Fasteners for the Future of Construction
Bissett Fasteners is a building materials distributor specializing in collated nails and staples and the pneumatic tools that use them. The company has locations throughout Canada and has 450 distinct products under its brand.
Bissett’s product line has been specially designed for industry professionals who work in wood construction, pallet and furniture manufacturing, and prefabricated housing. “Anything that goes into wood to hold it together is where we live,” says Derek Daly, senior vice president of Bissett.
The company was founded in 1929 as a retailer of office supplies. Bostitch staplers were one of the key products that the company was offering at the time, and this resulted in Bissett following Bostitch through a major transition. Bostitch evolved into a company that focused on the development of collated fasteners and pneumatic tools that were quite revolutionary for the time.
Essentially, what Bostitch was introducing to the marketplace was a way to set a nail or a fastener into a board in less time than it would take a builder to swing a hammer once. This increased efficiency for Bostitch’s customers substantially, and Bissett, having an already long established relationship with the company, shifted toward building materials as well.
For fifty years, Bissett had exclusive distribution rights for Bostitch products in British Columbia, Canada. This began the development of the company’s expertise in the fastener industry, and Bostitch products were the foundation of Bissett’s initial success. This changed in 1986 when Bostitch was acquired by Stanley Black & Decker. Under the new ownership, Bissett’s exclusivity deal was repealed, and competitors began offering the same line.
Around this time, Bissett decided to start importing its own line of fasteners and distributing its own products. The company was still well-known in the market as a Bostitch supplier, so it maintained focus on those products, but by diversifying, the company had positioned itself for future change.
In 2014, Bissett’s leadership changed, and the company’s new owners decided to shift away from Bostitch toward its own product line. “Stanley Black & Decker is sold all over the place including all the major big box stores,” says Daley, “and they’re not really an industrial company. They’ve evolved more into a retail company. Our core business focuses on people who want tools that are made for professionals and that stand the test of time. That’s where we saw our opportunity.” Under the new leadership, the company increased the number of products in its line with a focus on the professional user.
In 2015 Bissett acquired Canadian Industrial Distributors (CID), an exclusive distributor of another leading American tool and fastener brand called Senco. CID had made the mistake of concentrating its business entirely on Senco products. As Senco, and other industry leaders like Bostitch and Paslode, began to shift efforts toward lower-cost consumer-quality products, big box hardware stores began to stock them. This resulted in CID losing its competitive advantage and eventually going bankrupt.
Had Bissett not made the strategic decision to diversify its products, it might have suffered the same fate. Instead, the company survived by centering on developing a product line for professionals. This would differentiate it from the lower-quality, do-it-yourself (DIY) market. Prior to the acquisition, Bissett had seven locations in British Columbia and Alberta. Three new sites in Toronto, Ontario; Montreal, Quebec; and Dartmouth, Nova Scotia were brought on from CID. That gave the company a national presence.
Today, Bissett has eleven locations across the country and will be adding a twelfth soon. Each has a service and repair center so that the company can stand behind the products it sells. Over the last three years, it has seen explosive growth, doubling in size. As a percentage of sales, fasteners have increased from half to two-thirds of the company’s overall business. Most companies in the same marketplace sell fasteners alongside many other disparate hardware products, but Bissett is very focused on what it does best: collated fasteners and the pneumatic tools you use with them.
Bissett Fasteners has achieved a great deal of success, and the company’s leadership believes that much of it is the result of having an empowered workforce. “We trust our employees,” says Daley. “There are a lot of companies that don’t share information with their employees, but we feel that they can make better decisions in the field if they’re empowered with information. Our people know what their decision rights are, and they’re able to execute very effectively in the field as a result.”
When the company’s leadership changed in 2015, they realized that a critical component of its value was its people. The new owners retained the vast majority of the sales force, many of whom had been with the company for more than twenty and sometimes more than thirty years. The level of seniority at Bissett reflects the experience and the knowledge held by its workers.
The Bissett line of tools includes a range that meets all the needs of industry professionals. It is a master distributor for a Japanese manufacturer called MAX and has exclusive distribution rights for a Taiwanese manufacturer of pneumatic tools called Everwin. Both of these lines are dedicated to professional users. Offering products with a high-quality standard enables the company to offer a repair service because the tools are very long lasting.
Recently, the company launched an innovative tool that solves a major issue affecting users of fasteners and related tools. Within the fastener market there are so many products available, that it is a significant challenge to match a particular fastener with the right tool, and tracking down those products has traditionally been difficult. Bissett has found that even when getting the help of senior hardware store employees, finding the right match is rarely an easy exercise.
To solve this problem, Bissett has developed a web-accessible database of fasteners and their corresponding pneumatic tools. This allows customers and hardware store employees to look up a tool by name and retrieve a list of all the fasteners that will work with it. The database was launched in May of this year. So far it contains information on six brands of tools, and there are plans to add to this. Since its launch, the company has received an incredible amount of positive feedback.
What Bissett is attempting to do is to make the customer’s purchasing decision easier and improve the customer experience by showing what Bissett fasteners work with their equipment. The Bissett Fastener Finder, which can be found at ff.bissettfasteners.ca, helps customers eliminate the risk of buying the wrong hardware.
An important part of that vision is ensuring the quality of its product. Multiple times every year, Bissett visits its manufacturing partners to audit them in ethical practices, quality control, and more. “We go so far as to give them report cards,” says Daley. “If we find any problems, we communicate with them immediately.” Taking care to monitor the supply chain in this way gives the company fine control over the quality of its product.
As online distributors like Amazon begin to monopolize the tools market, the challenge for Bissett will be to maintain a competitive advantage while continuing to respect the two-step distribution model. A two-step distributor sells its product through retailers like Home Hardware, Timbermart, and the like, and never directly to the job site. A one-step distributor offers its products directly to consumers, essentially cutting the retailers out. Bissett values the two-step model and respects the dealer channel because it sees retailers as important partners.
Hardware stores will continue to see growing competition from online retailers, and since the company offers all of its products through these outlets, it will feel the effects of this shift as well, but Bissett feels that its approach will enable it to excel in spite of this challenge.
“We’re definitely going to hold our own because we concentrate on products that we’re the best at,” says Daley. “We’re concentrating our efforts where we’re the strongest, and that’s what’s going to keep us in business long term and keep our dealers and our industrial customers successful.”