Fasteners in a post-COVID-19 world
The best fasteners companies are preparing to ‘hit the ground running’ when COVID-19 eventually passes. JOHN POWER investigates.
Major disasters tend to inspire two kinds of responses: frozen panic, or busy adaptation to the new environment.
In that context it is pleasing to see progressive fasteners companies working hard to ensure that both retailers and customers are well placed to resume normality once the impact of COVID-19 wanes.
When COVID-19 first struck Australia, some fasteners companies effectively closed shop. That was a mistake. It is now clear that many suppliers who kept working have enjoyed strong sales via retail hardware stores, which have been allowed to operate throughout the pandemic. Not only have merchants been receiving healthy orders for ongoing building and construction work, but they have also faced significant demand from DIYers working from home.
Even in cases where hardware-dependent projects have been postposed due to broken supply chains or health risks, it is not all doom and gloom: there is sure to be a huge backlog of work requiring attention within a month or two.
In other words, while frozen panic merchants have been ‘fence sitting’, far-sighted suppliers have been ‘fence building’!
Keeping the fires burning during a crisis makes perfect sense, as the fasteners sector is now one of the most dynamic players in the hardware industry. Customers are used to regular and swift refinements to product ranges and support networks, and markets in a post-COVID-19 world will expect an instant resumption of innovative product releases, relevant R&D, as well as fully up-to-date support services.
Undoubtedly, there is plenty of momentum to maintain within the fasteners industry – and confident industry leaders are not allowing COVID-19 to apply the brakes.
According to Rod Bran, owner of the project management business Handy Management, and a consultant to hardware industry suppliers and wholesalers Australia-wide, “There has been a tremendous amount of innovation in the fasteners sector in the past 10 years – more so than in the 100 years prior.”
As a former national retail sales manager for a major fastener’s manufacturer, Rod says innovative recent releases are not hard to find.
“Most fastener suppliers have had something to offer: Buildex have released a new post support screw, Bremick the FixConn and MultiONE ranges, and Paslode have released a long-awaited Impulse cordless coil nailer.”
In the face of such spirited industry activity, Rod believes an indefinite pause in service delivery and product development due to COVID-19 would only disappoint ongoing customers and hamper companies’ attempts to rebuild turnover.
“Whilst some suppliers may take the current global situation as a reason to cut back on R&D, my advice would be to increase your R&D,” he says. “Get ahead of the game and you will be nicely positioned for the bounce back.”
Rod says product innovation is evident in all major categories of the fasteners market, ranging from everyday fixings to highly specialised items.
“Bugle battens are a good example,” he points out. “In its standard form, this [generic] product has become a loss leader for just about everyone. However, it is possible to get an insight into tradespeople’s psyche by their increasing acceptance of innovative variants of this product from companies like Buildex, Bremick, Otter and Macsim. These innovative versions of bugle battens are attracting a greater following due to their superior performance qualities.”
Rod adds that trade customers, in particular, are less fixated on price than their predecessors once were: “Price becomes a tertiary consideration behind quality and fitness for purpose. These days tradespeople will pay more in a heartbeat if the product provides them with time savings and ease of use without issues.”
The future is multi-functional
What are some other innovations sweeping the fasteners market?
“I believe we will see even more innovation over the next twelve months,” Rod speculates. “Multi-functional fasteners will be the way of the future. We will see an increased acceptance of screwing into concrete and the use of oversized screws to perform the tasks once undertaken by coach screws and some bolts.”
Rod’s overview of the industry fits well with the opinions of leading manufacturers, most notably in relation to multi-functional fasteners.
Jason Wheatley, National Retail Sales Manager for Bremick Fasteners, says Bremick is in the process of releasing the MultiONE™ screw, which has been designed as a multi-purpose fastener, suitable for use in multiple materials.
“It has been designed and engineered to screw through almost any material without pre-drilling, making this the only screw you will need for multiple trade and DIY applications.” Jason says. “You can certainly use the MultiONE for fixing into softwood, hardwood, treated timbers, composite boards, laminated boards, various metals, brick, block, and concrete. MultiONE is a large leap forward in fastener technology, given it has superior performance in different materials.”
In a similar vein, Jason says Bremick is continuously investing time and effort upgrading other features of its inventory, specifically in relation to corrosion resistance.
“Corrosion protection is a critical consideration amongst consumers and tradies alike,” he explains. “In recent years Bremick has developed its highly regarded, proprietary B8 coating to help address that need. B8 coating lasts four times longer than C3 or galvanizing, providing peace of mind for all involved.”
Education cannot wait
While fast-moving innovation is accepted – even demanded – by today’s customers, there is another reason for the fasteners sector to look beyond COVID-19 and retain as much of a ‘business as usual’ attitude as possible: customer education. As new products and application methods hit the market, one of the biggest challenges facing manufacturers is to make sure the right products are used in the right way. As Jason advises, “Bremick’s role is to assist tradespeople to navigate the diverse array of products available, while also working to develop products that save time and increase performance in common or critical applications.”
These processes require ongoing interactions with customers via instructional websites, marketing, feedback forums, up-to-date data sheets, etc., to address the needs of customers. Such support services cannot be ‘switched on’ at short notice following a long break; they need to be maintained and monitored throughout a crisis like COVID-19 to ensure all supply and retail chains are serviced in a positive way to retain partner loyalty. Companies that have kept a strong focus on such fundamentals are bound to be in a good position once commercial activity picks up.
The same principles apply to retailers, who might be tempted to freeze orders while awaiting clearer timelines about the threat of the virus. Obviously, orders can take weeks or longer to complete, which means many merchants could find themselves short-stocked in the event of a rapid relaxation of retail lockdowns. Notwithstanding immediate financial pressures, it makes sense to plan for a buoyant post-COVID-19 market as customers tackle a mix of historical and current (seasonal) projects.
A new world
No one believes a post-COVID-19 world will be the same. Even when local retail activities have returned to normal, there will be important headaches to address regarding the nature of supply chains, for instance, possibly leading to policies of greater diversification.
One thing is for sure: the extreme innovation and sophistication displayed within the fasteners sector in recent years suggests that far-sighted suppliers are well equipped to drive through a temporary barrier