality control it takes to make that ‘simple’ wood screw. Then you take a complex fastener for a more difficult application like automotive, aerospace, or construction and it’s a level or three greater in engineering. And with so many products and types of fasteners it boggles my mind at times.
From a manufacturing perspective there are so many methods that can be required to produce a fastener. Cold heading, warm heading, hot forging, machining, stamping, countless secondary operations, the list goes on all while making thousands, hundreds of thousands, or millions of the same repeatable part. All this requires highly skilled people across the entire business from the plant floor to the engineering and quality department and the sales desk.
It is also a very close knit community where most people either know each other or know of each other. So many of the fastener houses in the US were started as small scale facilities and grew over time with a competitive but close comradery I have not seen in other industries.
This industry safely ‘fastens’ the world together and it’s fun to be a part of it.
TS: EFG is made up of several domestic manufacturing companies and there are certain challenges that are always faced by domestic manufacturers including hiring skilled machinists, material fluctuations, and then there has been all the Covid related issues. It is 2021 and business seems to be heating up – what extra challenges do you see this year?
JOE: 2021 is going to continue to be a strong and exciting year for EFG.
That said, the challenges you mentioned are probably among the top ones we are all working with. I would also add the state of the global supply chain, logistics, and what is cropping up more and more raw material availability. The days have long passed where I am the youngest person in the room, so I’ve seen a challenge or two over the course of my career. That said, we are living and working in times never seen before.
With the market and business heating up and growing, these challenges lead to the biggest concern of all and that is customer service. Our businesses come in every day ready to serve our customers. While doing that our teams find themselves making difficult decisions ensuring we have our priorities right. With the growing product demand coupled with constrained resources and supply chain we are going to be ‘moving mountains’ as I say for some while understanding we will disappoint others. I wish that wasn’t the case but it is for now. EFG is more focused than ever before on growing and expanding our priorities. I see the progress our facilities and teams are making and look forward to very soon not having to make these difficult choices.
TS: Is Elgin always on the hunt for additional acquisitions?
Joe: As you know, EFG was put together through several acquisitions, even as recent as last year’s acquisition of Rockford Fastener. There are many great companies that would bring strong products and processes that would be complimentary to our company and current product lines we serve the market with. The sponsorship and partnership we have with Audax is very strong and it is wonderful to have the support we do from them. So yes, that is going to continue to be part of our growth strategy.
While we do have a couple acquisition ideas, as I will call them for now, at this point our focus is working our way through the current market and improving our ability to serve it. As I mentioned earlier, I am excited for what our people are doing and the improvements we are seeing. With those continued improvements I wouldn’t be surprised either way to see, or not, an acquisition this year.
Note from TS:
I have a regular column in Fastener Technology International (FTI) magazine, called 10 Minutes with the Traveling Salesman, which can be read online at www.fastenertech.com. Subscriptions to FTI, print and digital editions, are free-of-charge for fastener manufacturers, distributors and users as well as suppliers to the industry.”
SAVE THE DATE!! NCFA DISTRIBUTOR SOCIAL JULY 8, 2021 Holiday Inn – Strongsville, OH This last year has brought uncertainty for so many!!! With the future finally taking a positive turn in the Covid battle, we are looking forward to bringing back some of our events. We have missed all of our valued members and industry friends, and appreciate your continued support!! Our first event to kick off this unusual year, will be our Distributor Social. There are some key differ-ences to note regarding this event. We typically hold this event mid May, but we just weren’t confi-dent hosting quite so soon, which is why we pushed it out until July 8th. In addition, the other major change is the location. We will be hosting this year’s event at the Holiday Inn in Strongsville, OH. This will work out well, as Solution Industries has also offered to host a tour and lunch earlier in the day for Distributor Social attendees, which is in close proximity to the new venue. It’s hard to imagine with this being our 12th year hosting this event that it needs any explanation at all, but just in case, here it goes. We imagined being able to recreate a networking event similar to what was once held at the Hyatt Hotel after the old Columbus Fastener Show many, many years ago. It turned out, it was exactly what our industry was missing and wanted. We recognized from the start it was important to keep it simple, so the focus for attendees could be on the social and net-working aspect. There are no booths to drag in and set-up and you are not stuck “working” behind a table top all evening. The Distributor Social is exactly what it is…..a networking event with many top distributors and suppliers in our industry all gathered in one room. You are free to roam the entire evening talking to customers, potential customers, vendors, and industry friends. The NCFA knows very well that this event would not be possible without the sponsorship and support from our SUPPLIER COMPANIES. This allows DISTRIBUTORS TO ATTEND FOR FREE. We thank you suppliers for your continued support year after year to make this event a continued success! This event is OPEN TO ALL OF OUR INDUSTRY FRIENDS, NON-MEMBERS INCLUDED! We feel so strongly about the networking benefits you can get out of this event, we did not want to limit to our membership alone. To show our thanks to our loyal supplier members, they do receive a dis-counted price for sponsoring this event. We are hopeful if you are not a member of the NCFA, once you attend this event or one of our many networking events, you will see why so many others have joined and have been with us for so many years. If you are interested in joining the NCFA, please contact the NCFA Office or visit our website www.ncfaonline.com and click on the “Join NCFA” tab. Looking forward to starting off the new year, albeit a little bit later than we had hoped, some normalcy will be nice. For more information regarding the NCFA, please contact the NCFA Office at 440/975-9503, Lgraham@ncfaonline.com or www.ncfaonline.com.
TS: Over the past couple years I have interviewed several distributors, importers and manufacturers. But, I think this is my first interview with someone that supplies the tooling to those companies that are producing the parts. You are kind of the “behind the scenes” supplier but without companies like yours the fastener manufacturers would not be able to produce the parts we all need and expedite impatiently. And you have been doing this now for quite a long time.
How long has Ford Tool and Machining been in business?
Thom: Over 50 years! Since 1969
TS: What type of tooling does Ford Tool supply to the fastener Industry?
Thom: We produce all of the tooling and many of the parts that are used on any cold header or parts formers, including die assemblies, punches, die and punch cases, inserts, knock out pins, extrusion pins. We are also a TORX® and Taptite® licensed tool supplier.
TS: What is the biggest challenge now in supplying your particular product to your customers?
Thom: Our biggest challenge has been similar to everyone in business right now and that has been adapting to operating during the COVID-19 Pandemic.
Specifically, this has meant following CDC and local health department COVID-19 guidelines and developing internal protocols and practices to ensure the safe operation of our manufacturing facilities in a manner that protects our employees.
We have also had to develop contingency plans to make sure that there are not any supply disruptions to our customers. This is particularly important in the automotive industry because of the potential for shutdowns on component or final assembly production lines.
To date, we have been successful in keeping our working environment safe for our employees and we are encouraged by the rollout of a vaccine that will help bring the end of this pandemic.
TS: So, you supply tooling to many of the domestic manufacturers of fasteners, correct? Who are some of your clients?
Thom: Yes, we do supply tooling and machine parts to many domestic and foreign manufacturers.
Some of our customers include Acument Global Technologies/Fontana Gruppo, Stanley Engineered Fasteners, ITW Global Automotive and ITW Shakeproof Industrial Solutions, Agrati World Fasteners, Vico Products, Nucor Fastener, Elgin Fastener Group, MNP Corporation, Semblex Corporation, and Bulten North America.
TS : How is business trending for you as you look ahead to 2021?
Thom: 2020 was extremely challenging! Especially in the beginning of the pandemic when many of our customers and all the automakers were shutdown. We have since seen a nice rebound and have experienced a significant increase in business in the fourth quarter of 2020. Barring any COVID-19 pandemic related shutdowns, we expect business to slowly increase every month in 2021 and we are hoping that the economy makes a full recovery by the end of this year.
TS: How is what you do a market indicator for what is happening in the fastener marketplace?
Thom: Typically, the business activity that Ford Tool and Machining experiences would be a leading market indicator of the fastener marketplace. This is because our customers need to purchase tooling before they can manufacture fasteners and create inventory in the supply chain.
TS: Have there been any innovations in fastener tooling that the average fastener person would not know about?
Thom: Yes, there have been many innovations that I would like to share, and I would like to highlight some of the major changes in how tooling is manufactured that benefits our customers.
There have significant advances in CNC Equipment and Robotic Automation that we utilize to produce tooling for our customers, and we have made large capital investments to take advantage of these technical advances and increase our capabilities in these areas.
For example, we have installed a CNC EDM and CNC Machining Cell with robotic parts handling automation that both enables us to increase productivity and hold tighter tolerances on the tooling that we produce. This means the parts that we produce will be of higher quality and our customers will experience better dimensional repeatability and better tool life.
We made this decision because we found that we had many bottlenecks in the die production area where we produce our Taptite® die product line, our Torx® die product line, and other special dies. We assembled a team and devoted a year to identify and test potential solutions to solve this problem. After we finished evaluating tooling quality and repeatability, part finish, and cycles times of various CNC machine tools, we ultimately decided on a clean sheet approach and invested in a production cell that had the best of breed CNC machines that exceeded our requirements. We also utilize a CAD/CAM system to program the cell and save each part program to ensure that repeat orders will be produced with the same CNC program and customer specifications. Although we have experienced tool makers program and run the machines, utilizing Computed Aided Manufacturing and saving the original program enables to take much of the art out of the toolmaking process and use science to repeat the process on every time a tool is made in the future for product consistency. It also reduces set-up time.
Since successfully implementing this cell, we decided to add more cells with similar CNC and Automation Capabilities in other tooling product lines such as a robotically loaded 5-axis machining center.
TS: Do tooling companies need to have certifications like the manufacturers and distributors? Do you have to be ISO Certified or AS certified for certain manufacturers to be able to use your tooling?
Thom: Many of our customers required tooling manufacturers to be ISO Certified. Ford Tool is ISO 9001:2015 Certified and we obtained our initial certification in 1993.
TS: Where can our readers learn more about Ford Tool and Machining and its tooling capabilities?
Note from TS:
TS: First of all, congratulations on recently being inducted into the National Fastener Hall of Fame. I know there are multiple reasons why you were considered and ultimately elected into the HOF. But, I’m going to shoot straight with you coming out of the gate. My first thoughts when I hear the name John Wachman are Fastener Training Institute and cowboy hat. And, while you look dapper in that Stetson you wear, I’m not thinking that got you in the HOF – but I’m not sure.
John: Thanks for the invite to visit with you for “10 Minutes”. My induction into the HOF was surely a surprise to me. The great thing about the fastener business is that is gives everyone the opportunity to succeed. Show up every day, work hard, work smart, learn from your mistakes and anything is possible. Dapper would be installing blind rivets in a “Blue Bird” bus in Georgia in the summertime in a three piece suit. That’s where my first fastener job started as technical services manager for Gesipa.
TS: So, let’s circle back, start from the beginning and make our way through this. First of all, how long have you been in the fastener industry? Tell us a little bit about your start in the industry and the landmarks along the way.
John: Gesipa got me hooked on the fastener biz 45 years ago! The sights, sounds and smells of a factory floor where products are made and where real prosperity is created by real people are mesmerizing. Fasteners are used by all types of manufacturing companies. Gesipa was actually engaged in valued-added selling long before the term was used. To add value you must visit a prospect or customer and learn every aspect of their operations and find a way to solve their problems. These site visits were always my best days. I’ve had the privilege to see how cars, planes, boats, tractors, horse trailers and much more are made. I’m proud to think I’ve made contributions to the productivity of these companies and the quality and reliability of their products. My journey has included stints with fastener manufacturers, importers, master resellers and distributors. The other brands I rode for (that’s cowboy talk for companies I worked for) included Gunnebo, Bulten, Cherry/ Textron and Copper State Bolt & Nut. Then there are the fastener people I’ve worked with along the way. I’ll mention a few with apologies for leaving out too many. Dick Mayoh, Leo & Don Coar, Mike McGuire, Bob Lehman, Win Adams, Martin Calfee, Jamie Lawrence, Gene Simpson, Russ Doran and Andy Cohn all helped guide me along the way.
In 1989 Martin Calfee took a chance to move us to Arizona to manage a VMI project I had created at Cherry/Textron to service a major automotive air bag manufacturer. We delivered engineered blind rivets and custom installation tooling to support their factories that ran 24/7 year round to meet growing government mandates for airbags on cars. As the automation became more complex and our supply contract expanded we pioneered what became known as “zero-defect” fasteners supported by Cherry, Semblex and Atlas Engineering(a then private company owned by Paul Perry). One bad part was cause for a reject of the complete lot. The VMI program continued to grow through the 1990s. At that time this may have been the highest volume single source VMI program in the country. This JIT program lasted over 10 years and was very, very profitable for us. I will be forever grateful to Martin for the move and the Calfee family for the great 10 year run.
TS: So that brings us up to what you are doing today. I think I have only interviewed one other manufacturers rep so far and that was Rick Rudolph. What more can you share with us about being a manufacturers rep in 2021 – good and bad.
John: I started my rep agency in the spring of 2001. I was at an Unbrako sales meeting in Detroit that fall when the attack of 9/11 occurred. The world stopped for quite a while but I needed to grow my fledging business. I was one of a very few people flying or traveling for quite a while. It was very strange but in retrospect somewhat similar to today’s COVID19. The first three years were awful and expensive, the next two were plain bad but we turned the corner in year 5.
Our business model is straight forward. We represent a very small number of lines and provide great service. Some reps say they sell to distributors. We sell through distributors. The difference means it’s not sold until it is delivered to their end user customer and they are totally satisfied. Our job is to help grow both our principals and the distributors business. This is done through product training and joint sales calls. We proudly represent: AVK Industrial Products, Stelfast, Lindstrom, Elgin Fasteners Group, Goebel, Handles Unlimited, GF&D Systems and BTM Manufacturing
The rep business is raw capitalism. Straight commission; so sell or die! No credit for activity or hard work but just for results. Pay for all your expenses: travel, entertainment, health care and hopefully end up in the black at month’s end. A rep has two masters, the principal that supplies the products and hopefully pays the commissions earned and the customer that buys the products. The trick is to make sure their aspirations and outcomes are aligned. If either is not happy then your life can be hell. Our entire supply chain is under extreme pressure to reduce cost. This is not new but getting worse. This is both bad and good news for the independent rep. The bad news is a principal might be tempted to eliminate the rep for cost savings….short sighted thinking. The good news is independent reps are very cost effective for the principal. Cost effective because most reps are experienced, seasoned professionals who can add value without the high fixed cost of a direct sales force.
TS: And tell us some more about the Desert Distribution team.
John: After a successful 23 year run at Duncan Bolt, Beth VanZandt joined us in 2012. She is obviously a seasoned fastener professional and loved by her customers and our principals. When Beth joined our territory was CA, AZ, NV and NM. In 2014 I convinced Jo Morris to come aboard. Jo worked with me at Copper State Bolt & Nut but agreed I still needed help. Jo is the consummate professional with extraordinary people skills. This addition allowed us to expand our reach to include CO and UT. My bride Monica, we call her Mo, runs the office and handles the business side so we can spend our time with customers. Life is a circle as Monica was the office manager for my rep firm in Michigan when I was with Gesipa. We’re just 20 years in and still looking to grow so if your need a rep agency for engineered fasteners and components covering the Southwest and Rocky Mountains, please let us know.
TS: The Fastener Training Institute, to me, is a crown jewel of our fastener industry. The training that is offered by FTI is unrivaled and our entire industry is stronger and better served by having this sort of training available. I know there is story here so walk us through it. How did the FTI begin and end up where we are today?
John: FTI’s roots were in the Los Angeles Fastener Association, LAFA. Their distributor members agreed that collectively they could better train their employees with product knowledge. The class offering grew over the years. As a LAFA BOD member, Vickie Lester, Executive Manager, asked me to chair their training committee. Thanks Vickie! I said sure, how much time could that take? When LAFA merged with WAFD the training activities were really starting to grow. The new BOD agreed to launch FTI as a stand-alone registered 501c6 nonprofit. FTI assembled a new BOD consisting of fastener industry professionals with me serving as its first President. I now serve as Managing Director with Desert Distribution managing FTI under contract to the BOD. Beth, Jo and I help produce and manage the ever-growing list of live and web-based classes. The FTI OnLine Learning Library includes over 40 unique classes.
The Industrial Fasteners Institute, IFI, has long been a strong supporter of FTI and our goal and vision. Joe Greenslade and Rob Harris had looked for a partner to expand their reach. Their initial nurturing support is now continued by Dan Walker, IFI Managing Director; Salim Brahimi, Director of Engineering Technology and Laurence Claus, Director of Education & Training.
A review of the history of our training initiatives would not be complete without acknowledging the early and ongoing contributions of Carmen Vertullo, Founder of AIM Testing Laboratory. Carmen worked with us and Joe Greenslade on the early development of our “Certified Fastener Specialist, CFS” program and the follow-on “Fastener Training Week”.
TS: I know you depend upon industry support to keep the FTI growing and thriving. What can people do to support the FTI?
John: 2019 was a break-out year for FTI and momentum was growing entering 2020. Then…… COVID19 caused us to shut down all live in-person training. We were in a tough spot financially. We scrambled to increase our web-based training and begged for sponsorships. We survived but 2021 will still be a challenge. We’re fighting to resume our full schedule.
Our goal at the outset was to become the primary training platform for the fastener business: to serve the entire supply chain including fastener manufacturers, distributors and end users with high content, affordable product training. FTI needs our community stakeholders to support us through sponsorship, in-person and web-based class attendance and guidance.
TS: You are so intimately connected to the FTI – tell us what we can expect in coming years from the FTI.
John: Our plans are to continue to grow class offerings. We’re launching a major refresh of our Fastener Training Week class later this year and offering 4 sessions in Houston, Cleveland, Chicago and Los Angeles.
TS: OK, now to the hat. I know you live in Arizona and the sun is a factor. But, you could have gone with a baseball cap or a fishing hat or any number of other hats. But the Stetson suits you well and it has become kind of a John Wachman trademark. Let’s talk some hat.
John: When we moved to Scottsdale in 1989, Mo wanted to take horseback riding lessons. I said sure, how much time could that take? Well, a lesson, one horse bought, then another, a couple of saddles, a truck, a trailer, a house with a barn and (wait for it) cowboy hats! I became quite comfortable wearing them but it took a while to look in a mirror and not laugh. Somewhere along the way I wore a hat to a fastener industry event. Wow, did I get attention! Vickie Lester suggested it could become my brand. Thanks again Vickie!
TS: I agree with Vickie, the hat suits you. Thanks for taking the time to do this interview and, Happy Trails!
Note from TS:
TS: Let’s take a minute to clear up some confusion I have with your company. I need to clarify if I am talking to Jake from ISSCO or Jake from BTM. Tell me about both companies and what they do.
Jake: Depending on your question, the answer would come from either Jake or possibly both. Does that help clear up your confusion? ISSCO is a wholesale fastener distributor servicing accounts throughout Missouri, Kansas, Iowa and Nebraska. BTM Manufacturing is a domestic manufacturer of threaded and bent wire products, with a focus on per prints items for original equipment manufacturers, industrial suppliers and distribution.
TS: I believe these are family businesses, correct? Tell us a little about the history of the companies.
Jake: Yes, my parents started ISSCO out of the basement of our Independence, MO home in 1974. ISSCO has been located in Lee’s Summit, MO since 1986. My father, Joe L. Davis Jr., just recently made the decision to scale back his daily involvement, which means he easily spent over 60 years in the fastener industry. He even met his wife (My Mom) at Kansas City Nut & Bolt! BTM, which stands for Belton Tool & Machine, was started back in the early 1960’s and purchased by ISSCO in 2013. BTM has been an array of different companies (Machine Shop, Fastener Distributor, and Manufacturer) until finally settling as a manufacturer of threaded and bent wire parts. BTM is still located on a retired air base in south Kansas City and shockingly has an abandoned “war” room within our warehouse, complete with maps. It is a bit eerie and really cool at the same time.
TS: You have become involved with a number of fastener associations in the last couple years. Which groups are you involved with now and talk a little about the value you see by being involved with these groups.
Jake: At the moment, I am the Chairman of the Southwestern Fastener Association and was recently voted in as Secretary of the Mid-West Fastener Association. In my attempt to introduce BTM to more of the industry, I thought it made perfect sense to join as many of the fastener associations throughout the country, without spreading myself too thin. Ultimately, I believe the value of each association is the relationships that you are able to form and how you choose to foster those relationships. Keep in mind, you have to be an active participant or you will be hard pressed to find any value in the associations. I met others that were serving and it sounded fun and interesting. This pushed me to want to participate on a more professional level, plus I feel like it goes hand in hand with being in distribution and manufacturing.
TS: You are a distributor and a manufacturer. First on the manufacturing end – what challenges are in store for us in 2021? Material, labor shortage, keeping your workplace healthy. Let’s touch on all those.
Jake: D – All of the above! I am optimistic that things will continue to pick-up for our industry in 2021; however, we are being presented with some challenges right out of the gate based on the current logistics and port situation. BTM has already started receiving price increases in regards to material and plating as we start this New Year. We are constantly looking for employees that we feel will be committed to our culture of service and quality. In my opinion, our country has a major problem on our hands in regards to the widening skills gap when it comes to manufacturing and I would love for our industry to play a role in highlighting just how important these manufacturing jobs are to the longevity and success of all our companies.
TS: This is kind of a strange question Jake, but those are the ones I like asking best. You and I did not know each other until just maybe the last five years. In that short amount of time your name has popped up everywhere. You have done a remarkable job of putting BTM and ISSCO on the fastener industry map. And, I don’t think this was just a fluke, I think you set out to do that? Am I correct in that observation?
Jake: Man I hope people haven’t gotten sick of me already!
I have certainly been intentional when it comes to introducing BTM to more people and the different regions throughout our great country. Before the purchase of BTM, my parents and I would travel to the annual fastener show. Although my Mom was really only interested once it moved to Las Vegas. I have always enjoyed meeting and talking with our suppliers. So, I was excited about the opportunity to be an exhibitor and be on that side of the aisle. It comes back to the relationship and regional association part of our industry. It would have been much tougher to connect without them holding conferences and shows. I feel like my network of fastener friends has grown and I truly believe that has benefited BTM, ISSCO, and me personally.
TS: Which is easier/harder – manufacturing or distribution?
Jake: They both have their challenges, that is for sure. Ultimately both require us to meet or exceed the expectations of our customer base. I feel like manufacturing has more of a set lead time due to the manufacturing process, whereas distribution is driven by having inventory and replacing it in a timely fashion. One of my goals, when we purchased BTM was to add a level of service to what we did on a daily basis. That’s not to say it was not already happening; however, I wanted to step up our game based on our experience of being a fastener distributor for 46 years. I like to say that BTM is a service minded manufacturer!
TS: What are a few things about Jake that we do not know that you’re willing to share?
Jake: TS, you know no one likes to talk about themselves! I am actually somewhat of a shy person until I get to know someone. Introducing BTM at different associations and shows has actually helped me break out of that a little bit. I love to reminisce, with my high school, college and industry friends. I have run 3 half marathons with the most recent one being in October 2019. During each race, I always questioned what in the hell I am doing! Also, I do enjoy donating platelets at the Community Blood Center and would encourage everyone to sign-up and donate if they are willing and able. Finally, one of my best friends was my Mom, and I was grateful to have worked with her until she passed away in July 2000. Let’s all try and make the most of the time that we have together!
TS: BTM coffee is now a trade show staple. How’d you come up with that and is there a special blend that you have?
Jake: I happened to be having a conversation with a friend who owned a small coffee shop in Kansas City. I was explaining the trade show opportunities coming up for BTM and my desire to find something completely different to promote our company. He suggested coffee, as he had been roasting it in small batches for his own shop. I was intrigued, so we scheduled a “coffee cupping”, which was basically a taste test. I had narrowed it down to a couple of choices, so we actually combined them to create our U-Bolt Blend coffee. It’s been a lot of fun and I truly appreciate the support of the industry and our friends over at Fully Threaded Radio. The most important part of our U-Bolt Blend coffee is the mission of our local roaster here in Kansas City, which you can find online at Eleos Coffee (www.eleoscoffee.com). It’s a great partnership and we are looking forward to getting back out there to share our coffee with everyone.