DENVER —Film crews from the cable television show “Cool Tools” roamed the trade show floor at the Specialty Tools and Fasteners Distributors Association—STAFDA—annual convention. The cameras were on alert for the new and noteworthy, and so were a healthy contingent of STAFDA members, who were encouraged to embrace new product lines and new opportunities as times get tough.
During his state-of-the-industry address, STAFDA president Rick Peterson shared his experience changing gears at the Seattle-based All-West Fasteners, which he co-founded in 1978. All-West began as “two guys in a nearly empty warehouse,” he said, and reinvented itself as a supplier of aircraft fasteners and military specification hardware, supporting Boeing and the U.S. Navy. More recently, All-West added electronic hardware to its offerings.
Other STAFDA members are currently shifting sales to commercial, industrial and other market sectors, he said, and that’s what the trade show was designed for—showcasing new products to help in this transition.
The 32nd event held here had some 880 booths on the show floor playing show and tell. There was no shortage of candidates for “Cool Tools” broadcasts.
Moorpark, Calif.-based Gorilla Gripper, allowing for one person to carry large sheets of wood, showcased the Leg Up, allowing one wood worker to place a large panel on a table saw. At the Mineola, N.Y.-based Max booth, the star product was a rebartier, a power tool with mandible-like teeth that twist wire tightly a round rebar, saving time and preventing carpal tunnel syndrome. And for something completely different, a massive portable evaporative cooling unit from Center, Texas-based Port-A-Cool. For $3,000, a large unit can cool even the great outdoors. (The booth graphics showed a soldier in desert camouflage enjoying the machine.)
STAFDA served up best practices and commentary critical of federal policy and proposals affecting the construction product supply chain.
Peterson shared four points of advice to STAFDA houses. Adopt improved supply chain partnerships, such as “Vendor Managed Inventory” (VMI). The goals of VMI are to make sure the customers’ production line never shuts down due to a product shortage and to minimize the total cost of supply. He cautioned distributors not to get burned on special inventory. A tool they should use is non-cancelable, non-returnable agreements (NCNRs).
A third suggestion was to ensure that a company’s terms and conditions protect them from product liability. “Remember, we’re the distributor, not the insurer against all things bad in the universe,” he said. And, finally, he suggested STAFDA houses protect themselves from giving customers detailed industry descriptions that they can use to compare pricing and sourcing with their competitors.
Peterson railed against the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA). In comments that received spontaneous applause during Peterson’s address to members, he called the EFCA “terrible” and “Orwellian,” and a “serious threat to small businesses.” Among its provisions is the elimination of the secret ballot in certain union elections.
“If passed, what this terrible legislation would do would eliminate the time-honored requirement for secret ballots of union elections and enable union proponents to coerce and intimidate workers who disagree with the union objectives,” he said.
Meanwhile, PrimeSource co CEO Mona Zinman, speaking in the associate member “State of the Industry” slot, railed against nail dumping duties, which would raise the cost of certain nails from China by at least 21 percent. “And this tax is being passed on to the supply chain, ultimately to the American consumer for whom the cost to build a house or hang a picture has now increased.”
She also criticized what could be the retroactive duty on product that may or may not be deemed to be sold unfairly in the United States at sometime in the future. She described the word “retroactive” as “a word that sends tremors of fear down my spine.”
“This year has not been normal to say the least,” said Georgia Foley, STAFDA executive director. Still the 32nd event will stand as the fourth largest meeting in the organization’s history at about 4,500 attendees. Some 880 booths were on the show floor, down from 969 booths last year, a record high. Of those 880 exhibitors in Denver, 19 percent were not present last year.
STAFDA membership has dipped slightly in 2008 to 2,845, including 1,215 distributors.
In 2009, Hal Look, of Livermore, Calif.-based ORCO Construction Supply, will serve as STAFDA president.