Anyone who’s enjoyed hanging around to watch the nail pounding competition at the National Frame Building Association Expo in the past few years likely noticed the contest’s master of ceremonies having as much fun as anyone as the event heats up.
That’s Tom Koch. He has taken charge of the competition for the past seven years, ever since his employer, Maze Nails, became sponsor of the contest that is an entertaining exhibit hall highlight.
Koch, national sales manager for Maze, in Peru, Ill., has been with the company for 34 years. He has worked for four of the six generations of the Maze and Loveland family that has kept the nail company pounding along for more that 160 years. And he’s known by customers and sales staffs across the United States, Canada and the Caribbean.
Koch earned a degree in business management at Northern Illinois University at DeKalb. He says he’s seen a lot of change since he first came to Maze Nails and got initiated by answering phones and helping out at the order desk in the sales department.
He became assistant sales manager in 1980, and since ’92 has been national sales manager, overseeing a sales crew of about 45 people.
He’s gone from being the lad from Ladd, a small Illinois town where he grew up, to being the “go-to guy, the old codger” others call on when no one else in the company can answer a question about something obscure.
All in a day’s work
“You wear a lot of hats in a small company,” he says. “You help load the truck, you climb on the roof when someone needs to, you listen to people’s problems and take their suggestions.”
Some of that listening results in new nail products. Koch has helped design nails for specific applications, many in the post-frame industry. He has been special adviser to the NFBA’s Technical and Research committee on several projects, and helped create the ASTM standard for post-frame ring shank nails. That standard is on track eventually to become part of the National Design Standard (NDS). It provide recognized withdrawal values for these nails in engineered post-frame applications.
“We design nails specifically for applications that people want. Nails are not one-size-fits-all,” he says. When a manufacturer creates a new roofing, siding or panel product, for example, the new product often requires a specialized fastener to hold it in place.
For example, when Masonite came to the market, Koch says, Hamilton Maze, grandfather of Roelif Loveland, Maze’s current president, developed a nail suited to its use.
“Way back,” Koch continues, “Maze invented the ring shank and screw shank nail.” The spiral shank came in the 1930s from Independent Nail, a manufacturer that since has been bought by Maze and folded into the company.
He says Maze has the reputation of working with manufacturers of new construction products who realize that their inventions might require some new twists on a fastening device.
Keep ‘em coming
In the case of the Masonite nail, Koch says, “Maze couldn’t make them fast enough. Builders were so desperate to get the nails that the company couldn’t package them fast enough. Forget about boxes or kegs. Too time-consuming. Nails got put into sacks whose tops were bound with rubber bands and shipped out as fast as crews could manage.
Inventing and manufacturing nails, Koch says, is a reactive position, responding to innovation. “We don’t develop just to develop.”
He describes fasteners as “classic accessory items’ that come about because of newly-realized needs.
Recently Maze shipped a $50 box of nails “next door” to Indiana, sending by overnight delivery costing $130 because a builder suddenly realized that a special nail was needed for a job that couldn’t wait. And he simply couldn’t get it anywhere else. My analogy is that we’re not the supermarket of nails,” Koch says. “We’re the friendly corner deli, where you can get something special.”
As he talked to Rural Builder, Koch was gearing up for Frame Building Expo in Louisville and the Maze Nail Pounding competition.
The contest “is a great thing for us,” he says. “It’s really amazing the amount of attention it gets.” Koch gets a kick out of seeing the many people who gather to watch a couple dozen contestants log the fastest time in driving nails.
“It’s visual, exciting and the competitors are fun guys. There’s some real rivalry there.”
And it’s fun for Koch to be the guy who gets to hand out cash prizes and grant bragging right to the winners.
And after that, Koch and his wife Nancy were off to celebrate a milestone birthday aboard a Caribbean-bound vacation cruise ship.