Professional Builder screws down into the origins of a company which has been connecting with contractors for almost twenty years.
“There were plenty of people who told me I must have a screw loose myself when I decided to get involved in this business back in 1998,” recalls Glen Dunn founder of the Olympic Screw Company (OSC), who would be more than entitled to offer up a “told you so” – or perhaps something even a tad more profound – to all those early doubters.
Talking to Glen now at the company’s HQ in Linton, Kent, it’s clear that his passion for all things timber burns as brightly as it did when, as a sixteen year old, he embarked on a three-year carpentry and joinery apprenticeship.
Explains Glen: “For as long as I remember I had always been interested in working with wood, but as my career progressed I became increasingly frustrated at the painstaking process of making effective connections and fastenings. The tools and methods used on site hadn’t really changed for decades and even at that formative stage I was thinking that there must be a quicker way.
As is so often the case, fate then played a crucial role in the developing story when Glen acquired a pack of screws gathering dust in a friend’s garage. It transpired that they had originated from the USA, and carried the Timberlok brand, which offered a self-drilling solution to many timber to timber connections.
Eager to try them on site, Glen was immediately won over at how much quicker they were to use, removing at a stroke the need for traditional cumbersome coach bolt fixings.
Enthuses Glen: “I reckoned conventional methods took around three minutes per fixing, and often much longer, but these self drilling screws were doing the same, if not better job, in a matter of seconds. It was obvious that the labour savings on a typical loft conversion, pitched roof or deck would quickly add up to hours and, as we all know, time equals money for the jobbing builder.”
He continues: “It’s hard to imagine now in a world dominated by mobile phones and emails, but I found myself in a public call box attempting to make contact with the manufacturers of the Timberlok Screw on the other side of the pond. I was in that phone box for more than one and half hours constantly pouring in twenty pence pieces.
“I didn’t even have a name for my business but Olympic was the first thing that sprung to mind after seeing the manufacturer’s name on the side of that original box of screws. Incredibly, I manged to secure an order comprising my entire life savings of five thousand pounds for a consignment of the screws, which I was convinced would not only transform my life but those of the UK carpentry fraternity.”
Yet if Glen needed little persuasion, the task of converting the conservative opinions of a deeply sceptical audience would prove to be an altogether more protracted experience. He remembers: “‘Can’t see that working’, ‘don’t think it will be strong enough’, ‘far too expensive’, were just some of the more printable comments I encountered on my travels around local building sites.
“For three and half years I slogged my old Volvo up and down the motorways with few breakthroughs, returning each night to my garden shed/office to ponder how I could change a way of thinking which had existed for basically ever.”
Redemption came at a blagged spot for a distributor day at a local merchant. “I was convinced that if tradesmen could actually see the screws in action, and how much quicker the installation process was, they would be won over and the higher initial price would no longer be the major stumbling block.
“And so it proved with one local loft convertor totally buying into the concept and making a significant investment. With him on board, the merchant could see the potential for some lucrative future sales, and within a year I was doing more than £50,000 worth of business with that merchant alone,” says Glen.
By 2007 OSC had relocated to a site in Linton and business was booming. So much so that demand for the Fastenmaster range of screws was outstripping supply from the USA and Gary decided that the time was right to introduce a much broader base of products.
Under the CarpentersMate umbrella, 2009 saw the introduction of a comprehensive range of carbon self drilling screws for a wide variety of tasks going from 25mm up to 450mm which, although still high quality, offered a more competitive price option. The company was also well positioned to deal with an influx at that time of cheap inferior alternatives coming in from the Far East.
As Glen recounts: “Those that were tempted by cheapness quickly discovered that they were not up to the job and fortunately we were able to ride out the worst construction recession in living memory relatively unscathed.”
He continues: “Whilst we like to boast, with some justification that we helped to change the way timber is fixed in the UK we are also very aware that the needs of the end user are constantly changing, both in terms of the materials he is working with and also the tools being used. For instance, cordless technology has improved beyond belief over the past twenty years and modern fixings have to cope with previously unimaginable torque forces.
“At the same time we have a host of different materials like specialist hardwoods and composites coming onto the market, which require different methods of fixing. As a business we have to be one step ahead in anticipating the needs of contractors. They have grown accustomed to being offered quicker solutions and we can only deliver these objectives by sourcing the best products available, both at home and abroad, which fully comply with the latest regulations.
“Recent additions to the range include high end stainless steel screws, and colour coordinated screws, which can be manufactured to meet a particular style of decking. For the past five years we have also offered the highly regarded Orbix range of “in to metal” fixings for the electrical contractor, which is transforming efficiency in typical installation work like trunking.
“The Camo range of hidden decking screws, with its own Marksman Protools also allows the installer to do away with any pre drilling, whilst high quality driver bits, plus a range of head wearing gloves and branded polo shirts have all been added to the portfolio in recent times.
“One thing we will never compromise on is quality, because cheap is definitely not cheerful when livelihoods and sometimes lives depend on the structural integrity of the timber building. All our products carry a lifetime guarantee for extra peace of mind,” states Glen.
And, in a far cry from those early phone box days, the company has recently launched an App called, Calcumate which, given the dimensions of the job, will work out the exact quantity and size of the screws need for the task and present a certificate recognised as fit for purpose by building inspectors.
As usual, OSC continues to put the screw on its competitors from all directions.
For further information on OSC click here.