To view a PDF of the complete feature as it appeared in NZ Hardware Journal magazine, click the download button at the bottom of this page.
Of the players spoken to for this feature, all report good growth in fastening products in the past year. That should come as no surprise to anyone with even a cursory knowledge of New Zealand’s booming construction market particularly in the reliable Christchurch and Auckland areas with fasteners and fastening systems crucial components in both residential and commercial construction.
Ray Boyd of Simpson Strong-Tie reports that, while all categories are up for the company, the balance of products has shifted in Christchurch, reflecting the maturity and type of construction that the beleaguered city is seeing in recent months, with the balance seemingly heading toward the commercial and industrial side of construction.
“You can see a different mix of the products taking shape as different projects get taken on,” Boyd says.
“There is now less focus on the residential as the repairs have been done and now it’s more the civil/major construction projects starting to take place. The Ministry of Justice building is a behemoth of a building and there are all sorts of big products in it and we are lucky enough to have some of ours in there.”
Simpson Strong-Tie’s Blue Banger Hanger has been a particular success story for the company as commercial construction has begun to take off down south.
“We sold 60,000 units into the South Island late last year to go into buildings like the Ministry of Justice in Christchurch. It’s a specification product so it takes a long time to channel through engineering to get that going so it’s a good success story and part of that’s been around the marketing we’ve done for it in a few publications,” Boyd says.
Over at Paslode, Daniel Birch also reports “steady growth” for both the company’s fastening products and tools in the last year in the two big construction areas.
“A continual shift and reliance on Paslode Impulse cordless product has seen this category expand rapidly, especially with finishing tools and their accompanying brand range of fasteners,” Birch reports.
I asked Birch if there were any recent innovations in this space that might be influencing the growth in this category.
“At the end of the day the tools have to work, and work well,” Birch says. “There have been some moves recently into the electric space but, until this technology is improved to an acceptable working level, the current gas-powered tools will always have a massive advantage, especially with the abundance of hardwood laminated materials emerging.”
Birch does have some news for the future however, adding: “We’re working really hard to constantly improve our tool performance with some exciting news for the framing range coming later this year.” Watch this space!
Of course many hard earned innovations inevitably attract copycat products and this regular occurrence is the cause of continued frustration of some of the more established brands in New Zealand’s fastening category.
Knock-offs are a particularly bitter pill to swallow for companies that go to significant lengths to not only promote, but also conduct their own research and development into, the fitness for purpose of their products.
Cath Montgomery of Winstone Wallboards elaborates on the concerns that she and many of her peers in the fastening and wider construction market have in this area: “We are committed to a heavy investment in quality management and technical support to ensure that GIB Fasteners and related systems perform as claimed.
“This means comprehensive statements of ‘fitness for purpose’, functional performance and code compliance (including durability) are contained in GIB literature and in the relevant BRANZ Appraisal,” Montgomery explains.
“What is of concern to us is that some similar products may be imported that are not as thoroughly and /or as consistently tested, especially when it comes to use in structural bracing elements in housing. It is important that consumers understand the real value of quality management and product guarantees. This is just as true for the trade as well as the retail consumer,” she says.
NOT SAFE FOR WORK?
Although playing in quite another area of the fasteners & fixings market, Cath Montgomery’s concerns are shared by Aerofast’s Eddie Mulligan, who stresses that although the basic function of a tiedown hasn’t really changed over the years, maintaining quality of materials, design and construction is key, particularly for safety items. This has prompted Aerofast to act when inferior stock hits the retail floor.
“Aerofast works very hard to supply quality, reliable and compliant tiedowns for the New Zealand market so it is very frustrating when cheap imports arrive on the shelves that are not compliant to NZ Safety Standard AS/NZS 4380:2001. We see this on a regular basis and will advise the stores of this issue,” Mulligan says.
“We normally purchase these tiedowns and test them on our in-house equipment to ensure they are made to spec and it is quite alarming at times when the test results are well below what is stated on the product” he explains.
For those players who have done the hard yards and spent the dollars testing their products and promoting their compliance, it is clearly frustrating to see similar but inferior products slip under the radar.
Even some tested products with product information available on their packaging have received criticism, with some players in the fastenings market complaining that the product information shown on the packaging of some fasteners puts an emphasis on materials used rather than factors like load bearing data that are arguably far more useful for the end user to make an informed purchasing decision.
“What we really are after is a level playing field where customers demand that all suppliers publish quality management credentials and clear written claims of fitness for purpose and product performance rather than a just a package with ‘product dimensions’,” explains Winstone Wallboards’ Cath Montgomery.
BOOTS ON THE GROUND
Despite these very legitimate concerns, there seems to be enough work out there for the recognised brands in New Zealand’s buoyant construction environment. And at the end of the day success isn’t just down to the product.
Simpson Strong-Tie’s Ray Boyd attributes at least part of the company’s wins to skilled personnel, with Field Engineer Chris Burnett proving an invaluable asset and tangible point of difference for the company since he arrived in New Zealand at the end of 2013.
“Having a field engineer has helped us immensely in certain categories. And he offers great technical advice as he’s a Field Engineer 15 years with Simpson Strong-Tie with great knowledge,” Boyd says.
The Simpson Strong-Tie team gets another member on the ground this month with Darian Setters coming on board as Area Manager for Auckland, the Bay of Plenty and surrounding areas down to Rotorua (see Movers & Shakers in this issue’s news section). For Boyd, the addition of Setters allows Simpson Strong-Tie to give Auckland and its surrounding markets the dedicated team member it deserves while opening up opportunities to pursue potential government and seismic refit work in the capital.
“With Darian coming on board it gives us a greater focus with full time sales roles in the Auckland construction market which is a real requirement. It also allows us now to focus on the Wellington region and have full time sales person in the lower North Island. So it’s added to our numbers and gives us greater coverage across the country.”
Maybe Wellington has more to offer for the fastening category in the years to come but at this stage only time will tell.
HAS THE BALANCE SHIFTED IN CANTERBURY?
As ever, the growth, or otherwise, of a product category like fasteners & fixings is inevitably tied to what’s happening in the construction market.
And, as highlighted by Simpson StrongTie’s Ray Boyd in our main article, in Christchurch it appears the balance has shifted from residential make-goods and new builds towards the meatier commercial sector.
Indeed April’s figures from Statistics NZ have Canterbury residential consents falling to an almost two-year low. At the same time they also show Canterbury taking the lion’s share of non-residential consents by value over Auckland and Waikato:
Is the slightly overblown Canterbury “boom” past? And will a steadier flow of non-residential construction now start driving the region’s post-earthquake recovery?