Thursday, October 30, 2008

I am waiting in the dentist's office.

I am waiting in the dentist's office. My daughter is going to get a filling. She is distracting herself with a magazine, and I just discovered that I can post to my blog from my phone. How cool!

It made me start thinking about how much has changed since the 80's when the company I worked at bought it's first fax machine. We still had a cardex file where we manually tracked inventory, and orders were typed up on 3 part carbon copy forms.

Now I sit here with a tiny mobile phone, having just checked email, answered voicemail, and looked up sales figures on the internet. I'm not going to go on about how much time has passed, or how old these changes make me feel, because it hasn't really been that long and I am not old.
But thinking about the fastener business, I wonder what these changes have meant for distributors and what they will mean in the future.

If somebody had walked in the front door at Diaco Inc in 1985 and told us that they could give us a small, battery powered electronic device that we could use to check our suppliers' inventory, place an order online, and have the product drop shipped immediately directly to our customer, we would have been stunned. First we would have asked what "online" means. Then we would have all looked at each other and shouted, "We're going to be rich!"

How is it that because the technical advances didn't happen over night, we don't seem to have taken full advantage of them? The distribution business hasn't changed nearly as much as have the tools we use to operate. Maybe we just need some time to catch up. One thing is for sure. Distributors are still a key part of the equation. While manufacturers have used technology to tune up their production operations, it looks like it is up to us distributors to harness technology to transform the distribution end. End users rarely want to deal directly with manufacturers, and vice versa. Distributors know the lingo, habits, and quirks of both end users and manufacturers. We are no longer here just to break kegs into packages and keep them on the shelf hoping to sell them. We are the translators that allow the fastener business to run efficiently. Let's use the strength that comes from that importance, and make changes that benefit everyone.

More to come.

It turns out my daughter didn't need a filling after all. Very happy, we will go home now.
Photo by TheDamnMushroom

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Have you screwed up lately?

A friend of mine is writing (right this minute I think) about the concept and strategy of "test often and fail". This made me think of this little story.

My 13-year-old daughter was very nervous before her first practice as a beginner on a water polo team. I wanted to help her calm down, especially since inside I was probably more worried about it than she was. All I could think was that at some point she would surely make a stupid mistake and feel (and maybe look) like an idiot. But then I realized that the first stupid mistake would feel the worst and, like getting a shot, would feel nowhere near as bad as either of us were anticipating. So I had what I think was a creative parenting brainstorm and told my her that being a beginner she would surely make a mistake that would make her feel really really stupid - for only a moment. I strongly urged her to make that first really stupid mistake as soon as she could and then get on with practice. This calmed her down for two reasons. First, being a teenager she is not allowed to believe that I know what I am talking about, so when I say that she will feel stupid, I am probably way off base. But I think it also sunk in for her that the first stupid mistake will come, feel bad, and go. She saw that first mistake for what it really was, a brief, uncomfortable and necessary interruption on her way to having a lot of fun and becoming a much better water polo player.

After each of her first few practices I would get a report from her about what went on and then I would ask, "But have you made your first stupid mistake?" I jokingly acted disappointed at her reply because it actually took a few practices before she had a chance to make a really stupid mistake, and by the time it came she had long since stopped worrying about it. I think she was glad to finally make that first stupid mistake because it really wasn't so bad, she survived it, and it was easily outweighed by plenty of good moves that she never knew she had in her.

Besides being super proud of her, I realized that I need to practice what I was preaching. Even - or especially - in business, if you never make that first stupid mistake that means you are not taking enough chances and you will not gain. That glorious stupid mistake means that you are pushing hard enough to actually gain ground. It not only gives you an opportunity to learn from the mistake itself, but it is a clear sign that you are heading somewhere.

We all have memories of stupid mistakes from early in our careers. We can laugh about (most of) them now, and they help us realize how far we have come. I clearly remember starting in the fastener business as a packager and making a stupid mistake because I could not tell the difference between a fine thread and a coarse thread nut. I remember it because now I know it was such a simple thing, but it was the starting point of learning more about fasteners than I ever thought I would know. I was willing to dive into that job, knowing almost nothing about the product. I took chances and made plenty of mistakes along the way as a necessary part of learning and progress.

Now I am a big shot fastener specialist and very comfortable in my role. But that is the trouble. For the last few years I haven't been looking for the next big mistake, instead I have been skillfully avoiding it. Twenty years from now I would love to look back on today with the same sense of accomplishment and that I now have looking back to 1988. So now as I ponder my to do list for the day or week or month, I look eagerly for the area where I am most likely to make a stupid mistake because I know that is where I am most likely to be making worthwhile progress. Even working on this blog is very new and very public, so I expect that I will make a stupid mistake and be embarrassed at some point (if I already have, don't tell me, I'll get there soon enough). But I am doing my best to transform that weird feeling in my gut from fear into excitement since I trust that it all leads to something good.

(Oh did I mention that my daughter became a starting varsity player as a freshman and has a bunch of new friends on the team? All because of my brilliant advice, of course.)
Photo by estherase

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

You Might Be a Fastener Freak if...

My name is Andy Pels. I have been in the fastener distribution business since 1985. I might be like many of you. I didn't dream as a child of being in the fastener business, but here I am. And now it looks like I'm sticking around.
Yes - I am a fastener freak.

You might be a fastener freak if:
  • while you wait in an elevator, just by looking at the heads you identify the diameter, material and style of every fastener in the elevator, and you even think you know the lengths.
  • When you shop for an appliance you turn it upside down and/or look in the back of it to see what fasteners are used.
  • When you are in a stadium seat and look down at the ground, you don't care so much about the beer and soft drink residue, you just think to yourself, "Wow, four anchor bolts on this seat times 50,000. Nice."
  • It bugs you when you have to go to the hardware store to get a fastener, but while you're there you get mistaken for an employee and help 3 or 4 other people find what they're looking for.
  • You always have some kind of fastener sample on your desk - and in your pocket - and a cupholder in your car - and on your dresser...
  • It makes you twitch when somebody calls a bolt a nut, or vice versa.
  • You don't like that there is not a universally agreed upon explanation of the difference between a bolt and a screw (even though everybody in the industry thinks they know it).
  • You don't care that normal people around you think this is all weird.

Fastener Freaks - please add your own in the comments section. Subscribe to this blog and let's keep the conversation going!