Even with a component as small as a nut or a bolt, the Bolt and Engineering Distributors (B.E.D.) Group’s Cape Town branch plays an important role in major projects throughout the Western Cape. Each year, the branch supplies over 25 million fasteners to a wide variety of key industry sectors, including construction, agriculture and maritime, to name a few.
This is according to Operations Manager Juan van Zyl, who says that fasteners – upon which the company was originally founded and which form the foundational bedrock of every building and construction project – still account for a substantial percentage of their sales, along with welding equipment and services.
Strength in diversity
Diversity is a key differentiator, according to van Zyl, with B.E.D.’s fasteners being sold as far and wide as Robben Island, the Department of Correctional Services and even key power generation facilities such as Eskom’s Koeberg nuclear plant and the extensive Worcester solar plant.
“Of B.E.D’s 9 branches countrywide, in Cape Town we have one of the most diverse customer bases. This includes private sector manufacturers, mines and even shopping malls; as well as public sector entities such as Transnet, rail operators and even the navy and defence force,” he explains.
However, the construction sector is the largest Western Cape fastener market, followed by manufacturing – as food processing plants, warehouses and packing facilities which are all highly automated, and all requiring fasteners.
The ‘nuts and bolts’ of selling fasteners
Van Zyl explains that the manufacture of equipment worth millions of rands – or the completion of large construction projects – could come to a halt if a single R4.00 fastener is missing. For this reason, B.E.D. Cape Town prioritises meticulous planning to ensure sufficient stock is available.
“Therefore, we always go back to basics, as per our ethos and tagline ‘it’s our business to know your business’. We not only have to understand our customers’ needs and pain points – but also to know what projects are coming up so that we can help them to plan ahead,” he says.
Another important consideration for B.E.D. Cape Town is ensuring the traceability of products, to counteract challenges associated with counterfeiting and poor quality: “People need to know that they are getting a genuine product. Knowing that we have their interests at heart really sets our customers’ minds at rest,” he maintains.
Building strong relationships
For Van Zyl and his team in Cape Town, there is far more to supplying fasteners than price and availability. “In our experience, providing a sought-after solution is crucial. Once you help to solve a tough challenge for a customer, it is highly likely that you will have their ongoing loyalty and business,” he notes.
An example is the Western Cape’s extensive agricultural sector. Fasteners are essential for maintenance of equipment, but customers often need assistance. “They may want to swap a fastener with a tensile strength of 4.8 for one that has a strength of 10.9. This will not work – because there is no flexibility and it will break like glass. The stronger the fastener, the more brittle it becomes,” he warns.
Another area where good advice is important is that of corrosion protection coatings. Tough coastal weather increases the probability of corrosion. When customers cannot afford expensive stainless steel, they need to find an effective alternative.
Van Zyl advises: “In the construction sector, columns are usually galvanised – meaning fasteners need to be treated as well – and preferably, hot dip galvanised. This can treble the lifespan of a bolt.”
A recent visit to a delivery vehicle canopy manufacturer to troubleshoot a rust problem illustrates this: “They wanted to know why the fasteners on certain delivery vehicles had rusted whilst others had not.
We pointed out that these were the ones doing deliveries along the Garden Route. As they operated close to the coast, the fasteners must be hot dip galvanised to protect them from rusting,” he advises.
B.E.D. not only stocks a vast range of fast-moving fasteners, but also supplies obsolete and hard-to-find fasteners. By working closely with original equipment manufacturer (OEM) suppliers, the company can assist with sourcing bespoke fasteners which are specific to customers’ individual designs and requirements.
Van Zyl points that that again, this requires planning: “It is all about understanding quantities and our customers’ needs. This often happens in the marine (fishing and shipping) sector, where there is a need for enormous bolts which are not available off the shelf,” he explains.
Most importantly, van Zyl attributes the level of service offered by B.E.D’s Cape Town branch to B.E.D’s immense pool of industry knowledge and over 400 years’ combined management experience.
“If we do not know about something here, there will be someone in the Group who does. And, because we have branches across South Africa, we can leverage this joint experience. What makes B.E.D. unique is that we nurture open communication between our branches, thereby ensuring that customers receive the right advice and solution far quicker than if they were dealing with a standalone company struggling to find a solution. Just another way in which we provide ‘the perfect fit, fast!’,” he concludes.