Global Fastener News

1995 FIN – Cohn: Remembering When Imports Were Delivered at Night

May 20
00:00 2009

1995 FIN – Cohn: Remembering When Imports Were Delivered at Night

Editor’s Note: Eric M. Cohn, who started importing fasteners in 1953 and founded Allied International in 1965, spoke on the importing business at the October 1995 Western Association of Fastener Distributors meeting in Aspen, Colorado, as part of WAFD’s “I Remember” series. The following are excerpts:

October 31, 1995 FIN – In 1955 Reynolds was importing fasteners from Holland, GKN and H.J. Kennedy from England, Norman Sackheim from Germany and Allied from Belgium. A few years later domestic manufacturers increased their production capacity.

“In the late ’50s they told the foreigners, ‘We don’t need you anymore,'” Eric M. Cohn recalled. “That was a gross mistake because the foreigners liked our business. They [importers] got into it to fill this void.”

Cohn started buying fasteners from China because his father had been an importer of straw goods and they had business relationships developed there.

Midnight Specials

Because of pressure against foreign competition, “a lot of distributors wanted me to deliver at night so that domestic manufacturers wouldn’t see what they were doing.”
Cohn recalled one distributor telling him: “I don’t care what garbage you ship me as long as it looks like Eagle Lock.”

Though China initially had a reputation for poor quality, the nation eventually started producing good lockwashers and the domestic industry responded by calling for tariffs. “That’s why they slapped a duty on them,” Cohn said. “They made something right.”

Cohn, who testified at a House Ways & Means Committee hearing on tariffs in 1955, “spent five or six years preventing a duty rise.”
“A lot of interesting things came out of the hearings. For example, there was an Australian wood screw manufacturer who decided that if he came to the United States he could sell wood screws,” Cohn remembered. “So he announced that he was coming and the domestic industry met him on the dock, bought his plant and he went home.”

Fastener Junkies

“In New York we had a bunch of junkies who would buy fasteners at two cents a pound,” Cohn recalled. “All these people had big mountains of surplus as their base inventor at two of three cents a pound. All they had to do was stay in business until somebody used it.”
“They bought this stuff so cheap that there was a congressional investigation as to who they paid off,” Cohn said.
“When the surplus ran out, they were forced to become businessmen. Some couldn’t and they went out of business and that left the business to good, substantial, decent distributors.”

Cohn retired from the fastener industry in 1986 when he sold his shares of Allied to Kay Industries. He now operates a telephone business, Peekskill, New York-based Consolidated Telephone Co.
He misses the fastener advertising specialties. “I used to get rulers from Western Pacific Data Systems, lighters from Jackson Bolts, etc. If anyone has surplus, just send them.”

The Future of the Industry

The fastener industry “is becoming more orderly again,” Cohn observed. “I see it moving back to where it was in the 1950’s when three or four major players had the business.”
“The bigger factories are getting a hold of it and they don’t want to service the little distributor too much,” Cohn said.
“The so-called legitimate jobber who inventories his material and does a decent job is winning and the little sharpshooter who would grab a box of something and cut your price in half is slowly disappearing,” Cohn said.

Cohn predicted Thailand and Malaysia may be the next nations providing fasteners, because that is where telephones are coming from now.

“There is always a country with its tongue out. After the do bolts and nuts they quickly find out there has got to be something better.”

Cohn predicted the impending Fastener Quality Act will not change the industry much. “The enforcement ability [of government agencies] is nominal. Years ago there was the label act, but jobbers would just leave off the ‘Made in’ label and if an inspector showed up they could just say that ‘the man who does that is out this week.'”
Though the FQA hasn’t been put into effect, it has made the distributor more aware of where he is buying,” Cohn explained. “When you see somebody offering you 20% to 25% less than the current market, then you know what you got.” ©1995/2009 Fastener Industry News

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