The fastener industry was far from Nikki Gordon’s mind when she began her career as a marketing specialist. It may have stayed that way, too — she worked for Gannett, the second-largest media company in the world at the time — but one of her clients at Gannett was Suburban Bolt and Supply, a family and veteran-owned and operated business that provides distribution and sales of industrial supplies and components.
“Suburban Bolt had done a lot of traditional marketing, print ads, and the like but were looking for more of a digital focus, which I love,” shares Gordon. “So, I worked with them for about three years to help them grow digitally…and I fell in love with the company culture. They made you feel like an extension of the family.”
Eventually, when Gordon was looking for a change and to narrow the focus of her creative and digital skills, she reached out to Suburban Bolt. “You have to understand that at Gannett, I had hundreds of clients. It was a lot and could be overwhelming,” she explains. “It was a fantastic experience but, ultimately, I wanted a more focused opportunity where I could make a direct and long-term impact.”
So, when she noticed at one point that Suburban Bolt was receiving more leads than the company could handle, she spoke to ownership about the possibility of SBS adding a marketing position, and they obliged. This summer marks Gordon’s third anniversary with the company.
“Granted, nuts and bolts may not seem all that exciting from a marketing perspective but all I saw was a challenge,” says Gordon. “And until you’re in the world of fasteners, you typically don’t recognize the significance of these components. They’re critically important and essential in nearly every sector. I was excited to be a part of it and a company that expressed a real entrepreneurial, forward-thinking spirit.”
Next year, Suburban Bolt will be celebrating its 50th anniversary. Based in Michigan, the company currently has three locations: in Roseville, Grayling, and Port Huron. But in 1971, it was started by co-founders, Jerry Kelley, the late Carl Peterson (“Pete”). They were not only cousins but best friends, with the vision that the Detroit area needed a supply of quality fasteners to meet the demand of the growing automotive industry.
“Jerry and Pete both served in our armed forces, Jerry in the Navy, and Pete was a Marine. Afterward, Pete became a teacher and Jerry went into sales,” shares Gordon. “But, at some point, Jerry figured there was a better way to make money. So, one evening, they discussed their options and drafted a business plan on a bar napkin…and the two basically began selling fasteners out of the trunk of a car.”
Today, Jerry is still involved in the company, as is his daughter, Jerilynn Pintar, who serves as owner and vice president. Pete’s son, Eric Peterson, is the company president.
“We now have second-generation owners. Jerilynn and Eric grew up together and then went out on their own for a while, before both coming to work at Suburban Bolt. It’s a great story and such a great team,” she says. “They’ve built relationships and successes, and yet are still open to change and innovation. It’s refreshing to see, especially in the fastener industry.”
The three Michigan locations let the company fully cover the state and, through word of mouth, Suburban Bolt has developed a national reach. “We also do business across North America, but this is directly related to the existing relationships with our customers.” The company serves the automotive industry but also several other sectors, such as automation, robotics, and defense.
Thanks to Gordon, the goal is to extend this reach even further with a new website that offers e-commerce capability. “In a perfect world, this would have happened already, but then…COVID,” she says.
“As an essential distributor, I think we had an extremely quick and nimble response to the pandemic,” she adds. “We were able to adapt from an IT standpoint quite seamlessly and either work remotely or follow the proper CDC guidelines. But there were still new initiatives and procedures to adopt in our warehouse.”
This included informing customers of new rules for deliveries and an option for curbside pickups, as well as communicating with vendors. “Communication has been so critical here,” says Gordon. “And most importantly, our team has remained healthy. But I’m so looking forward to the more typical marketing challenges.”
The e-commerce site is still expected to launch this summer, providing customers quick access to high-quality fasteners and many other products Suburban Bolt offers. “We’re a go-to for the fasteners but this site will also showcase our cutting tools, abrasives, PVFs [pipes, valves, and fittings], shop supplies, and safety products. We also offer an extensive variety of industrial products and shop supplies.”
Since joining Suburban Bolt, Gordon has also helped garner the company some impressive recognition.
For example, in 2018, Suburban Bolt was awarded a 2018 Top Workplaces honor by The Detroit Free Press. Then, in 2019, Google recognized the company for its impressive digital campaigns and use of Google Ads and Google Analytics — even featuring Suburban Bolt in the Google Economic Impact Report. According to the Report, Google Ads accounted for about 40 percent of Suburban Bolt’s website traffic. Additionally, its search campaigns generated 1,300 leads that resulted in 126 new customers.
“It was quite an honor to be noticed,” says Gordon. “Google even flew Jerilynn and me to its headquarters in Mountain View, California, which for a marketer was like Disneyland!”
Gordon has also become a part of the fastener community, joining Women in the Fastener Industry (WIFI) as one of its directors. WIFI provides opportunities for women in the industry to connect, network, and learn from one another. “This is one of the best decisions I’ve made…the ladies of WIFI are so wonderful and supportive. It’s unfortunate that COVID has happened, but we’re now connecting through an online virtual coffee hour, which is a lot of fun,” she says.
According to Gordon, diversity is important and a challenge in fasteners. “When I say diversity in this case, I actually mean in terms of experience. The industry is in a unique position where a lot of folks are within five years of retiring, but then most others have 10 years or less in the industry. There’s a gap there…sure. But it can lead to new perspectives and approaches.”
Gordon says she’s seen it in her career where she’s pushed for new ways of doing things. For instance, she’s implementing new business intelligence tools that can predict and analyze data. “These kinds of tools and digital insight require a certain kind of trust because, in some ways, they’re a different way of doing business. I had to build and earn trust…but like I said, I like a challenge.”
So far, those challenges have been turning into successes for Gordon and Suburban Bolt, which offers one of the most extensive inventories of industrial fasteners. “It’s definitely not just me. It’s a true team effort and I’m grateful and extremely proud to be a part of it.”