So my Fastener Pal, John Butler, called me out and asked it I was going to post a year end review. I was kind of content sitting still and watching from afar and trying to make heads or tails of this year but since John pushed me in this direction, here goes…
The numbers were there this year. By all accounts, it was a good year. So why do I feel so absolutely unsettled and unsure about the year that just passed. There is too much chaos for the stock market and too much uncertainty in the business world for the majority of us to feel too comfortable. I spoke to one importer at the Vegas Show who explained that it was difficult for him to direct his people on how to sell. He said, “In January, my inventory might be worth 25% more than it is today if the tariffs go through. Or, if tariffs go away, my inventory could be worth 10% less. How do you plan?” There was more to the discussion but that is the gist of it. How do you plan?
Many people take all this in stride very casually and know that there will be peaks and valleys and the stock market cannot go up forever and markets will run through their 4-6 year cycles and blah, blah, blah. But this is a bit different in my eyes as we have a president who is attempting to (from his point of view) make up for years and years of bad trade agreements and unfair business practices by other countries. You can like him, you can hate him, but that seems to be what he is trying to do – essentially on his own. He is making a lot of decisions on his own and asking the country to trust him. If he succeeds in renegotiating some great deal with the Chinese, he will certainly have the right to brag. If he is in over his head and is taking a far too simplistic approach to the world economy, he could be hurting an economy that has been going strong and looked like it would continue to do so for several years. Look…I never have want to talk politics on this site cause a lot of you are way left or way right, and I love you both. I’m just saying, we Americans are not currently on the same page. We are not even fighting together like we are on the same team. Right now I feel like we would rather be “RIGHT” than to be on the same team and that’s real hard for me to comprehend. So, that is the last of my political observations. Please do not respond to this with any divisive comments about the other side (whichever that is) cause I won’t approve them. Just letting you know. Go be peaceful.
And then there is the deficit. Ugh. But I said I wouldn’t go there.
OK, back to fasteners and how we navigated 2018 and how we will navigate 2019. One big event near the end of 2018 was the “merger” of Stelfast and Lindstrom, two fine, well respected suppliers. I don’t get it. Maybe I will as time goes on and things get sorted out, but for now I don’t get it. Sure, one is strong in metrics, the other in inch. I get that. But both are under the umbrella of an investment company that usually buys and sells companies (eventually) and so where is the passion, the drive for these companies to push to the next level? And I know many, many GREAT people at both companies. Some of the finest people in the industry. I hope it all comes together and I see the light and they do great things in our industry. Time will tell. When Brighton was purchased many years ago the new owners added many new products and went after new markets that they had not been in the past. And, they retained and empowered their young and ambitious personnel to take them to the next level. It’s not like they do not have challenges and everything is not perfect but many of those people still remain with Brighton and believe in their mission. And, they have spread their wings and gone into new markets and products. Will Stelfast and Lindstrom be “better together”? The small and medium sized distributors all over the country hope so.
The distributor landscape is evolving daily. Everyone is a buyer or a seller and one thing that really keeps things from getting crazy are non-compete agreements. Not everyone wants to remain in the fastener industry but I think there are quite a few ex-owners that wouldn’t mind still dipping a toe in the industry where they built their companies. (Vegas Fastener would be an example, but that is on the supplier side.) Once a small company integrates into a larger one and the processes change, it is often hard for people to take care of their customers the same way they used to. You gotta work within the system and sometimes that system is not conducive to taking care of long standing, possibly smaller accounts. It can be frustrating, but that is the way the new company does it. So be it.
There are a lot of changes taking place and we will all need to stay on our toes to survive.
It is Christmas Eve and I need to go start running errands to pick up the bean dip and Diet Rite (see Robert Earl Keene). Merry Christmas to all and to all a Happy New Year.