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We begin with Simpson Strong-Tie’s Ray Boyd who, like all the stakeholders we spoke with, reports a “very solid last 12 months”. “We’re up YTD from last year and we’ve continued to do that, growing year on year, for all the consecutive years since 2011.
“That’s a combination of the market growing and us gaining extra share of wallet. We’ve had growth through every region. We’ve grown in Wellington and that Auckland, BOP, Waikato triangle. Even Christchurch!”
Ray Boyd is certainly not resting on any laurels because, in his game, the pressure is “always on.” He goes on to tell us that everyone in his category is feeling that pressure.
“Part of the problem is the whole Auckland house price beat-up. Prices are very high and that puts pressure on people to lower their costs. And they drive it at the fastening industry which is less than 3% of the make-up of any build.
“I don’t want to get into a beat-up about our industry getting hammered, but it’s very evident that we do. The fastening component is so minimal yet a huge focus is on it.”
A TESTING TIME FOR THE INDUSTRY
A consensus among all the players I spoke with was that competition was rife, inferior quality products were still being imported and that progress towards any sort of pan-industry standards testing was still wishful and a long way away.
As Ray Boyd puts it: “It’s pretty disappointing that inferior quality product is still out there. By comparison, we have internationally rated approvals for our product, we manufacture everything ourselves offshore within our own manufacturing facilities and we third party test at BRANZ.”
Still, he admits: “There will always be direct to site builders who will purchase non-tested product because they can’t see the value in the durability or the warranties that come with the products.
“For us specifications are more important than consents. We work very closely with architects and consulting engineers and have a field engineer on staff for that purpose. We work with Masterspec and their Next Gen2 system to get it right.”
Generally, we don’t deal with frame & truss. We don’t have a pipeline in New Zealand to offer that, just yet. We’re not ready to take on the encumbents.”
FRAME & TRUSS ARE KEEPING IT TOGETHER
Simpson Strong-Tie doesn’t deal with frame & truss but fasteners & fixings are a crucial component of this crucial sector.
Cue Blake Bibbie, GM National Sales & Manufacturing for PlaceMakers, who is kept very busy managing all eight of PlaceMakers’ uber-sized and regionally centralised frame & truss plants throughout the country.
Is PlaceMakers indeed the Big Kahuna of the frame & truss plants? Without a hint of arrogance he simply says: “Yes, we’re number one by volume and that’s supported by the MiTek data we receive.
“We originally had more pre-nail plants (formerly 22) but the larger centralised plants make sense. They’re just more efficient and they’re all incredibly busy.”
It’s no surprise to anyone that once again the demand and growth is, predominantly in Auckland. “Christchurch has levelled out for us but Hamilton, the BOP and Auckland, that’s where the pressure is on. The growth in Central Otago has been phenomenal for us over the last 12 months too and it’s not slowing down.”
FASTENERS ARE CARRYING THE LOAD
Turning back to fasteners, Blake Bibbie explains: “In frame & truss, nails are what we use the most, but our specialised fasteners would be MiTek. That’s mainly in the roof trusses and mainly plates. MiTek assists us with the engineered design of those trusses. We use their software to design the trusses and the plates required to complete the job.
“Prior to construction in the design phase we submit a buildable truss layout with MiTek’s software. You can build your wall framing to a code but there are no codes for trusses so they are specifically engineered for each job.
“We use solid timber for lintels, plus laminated veneer, basically lumber which is stuck together so you can get a much longer span. We also use a bit of steel here and there depending on the load above and that’s where MiTek comes in.”
Given that his business is all about timber, nails and fasteners I ask him what effect Auckland’s Unitary Plan will have, given the intention to build to six storeys.
Competition is rife, inferior quality products are still being imported and that progress towards any sort of pan-industry standards testing is still a long way away
Candidly he says: “We’re struggling to get to six storeys with timber. Concrete and steel yes, but not timber. I think there have to be major changes. Once you get over four storeys, you’re getting into heavy design problems and we could be staring at a London situation.”
We both pause reflectively at the same time, the vivid footage of the fiercely blazing towering inferno that was once the Grenfell Tower is freshly and firmly in both our minds.
WHAT ABOUT THE INDIES?
For an “independent” perspective and to find out how and where fasteners are integrated into his business we speak with owner/operator Jeremy Cryer from Pohutukawa Frame & Truss in the heart of the Hauraki Plains.
The myriad sounds of power tools, nail guns and men yelling at each other across distances is impossible to ignore. It’s very obvious he’s busy and we’re grateful for his time.
I don’t bother asking him about growth, it’s self-evident as Jeremy Cryer explains: “We were in Thames in a much smaller building. On the plains here on Highway 2 we’re centrally located between Auckland, Hamilton and Tauranga.
"Two years ago we built a new 1,200m2 building on a two acre site and upsized drastically. It’s purpose-built and we’ve gone from a niche business to a much bigger model that employs 25 staff.”
What’s Pohutukawa’s catchment? “We stay out of Auckland, but between Hamilton and Tauranga the work is pretty evenly spread. Rotorua is growing for us too and so is Taupo.”
Content with being incredibly busy, Jeremy Cryer goes on to talk about consolidation in frame & truss: “There used to be a lot more niche players but a lot of those have gone now. The big players have centralised; Carters in Cambridge and PlaceMakers in Hamilton.
“But we’re different. We decided on an exclusive partnership with Bunnings who don’t get involved in frame & truss themselves. There’s one plant for them in Auckland and then there’s us down here. The work is contracted out and it works well for us.”
Pohutukawa Frame & Truss uses Pryda fasteners and software and Jeremy Cryer is very complimentary about both.
“The development on the Pryda software is outstanding. They’re very supportive in our business. It’s the whole system. We only use Pryda fasteners. Apart from nails and screws it’s all Pryda.
“We have to design all the trusses up to make sure they work and that’s where Pryda helps us. That paperwork goes back to the owner, developer or designer so they can get their consents and that keeps us busy.
On the question of inferior product in the market Cryer is emphatic: “I do know there’s a lot of cheap stainless fasteners and fixings being brought in. Cheap bolts and cheap steel. We don’t have that problem here, we only use Pryda.”
BETTER BY DESIGN
When we speak to Pryda’s Jon Hill he explains: “Fabricators are our end customer and we work with many of them.”
With 107 frame & truss plants in New Zealand, by my count, there are plenty of end-users to keep Pryda busy as Jon Hill tells us: “We’re there to support them plus the architects and specifiers.
“We’re helping them grow their business and we’re always looking for a ‘win-win’ solution, whether that’s increasing efficiencies or working together to create an optimum solution.
“Pryda ‘Build4’ is the software designed for NZ and Australian building practices and it’s that functionality that’s delivering efficient solutions to our fabricators. As soon as they use it, they appreciate the time saving features that come with the platform.
“If you want to know the specification and quantity of truss tie-downs for a job, it will automatically calculate that for you and add it to the quotation. Our software is capable of designing a whole of house package, to the relevant codes.”
NEW CUSTOMERS & NEW MARKETS
Another man who acknowledges that change is happening at a blistering pace is Mark Glidden from Senco who tells me that his customer base has changed radically over the last few years.
As he puts it: “We sell fastenings to frame & truss, big chain merchants and specialists. Drywall screws, nails for fabricators, decking screws – the lot! Our biggest market is drywall installed by the LBPs. We sell them through specialised drywall installers, namely NZ Ceiling & Drywall Supplies, a few others and the builders merchants.”
But the market has changed: “These days the bulk of our end users are not the LBPs. They subcontract to separate companies.”
Somewhat whimsically he says, “Builders don’t do drywall any more – just like they don’t do the foundations. It’s got to the point where I wonder exactly what an LBP does?
“Today, there are specialist teams of drywall installers. Predominantly those teams are installing all the drywall in new houses. In smaller projects or renovations then yes a builder will put up the drywall and he will buy his screws from a builder’s merchant but not the big projects.
“The big group housing companies like GJ Gardner and the rest have teams of drywall installers that do that.
"Most of the Jennians and the Universals have a separate team that will do that. They have the specialist equipment to do it because they’re fast and efficient. And don’t forget the Chinese builders and installers either.”
FOR THE WANT OF A NAIL…
About that niche of building expertise, Mark Glidden says: “There are six Chinese builders merchants in Auckland right now and I can tell you they’re doing well because we supply them. They’re becoming bigger for us by the month. We supply a lot of product. The Chinese builder is becoming more and more important to us.”
We spoke with one such Chinese builders merchant earlier, Alex Lin, owner of the well-established Handy Warehouse on Auckland’s North Shore in Sunnybrae Road.
Alex Lin tells us that some 60% of his customers are Chinese, Korean or Japanese but the rest are Kiwis who are unsurprisingly, “hunting down the keenest price”.
DIY and Kiwi builders are finding their way to his store because, as he puts it: “We have good service and we have good prices.” In this respect he is also quick to point out that his prices are “keener” than the local big boxes which sit nearby off Wairau Road.
Received opinion tells us that over half of all Auckland builders are Asian. This may be right, we can’t verify that, but I can confirm according to the New Zealand Chinese Building Industry Association (NZCBIA) that: “About 30% of the houses being built in Auckland have a Chinese builder, backer or link to the Chinese community.”
The flipside, as Mark Glidden puts it is that: “The humble nail tells you a lot about what’s going on and it’s not flash. We supply nails and fastenings to the building industry and we haven’t supplied any more nails than we did last year.”
Meanwhile, back to the issue of quality. Fasteners & fixings suppliers are spending extra to have products independently tested at BRANZ or like Senco which undertakes quality checks on random samples with SGS Laboratories.
Quality players are working hard to supply quality products. We don’t want more legislation to make testing mandatory so meanwhile check the specifications, check the warranties and, like a good parent might advise: “don’t get into bed with him if you don’t know where he’s been.”
Greater holding power
Galvanised Annular Grooved Timber Deck Nails – New from NZ Nails is the 100 x 4.00mm Galvanised Annular Grooved Timber Deck nail that is ideal for Pine Decking 100 x 40mm (Finished Size: 90 x 32mm). The annular grooved ring shank is designed for greater holding power. An important rule of thumb that can be used for determining the length of a nail required is three times the thickness of the timber being fixed: for example 32mm decking timber will require 96mm nail.
Galvanised Annular Grooved Flat Head Nails – Another two new nail lines are the 125 x 5.30mm & 100 x 4.00mm Galvanised Annular Grooved Flat Head nails. These are ideal for outdoor applications such as retaining walls with the additional feature of having an annular grooved ring shank, meaning they provide greater holding power over standard 125 x 5.30mm & 100 x 4.00mm Galvanised Flat Head nails.
The forces are with you
Buildex XL Head Decking Screws – Wider decking boards are more prone to movement and cupping which can result in the failure of smaller gauge screws soon after installation. Buildex has developed a new decking screw with an XL head and 12 gauge construction to resist these forces, offering a stronger and more secure deck structure. Designed for wide decking boards and other applications, this versatile screw is made from 304 Grade Stainless Steel, providing corrosion protection and high strength fixing for fastening decking boards to timber joists.
Buildex Timber Construction Screws – These screws deliver improved speed of installation and superior clamping force and drawing strength making them the ideal high strength fastener for timber to timber applications. Ideal for pergolas, sleepers, gates & fencing. Available in Zinc Alloy 3 galvanised coating for external and outdoor applications.