If there’s one thing Craig Penland has learned as a business owner with more than a couple of decades of experience in the fastener industry, it’s how to persevere.
“To be honest, I could write a New York Times best-seller on how NOT to run a company,” he laughs. “Because if it was possible to get wrong, we’ve probably done so at some point.”
What he fails to mention, however, is everything he has done successfully as the co-founder and current president and CEO of Eurolink, a premier U.S. distributor of metric fasteners.
“The good news is that we’ve learned a lot along the way. Eurolink just turned 21 in July and is having its best year so far, which tells me that the idea behind the company — its uniqueness — was something the industry needed and still does today,” he shares.
The idea was to develop a company with a special focus on those rare and hard-to-find metric fasteners, manufactured to DIN and ISO standards. This idea was a good one in America because the majority of master importers stock the conventional, standard parts with limited access to the less common, metric fasteners. This makes sense from a demand perspective — stock what’s popular and leave the less-accessible parts alone.
In fact, this was the business model Penland and his brother, Todd, initially followed when they first opened business in 2000.
“Todd and I both worked for another metric fastener importer, Lindstrom Metric, when we eventually decided to leave and start our own company,” shares Penland. “We opened the doors to what we called, Supply Line Fasteners, in the summer of 2000…and from the basement of my house in South Carolina.”
The brothers decided to go after OEM sales much like every other local distributor and it proved tough. Trying to stock enough inventory in a basement to ensure quick and efficient delivery was a challenge.
“Unfortunately, neither one of us had $10 million or so sitting around that we could use to properly build and house inventory, but we persevered for a number of years and did relocate to a small warehouse,” he says. “But we finally decided that simply serving as another fastener stocking house was not going to cut it. There were just too many hiccups.”
Before closing shop, however, Penland noticed a pattern. Often enough, a request for quote (RFQ) for certain items would come back as “no stock, no quote” from the master importers.
“At one point, we lost an OEM account because we couldn’t find anybody in the United States to supply a specific type of metric fasteners, even though we knew we could easily get them from Europe. They’re just sitting on the shelves there,” he shares. “But, at the time, no one here was offering a weekly or routine overseas freight program, so that request — and quite a few others — would simply go unfilled.”
Although metric fasteners are not considered an “A,” “B,” or high-demand product in the U.S., they are far more commonly used and readily available in Europe. Penland and his brother decided to do something about this and began making trips overseas to build vendor relationships.
But re-focusing the company’s focus came with its own challenges. Finding reliable vendors was simple enough — even if most European distributors were shocked to learn of an American company looking for items absolutely no one else was quoting — but figuring out how to ship the items to the U.S. in a cost-effective and timely manner was another.
Eventually, the brothers lucked out and found a freight forwarder from Atlanta that was willing to work and grow with them. “There was no guaranteed or immediate success,” admits Penland. “Some weeks, we lost money on the shipment. Other weeks, we’d earn money on the shipment. But we never gave up because we knew we were fulfilling a need and gap in the market.”
In April 2007, the brothers officially changed their company name and logo to Eurolink Fastener Supply Service.
“We realized how important it was to focus on the service aspect of what we were offering rather than the stocking part. We no longer wanted to be known as a stocking fastener house,” explains Penland. “Rather, we wanted to be known as the go-to company for those hard-to-find metric fasteners that offers quality service and efficient delivery.”
The result: those weekly air-freight shipments turned into multiple air freights per week, which turned into monthly consolidated sea-freight shipments and then multiple, consolidated sea freight shipments per month.
“We’ve grown and developed so much over the years, thanks to our partnerships and memberships at various fastener associations around the country. We’ve been able to build up our name and reputation to truly be the go-to company for hard-to-find metric fasteners,” he says.
This is impressive considering Eurolink only has a staff of 10 employees, along with eight manufacturer reps, and ships throughout the U.S., Canada, and Mexico. In 2012, it moved from the small warehouse and quadrupled in size to a facility that’s roughly 12,500 square feet.
Currently, it’s just Penland who continues to work as president and CEO. His brother sadly passed in 2013. Penland didn’t let that stop him from persevering, however.
“We have such a dedicated, hard-working team here. I feel so fortunate. Even when the pandemic initially hit, no one wanted to work remotely. We purchased laptops and made that possible, but everyone kept coming in. I’m not sure if we’re all old-school or what,” he laughs. “But we do range in age from 20-something to 60-something.”
Eurolink was deemed an essential business as an importer that supplies parts through distributors to the medical industry, so it remained open. Although its sales were down by about 20% in 2020, as could be expected, it’s already hit a milestone this year. The company achieved record sales for the year, with a couple of months yet to go.
“It’s been interesting because we’ve seen an increase in new item requests. Typically, we wouldn’t see RFQs for those A or B-type of fasteners because they’re commonly sitting on the shelves of master importers here,” explains Penland. “But due to inventory shortages and shipment delays, we’re being asked to quickly fill these orders.”
It certainly has to be a nice change of pace from Penland’s early years running a company.
“When we originally started a company, I don’t think my brother or I took a salary for the first year-and-a-half or so, and then it was just our mortgage payments for about three years,” he says. “I actually worked as a bartender at night and delivered newspapers in the morning just to make ends meet. I barely slept as the time in-between was spent working at the business. So, it is great to see what we’ve built up today.”
Penland credits a lot of success to his faith, determination, and patience.
“No matter how much education you have in business or marketing or what have you, you’re simply not going to find every answer on how to run a company out of a textbook. There are too many variables,” he says. “So, you have to follow your instincts and be willing to make mistakes, admit to them, and then learn from them. You simply cannot grow without mistakes. It’s not possible.”
In terms of growth, Penland’s in the process of closing on land to build the future home of Eurolink in upstate South Carolina. He hopes to begin construction sometime next year. He’s also contemplating expansion out west and, potentially, into Canada.
“For today, I’m blessed,” he says. “I get routine compliments on my sales reps…things like, ‘No one takes care of us like they do.’ It’s so nice to hear. And my employees are some of the best people I’ve ever worked with. I have little to worry about because my team has things down. They’re rock stars.”