Johnny Rose always wanted to start his own business. After years of working in sales and marketing for others, he finally took the chance in 2001. The only concern was the timing. It was about a month before the tragedy of 9/11, which seriously affected the U.S. economy.
“Initially, I thought I lucked out in finding this coatings company, which had gone into bankruptcy,” Rose shares. “A couple of guys started in the mid-80s, and it did OK for a while, but it was no longer in good shape. I purchased the business and thought I could turn things around.”
At first, Rose was understandably excited about the new venture. He was in his mid-40s, his kids were out of college, and he was tired of traveling for work.
“It got to the point where I caught a flight most Monday mornings, returning at the end of the week or weekend. Sometimes it was international travel. I was getting burned out and was ready for something new,” he says.
His background was in computers and tech, working for companies such as Wise Technology, Oracle, and AT&T, selling hardware, software, or both. A coatings company, which mainly offered electroplating, was something new. It was also in his price range.
“I first looked for high-tech companies because that’s what I knew, but I couldn’t find anything that made financial sense,” he says. “Most of the available companies were sold by people who spent their lives writing software or designing hardware and wanted to be paid for their intellectual property rights.”
This made sense but also substantially added to the price tag. Rose was undeterred and determined to find a business that worked for him. So, he simply broadened his scope. That’s how he found the coatings company. Although he had zero background in plating or coatings, he figured he would enjoy the challenge.
“I didn’t know anything about electroplating, but I knew sales and that I was just as smart as the average bear. I could figure it out. So, I jumped in, bought the company, and just started running it,” he shares. “I worked in the plant for the first six months or so to properly learn the business.”
And despite the economic lull in the aftermath of 9/11, Rose persisted. “Everything came to a standstill shortly after I bought the business, but I was invested. The only option in my mind was to keep learning and pushing forward…until we could grow the company.”
Rose did just that. What once included barely a handful of employees, now has over 100 — including one of his sons. And what once only offered electroplating, now has a successful fasteners division.
Rose built and owns Texas’ AFT Fasteners & Industrial Supply, which distributes more than 500,000 standard and custom products, including fasteners, abrasives, safety supplies, power tools, hand tools, drill bits, machining hardware, electronic hardware, and there’s more.
“I’m proud to say that we do more revenue in about three days today than we did in an entire year when I first bought the company,” he says.
After Rose’s son joined the company, the father-son duo began exploring options for diversification and expansion. They wanted to find the ideal way to grow the business.
“We initially had a couple of customers we provided with plated fasteners, which got us thinking about how we could successfully add that service to the business. We figured our plating capabilities would differentiate us from other fastener suppliers.”
Rose took on the fastener side of the business while placing his son entirely in charge of the electroplating division.
“Essentially, I turned the business over to my son… I gave him control of everything, including my office, and I moved to what I considered a closet to start our fastener business. That’s what I called it because the space was that small,” Rose laughs. “It fit me, a half-sized desk, and my laptop.”
The two divisions ran out of the same location before separating for a while (because the fastener business outgrew the space) and, eventually, consolidated again into one larger, 82,000-square-foot facility.
Today, AFT Fasteners is based in Mansfield, about 25 minutes from Fort Worth, TX. It supplies to customers nationally and internationally and is registered as a Single Site Quality Management System in conformance with ISO 9001:2015.
This registration includes Machining, Metal Finishing, Electroplating, Painting, and Kitting and Distribution of Fasteners.
“I suppose I never really left sales because, while I mostly oversee things now, growing a business requires sales. For me, it’s just the products that have changed — from technology to plating to fasteners,” explains Rose. “But what I enjoy about fasteners is that you always learn something new. One would think a screw is just a screw, but there’s more to it. It can be challenging when hiring employees because, unless the candidate has worked in the industry, some have difficulty grasping the complexity involved in fasteners.”
Understanding this concept is especially important to the AFT team, which supplies several industries, including manufacturing, construction, heavy equipment, petrochemical, electronics, automotive, and others. The customers vary, according to Rose. One manufactures irrigation systems; another one firearms.
The company can customize orders to ensure the ideal fit for its customers. It also offers an e-commerce business, which has contributed to its growth.
“About 50% of our business is through our e-commerce site. We have hundreds of thousands of parts on there and keep adding more. I think it’s important to keep up with advances and demand. We’re no longer in the era of fax machines,” he laughs. “If I had my way, I would sell 100% online.”
One benefit of Rose’s background is that he’s not hesitant about implementing technology to achieve greater efficiencies and capabilities.
To this end, AFT has added greater automation and processes to its operations, including updating its ERP (enterprise resource planning) system. It also became ISO-certified. The company has a forward-thinking approach and continues to take the steps necessary to develop and serve better.
“You know, a business always has ups and downs, much like the economy. I’ve learned that when there is a problem or concern, it’s important to stay calm and deal with it. Getting overly stressed or anxious serves no purpose. Running a business is a series of problems…so it’s best to be a problem-solver and open to new solutions.”
Rose adds: “We’ve had our challenges, and the company started with one, but we’ve done OK for ourselves. In fact, we’ve had phenomenal growth in the last couple of years, and I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished.”