On November 28, 1967, a small hardware shop called Fastenal opened for business at 69 Lafayette Street in downtown Winona, drawing little fanfare and even fewer customers. Fifty years later, that same building has been renovated and recast as the Fastenal Museum, providing a visual journey through Fastenal’s rise from struggling local business to multibillion-dollar global company.
To celebrate its 50th anniversary, Fastenal is opening the museum to the public from November 28 through 30, inviting visitors to stop in and learn more about the people, innovations, and products behind Winona’s most successful homegrown business.
Bob Kierlin is recognized as the visionary behind Fastenal, but his original vision, dispensing fasteners out of franchised vending machines, never came to pass. After being turned down by at least 30 potential investors, he finally convinced four friends – Jack Remick, Van McConnon, Steve Slaggie, and Mike Gostomski – to chip in their savings to help fund the venture. But within a few weeks of setting up shop, they realized there was limited demand for fastener sizes and quantities that could be vended, so they tabled the concept and quickly switched gears to a more traditional branch-based service model.
It was no overnight success, but they eventually acquired a second location (in Rochester, Minn., in 1971) and amassed enough bulk fastener inventory, much of it stored in rented garages around Winona, to open a handful of additional branches in the region. These early locations set the blueprint for what proved to be a remarkably durable business model: open branches as close to customers as possible, staff them with resourceful, hard-working people, and empower them to think on their feet to provide great service and, in turn, grow the business.
“Back in 1967, we were the smallest of an estimated 10,000 fastener sellers in the U.S.,” said Kierlin. “By the mid-1990s we had outgrown them all. We had to be doing something different. It wasn’t the product, and it wasn’t how we distributed the product: It was our belief in people.”
The museum showcases dozens of stories and artifacts from Fastenal’s first 50 years, including a prototype of Kierlin’s original vending machine design, a recreation of a typical Fastenal branch circa the early 1980s (in all of its primitive-yet-functional glory), and a lineup of some of the strangest fasteners and components ever created by Fastenal’s in-house manufacturing division.
Visitors are welcome, free of charge, from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., on November 28 through 30, at 69 Lafayette Street.