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Fasteners secure profits for the savvy LBM dealer

As fasteners, screws have a long and storied history. Many historians consider Archytas of Tarentum (428-350 BC), a contemporary of Plato and sometimes called the founder of mechanics, as the inventor of the screw thread in about 400 BC. Interestingly, one of the first applications of the screw principle was for the extraction of oils from olives and juice from grapes.

Not to be overshadowed by the screw, nails have just as long and impressive a history. Archaeologists have found handmade bronze nails from as far back as 3000 BC. The Romans made many of their nails from iron, which was harder, but many ancient iron nails have rusted away since. Hand-forged nail were considered so valuable that dilapidated buildings were often burned to the ground and the remaining nails were then scavenged from the ashes to reuse. Fasteners are just as valuable today as they were in ancient times, and they can amount to significant revenue to the savvy LBM dealer who understands how to properly position them and their unique benefits.

A fastener for every need
When it comes to emerging trends for fasteners, manufacturers point to the changing face of building materials and methods as a primary driver in product development. LBM dealers, they point out, need to be prepared to offer products that can perform with these increasingly popular new building trends.

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For example, Robert Shirley, product marketing manager for Simpson Strong-Tie, points to the increased use of mass timber as a building trend that is re- shaping the construction industry, and how custom connectors are being engineered to carry the load of these massive, unique structures that are being built.

“Load-rated specialty fasteners are being developed to secure mass timber panel lap joints, butt joints, and spline connections, just to name a few,” he explains. “Historically, fasteners designed specifically for mass timber have been imported from European manufacturers and suppliers. Simpson Strong-Tie more readily provides mass timber fasteners and connectors (whether custom made or off the shelf) through its U.S.-based nationwide distribution network.”

“Fastening systems and solutions are also being deployed in a variety of manufacturing environments including offsite construction, pre-cast concrete, truss production and other fabricators that service the building industry,” he adds. “Simpson Strong-Tie product lines provide solutions, service, and training in support of these manufacturers. Products range from fasteners and connectors to mechanical anchors to adhesives to heavy-duty lateral systems.”

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New technologies in manufacturing and heat treating are helping manufacturers make stronger fasteners for structural applications as we see CLT (Cross Laminated Timber), and other structural timer products being used more in larger building projects, says Phil Lail, president of Pan American Screw Fastener Group.

“Fastening this product cleanly and efficiently makes for faster, more efficient assembly of these structural products. Our Big Timber CTX construction lag screw has been the workhorse for many of our customers for years and now we are proud to also offer a BL Black Log Timber Screw, WTX Wafer Head Lag Screw and our SCTX Construction Lag Screw made of high quality 316 grade stainless steel.”

When it comes to structural connections found on most residential jobsites, code officials and inspectors look to leading engineered fastener manufacturers to provide application technical evaluation reports (TERs) which ensure products will perform as expected, points out Brett Katsma, project management leader for SPAX. “There are trends in using high performance structural lags in many of these applications to replace existing technologies. Here are a few examples: multi-ply beam and truss assembly where structural lags now can be used to replace nails and conventional lags to ensure a safe and secure connections and also save time and money on the jobsite; deck ledger attachment requires a safe connection, and structural fasteners like SPAX Powerlags can be used to replace very time consuming conventional lag bolts and they can be spaced further than other manufacturers products found on the market; also truss attachment now can be handled with structural fasteners in place of the traditional hurricane clips to save time and money on the jobsite.”

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The need for specialized fasteners that are keeping up with the changing face of construction is only going to increase, say manufacturers. As Lee Tedesco, marketing director for Grabber Construction Products, Inc., points out, “The transformation of commercial urban centers by converting underutilized commercial space to residential, while addressing other goals such as affordability, and housing equity, will continue and accelerate; especially in municipalities that are incentivizing these developments. This opens numerous opportunities for fastener innovation and development.”

The need for increased efficiency
According to Associated Builders and Contractors, construction workforce shortage tops half a million in 2023. As well, the trade association predicts the industry will need to bring in more than 342,000 new workers in 2024 on top of normal hiring to meet industry demand, and that’s presuming that construction spending growth slows significantly next year.

“It’s because of numbers like these that manufacturers see increased efficiency as one of the top trends in fasteners. “Products that improve productivity to offset inflationary costs,” says Jacek Romanski, channel marketing director for ITW Construction. “Contractors are always looking to complete their jobs quickly, more efficiently without rework or hassles to save on costs. Whether they are tools, nails, screws to anchors, most pro contractors want to quickly connect their building materials, finish their work and move onto the next job.”

“It’s not just a lack of skilled labor that has industry experts concerned. An uptick in remodeling projects despite a slowdown of new home starts also brings with it the need for increased efficiency. As Roelif Loveland, president of Maze Nails explains, “Siding, roofing, and decking projects are on the rise, so we are noting an increased need for painted siding nails and ring shank roofing nails. Maze Nails focuses on many exterior fasteners. It’s the outside of a home that neighbors look at day in and day out. So it’s important for dealers to make certain they have the best exterior products in stock— especially the best nails.”

In order for LBM dealers to have the best products in stock, manufacturers are taking steps to provide fasteners that address the need for improved efficiency. For example, Uli Walther, president of U2 Fasteners, explains how contractors are looking for solutions that offer a time savings and ease of use. “Reliable coating is required to last as long as the treated lumber,” he says. “U2 Fasteners’ coating has surpassed heavy duty ground contact ACQ and will last the lifetime of the outdoor structure.”

Tony Kovac, director of product management for the Hillman Group, echoes Walther’s thoughts about the need for solutions that deliver time savings and ease of use.

“Our focus continues to be on delivering superior performance, strength and quality—building code approved products provide a simple way to ensure that quality and code compliance are in place. From a development standpoint, we’ve placed recent focus in two areas: speed and durability. Getting the job done right and faster is meaningful for pro’s. With the strength enhancements of power tools, we can now do things from a fastener geometry standpoint that provide new benefits which would not have existed in the past. A continuing trend with exterior wood projects is improved durability with exterior coatings, and materials such as 316 stainless steel. Our focus continues to be on delivering products with superior performance, strength, quality, and building code approved.”

Chuck Hayes, territory sales manager for Avon Plastics, comments how builders are always looking for products and processes that can improve the time spent building a deck.

“Time is money and profits for the builder. TurboClip is the solution by decreasing the installation time for a hidden deck fastener by up to 60%.” 

Cost versus quality
If there’s one area of concern that fastener manufacturers seem to share, it’s how the national economy may put a damper on the fastener segment while simultaneously causing consumers to choose less expensive—and potentially poorer performing—fasteners.

“We have been keeping a close watch on the effects of inflation as consumers have been actively trading down due to elevated inflation reducing their purchasing power,” points out Grabber’s Tedesco. “With moderating consumer inflation, what will the impact be on the DIY and R&R (Repair and Remodel) segments? This is a key question facing producers. Discretionary spending on experiences is likely to outpace the DIY and R&R segments through 2024, though further moderation of this trend also appears likely.”

Hillman Group’s Kovac shares those concerns. “Housing constraints and the continued unmet need, as well as inflation, has driven home prices. From an R&R standpoint, the pool of discretionary investment left over after a recently turned over home is lower. Fasteners are project completors, so we need the demand for both the new build as well as those R&R projects to remain high.”

It’s a cost vs. quality equation, says Maze Nails’ Loveland.

“We are seeing the market flooded with poor quality import nails now that the ports are back open. Dealers should be extra cautious when purchasing fasteners to make sure they meet code requirements. Codes serve a critical purpose—to keep contractors from using the wrong nails for the job. Codes that specify Double Hot-Dip Galvanized and Stainless Steel fasteners ensures decades of rust-free service.”

Too many unreliable commodity fastener brands are out there, explains Josh Martin, national sales manager, LBM for SPAX.

“In a very detail-oriented world where jobsite specifications and critical connections exist, builders must have reliable fasteners that are code tested and approved but also can be traced back through the manufacturing process. With the risk of call backs, structural fasteners must perform safely and so LBM dealers must look to leading fastener manufacturers than can provide the necessary code reports and material specifications for every box of product.”

If fewer projects are in the pipeline, customers may choose to save by purchasing less expensive fasteners, and LBM dealers need to be prepared to educate those consumers. “There are a lot of competitors who look the same but are not created equal,” points out U2 Fasteners’ Walther. “As fasteners are becoming more accepted in a variety of applications, be aware of the values and how they perform.”

Looking for the highest overall value is very rarely the lowest price, says Hillman Group’s Kovac. “In addition, selling products that meet code and decrease job time while delivering both the quality and durability your customers require.”

Robert Yates, product manager for SPAX, recommends taking the time to review the structural fastener manufacturers’ offerings and to make sure the products have accessible data reports and application TERs plus wire certifications used during the manufacturing process. “SPAX Engineered Fasteners takes pride in a quality program and tracks each lot through the entire process all the way to the wire heat and can provide steel wire composition data. We are ISO certified and our factory in Bryan, Ohio is audited by numerous agencies for all our brands. Audits for ICC-ES, DrJ, FM, Miami-Dade, and ISO.”

ITW Construction’s Romanski suggests reminding customers that not all fasteners are made equal. “Collated nails work best as a system together with the tools for which they were designed,” he says. “At Paslode, we start with the nail, and design our tools around it to ensure every time a pro pulls the trigger, it is driving the nail where they want, how deep they want it and allowing them to move to the next job.”

Smart inventory management
Despite improved pandemic conditions that somewhat improved the global supply chain environment, legacy problems from those disruptions still exist for LBM dealers and the fastener segment as a whole. For example, as Pan American Screw Fastener Group’s Phil Lail describes,

“Many fastener manufacturers and distributors are trying to work down higher priced inventories that were brought in during the time the world was experiencing many supply chain issues. As container costs decline to more normal levels we are trying to ‘right size’ our inventories and try and forecast our customers’ needs for Q4 and into 2024. We are also noticing that ocean freight costs are starting to increase slightly with our Sure Drive USA products we bring in due to market conditions and voided or blank sailings as the overall economy has slowed.”

Simpson Strong-Tie’s Shirley also points out how overseas shipping lead time delays crippled imports of fasteners for many companies during the pandemic years.

“Simpson Strong-Tie was thankfully able to leverage a robust U.S.-based manufacturing and supply chain network to deliver products and meet critical inventory shortages for dealers. As the overseas shipping lead times have improved, Simpson has continued to satisfy customer needs with its world class customer service, quality assurance and logistics.”

There are strategies, manufacturers point to, that LBM dealers can implement to help alleviate some of the pain points. “It looks like the housing market is turning around, but everyone is still wary,” explains ITW Construction’s Romanski. “Because of the extra caution, many retailers have shifted to just-in-time-inventory, which may leave dealers short on the shelf. Be smart with inventory by following the 80/20 rule. Ensure your highest selling products ‘the 80’ are always well-stocked during peak season.”

Pan American Screw Fastener Group’s Lail offers similar advice. “LBM dealers need to work closely with their suppliers to monitor their inventory and use 80/20 principles to make sure they are always in adequate supply of the 20% of the items that make up 80% of their profits,” he recommends.

“Our sales team with both Big Timber and Sure Drive USA work with our customers closely to help them monitor their inventory levels and ensure shelf space is being used in the most efficient way.”

Deliver solutions
If there’s one common recommendation from fastener manufacturers to LBM dealers, it’s to stay up-to-date on product knowledge so that they can best serve as solution providers to their customers. “Stay current on the fastener companies, new fastener types, and sizes. New screws are very application specific,” U2 Fastener’s Walther recommends.

Maze Nails’ Loveland agrees with the importance of LBM dealers serving as product knowledge gurus. “Our advice to LBM dealers would be to do the research and make sure you are following manufacturer guidelines when installing your products,” he says. “Fasteners are often an afterthought, but when the wrong fastener is stocked and sold, it could cost the homeowner thousands of dollars. If your customers are installing lifetime warranty roofing or siding, it only makes good sense to sell them a lifetime warranty fastener.”

Think past the immediate sale and help promote the advantages of owning a home and investing in home value building projects, says Grabber’s Tedesco. “These benefits may not always be obvious, especially in times of rising interest rates and low inventory of available homes. With mortgage rates high, many homeowners who would otherwise be selling, are staying put and investing in their current home creating opportunities for LBM dealers.”

And by understanding these long-term benefits, dealers will ensure not just their own financial future, but long-term success for contractor and homeowner alike.

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