When Paul Mudge decided to open a fastener company back in the mid-70s, little did he realize his business — Mudge Fasteners, Inc. — would become a nationally recognized supplier, or that his daughter (who was barely four years old at the time) would eventually serve as the managing director.
“To be honest, I went into the business somewhat naïve at first, thinking I had gained freedom to work on my own and that it was going to be great,” shares Mudge. “But I had next to zero experience selling anything or knocking on doors. It was intimidating.”
Mudge had some previous experience in the fasteners industry, however, working as a buyer for commercial and industry distributor, VSI Fasteners. “At VSI, I learned about the local and wholesale sources for commercial nuts, bolts, and screws, and that many customers bought fasteners in packages for better savings,” he says. “And then I noticed some employees going out on their own, establishing their own business, so I decided to do the same.”
After printing up a set of business cards, Mudge simply went door-to-door to local cabinet and machine shops offering sets of pre-packaged fasteners. “I looked for opportunities to buy surplus material, or for components that someone could no longer return, and then I’d package the items together and find a distributor that could buy the whole lot.”
Although his daughter, Marisa Mudge, didn’t join the family biz until the early 2000s, she recalls helping her dad out long before then. “As a kid, I remember sorting and labeling fasteners into different bags because we’d often get them in mixed boxes. Then, my dad would pay me a certain amount for each bag, so it was fun,” she says. “And that was my first unofficial introduction into fasteners.”
In college, Marisa also worked for her dad, taking orders and doing accounts receivable. But her long-term plan was to become a lawyer. Ultimately, she left college with a degree in marketing and another in business communication. “I hated law school and really enjoyed working with people and creative problem-solving, so I went into the world of advertising for a little while but wasn’t sure what I wanted to do.”
Before long, Marisa found her way back to fasteners and the family business. “I started working with my dad again to earn some extra cash when a skateboard company called, looking for different colors of skateboard hardware. This was virtually unheard of, and non-existent in the industry. So, I found a place to make colored fasteners for skateboards.” Given her marketing background, Marisa’s next thought was to expand and sell to other skateboards customers in the same market.
Slowly, Marisa worked her way into the role of marketing manager, eventually helping her dad establish a firm business in the solar-power industry. Mudge Fasteners offers some of the only fasteners specifically tested for use in solar racking materials. “This may seem like a leap but the thing about our industry is that the customer base is always changing, depending on the current manufacturing or construction projects in the country,” she explains. “For example, when I was young, my dad’s main customers were waterbed manufacturers and van converters. Today, the solar industry is one of our key markets but that’s also evolving. You have to be aware of the market and anticipate changes before they occur.”
Mudge agrees and admits to challenges along the way. “You can’t be in business this long without obstacles,” he says. “The 2008 recession was one of them. It was tough to find customers in construction or manufacturing at that time. That’s when we first found activity in the solar-power market.”
Another challenge has been the growth of overseas suppliers, which often offer bulk supplies and high discounts. “This is one reason it’s important to keep up with demand while looking for new opportunities, such as customized fasteners,” says Mudge.
“Flexibility is imperative,” Marisa adds. “This industry can be quite stressful because of the changing marketing. You might start out doing well in one sector but that offers little guarantee of success tomorrow, next week, next month, or next year. I think one of the most important lesson that I’ve learned is to pay attention to market indicators.”
Education is also important to the team at Mudge Fasteners, which now employs seven full-time and two temporary people. This means keeping up with current trends and passing on insight to customers.
“Typically, fasteners are the least expensive component for a job and given little forethought. However, if a project designer or engineer chooses fasteners with an uncommon thread style, this can significantly increase costs,” says Marisa. Additionally, because of their small size, these components often get lost or damaged at a jobsite, which can also drive up costs.
“This is particularly true for specialty or customize fasteners, so we try to educate customers on such things including on coatings, corrosion resistance, and so on,” says Mudge. “We may still be a small company, but we’re committed to customer-service and quality.”
When asked if he has any regrets about launching his company more than 40 years ago, Mudge nods his head. “Not at all! I was given advice early on in my venture from a long-time owner of another fastener company, which was simple: don’t give up — keep going until someone makes you stop. So, I’m still going and enjoying it.”