Manufacturer vs. Distributor… What’s the difference?
Question: What is the difference between a bolt manufacturer and a fastener distributor?
Answer: In the fastener industry, there are two different types of fastener companies… distributors and manufacturers. The following FAQ will address the differences between fastener distributors and bolt manufacturers and provide some insight as to when to consider utilizing each type of company for your fastener purchases.
What is a fastener distributor?
Fastener distributors serve a very important role in the fastener industry. Distributors buy and resell product that is readily available in the marketplace. These items are typically smaller sized fasteners that are mass produced either overseas or in some cases the United States. Distributors provide both SAE fasteners (grades 2, 5 and 8) for use in equipment, automotive, and OEM type applications as well as ASTM fasteners more commonly used in construction. For a distributor to stock a specific fastener, they must sell it on a repetitive basis frequently enough to justify inventorying that item. Products that are commonly stocked by distributors include A325 structural bolts, small diameter A307 hex bolts, wood screws, rivets, wedge anchors, all thread rod, nuts, washers, etc. These items are used frequently enough for a distributor to carry a full size range of these items.
In addition to brokering bolts, fastener distributors will often sell construction supplies that include items like hand tools, drill bits, wrenches, hard hats, ladders, buckets, etc. Fastener distributors will perform tasks like running small orders to job sites several times a week and filling bolt bins on a regular schedule.
In addition to selling standard sized bolts, fastener distributors will also broker nonstandard fasteners by buying product from manufacturers and reselling it to end users such as original equipment manufacturers, contractors, steel fabricators, and other construction related companies.
Where do the standard bolts sold by distributors come from?
Most of the standard sized imported construction fasteners sold by distributors come from Asia or India and are sold through two or three wholesalers who directly import them. Structural bolts and a limited amount of other standard fasteners are mass produced by American or Canadian companies and sold through an established supply chain.
What does Portland Bolt do?
Portland Bolt is a manufacturer of large, nonstandard anchor bolts and construction fasteners. We make bolts in sizes and grades that are not mass produced or imported from overseas.
What is a bolt manufacturer?
Unlike fastener distributors, bolt manufacturers like Portland Bolt specialize in producing fasteners that are not readily available in the marketplace. These are bolts that are specifically engineered into a structure and do not meet the dimensional, chemical, and mechanical properties that would commonly be found sitting on the shelf of a fastener distributor. Typically, nonstandard construction fasteners are large in diameter, longer in length, or higher in strength than common, mass produced fasteners. Companies like Portland Bolt who specialize in manufacturing bolts that are not in stock, have specialized equipment designed to take steel round bar and cut it, thread it, forge a head onto it, bend it, or otherwise process it and turn it into a finished fastener.
Do all bolt manufacturers have similar capabilities?
The types of equipment used to produce these nonstandard fasteners may differ significantly from one manufacturer to the next, but for all intents and purposes, manufacturers perform the labor operations within the confines of their own manufacturing facility. Portland Bolt has the ability to make virtually any type of nonstandard construction fastener needed for a given project. Portland Bolt has the ability to thread rods through 6″ in diameter, bend bolts through 3″ diameter, and forge heads onto bolts through 2-1/2″ diameter. We manufacture to almost all common ASTM construction fastener specifications and work with raw materials that include carbon steels, alloy steels, and stainless steels. What sets us apart from virtually every other fastener manufacturer in the country is that we perform hot-dip galvanizing in our facility. This ensures the highest quality galvanized coating and fast turn-around times.
Do bolt manufacturers sell directly to contractors and end-users or just through distribution?
Portland Bolt sells product to both contractors, OEMs, and other construction related companies as well as to fastener distributors. Some bolt manufacturers will not sell directly to end users, and choose to provide their products only to fastener distributors who then broker these items to the end users.
Portland Bolt’s philosophy is to determine the cost for us to manufacture the requested fastener, apply a reasonable profit margin, and sell it at the same price to whoever wants to purchase it from us. Although we value our relationships with the many fastener distributors we work with, we do not provide them with discounted pricing or preferential costs. We feel that allowing contractors and construction related companies to buy directly from us will insure the best pricing and a direct line of communication that reduces the chance for error.
Do all manufactures possess the wide range of manufacturing capabilities that Portland Bolt has?
No. Many fastener manufacturers have extremely limited manufacturing capabilities and only work with low carbon steel. Only one other construction fastener manufacturer that we know of in the United States galvanizes within their bolt manufacturing facility.
What is a “rod shop”?
A “rod shop” is industry slang for a bolt manufacturing company whose manufacturing capabilities are limited to cutting and threading only. Some rod shops will also have the ability to bend small anchor bolts and u-bolts. These companies are often characterized by limitations that include relatively small diameters and lower strength materials only. Rod shops often do not provide high strength, heat-treated materials, large diameters, and certainly do not have the ability to make headed bolts.
One cautionary note… companies that do not have the ability to make bolts with forged heads will often attempt to substitute nuts welded to the ends of threaded rods instead of providing bolts with forged heads that the project engineer has specified. If you allow yourself to be talked into this type of product substitution, you could be exposing your company to a tremendous amount of liability and opening a huge can of worms.
The distinction between bolt manufacturers and fastener distributors is not cut and dried and is often blurred by hybrid fastener companies. Hybrids are companies that have some manufacturing capabilities but also stock and distribute a complete line of standard fasteners and construction supplies. For example, many rod shops with limited manufacturing capabilities will emphasize the distribution of a full line of fasteners and construction supplies. In fact, Portland Bolt stocks some common construction fasteners including items such as A325 structural bolts, lag screws, hex bolts, carriage bolts, anchor bolts, nuts, and washers. However, most companies either emphasize distribution or manufacturing of nonstandard fasteners.
Should I buy all my fasteners from a manufacturer or a distributor?
If you can find a competent distributor who can provide your regular bolts as well as your custom fasteners, or if you can find a competent manufacturer who is willing to service your everyday needs, you can probably get away with using one company. However, most contractors and construction related companies who buy fasteners on a regular basis choose to buy their standard fasteners from a distributor and work directly with a manufacturer for their nonstandard bolt needs.
How do I know if my regular fastener supplier is a manufacturer or a distributor?
Many companies who buy bolts don’t have a complete understanding of their fastener suppliers’ full capabilities. The best thing to do is ask them. Find out what manufacturing capabilities they have, if any. Find out what items they inventory. Distributors or companies with limited capabilities may attempt to avoid these questions. Visit their facility and investigate thoroughly. Discover where exactly they lie on the manufacturer – distributor spectrum. This will give you a better idea as to when you should be contacting them and for what type(s) of fastener.
The illusion created by the internet.
The internet is a great marketing tool, but can be used by some companies to create a false illusion that they have different capabilities than they actually possess. We have seen numerous companies, through pictures and statements on their website, lead their existing customers and prospects to believe they have the ability to produce headed bolts when in fact they are really only a rod shop. Another company who is essentially a single person operation and works from their house in a residential area, has created an illusion that they own a complex network of manufacturing facilities throughout the country, when in fact those companies simply sell him bolts that he brokers.
How do I know whether the bolt I need is a standard item or if it will need to be manufactured?
Lead time. For companies that don’t buy fasteners on a daily basis, one of the most difficult things to do is to look at a list of fasteners and determine which ones will be a standard stock item and which will need to be custom manufactured. If you call your local fastener distributor and they tell you it will take them more than a few days to deliver your items, it is likely they are contacting a manufacturer like Portland Bolt to have them made. At that point, you should ask them if the item needs to be manufactured and if they are capable of making it. If you typically use a fastener distributor to provide your fasteners and they tell you it’s going to take a week or more to deliver them, that should be your trigger to call Portland Bolt.
What are the disadvantages and potential pitfalls of buying custom manufactured bolts from a distributor?
Lack of expertise
Because fastener distributors sell such broad range of fasteners and construction supplies, they are rarely versed in the technical aspects of nonstandard construction fasteners. They must be familiar with hundreds, if not thousands of SKU’s and product lines. This limits their ability to become experts on a very small niche within the fastener industry… nonstandard construction fasteners.
No direct line of communication
When nonstandard construction fasteners are purchased through a distributor, there is not a direct line of communication between the customer and the manufacturer. This can lead to bolts being ordered incorrectly due to the fact that the distributor in the middle greatly increases the chance of miscommunication between the customer and distributor and between the distributor and manufacturer. Every time the information is transferred it increases the opportunity for something to be communicated inaccurately or misinterpreted. Standard fasteners are pretty straight forward, while ordering custom fasteners can be significantly more complex. It takes a highly trained salesman to ask the correct questions to ensure custom bolt are manufactured correctly and on time.
If you buy custom bolts through a distributor who doesn’t actually make them, you end up overpaying for those fasteners. Distributors don’t broker custom fasteners for free, and in some cases the mark-up for passing these custom bolts through is quite high.
You get what you pay for
The only way distributors can compete with each other and compete against manufacturers when brokering nonstandard fasteners is to buy them from the cheapest manufacturer in the country. Distributors will shop a custom bolt until they find a manufacturer with the absolute rock bottom price, apply a minimum mark-up, and sell them to end users. What this often means is that when you buy nonstandard fasteners from a distributor, you are actually buying them from the cheapest manufacturer they could find. When this happens, the old adage often applies… you get what you pay for. In order for manufacturers to sell at extremely low prices, they must cut corners in some critical areas. Low-priced manufacturers often employ unskilled laborers, don’t invest money to maintain equipment which results in poor quality product, and do not implement scheduling systems that allow them to consistently ship product on schedule.
Ask yourself this question….. If you were diagnosed with a brain tumor and required surgery, would you choose the surgeon with the lowest bid on your surgical procedure? We didn’t think so. Bolt manufacturing is obviously not as critical as brain surgery, but you might have difficulty convincing some project managers of that! However, we can all agree that delivering fasteners that are correct, function properly, and arrive on schedule are absolutely critical for any successful construction project.
What are the advantages of buying directly from a manufacturer like Portland Bolt?
Expertise regarding nonstandard construction fasteners
Portland Bolt serves a very small niche in the fastener world. We make nonstandard construction fasteners. Therefore, we need to be experts in this area. If you need Simpson hardware, epoxy, sheet metal screws, or tools, a distributor will be much more helpful than we will. However, when you need nonstandard construction fasteners, you should consider Portland Bolt due to the fact that that’s what we do…..make custom bolts. Our salesmen are extremely knowledgeable with regard to the ASTM specifications covering these fasteners and the application of these products.
Direct line of communication… we make it easy
At Portland Bolt, we walk you through the process of ordering the bolts that have been specified for your projects. We ask you all the pertinent questions necessary to ensure you receive the proper bolts that the engineer has specified. If you don’t know what you need exactly, we will assist you in the process of locating that information. It is significantly easier to purchase standard construction fasteners than custom ones. Our estimators are trained to make sure you get the right grade, finish, configuration, dimensions, compatible nuts and washers, and ensure they are delivered on your schedule. We take the difficulty and uncertainty out of buying custom bolts. We ask lots of questions because we feel it is our obligation to protect you from ordering these items incorrectly. The next time you need nonstandard construction fasteners, let us show you how easy we can make the process.
Changes in your schedule
When your schedule changes, wouldn’t it be nice to pick up the phone and talk directly to the company producing your fasteners? When you buy from Portland Bolt, we can tell you in seconds the status of your order. Our software allows us to instantly see what labor operations have been performed and which ones remain. This is critical when something changes on the job-site and requires the partially completed order to be expedited, put on hold, or canceled.
When you buy directly from the manufacturer, you receive the best possible value since there are no additional mark-ups included in the price.
Both fastener distributors and bolt manufactures play separate and distinct roles in supplying construction fasteners. If you currently have a single source for all your fastener needs, we would encourage you to consider procuring nonstandard fasteners directly from a construction fastener manufacturer like Portland Bolt. It will increase the likelihood that you are receiving the best value and provide a direct line of communication with the company that is actually making your bolts.