Fifteen stores in the Northwest isn’t enough.
At the first moment after midnight on Nov. 1, Tacoma Screw goes nationwide.
Years in the making and following an investment of time, money and staff, the Tacoma-born, family-owned, 66-year-old seller of fasteners, tools, maintenance and shop supplies will launch an e-commerce platform that company officials hope will build the Tacoma Screw brand, generate sales and give direction to future brick-and-mortar expansion.
“We’ve had two years of significant investment,” said Michael Howard, Tacoma Screw marketing and credit services manager early last week.
“We knew we had to do this.”
He and other executives knew the world was changing after customers in the food and agriculture industry began discussing their specific needs.
“That opened a whole new window,” said John Wolfe, executive adviser at the company.
Customers wanted the chance to buy after stores had closed for the night or the weekend. They wanted the kind of service they knew Tacoma Screw would provide, but they wanted the convenience of online ordering.
Howard recalls a typical refrain: “We are currently buying from others, but we would rather buy from you.”
Customers both actual and potential were going online.
“We said, ‘We’ll find a way to serve you,’” Wolfe said. “We had a website, but no e-commerce.”
ATYPICAL BUSINESS MODEL
Tacoma Screw operates a bit differently than your everyday seller of fasteners, tools and industrial supplies.
“There are no short-term payoffs,” said Wolfe.
No sales personnel receive a commission. It’s all salary.
“We look for people who are capable of managing relationships,” he said.
“We have chosen not to employ some salespeople – the issue is, we are all part of a team.”
The average employee has been at Tacoma Screw for 15 years, unusual in a sales-centric organization.
“Here was our concern (going online),” Wolfe said. “We needed a resource person on staff who could lead that effort. We had eight to 10 candidates.”
Gary Myers, the chosen IT manager, recalls, “It was summer 2010. I was born and raised in Tacoma. I came from a larger organization, a property management company. Then my IT team in Seattle was outsourced. Now, this is eight minutes from my home.”
“IT was parsed out to several different people. We did not have an IT person,” said Howard.
“He was the missing piece of the puzzle.”
Company managers had two concerns. First, the new technology officer needed to know what he was doing. More importantly – at Tacoma Screw – “We needed to be absolutely certain that customers had to have a ‘Tacoma Screw’ experience.”
“They stressed that,” said Myers.
And now, as the e-commerce portal opens two years later, he says, “You’ve got one shot. It’s taken a lot of work by a lot of people.
“It’s everything behind the curtain – order fulfillment, accuracy in what you send, even in answering the phone.”
Wolfe emphasizes that the new venture sill not change the heart of company.
“We are not an e-commerce company. We are a brick and mortar company that now has an e-commerce capability.”
“We are trying to integrate channels,” Wolfe said. “The sales reps, inside the stores, online.”
“One of the things this will do – for instance, Stanley Tools,” said Howard. “We will continue to carry those items in inventory, and the goal is to carry the entire line. We want to bring the entire line to the Web store.”
Which is not as easy as it may sound.
Every item – from heavy duty soldering guns to flexible socket drivers, from hex nut sleeve anchors to malleable bevel washers – had to be photographed for online presentation and weighed and measured to ensure correct shipping criteria.
Executives expect increased sales, but they also look forward to data.
“We’ll have intelligence we’ve never had before,” said e-commerce manager Eric McGregor. “It’s going to give us hard numbers on product lines.”
Currently, the Tacoma Screw website attracts visitors primarily from the West Coast. The new portal will allow real-time ordering and immediate shipping throughout the country. And as the data are collected, executives will be able to determine promising geographic areas where a brick-and-mortar presence could be warranted.
“We want to be the trusted, go-to source,” said Howard.
Already, he says, customers send photos and even rough sketches of products they need, and the company readily accepts the challenge of identifying the item and selecting it from the inventory.
“People call things by different names in different parts of the country,” Howard said. “There is a myriad of industry-specific names and a lot of slang.”
Preparations for the new effort continue.
Of some 40,000 customers with accounts, 1,000 have already registered on the portal. The site has undergone extensive Beta testing.
And how much will this new effort – with an investment that Wolfe estimates at $500,000 – mean to the bottom line?
“That’s the $64 question,” he said.
But still, he is emphatic about the effect.
“This doesn’t change who we are.”
It will mean that the Tacoma Screw headquarters on Center Street will soon house a 24/7 operation.
And it could mean that larger, national companies will start noticing Tacoma Screw.
In fact, Eric McGregor had to leave our interview early. He was headed off to Minneapolis to see a major client, and some prospective clients, face-to-face.
Minneapolis, incidentally, is the headquarters of Fastenal, which refers to itself as “the leading fastener distributor in North America.”
At least until Nov. 1.
Tacoma Screw Products Inc.
Stores: 15 throughout the Puget Sound region, south to Portland and east to locations in Idaho. A deal closed last week for a 16th location in Idaho Falls, and the company is considering the next phase of growth into southern Oregon.
Getting around: The company operates a Beechcraft King Air C90, stationed at Tacoma Narrows Airport, this as part of a culture that values face-to-face contact with major customers.
Company motto: “Don’t say no.”
The news: Although the Tacoma-born company has had a website, there has been no convenient opportunity for customers to buy online. That will change on Nov. 1, when an e-commerce portal opens the catalog to online buyers.
The site: tacomascrew.comC.R. Roberts: 253-597-8535 firstname.lastname@example.org