Sunday, November 23, 2008

Fastener Marketing and Innovation

I just started reading an article about "Innovation Through Recession", a perfect topic for a cold, bright Sunday morning. Just the first few paragraphs of the article motivated me to get right in here and lay down some thoughts about innovation in fastener marketing.

I know many people think of companies like Apple or Google when they think about innovation, but why not a whole industry segment? Why not strive for innovation in the fastener distribution industry? Just because we don't design or make a tangible product, does not mean we cannot innovate with the valuable services we offer.

I've ranted a little bit in the past about how the fastener distribution industry does not seem to have taken full advantage of new technology. Has the focus of fastener distribution changed since the fax machine and the desktop PC? I've been here at least that long and I don't see a dramatic shift.

It is common for those within an industry to resist change. Part of this stems from that fact that we fear that the change will no longer include us. I remember the rumblings in the late 80's and the 90's about whether distributors would be necessary any more. Would technology replace the need for a classic "middle man" position? Well it hasn't happened, so it probably won't, becuase we are more than middle people. One thing technology has a creepy effect on is waste. True waste is highlighted by new technology, and then it is eliminated. So if we were afraid that new technology would make fastener distribution obsolete, I think we can stop freaking out. We're still here, so it turns out we are still useful after all.

But we still cower a little bit, and we still lay low out of fear that someone will discover our secrets. Just 20 years ago if someone at one of our customers needed information on a fastener product, it was up to us to ride to the rescue and bring them a catalog. We had boxes of manufacturer catalogs in the office and we carried stacks of them in our trunks. "I'm bringing the catalog you asked for." or just "I have a new edition of the ABC catalog" was the big reason for us to show up at a customer. One of the things we loved to do in the 80's because it made us feel important, is no longer necessary. Now, any engineer can look up the information on the manufacturer's website. What will we lose next?

Well, that's the point. If we can lose it and move on as we have, then we didn't need it and it was wasting everyone's time. As fastener distributors, what other unnecessary things do we cling to? What other roles could we let technology or new marketing and logistics methods handle for us? And after we clear out some of the clutter, what new things will we have time and resources to develop?

We all have at least a germ of an idea we could use to add real value to fastener distribution. Ideas that started with "If only we could...", but were quickly squelched as unrealistic. Now is the time to make those ideas into reality. Not only do we have the technology, but in the coming months and maybe years, many industries will be hunkering down and holding back. Let's take everybody by surprise and come up with the newest, coolest innovations when they least expect it.

In the coming weeks I'll throw out some ideas about possible areas where this can happen. Being a marketing fan, I'll explore the good old marketing mix of price, placement, product, and promotion. Let's start with that classic framework and then build some wildly new stuff.

photo by nigelpepper


  1. Andy-

    I see, at least on this end, a shift to distributors buying as opposed to end-users. Especially if a distributor has a VMI presence at the account.

  2. @Dave

    Yes! and VMI is one of the big guns distributors have to provide value...

  3. Having been in the fastener circus (hey, how about that name for a distributor?) for years, the way I market has changed. As you had mentioned, we loved going around with the "new catalog", or a hand-made "special" sheet.

    In my position here, it's more data-mining, and using technology I'd never use in my old position.

    I'm currently in the process of preparing my marketing plan for 2009, and one of the major things I'm looking at the consolidation of two brands into one. We are the exclusive distributor for our ultimate parent manufacturer, and they also have a sales force on the street, so re-branding into one cohesive unit will be top of the list. Business networks, like LinkedIn, have been a big help in prospecting, and I use the D & B Million Dollar Directory and Jigsaw as part of my prosecting tool kit.


  5. Andy,
    We just featured you in an article on Fastener Resources on the Web, please take a look:

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