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Company is committed to WNY and its customers

Sherex Fastening Solutions was born in Buffalo, grew up in Lancaster and considered relocating to the Carolinas before moving to an industrial park in the Town of Tonawanda.

Its products are designed at its Tonawanda headquarters, but Sherex has an international outlook with a manufacturing facility in Taiwan and a sales office in Mexico.

Sherex has weathered the recession and won new clients for its fasteners, which hold sheet metal together and are found in everything from John Deere tractors to Ford Taurus sedans.

"It's fairly specialized, but they're everywhere. But you don't see them. There's all kinds of them in your car, and depending on what car you drive, you probably have our product in it," said Sherex President Andrew Johnson.

Johnson attributes the company's stability to its solid relationships with distributors, close partnerships with clients and the work ethic of its employees. The privately held company, owned by Johnson and Adam Pratt, wants to expand its product line and enter Brazil and other new markets.

"Our plans are to be more international," Johnson said.

Before Sherex Fastening Solutions there was Sherex Industries, a master distributor for fluid power components made by a Swiss company, Koenig.

Sherex Industries was founded in Buffalo in 1979 and Johnson began working for the company in Canada in 1992. Eight years later, he and partner Kevin Scherf bought Sherex.

At the time, Sherex was a small company that needed to diversify its product line.

Johnson felt there was an opportunity to take on the relatively small number of competitors in the fastener industry.

Sherex already had moved to the Village of Lancaster, and by 2004 had formed Sherex Fastening Solutions and grown to the point that it needed to expand its facility.

Sherex considered offers to leave Western New York, but accepted tax incentives to stay and expand at the Lancaster Industrial Park. In 2007, Sherex moved into its current space in the Riverview Commerce Park.

Sherex produces fasteners that are used in manufacturing to hold two components in place -- "anywhere where there's a lot of sheet metal," he said.

With more manufacturers working with lighter, composite materials, Sherex is designing specialty fasteners that hold together components made out of those materials, as in the case of the Ford Fiesta and Taurus.

"So everything you see under the hood is all held together with our" captive fasteners, Johnson said.

A fastener is the umbrella term for a range of steel, stainless steel or aluminum products that include blind rivet nuts, weld nuts and clinch nuts.

The company sells about 6.5 million fasteners per month, at prices ranging from 3 1/2 cents to 8 cents each, depending on size and the volume purchased.

Sherex clients have included Trane, Carrier, John Deere, Ford and Chevrolet. "We just won the new Corvette," Johnson said, and, starting in April, Sherex clinch-nut fasteners will be installed in the seat-belt retractor in most GM vehicles.

Sherex has three major competitors in this country, along with "a bunch" in China.

The Tonawanda company wins some business by reaching out directly to prospective clients, but in other cases relies on a network of distributors who know the needs of manufacturers in their local market.

Sherex engineers work with their counterparts at the client company to come up with a fastener tailored to the product -- whether refrigerators, microwaves or minivans -- before the manufacturing process begins.

"We help them design our part in," Johnson said.

Sherex's fasteners have been manufacturered in Taiwan since 2005, while the Tonawanda facility is the site of design and engineering work.

Johnson said overseas manufacturing in this industry is common, with only AVK Industrial Products making its fasteners in the United States.

Sherex Fastening Solutions is the part of the business that remained after Johnson separated the companies in 2004 and sold Sherex Industries to Koenig in 2008.

Koenig, now KVT Solutioneering Group, closed Sherex Industries in 2009 and moved the work to Connecticut.

Johnson owns 55 percent of Sherex Fastening Solutions and Pratt, the vice president, owns 45 percent. Scherf is no longer involved with Sherex.

After getting through a financially challenging 2009, Sherex is poised to expand in South America and Europe and to try to attract more high-volume automotive accounts. "We're starting to look at some new products again," Johnson said.

Sherex Fastening Solutions had $8.8 million in sales last year, an increase from $7.2 million in 2010, Johnson said.

About 95 percent of Sherex's sales are in the United States, but only 1 percent are in New York. This doesn't count sales generated through Sherex Taiwan and Sherex Mexico.

Sherex has 21 employees at its Tonawanda facility, 42 people in Taiwan and seven in Mexico, along with 14 salespeople scattered across the United States.

The company also has a partnership in Europe and the United States with MDS Fastening Systems, which builds machines that automatically install Sherex's fasteners.

Johnson envisions staying in Western New York for many years even as Sherex grows globally. "We have incredible employees -- turnover is nonexistent," he said.

Sherex regularly reinforces its employees' dedication to the company's clients.

The company promotes a book club, selecting books such as "The Oz Principle" that employees in Tonawanda read and discuss in small groups that cut across different departments.

"Everybody here is very focused on the customer," Johnson said.

email: swatson@buffnews.com