When distributors talk about being a single-source supplier, they are typically talking about the strategy of providing everything their customers need, from power and hand tools to accessories, fasteners and other consumables. There are many such single sources or “one-stop shop” distributors across the nation.
But there are others, a very few others, that apply this single-source concept to their own suppliers as well. Houston-based United Tool & Fastener (UTF) is one of these. In the early 1980s, when Houston’s oil economy dried up, building dried up as well. Things got so bad that local distributors were hopelessly deadlocked. Eventually, three competing companies decided to unite to keep bankruptcy at bay. Thus, the name and the company, United Tool & Fastener, was born.
Of the six original owners, Bobby Williams and Steve Blackwell remain. As a result, UTF has an instantly recognizable and unique market position. Williams and Blackwell have developed and nurtured brand-exclusive relationships with vendors as well as with customers.
This sense of dedicated partnership with vendors as well as customers has paid off in loyalty.
“We’re not switching brands all the time, but customers know we’re always going to bring them quality products. They don’t have to worry about stuff changing on them all the time. They know we’re not out there to sell the cheapest products; we’re out there to sell quality.”
For over 20 years, UTF has done it their way, and it has worked.
”If we only stock one vendor’s product, they know if they go out and generate that lead and turn it over to us, the customer is going to get their product,” Williams explains. “We’re not going to try to substitute any other brand; we’re going to sell the product we stock for them.”
For United Tool & Fastener, customer service is key.
“Our big thing is service and taking care of our customers,” Blackwell said. “Home Depot doesn't do that; Lowe’s doesn't do that. If people buy DeWalt products from those guys and want service on them, they won’t get it. It’s all about service and being a partner to your customer to get the job done. We just apply that to our vendors too.”