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STAFDA’s Gersten: Pandemic Encouraged Change

STAFDA’s Gersten: Pandemic Encouraged Change
November 15
11:48 2021

“If there’s one good thing from the pandemic, it has exposed us to a lot of new product categories and items to sell, giving our members new ways to sustain their business through these troubled times,” Specialty Tools & Fasteners Distributors Association president Brian Gersten said in his 2021 State-of-the-Industry speech.

“So many of us might be seeing customers that we have never dealt with before giving us more opportunities for the future – all thanks to social media and online sales,” Gersten of Suffern, NY-based On Time Supply Inc. said.

“We all know distribution today is so different than it was in years past,” Gersten acknowledged. He cited a lack of workers; a “broken product supply chain”; lack of manufactured material because of resource shortages; price increases; and freight and trucking issues.

“Like many of you, I feel like a circus juggler throwing flaming hatchets up in the air hoping to catch the one that’s falling first,” Gersten reflected. “Thanks to media and social networking, most of our customers are well aware of these situations.  But like us, they need to do what they need to do to locate items needed in an economic and timely fashion.”

The industry is now “familiar with the PPP and EIDL loans that were out there, and other financing programs that were developed because of the pandemic,” Gersten noted. “Many of us filed multiple forms with our banking institutions for the financial programs available to aid us.”

On Time Supply was founded by Gersten’s father and now has its fourth generation: His granddaughter Madison Rae Gersten has joined the distributorship now headed by his sons Scott Gersten and Michael Gersten. The first generation remains represented by 88-year-old Frann Gersten who collects receivables and does clerical work.

His dad, Dan Gersten, worked as a union glazer installing glass in New York City. In 1965 Dan “decided to make a career change,” becoming a commissioned salesman for Duo-Fast Eastern Sales & Service in Long Island City, selling staples, nails, and pneumatic fastening tools in Manhattan.

Brien remembers his parents studying his flash cards at home to learn the different types of fasteners, tools and applications.

“My dad left early in the morning from our Bronx apartment dressed in a suit and tie with his satchel in hand to make numerous daily sales calls and do the needed service repairs at customer establishments,” Gersten recalled. “Boy, things have changed! Today, salesmen wear business casual attire and we have warranty service centers or authorized repair shops to handle the service work for us,” he noted.

After graduating from Pace University in 1980, Gersten interviewed for marketing positions with companies like Campbell’s Soup, Nestle and Mars. He landed at Dubois Chemical, a subsidiary of W.R. Grace, as a territory manager selling sanitation systems to the healthcare and hospitality industry.

“But, I always thought if I can do this working for someone else, what could I do if I was working for myself,” Gersten said. Five years later he started On Time Coffee Distributors, a full-service office coffee and vending company in New York City.

“In 1992, I was doing my thing and my dad, a/k/a Danny Duo-Fast, was still selling fasteners after 27 years,” Gersten narrated. “But after a successful career, and being inducted into the Duo Fast Hall of Fame, he made a decision to retire.”

Clients asked his dad to sell fasteners and related products.  Gersten began handling products outside his coffee business  and in 1993, “my accountant directed us to form a separate corporation: S.M.G. Supply Inc. (named after his sons Scott and Michael) d/b/a On Time Supply was born.”  

“Dad and I were now partners. In 1998, business at On Time Supply was going so well that I decided to sell On Time Coffee and concentrate all my efforts on the fastener and supply business.”

How did the distributorship grow?  Gersten credited “getting to know great people and building strong relationships.”  By building strong reciprocating relationships with my staff, customers, vendors, and networking with STAFDA members throughout the country, great things began to happen.”

“In 1994 when I attended my first STAFDA convention, I looked around the trade show floor and was exposed to so many products, manufacturers, and people – even more than I could have ever imagined which in turn led us to so many amazing opportunities,” the association’s 45th president remembered.

“Strength in numbers is what STAFDA provides for all of us,” Gersten said. “Make use of your relationships with fellow members and their experiences. Don’t be afraid to form alliances with other members since we all share the same problems. You don’t have to go it alone!”

On Time Supply was “forced to change in many ways and adapt to a new mindset and the way we conduct business in 2021,” Gersten said.

He had “bucked the online sales channels but when the pandemic hit – my younger third generation entrepreneurs showed me how relevant online sales can be.”

“Using our online store and some third party selling channels, we were able to take a considerable bite out of the big box business (we no longer feared the large retailers like Home Depot and Lowe’s),” Gersten said. “We were now playing in their sandbox!  If I might say, the technology background the younger generation brought to the table allowed us to do it very well.”

Gersten acknowledged it was hard to “step back to these two young men and let them implement their ideas and do their thing, but I did and I must say it was one of the best decisions I have ever made.”

On Time Supply now uses time management programs and CRM systems. “A high tech message service is in place for all our customers to communicate with our customer service team in real time,” Gersten said. “Our delivery team uses a fleet management service that gives us minute by minute notifications of driver/truck location and messages that notify customers of their delivery times.”

Scott Gersten joined a cooperative buying group which allows On Time Supply “to purchase products using very aggressive promotions or pricing negotiated on behalf of the group. This certainly was a major change, and it leveled the playing field for us when competing with the big box retailers and in turn, sent profits down to the bottom line instantaneously through rebates and discounts.”   

“Change – whether invited or not…like the COVID pandemic – has the power to strengthen relationships with your staff, suppliers and customers,” Gersten said. Web:

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