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 Subject : Personal History, by Bill Unferth, Bossard International.. 10/27/2011 04:34:04 PM 


The year was 1961, and boy those winters in Wisconsin were cold, so on October 2, 1961, a friend and I left the small town of Lomira, Wisconsin, to move to sunny and warm California to make big bucks. I will never forget when we pulled out of the driveway, my dad said, "you will be back in one month."

We left on a Monday afternoon, and pulled into Santa Fe Springs, CA on Thursday afternoon, where we stayed with my friend's aunt and uncle for about eight days. I think we both sort of took it easy the next three days, but on Monday morning bright and early we went looking for work. I believe my friend started work on October 12, 1961, and it was on that day I was given an interview at 2613 South Yates Avenue, which was the West Coast home of The Cleveland Cap Screw Company. I guess I was lucky John Harrington, who was the General Manager, was not around when I went for an interview, because he later told me had he been there, he most likely would not have approved my hiring, because he said, "another young person moving to sunny CA to get out of the cold, and then when the weather warms up, you most likely will pack up and move back to WI."

The person who did interview me is someone some of you know, and is a member of WAFD. His name is Jim Hooper, and today he is the owner of American Bolt and Screw. Jim, at that time, was the Shipping and Receiving Clerk, and apparently Jim was comfortable enough to offer me a job starting the next morning. I will always remember my first day in the fastener business, as that day was Friday, October 13, 1961.

Having grown up in WI, and worked on my uncle's farms in the summer and at a local hardware store, I thought I knew a little about nuts and bolts. We sold square head machine bolts with square nuts, and carriage bolts also with square nuts, and guess what, in those days the nuts were attached to the bolts. When I started at Cleveland Cap Screw, that was my entire knowledge of the fastener industry.

At that time the newest employee got all those great jobs, like trim the bushes, pick up the trash in the parking lot, and unload the rail cars that we got weekly from the Cleveland, OH facility at 4444 Lee Road. As cold as it was in WI, it was just as hot in those rail cars in the California heat and smog, wrestling with those 200-pound kegs. You see that was way before anyone ever even heard of or thought about the 1/4 keg concept. Even the package cases were about twice the size of today's package case. At that time a full keg of 1/4" nuts was 20,000, and a package case was 9600, so you can see even the case would have been very close to 100 pounds. Wouldn't that rattle some people today?

I made up my mind real quick that I did not want to be in the fastener industry on that level for any extended period of time, but in retrospect, it really helped me to have started where I did, as I moved through my career to bring me where I am today. You see, there is not a whole lot that someone can try to sell me on, that I have not seen and done myself first hand.

Shortly after I started, Jim Hooper was offered a position in our inside sales department, and since I was the only person in the warehouse who could type, I got his old job as Shipping and Receiving Clerk. That lasted for about four months until our Warehouse Manager left, and I was offered that position.

Some of our big customers in my early days at Cleveland Cap are current WAFD members and include; Larry Stanley, who was with Fasteners, Inc. back then; Dave Kendall with Portland Screw; Clyde Kowallis of Kowallis & Richards; and Moses Cordova, at that time with Triangle Iron & Steel. Mo would call in a will call order almost every day for 10-20 kegs.

About one year after starting with Cleveland Cap Screw, John Harrington asked me if I wanted to move to San Francisco to work in our sales department, and of course I jumped at the chance to get out of the warehouse. I remained in sales for about six months before being promoted to Manager of the San Francisco office. In this new position, I was basically responsible for all functions to include sales from San Francisco, north to Alaska, and east to Utah, with the exception of the Ken R. Humke Co. in Portland, OR, which John Harrington still handled out of our Los Angeles office.

Do you think any of the younger people today could imagine how we operated with no copy machines, no faxes, no computers, no Federal Express, no UPS, and with a telex machine? In those days a Watts line was something very few companies had.

Some of our competitors in those days were Bethlehem Steel, National Screw, Lamson & Sessions, RB & W, Russell Bolt, and Stan Screw. This list is not complete, but those that stick out in my mind.

Things were going pretty good, until I got a phone call one Friday afternoon in the Spring of 1964 from John Harrington. I took the call in the main office, but John asked me to transfer the call to a private office. When I picked up the phone again, John informed me that we were closing both the Los Angeles and San Francisco office, but that I could not tell anyone until the following Monday morning. After hanging up, I returned to the main office and pretended nothing had happened, allowing everyone to continue in their normal manner.

That was a real long weekend, but on Monday morning I came into the office, called a meeting and informed everyone of the news I had gotten on the past Friday. Everyone was terminated as of that day, with severance packages. Now my task was to close up the San Francisco warehouse. Bethlehem Steel was still operating a warehouse in San Francisco, and they purchased all of the inventory. To close up the warehouse, I hired back as temporaries our three warehouse people and together we packed and shipped all the inventory to Bethlehem. It was a very short move, so we just loaded pallets on a flat bed truck, which allowed us to complete the task much quicker than if we had to load inside regular trucks. We had the building emptied and closed sometime in mid May, 1964.

Now I had to make a choice, either to transfer back to Cleveland, Ohio or secure a new position on the West Coast. I really did not care to go back to the cold weather, so I decided I would stay on the West Coast. I was put in touch with Bud Porteous, who at that time was at Russell Bolt. He flew to San Francisco, we had lunch, struck a deal, and I agreed to move to Los Angeles. I wrapped up all lose ends in San Francisco on a Friday afternoon, drove to Los Angeles on Saturday and started at Russell Bolt on a Monday morning.

I enjoyed working with Bud, but I guess my heart was still with Cleveland Cap Screw, who had left it open for me to come back to Cleveland. After maybe four or five conversations with Bob Thomas, who was the Sales Manager at the time, I made the decision to move to Cleveland, so I really was only at Russell Bolt for about six weeks.

When I got to Cleveland, I was told to plan on staying there for about nine months, and I got there on November 5, 1964. I know the day, because it was the day after the 1964 Presidential election. I remember, because it was the first time I was old enough to vote. Back then you had to be 21 years old. It took me from June 12, 1964, until November 5, 1964, to get to Cleveland, Ohio from Los Angeles, because on Monday June 15, 1964, I was involved in a very serious auto accident in Marion, Iowa, and was in the hospital until early September of that year. Upon getting out of the hospital, I had to walk with crutches until the end of October.

My nine months in Cleveland were short lived. Just before we left for the Christmas holidays in December 1964, Bob Thomas called me into his office and said, "when you return after Christmas, I would like you to move to Detroit and work with the automotive sales department." I agreed and advised the apartment complex that I needed to break my lease because I was moving to Detroit.

I returned to the office on a Tuesday following Christmas 1964, planning to move to Detroit later that week. Again Bob Thomas called me into his office and said, "Bill you have a flight tonight to Atlanta, Georgia to fill in for Larry O'Connor, the Sales Manager for the Southeast who had a heart attack on Christmas Eve." I was to be there for about three to four weeks. Somehow those four weeks turned into about three months, and when Larry was able to return to work, he asked me if I wanted to stay in the South or go to Detroit. Not being that excited about the cold weather, I elected to stay in the South, and moved to Charlotte, North Carolina, where I remain today.

My territory with Cleveland Cap was North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia, which I took over in April 1964. One of my customers at the time was a company by the name of Universal Fasteners in Charlotte, North Carolina. The owners, Bill and Clem Rothwell, and I became good friends as well as customer/supplier, and in November of 1966, I joined Universal Fasteners as Vice President.

All my previous experience had been with manufacturers supplying distribution, steel fabricators, or OEM's, so this was a new venture for me. Now instead of selling just what we as Cleveland Cap offered, I was learning about all things distributors deal in like anchors, blind rivets, tapping screws, you name it. I was here for the famous 1973 shortage, when I bought 6,000,000 1/4-20 hex nuts for the unheard of price of $6.00/m, and if you had 3/4 x 2 A325 structural bolts, people thought you actually must walk on water. But just as fast as the shortage came on us, it disappeared. I will never forget, in one day we received the backorders for those 3/4 x 2 A325 structural bolts from every vendor we had.

In those days almost every order we placed, was placed knowing it was non cancelable, and it was priced at time of shipment, not time of placement. So in fact, we had no choice but to accept all those 1/4-20 nuts and the 3/4 x2 A325's, even though we in fact had no need, and now were burdened with overpriced inventory.

I remained with Universal Fasteners until May of 1976, so I now had a pretty versed background in distribution, which still helps me today.

In May of 1976,1 joined Holo Krome as Southern District Manager, covering the Southeast. In October of 1979, I was elevated to Southern Regional Manager, which now gave me the entire Southeast and Southwest, and two District Managers who reported to me. During my time with Holo Krome, a market that seemed to be up and coming was metric, so on January 1, 1982, I joined a small company in Greenville, South Carolina called Metric American Fasteners.

When I got there, they basically had no distribution business, i.e. almost all sales were to the end users. My mission was to develop a distribution market, and at the end of our first year, that is on December 31, 1982, our sales to distribution were $1,200,000. In February of 1983, Bossard International, Inc. made an inquiry as to whether Metric American would be interested in selling, and such a sale took place on May 1, 1983. That is how I ended up where I am today, as Vice President of Bossard International, Inc.

I have seen a lot of changes in this industry in my almost 34 years, some good, and some bad. I can remember when I thought it was high way robbery to pay $10.00 a night for a hotel room, or $4.00 for lunch. My first company car in California did not have air conditioning. Wouldn't that be a drag today? I remember the first time we bought import fasteners at Universal Fasteners. I think they were round head machine screws. I don't think today you can buy anything but imports on such an item, but I could be wrong. I have met a lot of great people in my 34 years, and I must say I think I have many more friends than enemies, as given an industry as we are in, we are all pretty decent and good people.
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