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In Depth: Deck fasteners

Jan 13, 2024

When you think of the ancient world, a common image that many people think of is that of tall, fluted marble columns. But did you know the ancient Greeks used hidden fasteners to create them? While the columns themselves were built in sections, the builders relied on metal pins to align the sections and keep them together.

In this changing world, it’s nice to know some things never change. Fasteners, whether they’re hidden or not, are just as important now as they were 3,000 years ago, especially when it comes to the deck industry. With the explosive growth of the outdoor living movement that’s been spurred in no small part by the COVID-19 pandemic, the deck fastener market has the potential to be a profitable one. That growth, however, has brought an increasingly growing list of challenges for LBM dealers, not the least of which is supply chain issues. “It’s hard to not mention challenges intertwined with COVID-19 and supply chain issues,” says Eric Ashack, product manager for SPAX. “What COVID-19 has shown the fastener manufacturers and consumers, however, was just how much this industry depends on Asian manufacturing. With these vendors struggling to manufacture and ship product, U.S. manufacturers have been bombarded with opportunities. Unfortunately, Covid-19, along with other reasons have created employment shortages in our area as well.”

It’s a problem that’s not likely to ease any time soon. “I think the pandemic and the supply chain issues will have an impact on the way businesses operate for years to come,” says Brandon Haly, division sales manager, LBM East for Grabber Construction Products. “Companies will have to adapt and maybe change the way they do a lot of things. Resilience is one of our core values and our culture is built around seeing each challenge as an opportunity. So sure, there are always challenges and we’ll be ready.”

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Phil Lail, president of Pan American Screw Fastener Group, also sees the supply chain as his company’s biggest concern, but like Haly, is up to the challenges. “We have seen secondary processes like plating, coating, passivating for stainless steel and laser sorting lead times stretch from 20 to 30 days upwards of 90 days in many instances,” he explains. “Keeping the supply of product flowing for our customers is paramount and we are making some bold moves in the amount of inventory we try to keep on hand. Since we manufacture most of our products ourselves our lead times have remained fairly constant but delays in shipping have hurt us the most. Despite this our fill rates remain in the 95%-plus range for our LBM customers.”

“Everyone’s goal is to keep construction employees on the job. As a US-based company, FastenMaster worked hard last year to source enough raw materials to ensure we had sufficient inventory to service our customers on-time and in-full,” points out Web Shaffer, general manager of FastenMaster. “We expect the COVID-19 supply chain problems to persist for the foreseeable future, and our top priority is to ensure that our dealer network has the items they require to support contractors.”

Despite these concerns, fastener manufacturers are optimistic regarding the opportunities the next 12 months presents. “As the outdoor living space market continues to be one of the most popular segments for home improvement spending, we see the growth of the deck fastener segment over the next 12 months to continue to be strong,” predicts SPAX’s Ashack. “SPAX is responding by continuing to invest in more capital equipment in our manufacturing operations in order to support the demand we’re seeing from our customers for deck fastener products that are made in the USA.”

Grabber’s Haly also sees continued growth due to the increased interest in outdoor living. “It certainly increased interest and demand quite extensively during the Covid lockdowns,” he says. “We saw a surge in home renovation projects, particularly outdoor as people had more time to focus on home improvements. We anticipate that trend to continue into this spring as we are already hearing of extended lead times for projects to begin.”

Jacek Romanski, channel marketing director for ITW-GRK Fasteners, agrees with Haly’s assessment. “We believe the current outlook around large remodeling projects, including deck building, will stay strong as homeowners continue extending living spaces to the outdoors coupled with the backlog of projects from constraints in labor, materials, and supply disruptions.”

Dani Zizak, chief marketing officer for National Nail/CAMO, believes the growth forecast for decking has never been higher, and any growth in the decking segment means growth for deck fasteners. “Experts are seeing growth by volume to exceed 5.5% in the next two years.”

Mike Engle, product director of hand drive fasteners for PrimeSource Building Products, likewise sees similar market potential. “‘Backyarding’ and expanding the outdoor living area will continue to be a theme for the foreseeable future,” he points out. “As companies redefine back-to-office plans, it is clear a hybrid approach is here to stay…particularly for industries that adapt to this model like the technology industry and its affiliates. With decking category growth pegged at 8% annually, fasteners used to complete outdoor living area projects will experience parallel growth to meet consumer demand.”

Some manufacturers are going as far as predicting double-digit growth, partially driven by new construction from the aforementioned interest in outdoor living but also spurred by remodeling of existing decks. “I see it growing as the outdoor living category grows so I see double digit growth for the next

12 months,” says Mike Reasons, national sales manager of outdoor living for BlueLinx. “The growth in the outdoor living category is not just pandemic driven, but driven by the significant number of decks across the country in need to repair or replacement.”

Says Pan American’s Lail, “Our LBM supply companies, Sure Drive USA and Big Timber, continue to see robust sales in the deck fastening segment and many of our dealers tell us they have jobs booked through the third quarter. Demand has been strong, but supply chain issues have caused some major disruptions in product availability. We are forecasting another year of double-digit growth in our hidden deck fastener and packaged threaded fastener product groups. Our robust inventory levels have made it easier to pick up new business during the supply chain disruptions many of our competitors are suffering through.”

That exuberant growth, however, may bring pain with it, both for the manufacturer and the LBM distributor. “I believe there will be a fastener shortage from the multiple market disruptions,” speculates Uli Walther, president of U2 Fasteners. “There will be a scramble for contractors to get the products and I believe whoever has the strongest inventory will give customers options to try new products.”

Tony Kovac, director of product development for The Hillman Group, shares Walther’s concerns. “The past two years have been unique and the demand for new builds and upgraded decks outpaced contractors’ ability to meet this demand. There will be some backlog activity and growth, but not at the rate that we’ve recently experienced.”

While manufacturers agree there’s growth in the forecast across the entire deck fastener segment, they also point out that products which deliver innovation while increasing speed and ease of installation will be at the top of contractors’ shopping lists. “We expect to see a continued, high-level focus on innovation and the development of ways to make installations faster, safer, and more efficient,” explains Robert Shirley, product marketing manager for Simpson Strong-Tie.

Grabber’s Brandon Haly also sees product innovation in high demand. “There are always things being developed that increase product quality in terms of manufacturing processes, materials, and coatings, and I’ve seen a trend with contractors and builders being more interested in having conversations about those kinds of things—more curiosity about product innovations and technology. It’s very cool.”

ITW-GRK Fasteners’ Romanski agrees, adding that LBM dealers should pay particular attention to products that enable contractors to better deal with labor shortages. “Time is money, and these days even more so due to limited or a lack of labor that continues to plague the construction industry,” he points out. “The importance of quality products that get the job done right the first time has never been in stronger demand. Contractors are asking for fasteners they can install without stripping, breaking, or pre-drilling and then move to the next job.”

“The biggest challenge is staying ahead of contractor needs,” says BlueLinx’s Mike Reasons. “Speed is one of the main advantages that different fasteners and fastening methods have. To the contractor time is money so any new ways to go faster than someone else is key. The market as a whole needs to continue to innovate and find out what the next big things is going to be in innovation.”

It’s not just product innovation, however, that’s in demand. Overall aesthetics remain equally important. As homeowners continue to show interest in outdoor spaces that have an air of sophistication, deck fasteners that follow suit will be in demand. “With more of a focus on the outdoor living space, people are looking for a more visually pleasing, decorative or ornamental finish,” says SPAX’s Ashack.

“Aesthetics and longevity are playing an important role in product selection,” agrees The Hillman Group’s Kovac. “Gone are the days when pros can just use a blue concrete screw because it was the only color available. Black railings require a matching fastener that withstands the elements.”

As deck designs become more complicated and construction methods adapt to the needs of alternative materials, deck fasteners that can meet these unique needs will also be in high demand. “Decks are getting more and more complicated and intricate as contractors embrace design trends and homeowner pressure to have an outdoor space that compliments the rest of the house,” says BlueLinx’s Reasons. “With this trend, contractors are finding needs for more and unique fastening methods for more intricate inlays and designs.”

The Hillman Group’s Kovac also sees the growing need for fasteners that solve specific problems. “The instability in the lumber market could hasten the demand for alternative building materials such as steel framing, composite decking, or incorporating more stone elements into deck designs,” he explains. “The increase of joining dissimilar materials could require deck builders to either stock additional fasteners or look for fasteners that can perform when fastening multiple materials.”

National Nail’s Zizak agrees with Kovac’s insights. “The other trend we are seeing is the move toward metal framing, fueled by the lumber shortage and price escalations. As metal framing prices became competitive with wood, more manufacturers jumped in, and contractors became more comfortable with the easy installation and customer satisfaction of having a no-rot substructure.”

With alternative building methods on the rise, contractors will need access to fasteners designed for these unique needs. “We continue to see growth in the mass timber and cross laminated timber applications,” says Pan American’s Lail. “Once it was prominent in only a select few geographical areas of the country, but we are seeing that market expand quickly across the US and Canada. Sales of our BTX and STX construction lags screws were up over 35% last year and we are seeing growth from North Carolina to California and all points in between.”

With such a changing building environment landscape, it’s easy for builders and contractors to feel confused and frustrated. Supply dilemmas, new product releases, and changing trends can all add up to delays they can ill afford.

That’s where the savvy LBM distributor finds success, deck fastener manufacturers say; by providing clear, honest communication and knowledgeable product recommendations, dealers can cement their relationships with their customers. “Service and trust is something we should all try to improve on,” recommends Grabber’s Haly. “I would tell any LBM dealer to focus on the same things we try to do every day at Grabber: follow through on promises; exceed expectations; be empathetic, and be open to input from others.”

Know what you’re selling, manufacturers say, so that you’re a solid resource and not just a point of purchase. “It’s very important to educate your customers that code compliant fasteners will last the lifetime of the material,” points out U2 Fasteners’ Walther. “Have the documentation and literature on hand for code inspectors and contractors.”

Pan American’s Phil Lail agrees about the importance of education for the LBM dealer. “With so many fastener options in the market right now for threaded fasteners and hidden fasteners, education is the key to making good choices. Dealers should make sure their staffs are up to date on the latest products and how they compare to others in the marketplace. Your end users stake their reputations on their work and count on the dealers to help them make the right choices.”

Scott Smith, chief commercial officer for PrimeSource Building Products, recommends that LBM dealers partner with product lines that deliver innovation in addition to serving as an information source. “Customers and professionals desire high quality fasteners to offer solutions for building challenges,” he says. “Ease and speed of application is paramount for the user while fastener innovation remains at the forefront in the industry. So, dealers who partner with brands focused on innovations— in drive systems, threading systems and coatings—will achieve success while driving incremental business.”

But it’s not just having the knowledge, manufacturers point out. LBM dealers need to be able to expertly convey that information, and one of the best way they recommend is with effective product displays.

“Retail displays and education are the key to meeting needs of both the DIY and pro contractor,” explains BlueLinx’s Mike Reasons. “With all of the different options that exist, it is important for LBM dealers to be the educator and expert. Having ways to show how a product works and how it can save time is important to the end consumer. This goes with both fasteners and decking. I find that many dealers try to be all things to all people. I think picking the right products for your business is key and then focus on educating why you chose those products to promote.”

With the overwhelming interest in outdoor living showing no signs of slowing down any time soon, it should be a simple equation for the LBM dealer to find success with deck fasteners. By being able to offer innovative products that work with a variety of applications, LBM distributors should see significant sales opportunities that, manufacturers say, can lead to even bigger wins when customers need more than just fasteners.

As PrimeSource’s Horst describes, “Dealers should be prepared to stock the complete package when it comes to outdoor living spaces. Bundling deck boards, fasteners, pneumatics, railing options, and finishing products—as well as on-trend backyard items like outdoor kitchen cabinets—makes it easy for customers to procure everything needed for a project from one source.” The rest, as they say, is money in the bank.

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