Category buoyant but can we rest assured?

By Jess Brunette July 04, 2016 Fastenings & Fixings

The fasteners & fixings market continues to do well but recent concerns around product assurance have some players calling for change. Jess Brunette reports.

To view a PDF of the complete feature as it appeared in NZ Hardware Journal magazine, click the download button at the bottom of this page.

Before tackling the key concerns of the category I can report that most players tell me it’s a “buoyant” or steady market with either slight or significant increases in the last 12 months. David Knight at Macsim for one reports more than 10% growth on the previous year.

“It’s down to the sheer amount of work out there and the shortage of houses as well,” he says. I think if you weren’t busy or growing now you would be concerned because there is so much happening.”

So has Macsim been taking market share or is the market just getting bigger? “A bit of both,” Knight says.

“There have been some really large market enquiries in terms of volume for some product that people have been desperate to get hold of and that has perhaps forced them to look a little wider than they normally would just to get the products. So we have picked up some new business.”

Over at Pryda, Robert Turner also reports to being “up a touch” from last year: “Overall it’s pretty positive. Christchurch is still strong in commercial so down there its business as usual, but up here in Auckland, I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw a little bit of a lift still.”

When asked about the major issues that the category is currently facing, Turner maintains his positive outlook.

“Some of the things that concerned us in the past have been put to bed somewhat, like the cheap imported products and so on. I think the local Territorial Authorities have got on to a lot of that and we have a reasonable relationship with them.

“We also have some customers who tend to ‘stray’ sometimes and, because we are with those customers all the time, we see the cheap product with the merchants. So we are seeing less of that now, they are sticking to the no fuss stuff.

“You also have to have the bits of paper to back everything up now, which is the way it should be,” Turner says.

 

YOUR PAPERS, PLEASE

Regarding those “bits of paper”, unfortunately even having what looks to be the right documentation supplied with imported products may not be enough. The issue around faulty steel from China recently brought this into sharp relief again recently and has created concern about fake certificates and/or faulty products coming into the country.

In reaction to this uncertainty and risk, many players in the hardware channel and at Government level are going so far as to suggest some form of compulsory third party testing.

As this has particular relevance to the fastening and fixing category where products are often the linchpins behind the structural integrity of a project, I asked several players for their feelings on product assurance.

Coming in hot in support of a stricter regime around product assurance is Darryn Trollip, EDL Fasteners’ Managing Director of Sales. “We feel strongly that New Zealand needs stricter controls around product compliance,” he says.

“We have spent a great deal on setting up robust testing regimes and quality controls around the globe. We have quality audited suppliers and manufacturers that we deal with and we have a quality assurance programme with dedicated QA staff,” Trollip explains.

“Of course, all of this comes at a cost but there is more than one way of looking at it. We feel that what we have done is now a great sales tool, and so we are very much in favour of compulsory third party testing, as that will bring about improvements in our industry and the industries we are supplying.

“It will also separate the competent and the not-so-competent suppliers. In a perfect world, customers would recognise these fantastic benefits and be prepared to pay for the peace of mind that a comprehensive QA programme brings, but we know we don’t live in a perfect world.”

 

ONE SIZE DOES NOT FIT ALL

SPAX Pacific Sales Manager, Jeremy La Ragy, is also keen on the third party testing idea: “Inferior imports are driving the price of fasteners down which is an issue all suppliers face in the marketplace. If consumers are spending good money on high-quality building materials, they don’t want an inferior fastener that might fail.

“We have recently seen cheap and inferior products have flooded the marketplace, driving the price of fasteners down which is an issue all suppliers face in the market place. So yes, third party testing may be a good way to help reduce this,” La Ragy says.

ITW Proline’s National Sales Manager, Warren Lowe, seems to favour a bring-it-on approach to the third party testing model.

“Anything we make is all to spec. People say the Zenith pre-packs must be cheap and nasty because they are made in China but that’s not the case – everything is made to Australia/NZ standards and the same goes with our Buildex brand.

“As far as testing goes, the rules are changing everywhere but we are happy with our products and if someone wanted to test a product of ours they would find it meets the guidelines,” says Warren Lowe.

 

VOLUNTARY NOT MANDATORY

While not one of the players spoken to for this feature was expressly against a third party testing model, many were measured in their responses, favouring a case by case approach in any potential implementation.

“Even having what looks to be the right documentation supplied with imported products may not be enough”

Getting back to source first hand is an approach that Mike O’Brien of Chain & Rigging Supplies favours to ensure he can always stand by the quality of his products. Subsequently, he has little sympathy for companies that import product based on certificates alone only to find they aren’t up to scratch.

“I have actually been to the factories in China myself and thoroughly inspected them. I went into one company and they said they do all their own in-house testing. The testing facility is off to one side of where they did the manufacturing and all of the test machines were covered in dust and had clearly not been turned on in months!

“So they are saying to my face that they quality test everything there and I’m standing there wiping the dust off these machines as I’m talking to them! Consequently, I don’t deal with those sorts of people and only deal with those who can prove they are definitely doing testing,” O’Brien says emphatically.

“The other thing is I have my own 158-tonne test bed, so every batch of products we bring in from overseas we randomly select items out of that product and construction test them ourselves. So if I have a product out there with a one-tonne rating on it, if somebody rings up and I say it was only one tonne and it broke then I can say well let’s have a look at the application.”

 

WHAT DOES ALL THIS COST?

Randall Vigis, Marketing Manager at BSN Fittings, has a little more sympathy for those caught out by faulty imported product.

“I think the faulty stuff that was found recently proved that it wasn’t just one company and was actually quite widespread and one tried to sort of dob the other one in – it actually was quite messy in my opinion,” he shares.

“So it’s hard to know what’s best. Third party testing in principle sounds like quite a good idea. But what it can do is make things more expensive and also cut out some of the smaller players by making it less competitive for them and you need smaller players and bigger players as it keeps everyone honest.”

While Randall Vigis acknowledges the industry needs some form of assurance, he admits to being in two minds about it.

“We work with trusted sources, do quite a lot of our own testing and we also rely on certificates from suppliers but at the end of the day, with all the certificates out there, who would know if they are all kosher?”

Randall Vigis continues: “So maybe rather than third party testing across the board maybe there should be some random independent auditing of test certificates so every so often a factory test certificate is produced and some products from that batch and they go for third party testing.”

(As an aside there is a body called IANZ whose task in life is to accredit test laboroatories and verify test certification. See page 6 for more on what IANZ brings to the product assurance issue.)

 

TESTING? COSTS A FORTUNE!

For Senco’s Mark Glidden, conducting his own testing is a more economical option.

“We randomly test every 6th or 7th container of product through a testing agency to verify product quality. And we have test certificates for those because we have some competitors in New Zealand that try to make it hard for everybody so we try to stay one step ahead of the game there,” Glidden says.

Back at Macsim, David Knight is also concerned about the potential costs a testing regime could add to an already competitive category.

“I suppose it does potentially increase the cost of the products because, the testing can be extremely expensive in a market where margins are really tight – and if anything are still going down. So it’s a tough call whether you have that tested product or not.

“Maybe rather than third party testing across the board maybe there should be some random independent auditing of test certificates”

“However, from an end user’s perspective, it would be a good thing. It gives them a certain security in the product, something to come back on and something to hold suppliers to account against.

“So I can understand why that issue is cropping up and why the demand is possibly there. Particularly for products that are used in critical aspects of a building, to have that testing is probably a good thing for the person using the product and the supplier in terms of there being some security for both if something does go wrong. And we already have a range of structural bolts that are third party tested for that very reason.”

 

WOULD TESTING HIGHLIGHT THE COWBOYS?

While it’s all well and good for the larger established players to do their own testing, how about the fly-by-night importers that don’t have an established brand to maintain in the long run? Could third party testing procedures help weed out some of the many opportunistic importers that bring in products that may or may not be up to scratch?

Eddie Mulligan of Aerofast has had plenty of experience with imported tiedown products that, while initially looking the part, are often drastically underperforming when put to the test.

As a provider of safety products, Aerofast conducts testing at several stages of the manufacturing process to ensure its products more than fit the requirements. This has put the company in a good position to conduct testing on suspect products as they appear on New Zealand shelves.

Says Eddie Mulligan: “We constantly have challenges with imported finished products that come in that either don’t meet the labelling requirements of the standard or don’t technically meet the quoted standard. So if it says it will take 1000 kilos it will go at 600.

“So we are constantly on the lookout and when we see a competitive product turn up on the shelf we will immediately buy it and test it and if they have failed we will let the retailer know and also give it to an independent body to test it,” Mulligan explains.

“It does happen from time to time and because of that the retailers rely on us very heavily to make sure the category is correct so some of our customers might bring in their own product and ask us to test it for them but it’s often a bit late and they already have a market full of it! We’ve had instances where it didn’t meet the standard by quite some margin and they had to throw it out because it’s a safety item, we are dealing with people’s lives on the road.”

Acknowledging that the self-testing model does involve a large element of honesty, Mulligan does feel something has to be done to address the more opportunistic importers out there.

“These guys will go to a trade fair in China, see a product that looks similar to ours but cheaper, and think ‘I’ll have some of that’. So they order it and first of all, what they receive isn’t what they’ve ordered, it doesn’t have the right labelling, maybe it’s in imperial rather than metric, as it’s an overrun from an American production run.”

With this in mind, Mulligan likes the idea of third party testing – provided it takes a targeted approach.

“Perhaps if it’s a new product coming in or if it’s an annual test but not something that’s going to become an ongoing cost. If I am already compliant I don’t want to be burdened by significant increases in compliance costs. We have enough of those already in business most of which are just someone clipping the ticket.”

Summing up, most of the players in this category – while completely confident of their own compliance – do favour a stricter approach to product assurance in the fixings & fastenings category in order to protect both the end users and the category in general. How that will be done without passing on major costs to those already toeing the line is something we will have to wait and see.

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