The Nuts & Bolts of a Great Nuts & Bolts Company

Posted by Chuck Kocher
On July 15, 2013

A business that manufactures nuts and bolts may not seem very sexy. Of course, when Bob Kierlin scraped together $30,000 with for of his friends to open the first Fastenal store back in 1967, he probably wasn’t thinking about having a “sexy” company. And when the company’s first month of sales totaled a whopping $157, he may have wondered if he was on the right track.

By 2011, however, when the business had 2,400 stores in the United States, almost 200 stores in Canada, and stores in Mexico, Brazil, Panama, The UK, the Netherlands, Chaina, Taiwan, and Singapore, things were looking a little better. Fastenal still may not have been a “sexy” business, but with sales of nearly $2.8 billion, there was no arguing about their success.

So what were the “nuts and bolts” behind the success of a company that provided threaded fastening devices? Kierlin summed it up in just four words: Growth Through Customer Service, and then the company aggressively invested in things that make a difference for their customers, continuously improving a multifaceted service network that includes:

  • A stringent quality management system anchored by engineering teams and testing laboratories around the world.
  • Thousands of manufacturer-partners, making each Fastenal store a one-stop source for a huge range of OEM, MRO and Construction products.
  • A multi-site custom manufacturing division that quickly produces machined, hot forged and cold-formed parts to provide solutions for customers.
  • Regional distribution centers across North America that work with local stores to anticipate customer demand and keep product flowing.
  • A large fleet of big trucks and local delivery vehicles, enabling them to move product faster and more cost-effectively than the competition.
  • The world’s largest industrial vending program (FAST Solutions?) which helps thousands of customers reduce consumption and operate more efficiently.
  • More than 2,600 Fastenal stores in all 50 U.S. states, Canada and Mexico, with additional locations in Central and South America, Europe and Asia.

So often today businesses are looking for that earth-shattering, cool, hip, flashy idea that will make people sit up and take notice. Bob Kierlin, however, wanted to impress people with quality and service. He knew what set his business apart, and he was willing to look at (and work on) all of the aspects of his business in order to make that happen.

Maybe you don’t think nuts and bolts are very exciting, but try telling that to Bob Kierlin’s banker!