Strength, speed, and efficiency all describe today’s newest fasteners.
Fasteners have been around for a very, very long time. A Greek by the name of Archytas of Tarentum supposedly invented the screw thread sometime around 400 B.C., and the rest, as they say, is history. But when was the last time you took a serious look at the fasteners you are carrying at your lumberyard? All too often, the answer to that question is “not recently,” and that’s a shame. After all, not all fasteners are created equal. With developments in building materials, it’s no longer possible to simply think a screw is a screw is a screw. Rather, today’s fasteners are designed to provide superior performance, especially when it comes to specific applications or materials—and that’s a realization that often gets lost.
“Builders are working on ever-thinner margins, so the perceived cost versus value of any construction product—from fasteners and house wrap to windows and appliances—is a big driver of their purchasing behavior,” explains Ed Sutt, senior vice president of Fastening Systems at Simpson Strong-Tie. “That said, builders are also looking for products that help them solve daily jobsite challenges or provide them with new business opportunities. Pro dealers play a key role in helping builders understand how the features and benefits of fastener systems, technologies, and coatings can help them boost jobsite efficiency and productivity.”
And there’s more to value than simply the initial purchasing costs. Today’s high-quality fasteners enable builders to save by reducing callbacks and repairs. “The belief that all fasteners are the same is still prevalent in the industry,” says Jamie Moore, senior vice president of marketing for MiTek. “We understand the sensitivity to product costs, but builders need to be aware of the extended costs that can quickly eat away at margin in the form of labor and installation (and re-installation) of poorly made fasteners. Even more costly is having to redo part of a job to pass inspection after using inferior fasteners and hardware. All of this can easily be avoided by specifying and using the right hardware for the job.”
For fasteners, efficiency is mandatory
While the job market has significantly improved since the Great Recession, labor shortages continue to be the bane of the construction industry. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey, almost 200,000 construction industry jobs remain unfilled nationwide. “Fastener design is driven by responding to and even anticipating what products are needed in the industry,” says Brett McCutcheon, general manager of FASCO America. “Customers want fasteners that increase speed and agility of the work while also requiring less energy to drive.” As a result, manufacturers are developing fasteners that enable builders to do more with fewer people.
“Volatility in building costs and vast shortages in competent labor are driving the need for stronger, easier to use builder products and fasteners,” explains Moore. “MiTek is currently focusing on innovations that will enable the construction industry to build more homes in shorter times and with improved strength.”
Simpson Strong-Tie’s Sutt echoes Moore’s comments regarding the need for products that deliver faster and easier installation. “Fastener design is evolving to provide increased productivity and safety on the jobsite along with reduction to worker strain, fatigue and injury,” he says. “Developing fastening solutions that help to alleviate jobsite strain and increase safety can reduce the millions of dollars per year in lost productivity, and they can also help boost jobsite efficiency at a time when many builders are still struggling with finding qualified, experienced laborers.”
Greg Groenhout, product manager for National Nail’s CAMO line agrees, and says the key for both end users and retailers is a focus on the builder’s bottom line.
“Builders will invest in anything that improves value,” he said. “Whatever they’re trying to deliver at the jobsite, if you’ve got a product that improves their install time and makes it easier, even if it doesn’t improve sticker cost, but saves on install costs and callbacks, then builders will make a move to that product.”
For CAMO, a focus on efficiency means a focus on its EdgeClip and EdgeXClip, which are engineered to reduce installation times, require no partial install and can fasten any type of grooved deck board including wood, capstock, or PVC.
“In regard to decks,” says Chuck Hayes, national sales and marketing manager for Avon Plastics, Inc., “all trends are focused on making the installation process quicker by reducing the time a contactor needs to build a composite deck. Most manufacturers are trying to develop equipment to help improve the installation process.” Efficiency is not, however, the only factor that is spurring product development. Because of changes in building products and in certification requirements, manufacturers are creating fasteners for specific applications more than ever before.
“I have been in the fastener industry since 1983,” says Uli Walther, president of U2 Fasteners, “and I have seen the category of premium screws expand every year. There is a demand for specialty fasteners with technical data to support engineering. We are getting screws spec’d and customers are asking for screws that are used in specific applications rather than general purpose screws.”
For example, fasteners that are designed for structural applications are a growing demand, so much so that the Sure Drive USA division of the Pan American Screw Fastener Group has seen revenues in this category grow more than 30% in just the past year. Likewise, according to Phil Lail, president of Pan American Screw Fastener Group, the demand for hidden deck fasteners has grown 25% to 30% in the past two years.
“Specialty structural fasteners are usually required to be certified,” explains Lail. “ICC and DrJ are two of the building code compliance certification organizations we currently use with our Big Timber business segment. Certification requires extensive quality control procedures starting with the raw material (wire) to the manufacturing processes (heading, threading, shank slotting, etc.) and finally testing completed product.”
Of course, price remains a factor with specialty fasteners, and manufacturers are acutely aware that performance needs to be balanced with affordability. “A trend that continues to grow in the fastener industry is improved corrosion resistance on both interior and exterior products,” says Jim Miller, president and CEO of Screw Products, Inc. “Stainless Steel is an alternative everyone seems to be aware of, but the higher price of stainless steel continues to be a factor in builders demanding the development of a superior coated fastener for all indoor and outdoor projects.”
Codes and materials drive development
Building codes always affect the creation of new building products, and fasteners are no exception. In talking with manufacturers, two areas that are impacting fasteners is the increased attention to lateral and shear loads in areas outside of traditional seismic and hurricane areas, and tighter enforcement of codes to ensure the manufacturer has up-to-date code approvals and builders are using fasteners correctly according to those approvals.
For example, FASCO America utilizes product evaluation reports from IAPMO to show proof that its fasteners perform the same or better than what is specified in the code. Brett McCutcheon, general manager for FASCO America, Master Distributor for the BECK Fastener Group, explains that this level of independent product certification provides builders the assurances they need in regard to code compliance.
“It is our mission to increase productivity with fasteners, tools, and systems that outperform the competition, so our customers know they are using the best solution in the market for their specific needs,” says McCutcheon. “This independent report, based on rigorous testing, shows our customers just that. We make quality products like collated SubLoc PRO SCRAIL sub-floor fasteners that increase production efficiency with the speed of pneumatic tool installation, while reducing callbacks due to squeaks. These fasteners can be used wherever you need them, now including seismic areas.”
“The most popular question we get is about code compliance,” says U2 Fastener’s Walther. “U2 fasteners have AC233 Structural Strength and AC257 ACQ Pressure Treated Lumber code compliance. We have our Evaluation Numbers on packaging for customers, engineers, and code officials to identify compliant products.
Maze Nails Marketing Director Kim Pohl also sees code requirements shaping product manufacturing. “Building codes are specifying and recommending hot-dipped galvanized nails versus electro-galvanized fasteners because of their superior performance in exterior applications,” Pohl says. “The most reliable and preferred way to coat steel nails with zinc is ‘hot-dipping.’ This provides the nails with long term protection against rust and hot-dipping meets the all-important ASTM A-153 specification. Maze’s exclusive method of double hot dipping allows the nails to be dipped twice in hot molten zinc which adds a thick coating to the outer layer of zinc.”
When it comes to new building products driving fastener innovation, development of materials with extended lifespans (such as with composite decking, for example) has spurred the need for manufacturers to develop fasteners that are up to the challenge. “As new products are invented,” says Miller, “Screw Products, Inc. continues to work with and engineer around these innovative products. Our introduction of improved coatings, faster stronger products, deeper drives and streamlined professional designs, keeps our products in demand as a partner and as a specialized co-branding partner for new building products in every state.”
Christian Beck, general manager and chief executive officer of the BECK Fastener Group, echoes Miller’s comments. “We are always looking for bold and passionate new methods and innovations to sustainably differentiate ourselves in the marketplace,” he says. “In doing so, our attention is paid not only to the quality of our products and processes, but also to maximizing value for our customers.”
“As building materials are evolving to have a greater lifespan,” explains Lail, “fasteners must last for the life expectancy of the project. For example, we are working on coatings that can last upwards of 5,000 hours in an ASTM B-117 salt spray test,” explains Lail. “Also, most all composite decks are put down with either hidden deck fasteners or color matched screws. Our company has focused on this niche in the marketplace. The key is to find an exceptional coating process that does not create recess fill during the application. Hot dipped bolts are easy but internally recessed fasteners are a different animal.”
MiTek’s Jamie Moore points out, though, that there’s more to new fastener development than simply keeping pace with new building materials. “We develop new products regularly to meet the changing demands of the construction industry,” he explains. “These include changing environmental conditions, labor shortages, and more. These changes are resulting in the need for fasteners that are stronger, more reliable, easier to install, require less training or experience, and (often overlooked) meet the demands of the homeowner. Our Gold Coat technology is a great example of meeting all of these demands and doing so ahead of the rest of the industry.”
Interestingly, sometimes it’s the fastener technology that spurs new building uses. For example, after the recent launch of Simpson Strong-Tie’s stainless-steel Titen HD screw anchors, builders and distributors began contacting the manufacturer to find out if the new anchors would corrode if used with zinc-coated post bases due to galvanic action. To determine the answer, Simpson Strong-Tie put a batch of screw anchors in a testing tank and sprayed them with saltwater for 1,000 hours. When the test came back negative, the manufacturer was able to release an engineering letter stating the two metals could indeed be used together.
Not all fasteners are created equal, and there’s no such thing as “one size fits all” when it comes to fasteners. Unfortunately, misconceptions linger that prevent builders from understanding the full true value of specialized or higher-end product lines. A lack of understanding on the part of the builder in regard to fastener technology combined with a generally higher product price point work in unison to create a false perception that higher quality fasteners aren’t worth the investment. But when you factor in the costs of callbacks and repairs incurred from the use of cheap fasteners, nothing could be further from the truth.
“The biggest misconception we still regularly encounter in the field is that one fastener can fit all applications,” says Simpson Strong Tie’s Sutt. “In reality, fasteners are designed to perform within very specific parameters and for defined use cases, and there’s really no one fastener to rule them all. Using the wrong fasteners can compromise safety, bring about costly callbacks, or even result in a failed building inspection. Incorrect fastener use also slows down contractors on the jobsite.”
“I think many builders may not realize what is available to them,” says Bevan Wulfenstein, marketing director for Grabber Construction Products, Inc. “They stick with what they know rather than trying something new.”
U2 Fasteners’ Walther agrees with Sutt and points out the importance of lifetime performance. “Builders must take into account the costs of fasteners over the lifetime of the asset being constructed,” he explains. “Quality fasteners should save time during construction but must stand the test of time. I find it funny that, when someone is building a deck, the last thing they think about are the screws, but when you cut costs on screws and they rust or fail, that’s the first thing you would notice on your deck. Use screws that will last the lifetime of the deck!”
As MiTek’s Moore says, “We know that builders and contractors have a desire to build quality structures and they want to use the best products at costs that are acceptable for the job to be done. We believe this mentality is necessary to move the industry forward; however, the biggest misconception is that ‘All fasteners are the same, I’ll just get the cheapest one.’”
Moore goes on to explain that there are several factors that should be considered in regard to fasteners. First, it is critical for the builder/customer to understand the differences in load values between fasteners from different manufacturers and how the fastener configuration affects load value. Second, it is critical for the builder to choose the right type of fastener for the type of connection, hardware, substrates, and code requirements he or she is dealing with—even if the builder does everything else right, an incorrect fastener choice can ruin everything. Finally, the design of the fastener and how it impacts the installation is the third critical consideration. According to Moore, fasteners are now designed with valuable features that make them easier and faster to install, which improves efficiency and saves time and money in the long run.
While these misconceptions are significant, they are also easily dispelled through education, and it’s up to the distributors and building centers to be the spearpoint of that education. “Education is the key,” says Lail. “Taking the time to explain the various options to the builder many times enables them to know more about the longterm effects choosing the right fastener can have. If their name is associated with the project, they want to make sure the customer is happy with their investment for years to come.”
“Builders are price sensitive,” adds Sutt, “but they’re also solution-oriented, and typically are quick to recognize when a product increases the quality and value of their workmanship, as opposed to just grabbing the least expensive box of fasteners off the shelf.” Each manufacturer has its own unique tactics when it comes to training and education, with some programs aimed at the distributor and others geared for the builder/end user. For example, MiTek has developed its Builder Products App—a mobile app for jobsite use—to serve as an up-to-date reference on codes, load values, and installation guides for all of its builder products. As well, it has a variety of videos on its website and YouTube Channel that walk viewers through common issues and step-by-step installation.
For Pan American Screw Fastener Group, it offers installation videos on all of its hidden deck fastener line, and it posts training videos on YouTube for its wholesale distribution sales team to make sure they are up to date on product knowledge. “Our sales managers travel to our dealers and make jobsite visits to ensure proper installation techniques are being followed while looking for opportunities and advice on how to improve our products,” says Lail. “We are also in the process of putting together an online training session that would allow our distributors and dealers to earn free merchandise for completing the test session. I’m personally excited about this as it will incentivize the sales team to become more knowledgeable about all our products that we offer through all five fastener divisions.”
Screw Products, Inc. offers ongoing training, tips, printed materials, training classes, tabletop product knowledge training at the retail store level, sales help for the distributor, dealer and builder, as well as toll-free help lines. And to help dealers and contractors specify the right fastener for the job, Simpson Strong-Tie launched its Fastener Finder, an online tool that searches the company’s fastener inventory by application, product type, model number, and other criteria.
Product knowledge is vital
Obviously, LBM dealers are a valued asset and vital partners to fastener manufacturers. They have a vested interest in seeing dealers succeed, and oftentimes some of the best product innovations come from dealer ideas and input. As Simpson Strong-Tie’s Ed Sutt explains, “Simpson Strong-Tie continues to embrace new ideas for supply chain efficiency that help our dealers and distributors communicate fastener features, benefits, and application tips and advice to our shared contractor customers. LBM dealers are vital to how building products get specified, selected, purchased, and ultimately used on the jobsite, and we rely on their expertise to help guide product development as well as how we deliver products to market.”
It’s because of this importance that manufacturers are eager to offer advice to dealers to help them succeed. “One of the simplest things [dealers] can do is to remember to ask the builders if they have all the fasteners and driver bits they need and immediately make recommendations,” explains Phil Lail. “Kind of like asking ‘do you want fries with that?’ Simple and effective.”
Greg Groenhout at CAMO concurs. “As a manufacturer, we need to make sure that the end user gets the message,” he said, and that message comes from lumberyards and building supply stores.
“A lot of times a dealer, wanting to be all things to everyone, takes a passive selling position, instead of taking an active role in saying ‘I’ve got this fantastic new product, let me explain it to you.’ In the end, with that active role, they could reduce inventory of ancillary products and focus more on the ones that they know will provide more value to their users.”
Another best practice manufacturers recommend is for the dealers to make the customer’s fastener purchasing decision as easy as possible. For example, Simpson Strong-Tie has recently been exploring individual fastener purchase so dealers can better customize their in-house fastener inventory and offer contractors a more customized approach to fastener selection and purchase. “Streamlining and optimizing inventories benefits everyone in the supply chain,” says Sutt. “It reduces the burden on the contractor to purchase a box of fasteners when they only need a dozen, while freeing up more pro dealer inventory space for higher margin and specialty-item products that solve jobsite challenges.
Along similar lines, Linda Graziano, senior director of marketing for Huttig Building Products, recommends making it easier for customers to find the right fastener through better packaged fastener displays. According to Graziano, Huttig-Grip fasteners packaging does just that. “Our labels showcase the product, with actual-size fastener image and large, easy-to-read descriptions,” she says. “Box windows are the largest on the market, offering high visibility, upgraded shelf presence, and eliminates boxes torn open.”
Phil Lail of Pan American Screw Fastener Group recommends increasing product visibility to drive sales. “We have created sample boards that show physical samples of our Big Timber product line and our Deerwood Fasteners woodworking fastener line,” he says. “We know countertop space is a premium, but our customers that show these boards in a prominent place tell us it helps their fastener sales.”
But in the end, the best thing dealers can do is to be as thoroughly knowledgeable as possible so that they can better sell higher-end fasteners to their customers. “Try the screws yourself,” recommends Walther. “Ask for samples. U2 Fasteners are not available in Big Box stores because we know the importance of being loyal to the LBM dealers who already know the value of premium fasteners.”
MiTek’s Moore agrees. “A better-informed staff not only helps get the right products and information to the end customer, it also helps prevent building costs from mounting for the contractor as well.”
In the end, it’s all about staying ahead of the big box stores by offering not only a better value proposition but by also delivering solutions to your customers’ problems. “Take the time to know what you are selling and how that product benefits your builder and how that product can streamline productivity and produce profit,” says Screw Products’ Miller. “To stay ahead of the big box, offer an alternative to cheap, unreliable, labor intensive products. Offer a solution to a problem the builder may not even know they have. Challenge your builders by offering constructive advice on the products you carry. This is accomplished by knowing the advantages of your products and how those advantages will increase productivity and the bottom line for your builder.”
And by boosting your customers’ bottom line, you’ll end up boosting your own in the process.