Fastenal aims for customers big and small

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— A national construction and industrial supply company has opened a branch office in Steamboat Springs. Fastenal store manager Kelly Nelson said his 3,100-square-foot store at 1712 13th St. (Twentymile Road) represents his company's new emphasis on reaching smaller contractors and homeowners.

"Even one year ago, basically all we did was outside sales," Nelson said. "But weekend warriors are in here all the time. Fastenal as a whole was really missing the market with residential customers."

Fastenal's new location in Steamboat is set up to accommodate people walking in and grabbing a fistful of bolts for $3 to $5. However, it's also set up to service accounts that number among Northwest Colorado's industrial heavyweights.

Seneca Coal Company, a subsidiary of Peabody Coal, is among Fastenal's biggest accounts here. Nelson and Assistant Sales Manager Kasey Anderson also work with contractors working for Tri-State Generation and Transmission's

Craig Station power plant. Those large industrial accounts and the need to improve the service his company could provide them were a big part of Fastenal's decision to open a store here April 1, Nelson said.

"Accounts in this area were hurting for service," Nelson said. "They were being handled in Grand Junction and that involved way too much windshield time," as account reps made the four-hour trip from Grand Junction.

From the company's base on Steamboat's west side, Anderson said, reps can service large accounts like Seneca Coal far more regularly. The business has set up a rack of bins stocked with frequently used parts and supplies in the maintenance shop at Seneca.

"They might say, 'don't let us drop below 100 pieces' of a certain product, 'But don't stock more than 300 pieces,'" Anderson said. She and Nelson use scanners to track the inventory and generate computer reports that allow clients to see how much product they are using.

The width and breadth of products Fastenal offers is too great to describe. Nelson thumps a giant catalog on his store's counter and affectionately refers to it as the "Blue Book."

He readily admits that every time he thumbs through it he encounters products he hasn't seen before, even after a decade in Fastenal's distribution centers.

As the company name implies, it has developed a specialty in industrial fasteners, from custom-threaded bolts to stainless steel brackets. They sell welding supplies, cutting tools like heavy duty masonry bits, hydraulics and pneumatics and thousands of other products used in the construction and industrial world. The company will repair power tools at a central location and offers custom sharpening of expensive tools like drill bits.

In Steamboat, the company sells Denver Bronco construction hard hats. Back at the home office in Winona, Minn., Vikings hard hats are more in vogue.

While the business is an obvious competitor for local lumber yards and hardware stores, Nelson and Anderson said they are enjoying cordial relationships with some of Steamboat's existing outlets. In one case, they have an account with a local lumber yard and the yard has opened one with Fastenal.

"People aren't going to come to us for lumber, but they're going to know our prices are good and they're going to come to us for tools and fasteners," Anderson said.

A bold sign in the window of the store advertising "Bosch" tools has been enough to lure curious construction workers fueling up next door at Weston Oil to come check out the store, she said.

Fastenal really excels in its ability to order unusual products from the Kansas City distribution center and get them here in two days, or even faster if the client requires it, Nelson said. The Steamboat store gets truck shipments twice a week.

Fastenal pushes $100 million in inventory through 11 distribution centers. Because much of that inventory is in individual stores, the company is linked by computer, and it's possible for the Steamboat store to access a tool or product for customers out of another store.

Nelson is a graduate of Minnesota's St. Cloud State and interviewed with Fastenal out of college.

He spent his first 10 years with the company traveling to help open new regional distribution centers. He comes to the Steamboat store from a distribution center near Tacoma, Wash.

Anderson has a marketing degree from Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College in Superior. She moved to Steamboat to pursue her passion for big game hunting.

"I came here to hunt," she said, "but I wanted to do outside sales and I'm learning so much."

Nelson said he and Anderson are charged with running the store as if it were an independent business. "It's a fund company," Nelson said. "We can work as hard as we want and make as much money as we want."

Fastenal is open 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Anderson and Nelson will keep the store open longer when customers are shopping.


-- To reach Tom Ross call 871-4205 or

e-mail tross@steamboatpilot.com

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