Spring into Fastenal’s Professional, Forward-Thinking Solutions
I recently attended the spring Fastenal Customer Expo in Kissimmee, Florida, with more than 4,000 attendees. While I’m a veteran of other national distributor shows, this was my first time attending Fastenal’s event. The show exhibited an exciting vibe, including lots of buzz and energy, and was well-attended by both supplier partners and end-user customers.
When I think of Fastenal, I immediately think of their pioneer vending machines—found in break rooms, on job-sites and in warehouses—but the company is so much more. Well-positioned as a behemoth protecting the supply chain, the Safety leadership team is more involved than ever in supply chain conversations.
I had the pleasure of sitting down with Fastenal’s USA safety leaders, Joseph Solheid, Director of Sales for the Eastern U.S., and Evan Hardin, Director of Sales, Safety Equipment and PPE.
They conveyed that the company takes a holistic approach, as a one-stop shop that understands their customers’ businesses. Fastenal is much more than just selling products; they aim to offer superior customer service. This includes Safety service programs such as custom logo, inspections and trainings.
Like most businesses in the last five years, Fastenal’s path-to-market has changed. Prior to COVID, they handled a heavy RFQ/bids process but, in the last couple of years, they have evolved into helping their customers take cost out of their business. They take a consultative approach by shining a light on customer opportunities to improve their operational safety excellence and supply chain efficiencies—looking at where their customers highest hazards are; what their compliance issues might be; areas of the highest likelihood of serious injury; and more. They then develop a solution—as opposed to simply sending back an RFQ. They really want to partner with companies who have a strong safety culture that can meet a high level of commitment.
Vending Machine Quality and Innovation
Fastenal launched its vending program in 2008. Today, the company has more than 100,000 vending machines installed at customer sites, and their footprint in safety is quite impressive and only seems to be growing. It’s definitely a focus for Fastenal’s future!
What struck me about their vending machine approach is that employees enter a code to access the products they want—giving the employer considerable control over what employees can and cannot access. Making changes to the vending system is easy; just change out the coil in some cases. Even the product position in the machine itself can be easily changed. The most commonly vended category is PPE—especially consumables, such as glasses, gloves, banded earplugs, high-viz, batteries, flashlights, cooling towels, wipes and even hydration sticks.
The attention to detail seems never ending with Fastenal, as well. The company conducts strategic business reviews to assess product lines or perhaps decide what solutions need to be added or discontinued. It’s all about making sound, prudent business decisions.
Fastenal also executes customer surveys and does deep dives into the data—working side-by-side with customers to develop new products. We discussed how they are handling the increasing number of women in the workforce. It’s no longer good enough to just have a few types of PPE that might work for women; it’s now a necessary part of how they serve the safety market.
In addition, it was clear talking to Joseph and Evan that they truly embrace this type of diversity in their customers. This was reinforced by seeing so many women in the convention hall. Nowadays, women are a big share of the market to serve, and Fastenal pays attention and listens to customers.
Additional Systems and Product Capabilities
Fastenal doesn’t just do your typical coil vending machines; they also have other automated supply technologies, such as locker systems as well as the ability to manage customers’ tool cribs/storerooms. The locker systems can be used as stand-alone solutions or work in conjunction with the coil machines. They are also perfect for helping their customers manage assets. Think about high-dollar tools, scanners, iPads—what a great way to protect and track these at all times, as well as know who might have used them last.
One notable aspect of the lockers is the ability to store a large volume of PPE inside. This is ideal if, for example, a company goes through hundreds of earplugs or gloves a week. There are outlets for chargers in the back of the locker systems to recharge tools.
Fastenal works with companies that want (or need) to be lean in today’s labor market. They are all about labor efficiency in parts-picking. For example, imagine a warehouse or facility that is spread out. Fastenal offers a variety of inventory solutions to keep people closer to their work. There’s FASTBin – RFID which pairs radio frequency identification technology with a traditional multi-bin system. FASTBin – IR uses infrared sensors within each bin to detect stock levels. And the FASTBin – Scale uses high-precision load cells to detect the weight of each bin, and therefore the quantity it holds. With 24/7 electronic monitoring these solutions help reduce stock-outs, right-size inventory levels, and brings visibility to the inventory state of products. Best of all, Fastenal manages the entire process , which can help save money and reduce over-ordering redundancy.
These devices are part of a suite of technology solutions to capture and surface data, helping customers (and Fastenal) better understand where action needs to be taken in the supply chain.
As Baby Boomers exit the workforce, the new, younger generations are very interested in and adept at handling technology and data. Fastenal is well-prepared and can supply EHS managers with plenty of information.
For Fastenal’s strategic customers, they offer their proprietary FAST 360ᵒ Analytics solution—they work with customers on how to use the data gathered; how it will help their bottom line; and can tie into accounting system for efficiencies, track past-due receivables and invoices—even average days to pay for any given customer. The 360° technology also has a robust back-end support system that allows a customer to have a top-down look. Customers can look at a spend by manufacturer; how many SKU’s they are buying; how much vending they are using/buying; and can even filter all this data by plant.
Why Choose Fastenal?
This was an exciting, highly informative visit. If you are a customer of Fastenal and have the opportunity to attend any of their customer events, I highly recommend going “all in.” I applaud how they approach customers—in that they want to start with just a couple projects you might have and build from there.
Fastenal does not try to displace every other distributor with whom you might work. They actively listen, learn, evaluate, do site audits, take a consultative approach and become a true partner in your business. If you are in manufacturing, food & beverage, oil & gas, heavy equipment or construction, Fastenal has multiple ways to help outfit your workers or make use of their technology, vending machines, tool cribs and lockers. Check them out at www.fastenal.com.
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