Synergy in Safety: Why Fastenal Focuses on Supply Chain Strength
When it comes to safety, you want more than a product. You want innovation in the marketplace. You want a secure supply chain. You want to bring the best ideas in the industry to your safety program. And above all, you want a local relationship you can rely on no matter what the world throws our way.
Delivering all of the above takes a total team effort. We sat down with our own Andy Gander and Brent Roeder to discuss how the product and sales sides of our company work together to deliver a complete safety solution for your organization, from product design, production, and logistics to local projects, problem-solving, and inventory management.
What came first: Body Guard or the safety specialist program? Talk us through that progression.
BRENT: Body Guard was launched first, in 2007. When we took that step forward, and as the marketplace really began to recognize Fastenal as a safety company, it sparked a growing volume of inquiries from people looking for help avoiding workplace injuries, identifying products for applications, or simply getting their spend under control in the safety category. That was the catalyst that led to the launch of the safety specialist program in 2009.
What was the vision behind the Body Guard (PPE) and Agent (non-PPE) safety brands?
ANDY: To me, it can be summed up in three words: quality, control, and value. Quality is always first. We focus on engineering to the specification, not a predetermined cost. The cost savings come from supply chain efficiencies, not compromises in design and manufacturing. The key is having control in the supply chain. Our direct relationships with the factories allow us to leverage our buying power and distribution system to drive tremendous value for the customer. It also ensures that Fastenal and ultimately our customers remain a top priority for production and logistics.
BRENT: It’s worth noting that these factories are, in many cases, the same ones used by our branded suppliers. The difference is that we’re not simply distributing the end product; we’re controlling the supply chain from design to delivery.
How did this model come into play during the COVID pandemic?
BRENT: It was an absolute lifeline. If our PPE supply chain consisted only of branded suppliers, the number of organizations we could have helped would probably have been 20 or 30 percent of what we’re servicing today. If we were unable to directly negotiate with the factories, if we didn’t have those strong logistics relationships in place as a result of shipping thousands of containers a year, many more organizations would have been scrambling to protect their teams and maintain operations.
ANDY: It allowed us to move decisively in a chaotic situation. We would hear from the field about certain products being asked for in higher volumes, which threw up a red flag on the demand side. Meanwhile, we were talking with our manufacturing partners about their supply stock, their capacity, and their manufacturing focuses so we could plan ahead for potential disruptions. Then we took a look at what kind of problems we might run into, whether it’s a costing issue, a freight problem, a distribution problem. The ability to see across the supply chain helped us make well-informed decisions, always with our customers in mind.
Crisis can be a catalyst for change. In what ways has the pandemic made Fastenal’s safety program stronger?
BRENT: As an organization, I think we got better at understanding how saying “no” in some cases allows us to say “yes” when it really matters. In order to protect our existing customers – those who rely on Fastenal to keep them up and running – we had to say no to people who hadn’t put that trust in us and maybe just saw us as another place to buy stuff. Saying no is never easy, but the pandemic really drove it home: Our priority is not to sell products on the open market; it’s to protect the supply chains of people who are really counting on us.
ANDY: The experience crystallized who we are as a supply chain partner. As we look ahead, that mindset is carrying over in terms of how we see our own value, how we communicate to the marketplace, and how we build out our supply chains to support those customers who choose Fastenal as their preferred safety partner.
How do Fastenal’s exclusive brands enhance what the safety specialist team is able to do?
BRENT: Our role is to be brand agnostic. That means becoming experts in all of the offerings in the industry and objectively recommending the best product for the specific hazard, the relevant regulations, the work environment, etcetera. So, on a basic level, Body Guard and Agent expand the universe of solutions we can draw upon. The unique value comes on the product development side. We’ve seen numerous examples where our product development team works directly with customers on projects. In those cases, we aren’t limited by the universe of current options; we’re able to control and shape that universe, so to speak.
And on the other side of the coin, how does the safety specialist team enhance what product development is able to do?
ANDY: It really comes down to understanding the needs of our customers, sometimes before they even know what they need. For example, one of our specialists might be working with a company that’s using three different gloves in part of their business. That expert can come back to us and say, “Could we take the specs that are in those three products and consolidate them into a single product – is that possible and does it make sense?” This is how we’ve found some of our most successful projects, specifically when we work with large end users to consolidate their safety product portfolio across multiple locations.
What’s next for Body Guard and Agent?
ANDY: For product development and supply chain, the focus has been on COVID-impacted products for the past year, and that remains the case to some degree. But we’re also moving full speed ahead on getting new projects into the pipeline and filling in gaps across all safety categories. In a typical year, we’d make 15 to 18 new product launches. You’ll probably see 15 to 18 product launches per quarter as we move into the second half of 2021 and into 2022. Stay tuned for a lot of innovations in the Body Guard and Agent offering over the next 12 to 24 months.
Any final thoughts on the synergy between your respective teams?
BRENT: When our programs are running really well together, from a customer standpoint it’s really hard to tell where the product and sales sides start and stop. It’s all fully integrated in how we’re serving customers and managing their supply chains for them. That said, I want to emphasize that everything we do – whether it’s Andy and his team working to create a vend-pack solution, or our team working on a SKU rationalization project – stems from a local customer relationship with a Fastenal branch or Onsite location. Our teams are simply a resource to support great partnerships on the local level.
ANDY: On that note, anytime anyone on the sales side of our business believes they have a good idea for their customer, don’t hesitate to bring that to us. The better we understand what is needed by the end user, the more we can help them with their business.
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Brent Roeder – Director of Sales
As the global director of sales for safety and metalworking at Fastenal, Brent Roeder leads a team of 130+ specialists who strive to define excellence in customer service for the industrial marketplace. During his 21-year tenure at Fastenal, he has developed a sales consulting and services platform that now generates over $2 billion in annual sales. As Fastenal’s footprint continues to expand, Brent works with leadership teams in Asia, Europe, and Central America to provide global programs for Fastenal’s national account partners.
Andy Gander – Supplier Development Manager
As a member of Fastenal’s safety product development and supply chain team, Andy helps to oversee the Body Guard® and Agent® brands (a product portfolio that currently drives 30%+ of Fastenal’s safety revenue). The team works behind the scenes to ensure an innovative and resilient safety supply chain for organizations ranging from industrial manufacturers, food companies, and contractors to healthcare providers and schools. He celebrates 10 years with the company in 2021.
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