July 13, 2022
This year, Fastbolt celebrates its 40e anniversary as a bindings wholesaler solely focused on the distribution and resale market. Chief Content Officer, Will Lowry, spoke with Managing Director, Ekkehard Beermann, about the company’s growth and how his philosophy has helped the company become a key player in the content industry. distribution.
Founded in 1982 by Heinz Storch, the cornerstone of Fastbolt has always been its commitment to the distribution and reseller market. “This policy has put us in a strong position and is a positive reason for distributors to buy from us as a strategic supplier – because they know we are not interested in competing with them to sell to industrial end users,” says Ekkehard. . “The policy has given us a reputation in Europe that allows us to sell to any size distributor in each regional market because they value that loyalty to the reseller.”
Fastbolt started in the UK, before Heinz Storch established a German branch in Gronau-Epe in 1992, which eventually became Fastbolt’s head office and main warehouse in 2005. This was followed by Fastbolt Trading based in Shanghai, China, also in 2005, which focuses on supporting European purchasing activities in the Far East, and in particular China, and also sells containers direct to distributors in Europe. Then there is FQC Shanghai in 2007, which provides product quality inspection before shipment. The latest addition to the Fastbolt Group was its Portuguese warehouse in Albergaria-a-Velha, which was founded in 2013.
“The business started in the UK, but it soon became clear that we needed a logistics and commercial presence in continental Europe to serve the market successfully. Each market has its own characteristics and the structure of the market in the UK, for example, is totally different from that of Germany, France or the Netherlands, which is why we thought it was important to also add the warehouse of the FB Iberica branch,” says Ekkehard. “Having three warehouses in key locations is a big advantage as it allows us to consistently deliver smaller shipments to our customers. We’ve found that smaller resellers don’t necessarily carry as much stock, so they rely on us for fast delivery to their warehouse.
Growing product line
Fastbolt has expanded its product range, with stock items just below the 10,000 mark. “In 2010 we began to strategically expand our range, adding many new product families, such as nuts, washers, threaded rods, etc., which were not in the initial range,” Ekkehard points out. “Fastbolt was historically known for its lines of hex bolts and small screws – self-tapping, self-drilling, machine screws, self-tapping screws, etc. However, over the years we have sought to develop new families and we are still looking at how we can further develop our offer to customers.
A prime example is Fastbolt’s line of nuts, which it recently decided to expand. “As standard practice, we stay in close contact with our customers, so that we can work closely with them, but also to understand where they have additional demand that might be of interest to us. We then carry out a feasibility study to see if we are capable of making this type of product and if it corresponds to our range and our business principle”, explains Ekkehard. “With our range of nuts, it was about doing a lot of research and analysis to see if there was an opportunity. Once we decided there was one, we expanded our range considerably. nuts, so we will soon have several hundred new items in a range of qualities.”
However, Ekkehard is keen to point out that Fastbolt has no plans to become a full-line shareholder. “Our principle has always been the same: to import a sophisticated and defined range of products from world markets. This is why we carry out our feasibility studies and also why we try to find maximum overlap in the markets we serve. This means that even if a product group is mainly stocked in the German central warehouse, we can still make it available to the UK and Portuguese sales teams. This process has been very successful for us and we plan to expand our range in the future, especially with the additions on the screw side. »
Quality still crucial
Even with all the additions to the product line, one factor that is as crucial today as it has ever been is product quality. “As a company, we’ve always made sure to focus on the quality of our products,” says Ekkehard. “We sell our products to resellers across Europe and they then sell them to a variety of industries. We know that we can only be a strong sourcing partner for these distributors if we can ensure that product quality is consistent and high. This is why a change of supplier is always a last resort for us, as we try to create lasting relationships with suppliers, not only for good communication and smooth logistics, but also for consistent and reliable product quality.
Ekkehard adds: “This is also the reason why we established our Fastener Quality Center in Shanghai, as a 50/50 joint venture with another distribution company. The FQC gives us the possibility to also carry out a pre-shipment inspection of the products before departure for Europe. This helps to ensure that the products we ship to Europe meet all necessary quality standards. »
Strong online presence
Another area that Fastbolt has grown in recent years to become an important part of its business is its FOnline platform, which has garnered even more interest during the pandemic, when customers were looking for quick access to information. “FBonline certainly saw an increase in users during the pandemic as there was a lot of demand in the market for fast ‘real-time’ information,” Ekkehard mentions. “With FOnline, customers can see the stock we have; when stock arrives; when they can place an order; and at what price and what volume. Customers can even trade with the online system in “real time” for larger items. It has become over the years a true business portal for our clients covering all business aspects of their business with us.
Ekkehard continues: “Thanks to our own programmers, we have also been able to continue to develop the functionalities allowing distributors to buy smarter, as well as to use new services – such as FBconference, our integrated videoconferencing system, which we have introduced at the start of the pandemic and has been used a lot by us to keep in touch with our customers.
Along with expanding its product line and online capabilities, Fastbolt has also sought to advance its logistics capabilities. “Currently, we face two big questions regarding our logistics,” Ekkehard points out. “The first concerns the job market and the lack of available people, which we do not see improving in the future. With this in mind, we asked ourselves what will be the future of material handling in our warehouse in Germany – knowing that the growth we have planned for the next few years cannot be managed by simply hiring more people – because we will have problems recruiting them. . So we decided to start a project to see how we could improve the efficiency of our internal logistics so that we could handle more volume, more incoming goods, more order lines, more order picking lines, more packing volume, but with the same team size.”
Ekkehard continues: “The second question is what can we do now to plan for other challenges, such as those we have all faced in the industry over the past few years. The answer, we believe, is to increase our overall stock – so that we are less vulnerable to such problems. The basis of our business is the stock we keep, so ensuring that we can continue to deliver to customers is a fundamental issue – which is why we are planning to expand our German warehouse in the future.
The current market situation means that now may not necessarily be the best time to consider building an extension – with costs skyrocketing and contractor capacity already taken – but Ekkehard is adamant that at some point, Fastbolt needs to start the process in order to prepare for the next steps in the company’s future business development.
“It is very possible that if it had not been for the Covid-19 pandemic, we would have already started with this expansion plan. The past two years have been almost unbelievable in the number of huge problems that have arisen. First there was BREXIT, which seems to have been almost forgotten, then there was the pandemic, raw material shortages, sea freight problems and now the Russian war in Ukraine (to read the thoughts of ‘Ekkehard on all these topics, see pages 82 – 83 under the Fixture Distribution feature). This created a very hazy outlook for the future. However, what we do know is that we will need more inventory to maintain the business we have and that we need to be more efficient with our intra-logistics to allow us to achieve the growth we have planned. . Even if the market is still, we will always plan for the growth of our business by expanding our range wisely. The key is our motivation not to stand still and use creativity and passion to further develop our business in the future.
40 years and over
While Fastbolt will hold internal events for its staff to celebrate its 40e anniversary, it will reserve nothing for external visitors. “Unfortunately, we still think it’s probably a bit too early to hold an event for an external visitor due to the rules and lockdowns still in place in some countries. Instead, we will be having a number of communications with customers and promotions to mark the occasion,” reports Ekkehard. “We are very proud to reach our 40e anniversary and considers it a very important milestone. However, as a company we are focused on the future and through investment in new product lines and the development of our intra-logistics capabilities, we are confident that we will be able to continue to grow and grow as a business and support our distributor customers. forward.”