In the UK’s fastener heartlands of the West Midlands, Torque Magazine speaks with The Insert Company (UK) Limited’s Sales Director Kevin Broome on the firm’s plans for expansion, bringing in new ranges and how the company’s experience and knowledge is working hand-in-hand with a growing e-commerce sales channel…
With fresh ranges from premium German screw brands, a growing online business and expansion in the offing, The Insert Company (UK) Ltd has been making increasingly large waves in the fastener business.
Perhaps best known for threaded inserts for wood, plastic and metal, The Insert Company (TIC) holds stocks in zinc alloy, brass and steel in fasteners and connectors as well as threaded inserts. The firm serves a broad range of industries, including construction, furniture, injection moulding, bed manufacturing and more.
Online: Keeping it simple
The Insert Company’s online philosophy has been to keep things simple. The company’s transactional website is straightforward, unfussy and highly visual. It’s a policy that has been paying dividends, says Sales Director Kevin Broome.
“We had our best month online ever last November and 20% of the business is now made online,” he tells Torque Magazine. “We use lots of images on the site because people recognise product pictures. They may call a product by a few different names, depending on who you speak to.”
Online sales channels like eBay are important to the firm too, but despite the growth of business through the internet, Broome places plenty of importance on human interaction, where the Insert Company’s knowledge and experience can shine through: “We get plenty of orders placed over the phone. It gives you a sense of the market that you won’t get online.
“People buy from people, they don’t buy from a company.”
Straightforward honesty with customers is essential in building up trust and strong business relationships, emphasises the straight-talking Broome: “I’d rather tell people bad news instead of being chased.” The human touch is also essential when it comes to spotting trends and reacting when certain products are selling like proverbial hotcakes, he says: “We want to be on top of things like that. We’d rather make the judgements ourselves and if the business needs new stocks quickly then we’ll react accordingly.”
While you may assume fasteners have little relation to fashion, The Insert Company has to keep a close eye on trends, particularly in the furniture business: “We’re doing more business with black
and antique bronze colours/inserts.”
Well stocked for challenges
The Insert Company formed in 2003 and Broome has worked there for over a decade. With a headcount of four at the Wednesbury HQ (and an off-site accounts department in Evesham), the firm is lean but with an increasingly well stocked warehouse. Turnover is now north of £1 million a year.
“We supply to a lot of Europe and we ship all around the world… to the USA, Vietnam, you name it. We are doing a lot with Poland and Turkey at the moment.”
The firm also offers custom made parts for applications upon request, including turned metal parts, metal presswork and plating. Imperial thread sizes are also available from the firm.
The Insert Company is actively looking to bring in new ranges and one of the most recent additions has been Spax: “We’re one of the few supplying Spax in the distribution channel. They’ve got some nice POS and it ties in with the steel inserts we supply. It is a high-end German brand which is great for us, we’d rather sell more quality – many of our big suppliers are based in Europe.”
he DIY sector is stronger than the headlines suggest, Broome believes: “Most of the sectors we supply are buoyant,” he continues. “We’re up 10% over the year.” But things are tighter, he concedes, with rising raw material costs making their contribution to a tightening margin – “zinc alloy is up 5-10% min”. “We absorb some of the rising costs, but we don’t sell on price – we are about quality and service.”
With over approximately 3,000 ft² of warehousing space, The Insert Company has built up considerable stocks gradually. “We’ve had a good couple of years and we now have enough product so that we can live on our stocks for 12 months if we had to, as a contingency. We’ve grown it slowly. We’re sensible – we’d rather have money in the business than be maxed out.”
That stock contingency may come in handy, depending on Brexit which – at the time of Torque’s visit to The Insert Company – is still an unknown quantity with regards to what the terms of business will be with Europe, after 29 March 2019.
“We all thought we’d have a deal by now,” rues Broome. “The vote [in 2016] hit prices straightaway in terms of currency.” Depending on the form Brexit takes, the potential upfront VAT burden on distributors could prove disruptive in the market, he adds: “We are cash rich and we can pay that VAT up front if we need to, but it might hit competitors hard. We expect Q1 to be strong, but Q2 may be poor, we’ll have to wait and see.”
Expansion & bringing in new suppliers
In terms of operations, The Insert Company’s commitment to holding significant stocks – and grow with new ranges – will see it look to move to bigger premises in the next 12 months.
“We’re always looking for new suppliers that we can be wholesale for, like Spax, and there’s always new product to promote.
“We’ve got a warehouse just over the road and we’re starting to run out of space. So, we’re looking to buy a bigger unit. We need to expand to fit in more products. We’ve built up our core stocks,
but we’ve not physically got the room to add much more. We had looked at the move earlier, but we put it off to Q3.”
“Spax has been underserved in the distribution world, so we see an opportunity there. We’re looking to bring in new distributor customers and we’re always trying to bring in new product.
“We are independent, we are free agents and we’ve got knowledgeable staff on the end of the phone. We’re ready for whatever happens with the world, so all in all, it’s good!”