In December 2015, Industrial Distribution managing editor Mike Hockett traveled to Chattanooga, TN to visit Bolts & Nuts Corp. — a distributor of fastener products, MRO supplies and vendor-managed inventory solutions — for the cover story in ID's 2016 Jan/Feb print issue. Since then, the company has moved into a larger headquarters in Chattanooga, made several acquisitions and expanded its product offering.
With more expansion planned, ID recently chatted with Bolts & Nuts to get an update on what the distributor has been up to since our visit.
Industrial Distribution: My visit to Bolts & Nuts in late 2015 was just before the company was about to move into its brand new, larger headquarters location in Chattanooga. Overall, what did that move do for B&N’s growth and capabilities? About what capacity would you say the headquarters location is operating at (percentage-wise)?
Bolts & Nuts: Our new base of operations in Chattanooga has been transformational in a number of ways for the Bolts & Nuts family, facilitating growth, but also a major investment in technology, systems and processes that has helped to make us a more efficient organization in service to our customers. With a larger facility in Chattanooga, we have reduced our sourcing costs and increased the diversity of products we keep in stock, which we aim to continue to grow as we expand further into MROP categories. We have some exciting announcements upcoming as the year progresses with respect to our company brand and messaging, and further investments in digital, further geographic expansion, acquisitions and product range. Stay tuned!
ID: At the time ID’s profile story on Bolts & Nuts published in early 2016, the company was mostly focused on just fastener products distribution. Can you recap the areas B&N has expanded into since?
B&N: This is an exciting area for our company. Our customers are keenly focused on reducing their total cost of ownership. Our expansion into new categories has allowed our customer partners to positively impact the hidden costs of procurement through vendor reduction, purchase order consolidation and overall sourcing costs of their operations. As part of our ongoing growth initiatives, we’re aggressively expanding into broader MROP categories that align with our VMI offering. Working closely with manufacturers of safety products, abrasives, cutting tools, and general industrial products, we’re now able to support our customers’ needs with these key categories. Our ability to incorporate these products into our VMI processes and summary billing has been very well received in the marketplace. We aim to have further announcements in this direction in Fall 2020.
ID: Looking specifically at VMI, how has that program progressed for B&N?
B&N: VMI continues to be a key differentiator for us and a significant driver for our customer partners. Our customized approach to VMI now includes much more than standard inventory management. Our sales and service teams leverage decades of application and technical expertise to work directly with our customers’ engineers and identify the best solution for their production process, in addition to supporting our customers with 5S & Kanban methodology.
ID: At the time I visited, B&N had just begun providing a dashboard report to most of its major customers. What feedback has that program received?
B&N: Our dashboard reporting continues to be an important tool in supporting our customers’ business metrics, and importantly tracking our performance against metrics which are important to them, on an individual company (and sometimes, plant or line) basis. This dashboard has evolved into a forward-looking tool to help us integrate with our customers’ production schedules and forecasts. Our commitment is to continually identify cost savings and sourcing strategies for our customers. We’re now utilizing the dashboard tool during customer business reviews to review future production goals and proactively source products based on anticipated changes to schedules and models.
ID: 2016-2017 was a very busy time for Bolts & Nuts. You moved into the new HQ, acquired US Nut and Bolts in April 2016, acquired Industrial Fastening of Macon in July 2017 and then acquired Challenger Component Services a month later. What did those additions do for B&N?
B&N: Our business strategy of growth through customer acquisition, M&A and category expansion continues to be our primary focus. With each acquisition, we gain valuable insight in identifying future opportunities that are a “DNA Match” with our culture, processes and value proposition. This approach has allowed us to quickly integrate new companies into our family while also leveraging best practices of the new business across the broader organization.
ID: You mentioned B&N has a rebranding that will launch later year that will incorporate those recent acquisitions and the company’s broadening product line. Any details you can share about it?
B&N: As mentioned above, we are working hard on our company brand message and expect to have some exciting announcements in Fall 2020, while we remain focused on what we have always done: take care of our partner customers and our growth initiatives. As we have implemented this strategy consistently and methodically since we acquired the original much smaller business seven years ago, we’ve questioned whether how the Bolts & Nuts name, while we are very proud of our history and all that brand represents, may not accurately represent all that we bring to our customers any longer.
ID: Any recent technology upgrades or expansions our readers should know about?
B&N: We continue to focus on expanding our distribution footprint with specific focus on our technological capabilities. Since we last spoke, where it’s made good business sense, we’ve successfully integrated US Nut and Bolt as well as Challenger Services into the Bolts & Nuts ERP platform. This integration provides visibility for all businesses to inventory in our network and common reporting capabilities. Brand and digital strategy integration are in the works, and we are very excited about what is coming next. Our ability to leverage the capabilities of all businesses with our customer base is a key component of our long-term strategy.
From a geographic expansion standpoint, we’ve recently opened new branches in Yankton, SD and New Berlin, WI, designed to help us quickly respond to the needs of our customers in that area. Our strategy is to expand with facilities in targeted geographies to support our growth plans. With a primary objective of providing responsive (even same-day) service to existing key customers, these facilities also provide the foundation for new business acquisition.
ID: When I visited, B&N intentionally wasn’t involved in e-commerce, citing it didn’t want to alter what had made the company a success — its relationship with customers. Has that policy changed at all?
B&N: Our primary value proposition remains the application expertise and VMI services we provide our customers. With that said, we recognize that a core part of that is how to present our offering to our customers via digital commerce, in a way that makes us the easiest supplier partner to do business. Part of our investment we are making — and as part of the implementation of our brand strategy — will be the launch of digital tools that provide our customers real-time access to inventory, product information and engineering support. While we hope this will provide valuable tools with immediate customer support, we’re not focused on a transaction-based environment typically found with e-commerce platforms. We believe our value comes from assisting customers with identifying and sourcing the best product for their specific application and will continue with that approach.
ID: How has B&N reacted to the impacts of COVID-19?
B&N: First and foremost, protecting our employees while supporting our customers is of the highest priority for our family during the Covid-19 pandemic. As with all organizations, we’re taking every step possible to protect our employees and ensure continued operations as an essential services company. We’ve leveraged our technological capabilities to implement remote workspaces where possible for customer service, sourcing and administrative team members. For our onsite employees essential to distribution operations, we’ve implemented stringent social distancing directives, PPE guidelines and strict limitations on shipping and receiving processes.
Recognizing that our customers are critical to infrastructure, distribution and manufacturing processes in the US, we’re working closely with those partners to ensure adequate inventories on core fastener and MROP products and services. Additionally, we’re leveraging our vast supplier network to source critical PPE and sanitizing products to support the ongoing safety of our customers’ employees. While many of our customers are deemed “essential service providers” and remain operational, they too are implementing significant safety guidelines as it relates to our services. We’re working directly with these customers to develop alternative processes for inventory management to ensure business continuity while protecting the health and safety of everyone involved.
ID: During my visit, B&N emphasized its role in the community and the importance of its Community Cares program. What has been the company’s recent activity in the community?
B&N: As you observed when we spoke some years ago, Mike, implementation of our Community Cares program was, and remains, essential to our servant leadership culture and mindset. Over the years, we have grown and expanded this program in multiple ways, but most importantly, rather than being a top-down corporate initiative, we actively encourage and support our team members to contribute, participate and donate to organizations in their local communities, where can have the most impact as a business. A good example of this is actively promoting employee “comp time” given to all our team members to use paid time for community volunteer work that is of importance and value to them.
ID: Any recent company awards or honors?
B&N: As an organization, we are only as good as the excellent team members and leaders we have in our company. We are really proud that recently, one of our own, Mark Novak, who leads our Midwest efforts, will be inducted into the Midwest Fastener Association Hall of Fame. Mark has dedicated his entire career to support the fastener industry, including work on the Fastener Quality Act which we all benefit from to this day, and works tirelessly to support his customers and our supply chain partners. Mark is a great example of the dedication we all strive for at Bolts & Nuts and we’re thrilled to see his efforts over a career of industry leadership and dedication rewarded with this recognition!
ID: Anything else you’d like to share with our readers?
B&N: As we continue to grow our business to become a nationwide broadline industrial distribution partner of choice, now with facilities in 10 states (and more to come), a growing product and service offering, and a brand message that we will have completed shortly that we believe will capture what we have tried to build, we think we have made great strides to become mentioned in the same breath with all the truly great fellow ID competitors out there, and hope the market permits us that chance to prove ourselves.