Fastenal: Helping Great Companies Simplify Their Supply Chains

Back in the 1950s, when he was a kid working in his dad’s auto supply shop, a young budding entrepreneur named Bob Kierlin noticed that the fasteners came in little boxes that were about the same size as a pack of cigarettes. He figured if cigarettes can be vended, why not fasteners?

The idea stuck with him and eventually became the venture vision for Fastenal, until it became apparent that the machine design wouldn’t support the sizes and volumes of fasteners required by potential customers. Out of necessity, the decision was made to pivot to a branch-based service model with a focus on outside sales and, later, inventory management – a simple concept that, as it turned out, met a widespread market demand.

Over the ensuing 50-plus years, Fastenal has evolved into an increasingly strategic solutions provider that helps businesses shorten and simplify their supply chain for a broad range of industrial and construction products. Through leveraged purchasing and efficient inventory management, the company helps its clients shift finite resources (money, time, and energy) to focus on what they do, not the products they need to do it.

Automating and Digitizing the Supply Chain 

Today Fastenal offers a suite of automated supply technology to provide solutions for specific customer objectives, whether that’s to track assets throughout the facility, to automate the inventory ordering process for loose consumables, or to tie product consumption to specific employees or profiles (e.g., departments, projects, job codes, etc.).

Fastenal’s supply chain activities produce a spectrum of data – product info, locations, levels, users, pricing, frequency – which the company mines to give customers unique insights into their business. For example, with Fastenal’s FAST 360° tool, customers can view not only how much inventory they have on hand, but also exactly where that product resides in their facility, down to the specific bin stock or vending location.

Meanwhile, Fastenal’s new FAST 360° Analytics reporting portal aggregates and presents data in ways that inform purchasing decisions and strategies for cost savings opportunities – predictive and prescriptive analytics to guide future improvements.

Leading the Charge for Change 

Bill Drazkowski is Fastenal’s Executive Vice PresidentNational Accounts. He leads a team of roughly 220 sales professionals and subject matter experts focused on growing and serving Fastenal’s national account customer base, which today represents a little over half of the company’s total business. He and his team consult with large multi-site companies to introduce and optimize supply chain solutions that drive their corporate goals across multiple locations, balancing national/global consistency with flexible local service. He has played a vital role in making national accounts one of Fastenal’s most powerful growth drivers, and, as a solutions provider for some of the world’s most successful companies, in bringing supply chain innovation to the industrial marketplace.

Great People, Close to the Customer 

One thing Fastenal figured out very early on is how to operate local businesses cost-effectively. Another (related) structural advantage is its “hub and spoke” distribution system and captive transportation fleet, an outgrowth of the organization’s roots as a fastener distributor. The combination – local service backed by last-mile distribution – enables it to provide an extremely short, efficient supply chain for the customer. Another longstanding strategy has been to invest aggressively in employee training through their corporate university, the Fastenal School of Business (FSB). Last year Fastenal employees on average received 16 hours of training from FSB, and overall there were more than 430,000 FSB course completions. This commitment to bringing out the potential of everybody in the organization is absolutely central to the organization’s success.

Fastenal’s major growth drivers, including national accounts, vending, e-business, international expansion, construction, and its onsite service model, are all predicated on these foundational elements – a local presence at 3,000-plus in-market servicing locations, a captive distribution/logistics infrastructure, and above all, Fastenal’s talented people.

Empowering People to Innovate 

Fastenal’s founder Bob Kierlin fostered a culture of decentralized decision-making and bottom-up innovation. His basic philosophy is that organizations succeed to the extent that they:

  • Keep everyone within the organization focused on a common goal.
  • Bring out and use the creativity of all their members.

Fastenal has been a proving ground for those beliefs. As the company has discovered, giving people the freedom to make local decisions can create some bumps in the road, but it unleashes incredible agility and dynamism. That’s really been the story of Fastenal – a company that’s gone from very humble beginnings to become a fast-growing $5-billion global organization. It’s not the products Fastenal provides. It’s not even how they distribute them. It’s that they’ve done a good job of not placing limits on people.

Client Feedback

“Being able to manage our supply chain in partnership with Fastenal has really enabled us to deliver quality at every single point along the job. It takes one more variable out of the equation.”-Adam Rhode, Vice President – Director, Operational Excellence and Engineering, Sellen Construction

“The services Fastenal provides allow us to reallocate our personnel so that we’re not focusing on the MRO [maintenance, repair, and operations] side – the shop supplies and the things that are not our core competency. They allow us to optimize all those resources so that we’re focusing on the things that make us money: getting parts out to our customers on time.”-Billie McMillian, Program Manager, Triumph Group, Hot Springs, AR

“I would estimate our Fastenal vending solution increased production within the first month by 10 to 15 percent, driving our ultimate goal here, which is to get quality product out the door as fast as possible.”-Mike Mason, Purchasing Manager, Sundowner Trailers

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