Apex Stainless Fasteners is celebrating its 30th anniversary in 2021 having become renowned within the market for its wide range, depth of stock and quick deliveries. Here we speak to Managing Director David Vahter about the company’s development and how the last 18 months have been some of the most challenging of all.
David joined Apex Stainless Fasteners Ltd in 2020 having worked in the fastener industry for the previous 12 years. “I started in fasteners as a management trainee at the head office of Bufab in Sweden,” mentions David. “From there I did two years in the UK in sales and business development; five years as a managing director of Bufab Denmark; three years as managing director at Bufab Norway; and then I joined Apex.”
Having joined the company in the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, David is only too aware of the challenges it has created for not only Apex but the entire fastener industry. “The first thing I must say is that I think the business, and especially our staff, have done an unbelievably good job to handle everything that has happened,” states David. “The impact of the pandemic was something most of us had never experienced before, but Apex was able to rise to the challenge and continue servicing customers. However, it was not just the pandemic we have needed to handle.”
David points out that alongside the pandemic, with its various lockdowns and variants, there was also a host of other challenges – including BREXIT, freight issues and now difficulties regarding logistics. “These have all been factors over the last 12 months and we have looked to tackle each one head on,” reports David. “For instance, BREXIT made it difficult to get goods in and out of Europe. At the start of the year, something that would normally take a week to arrive from Europe was taking 4 or 5 weeks. It was frustrating, as you know you have done all you can, but the products weren’t getting through the ports.”
David continues: “As everybody within the sector will be aware there are also big challenges with the supply chain, such as longer lead times, lack of capacity at suppliers, as well as container and raw material prices. The longer lead times and lack of capacity at suppliers is a result of the pandemic and the current market situation. The lack of containers and the price of container freight is further exasperating the issue. For instance, the cost of a container is around 7 or 8 times more when compared to pre-pandemic times, with some prices being even higher.”
A consequence of such challenges is costs are increasing – with these costs having to be passed onto customers. “When it comes to passing on the cost of container prices there is more acceptance within the market because it has been all over the news, so customers are more aware of the situation. Even so, we have still kept in close contact with our customers and explain why we are taking these steps.”
David adds: “I believe we have been relatively sensible when it comes to how we have passed on these costs. As a company we look to be proactive with our customers when it comes to such issues. We believe prices across the board will continue to go up over the coming six months. In Europe, a lot of companies have already taken the step to increase their prices and we are slowly seeing the same happen within the UK. As a business we have UK and European customers, so we need to try and balance this as best we can.”
Even with all these challenges, an area where Apex believes it is doing strongly is its stock availability. “Considering the current situation, we are satisfied with our stock levels. We are not at the levels prior to the pandemic, but then this is not currently achievable for any business. Having stock availability is fundamental to Apex. We are working very hard to get our stocks back to
pre-pandemic levels, but no sooner have we filled the shelves, it has already been sold and is being sent to customers. We have never seen a stock turnaround anything near as quick as the last six months. The purchases we did six months ago looked very solid when we did them. However, we have had a very positive few months, so knowing what we know now, we should have ordered 30% more. We will keep working hard to guarantee supply and I am confident we will get our stock back to pre-pandemic levels over the next three to six months.”
Another more recent factor impacting the market is the shortage of HGV drivers within the UK. “At Apex we have a commitment to keep our promises to customers. We have always been driven to get the goods out to the customers the same day, so they receive it the following day,” points out David. “Our customers like the fact they can order products with us by 16:30 and then get them the next day. It is a service we are proud to offer and we will continue to do so. However, it is proving very tricky at the moment when there is a lack of HGV drivers within the UK, which is impacting our carriers.”
David continues: “This is impacting all of the industry and it is very challenging when working with your carriers. We are constantly reviewing our options and looking to mitigate risks, but it is not a simple task and it is something we have to try and handle as best we can.”
Marking an important milestone
After such a challenging period, David believes celebrating the company’s 30th anniversary is just what Apex and its employees need. “We have been working extremely hard since the pandemic, so we haven’t arranged anything formerly. However, we are looking to plan something and I think it will be good to have a fun event to look forward to for everyone involved at Apex Stainless Fasteners,” states David. “Throughout the last thirty years Apex has established itself within the market thanks to its wide range, quick delivery, and depth of stock, and this is something we will look to continue to pride ourselves on going forward.”
To do so, Apex is currently running efficiency programmes within every department, with the aim to help further improve processes and the overall service to customers. “We have the financial stability to invest in stocks or capacity as and when required, which is a very positive position to be in,” concludes David. “Going forward we have several areas we will look to develop and invest, such as digitisation – with an eCommerce platform. We will also focus on sustainability and what we can do as a company; as well as ensuring we continue to support our employees and how we can help them develop both on a personal level, as well as from a business perspective.”
Will joined Fastener + Fixing Magazine in 2007 and over the last 14 years has experienced every facet of the fastener sector - interviewing key figures within the industry and visiting leading companies and exhibitions around the globe.
Will manages the content strategy across all platforms and is the guardian for the high editorial standards that the Magazine is renowned.