Kyle Farris | Winona Daily Newes | Nov 24, 2017

On Nov. 28, 1967, a small hardware store opened for business at 69 Lafayette downtown Winona, drawing little fanfare and even fewer customers.


Now, 50 years later, Fastenal is a Fortune 500 company and the largest fastener distributor in North America, supplying nuts, bolts, screws and more to residents of Winona and citizens of Taiwan. And next week, Winonans are invited to see the old brick store where it all started, now a museum filled with stories and artifacts from the earliest days of Fastenal.


“The museum is a walk down memory lane for Fastenal,” said Molly Trim, tradeshow management for the company. “It’s an opportunity on our 50th anniversary to open our doors and share these stories with the employees, customers and community members who have been with us along the way.”


Fastenal, with its sprawling headquarters in west Winona, recently fixed up the old building at 69 Lafayette and turned it into a private museum.


The museum is, for the first time, open to the public this week — and at no cost. Visitors are welcome from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday.


Trim said visitors can see a prototype of founder Bob Kierlin’s creative but unsuccessful hardware vending machine, a recreation of a typical Fastenal branch circa the early 1980s, and a lineup of some of the strangest fasteners and components the company has ever produced.


Fastenal’s humble beginnings underscore just how far the company has come, according to Trim, but also serve as evidence of a company that almost didn’t survive.


Kierlin, who is recognized as the visionary behind Fastenal, originally planned to distribute fasteners not through retails stores, but through vending machines.
After being rejected by at least 30 potential investors, he convinced four friends — Jack Remick, Van McConnon, Steve Slaggie and Mike Gostomski — to chip in their savings and help fund the venture.

The group quickly scrapped the vending machine idea in favor of a more traditional branch-based service model, and their company slowly but surely began to grow.

According to Kierlin, at the time of the company’s founding, Fastenal was the smallest of roughly 10,000 fastener sellers in the United States.

By the mid-1990s, Fastenal was the largest.

“What’s amazing is watching how a very small and frugal company hired great people, took chances and made great business decisions along the way,” Trim said. “The one constant has been the great people in the company, and giving them the opportunity to do great things. It’s amazing to see how we’ve evolved and how we’ve come full circle.”


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