Achieve business growth during lockdowns

It sounds incredible, but some fasteners specialists are enjoying business growth despite lockdowns, construction interruptions, and shortages of building materials. John Power reveals the secrets to success.

fasteners

It is easy to find ‘doom and gloom’ stories arising from the world’s current pandemic – but this story is all about achieving success regardless of the most trying circumstances.

Bolts & Moore, a triple-outlet fasteners specialist servicing metropolitan Melbourne, has experienced significant growth over the past year by embracing a series of strategies designed to enhance business with existing customers, selectively expanding their ‘preferred’ customer base, and attracting new clients. These strategies have comprised a mixture of commonsense initiatives – like stocking non-traditional product lines in response to sudden market demand – as well as more cutting-edge reforms, notably the release of an easy-to-use app that allows customers to make online orders quickly and effortlessly.

By adopting such measures, Bolts & Moore has withstood some of the world’s most extensive lockdowns (over 200 days in total since the start of the pandemic) and set the scene for an even more buoyant future once the pandemic passes.

Let’s set the scene: over the past year local suburbs have been afflicted with sporadic lockdowns of building sites, for example, which have capped site workforces at 25 per cent capacity in some cases. Meantime, the wider community has also suffered restrictions based on five to 10-kilometre travel limits and even curfews. 

While hardware retailers have been largely untouched by physical commercial restraints, weakened international supply chains have reportedly damaged vital building materials supplies like timber.  

Diversity provides protection 

The primary protection against these kinds of construction and economic interruptions, according to Bolts & Moore’s Managing Director Justin Moore, is client diversity. Whenever customers from one industry category experience business decline, it helps to have plenty of customers from less-affected industries to maintain cashflow.

“As far as our general customer base is concerned, apart from building and construction we supply to all sorts of customers, whether they are involved in manufacturing or maintenance for the transport industry, the food industry – if our sales are affected negatively, it tends to be from category-specific customers rather than across the board,” Justin says.

Diversity and adaptability within individual client categories have also helped maintain steady demand for fasteners. For example, Justin says one client specialising in signage has increased work in sectors relating to essential services, thereby compensating for lowered workloads involving small-scale, everyday work. The result: healthy ongoing fasteners sales, but with modified kinds of product orders compared with pre-pandemic times. Similarly, larger infrastructure projects have tended to continue apace, to some extent making up for diminished volumes of residential work.

Of course, pandemic-related upheavals have had an unavoidable impact on raw sales figures – Justin says actual transaction numbers have fallen by 20 per cent over the period. Nevertheless, overall revenue has increased! Let’s dig a little deeper…

Keep nimble

Justin says a “nimble” approach to business is part of the fastener culture, and his team has been happy to adapt to modern ways of doing business. 

“The nut, bolt or fastener industry is one of those industries that is always the ‘forgotten product’, so products are always needed in a hurry,” he says. “Our guys and, by nature, the company are used to acting quickly.” 

Bolts & Moore showcased this flexibility and an ability to ‘think on the run’ at the onset of the pandemic with a willingness to stretch the definition of fasteners merchandising, quickly increasing its diversity of product ranges.

“These days we are supplying a much wider range of products – which we have always had access to – so we are quite proficient in a number of other areas, ranging from cutting tools or abrasives to PPE (Personal Protective Equipment).

“A good example is when we went into the first lockdown; I never thought we would sell as much sanitiser and masks! So, I think we are prepared to be nimble in our product offering, which again sets us apart if we can pick up a trend within the sector.”

New ordering app

Perhaps the most important innovation undertaken by Bolts & Moore in the past year has been the release of a dedicated app for online ordering.

The app, Justin explains, has created at least four identifiable benefits to the business:

  1. Point of difference: while many fasteners outlets are often ‘generic’ in the eyes of customers, specially tailored ordering facilities represent an obvious point of difference, and provide a platform for building loyalty in the marketplace.
  2. Expanded sales portfolios: the pandemic has motivated customers to rationalise the number of suppliers they deal with, not only to simplify their affairs, but also to reinforce regular and reliable business partnerships. Customers who have embraced the app for typical fasteners purchases have been happy to add other product lines to their orders, leading to an increase in average spends.
  3. Enhanced ‘preferred’ client bade: given the app’s main facility, which is to provide an easy mechanism for repeat orders, it is no surprise that the main users have tended to be clients with consistent ordering needs. Consistent orders are easier to handle than erratic ones, so the app has had the happy side effect of lifting the ratio of preferred ‘repeat business’ clients.
  4. Improved data analysis: metrics associated with the app have provided enhanced data about sales trends and market movements, allowing for a more refined appreciation of how individual client categories perform under different circumstances, including lockdowns. For instance, timber shortages have not translated into uniform reductions in fastener sales across all building sectors, confirming client reports that supplies are still being rolled out, but in selective fashion.

All the above benefits have helped deepen Bolts & Moore’s relationship with diverse client bases, and forged long-term bonds with a wide range of customers. “And, as far as the app is concerned, we are just scratching the surface,” Justin says.

Specialising helps

Another contributing factor to the success of the business during the pandemic, he notes, is the specialist nature of the three stores and their expert staff. The more specialised a business is, the more tightly held its market share. In the case of Bolts & Moore, a professional inventory and knowledgeable staff dissuade customers from wandering elsewhere, and definitely help retain customers over the duration of interrupted projects: order postponements outweigh cancellations, with slow market activity frequently being overcome through dramatic increases in orders whenever COVID-19 pressures ease. 

Other solutions

Not all fastener businesses have the resources or know-how to introduce new technologies during a pandemic, but there are plenty of low-cost actions that can be taken to encourage customer engagement during lockdowns. One straightforward measure is a clearly written ‘COVID-19 UPDATE’ on website Home Pages, addressing obvious Q&A-style topics. Announcements relating to policies about Business/Trade Customers, General Customer Care, Click & Collect arrangements, Discounts/Sales, Deliveries, etc., can alleviate market frustration and make life a little easier for customers.

A little personal attention goes a long way…