Bolt and Engineering celebrates its 40th anniversary: the good things never change, but keep getting better
The Bolt and Engineering Distributors (B.E.D.) Group, founded in November 1983, has been supplying the mining, agricultural, construction and engineering sectors with quality fasteners and equipment for 4 decades, celebrating its 40th anniversary in November 2023, embodied in the approach and motto of ‘the good things never change’.
To this point, the Group has built its success on the power of people: from its valued internal B.E.D. team members to equally valued and longstanding customers and suppliers. In an age where customers are routinely relegated to call centre agents and artificial intelligence is the order of the day, CEO and founder, Mike Giltrow firmly maintains that for B.E.D., the human touch remains paramount – and that sound, old-school business practices win the day.
A good example of this approach is the company’s decision to retain its logistics in-house – products are delivered to customers by fulltime B.E.D. drivers, in B.E.D. delivery vehicles.
“This is a physical manifestation of our belief in personalised service, and an extension of our motto and strapline ‘the perfect fit, fast’. Pride is a very powerful word in our B.E.D. vocabulary – and the passion, pride and persistence underpinning this and many other aspects of daily operations remains the bedrock of our company, and will also pave the way for our future success,” says Giltrow.
‘Bolted’ together for success
Giltrow set up the business with mentor and fellow entrepreneur Ernie Barnett in 1983.
“I met Ernie in 1981 when I was in my early twenties. Ernie was 15 years my senior. Although there was quite an age difference, there was an instant connection. He had the experience and I had the raw passion and energy. I do not think we would have made it without one another,” Giltrow fondly recalls.
Giltrow and Barnett had worked together previously at a company which they exited to create their own business, Bolt and Engineering Distributors Group. Their boss at the time declared that the new venture would not last more than six months.
“So, our initial aim was just to last seven months to prove him wrong. By the time we got past that seven month mark, we thought we might as well carry on,” Giltrow laughs.
“Celebrating our 40th anniversary is very emotional for everyone concerned,” he remarks. “Apart from our wives and families – to whom we are very grateful for their unconditional love and support – few people knew of the massive sacrifices made during those early years. We had to put B.E.D. first in order to successfully build the business. It was tough, and we knew it had to be done – it was all or nothing!
“It is amazing how quickly those 40 years have gone. We worked every Saturday between 1983 and 2000 but it was worth it,” he says.
By 1986, Giltrow says that he and Barnett were confident that the fledgling company was standing firmly on its own feet and, two years later, expanded with its first branch in Klerksdorp.
After 27 years working side by side, Barnett retired in 2010. Another like-minded industry professional, Jan Viljoen, ultimately took on the role of Managing Director.
“We met Jan when the B.E.D. Group carried out its first acquisition of a family-owned company that became our Klerksdorp branch. After the acquisition, Jan became our Operations Manager and a shareholder. He brought with him a wealth of experience in the local mining industry,” Giltrow continues.
Since then, the company has established a Head office in Wadeville and a network of 9 branches and an Exports division, as well as 2 welding and cutting repair centres in Gauteng and in the Western Cape.
Each branch has its own distinctive character and independence, but is closely aligned with the Group’s ethos of customer service and 100/0 – taking 100 percent accountability with zero excuses and continuous improvement. The operations managers of the various branches, although deeply grounded in their own respective regions, are often described as the ‘pegs that hold up the B.E.D. tent’.
People: the ‘nuts and bolts’ of the business
Giltrow acknowledges that the company is very people-centred. ”I realised, from a young age, how important a role people play in your life. It is more rewarding to be a giver rather than a taker. Giving far outweighs receiving and one cannot put a monetary value to that.”
Giltrow also pays tribute the B.E.D. team as being real ‘rainmakers’, who have all helped to grow the Group for 4 decades. Many of these are unsung heroes too, those in internal sales supporting the more externally-facing area sales managers – or those on the financial and administrative side of the business.
“Every person has something that makes them special. With all the people in our team, the good far outweighs the bad and they bring out the best in each other,” he says.
Over the years, there have been many successes, with employees even progressing from the shop floor to management level.
“We have always had a culture in which, if somebody puts up their hand, they will be given an opportunity. However, they need to prove their capability to themselves. We strongly believe that our biggest asset is our team. Even after 40 years, we still know everyone well, conducting a country-wide roadshow twice a year to all the branches. We look after our staff, they look after each other and they look after us,” Giltrow enthuses.
“We have not always employed the best or most experienced people in a particular industry – but we have employed the right people. That can make a huge difference. There is more to doing well than just being the best. We prefer to have the right people who give of their best,” he explains.
To get an opportunity at BED you don’t need a CV. You just need 3 things
A good attitude, fire in your belly and integrity.
Similarly, strong and lasting bonds with customers and suppliers have been built on respect, trust and loyalty.
“Without having a customer and doing a sale, you do not have a business. The customer might not always be right, but they are still the king or the queen. Very closely tied to a customer is a supplier – that is the distribution supply chain. We have always treated our suppliers with huge respect. If we are going to represent your product in the market place, we will do so with pride, persistence, passion and positivity,” Giltrow continues.
These strong relationships and positive attitudes have resulted in diversification and contributed towards the longevity of the company.
“An existing customer is very hard to replace. So, we always look to preserve and add to our existing customer base, and look for opportunities with them in different areas. We started with nuts and bolts which – although critical in any construction project – are always at the bottom of the food chain. We then decided that those using nuts and bolts required a drill to make a hole, and a spanner to assemble something. We grew the company along those lines, and this is how we created our various divisions. We always look for opportunities that will add value for suppliers’ and our customers’ supply chains, and offer products and or brands to which we can do justice,” he notes.
Not only has the B.E.D. product offering successfully diversified over the years, but so, too, have the branches. Each branch has an individual product offering that is best suited to the different vertical industries that they each support.
That ensures that B.E.D. is not reliant on one particular sector. Although mining remains important, it is strongly complemented by agriculture, a sector in which B.E.D. intends growing its market share. The company is also looking at other sectors where there may be synergies such as the automotive sector.
Looking to the future
Giltrow says the company has learnt from past challenges during volatile times and watershed moments.
“We do not like using the word ‘problem’. This implies that you know something is wrong, but have not done anything about it. It is much like putting up a sign that warns motorists of potholes in a road instead of just fixing them,” he observes.
In addition, he believes strongly in the need for safety nets: “If you have your safety nets in place, then you are prepared if someone drops a ball.”
Giltrow is also proud that B.E.D. is a business which makes a difference in the lives of its people, customers and suppliers – as well as that of the larger community.
“We started our Welkom branch at a time when everyone said the lights were about to be go out. Some lights have dimmed, but we need to shine our own lights. For over 30 years, B.E.D. has shone its light, contributing to the economy in the area and making a difference in the lives of many people in and around the town.
Our vision for the future is simple: to continue doing the things we have done well for the past 40 years, but to do it even better. As we say, ‘the good things never change’ – but in the spirit of continuous improvement, we will work hard to ensure they keep getting better!” Giltrow concludes.