December 20, 2019

2019 was the year in which Jan and Daan decided it was time for the next step: the further expansion of the Qonnect Fasteners brand. Helped by several marketing partners, there is a new strategy for 2020. But we reflect on the past as well as look to the future. To discover Qonnect’s true identity, we need to go back 36 years in time. Because that’s when it all started. In this interview, Jan talks frankly about his exceptional past and global experiences. From traditional China and successful Masterfix to Qonnect’s new trends and ambitious plans for the future.

How did you end up in the blind rivet market?
‘That requires a trip down memory lane… back to 1983 to be exact. It all started when I met an Italian who sold wire products for rivets. He explained how interesting the industry was, and then introduced me to the rivet market.’

And then?
‘Obviously I wanted to know more. I already had a technical background and I thoroughly studied the products. Then I started with European products, blind rivets from Italy. I initially focused on business within the Benelux region. It was close to home and convenient for travel. One day I came across an advert from a Chinese manufacturer, referring to products I didn’t yet have in my range. After weighing things up, I made a big decision: I left for China to visit the factory.’

Another world
‘On arrival in Shanghai, I found myself in a completely different world. China was still at the start of international trade at the time and only one factory produced blind rivets. Although the products did not immediately comply with European standards, together we made sure that they did in the end. I then swapped Italy for China and managed to make a good deal with the Chinese, which granted me exclusivity for the whole of Europe.’

Success in Europe
‘Step by step, I developed the company. Business was going well and we were successful in major countries such as Germany, England, and France. The organization ultimately grew throughout Europe. China also began to develop rapidly. Together we built up the market and eventually became a fully-fledged supplier of blind rivets. About three years later I decided to reorganize the company. That is when Masterfix was born.’

What’s the story behind Masterfix?
‘Many European countries had factories producing blind rivets. The market initially distrusted Chinese products. Later they became fully accepted, which led to several factories in China. By 1999, there were dozens of Chinese manufacturers, which now number over a hundred. The distributors who bought from Masterfix were influential companies in the field of fastening technology. The brand has done an excellent job over the years. I put a lot of money and time into marketing for what it represented at the time. By being active and presenting everything properly, we were able to set ourselves apart in the market.’

Sale of Masterfix
‘Years later, I came into contact with an investor interested in acquiring Masterfix. Due to the large supply in China, the biggest customers threatened to become my competitors: they started purchasing there themselves. It felt like the right time to sell Masterfix. The buyer wanted to attract Masterfix and saw opportunities for its development. In the end, I sold the company.’

A new start
‘After that, I started a new business, in a completely different industry. It was based on the idea that every product can be sold, as long as you know how to launch it. That’s how I started Formani in 2003, which focused at the time on exclusive door fittings. I had international ambitions for this business too. I still had contact with an agent in India from my previous network who searched for stainless steel and brass manufacturers. We succeeded, by trial and error. My son, Pim, took over the reins of the company in 2008. Today Formani is a Dutch design brand that collaborates with well-known designers all over the world.’

Back in business
‘I can’t sit still for long and all my contacts with China were still active. So when a former supplier – with whom I’d worked for over 20 years – asked if I could help them, I couldn’t refuse. However, this time I worked as an agent. I looked for customers who imported directly. Although that worked out well, clients told me they found the long delivery times in China annoying and wanted stock in Europe as well. The manufacturer complied with that request. When I announced later that I wanted to stop because of changes and different influences within the organization, I had two choices: return the stock or take it over myself. Returning the stock was not an option for the Chinese. I came up with a new name and that’s how Qonnect Fasteners was created.’

How has Qonnect® developed so far?
Daan Schrijen, Qonnect’s manager, explains: ‘We are both the importer and distributor and also provide assistance for direct imports. Qonnect® has focused mainly on distributors in Europe and parts of Russia. We started on our own and have grown to ten employees. Our central office with its large warehouse is near Maastricht Airport and we have two sales offices in Germany. Our network of distributors is growing rapidly. We also have a franchise format, two of which have now been fully developed: Spain and Switzerland. Our main aim for the future is to expand our franchise companies and exclusive partners in various countries.’

What’s your strategy for 2020?
‘We’re working very hard on the next steps, making investments in online marketing and various other activities. We have motivated partners and many ambitious goals. In 2020, we want to find more specific partners, expand the franchise companies, and continue building the Qonnect® brand.’

What can Qonnect’s clients expect in the future?
‘Clients can look forward to many developments, especially in the field of innovation and quality. We’re going to add new products to the catalogue every year and have already developed new battery tools on our own initiative. We are working with the right people in China and focusing on the quality of the products. And by fine-tuning our quality system, access to sales of high-quality products will increase. In general, we are constantly looking for innovative products to bring to market. Despite our growth, service will always be the top priority. We are known for our quality, speed, and reliability. Besides this, we are looking for opportunities to improve our stock levels and make delivery times more economical. Next year, we’ll work on fast and efficient stock optimization, both in Europe and China,’ says Daan.

Jan, how do you look back on this success?
‘The exclusivity I arranged in China at the time was a major boost. It all came down to mutual trust. I always kept my promises and the Chinese have never forgotten that. Plus I still enjoy the work immensely. I also employed people and quitting was not an option for me. If good opportunities come along, I seize them.’

‘Masterfix has been a great success. Both in my time and since. Although it has developed strongly, they have now chosen an alternative strategy that concentrates on a different product range. Qonnect® will continue to focus on the production and sale of quality blind rivets, with speed and support as its main principles. We should be very proud of that. And last but not least: we could not have done it without you!’

Jan Aarts & Daan Schrijen – Qonnect Fasteners
Article by COPYWREBEL & My Cup of C