Monday, December 15, 2008

Tool Crib of the North

“It was the most incredible operation that I’ve seen in my 30 plus years in the business,” was how Bill Brennan explained to Jeff Smith and me at a recent holiday bank party in Chesterfield, MO.

He was telling us about Acme Electric in Grand Forks, ND, a company that he had just visited that is part of his own tool buying cooperative that supplies his Brennan Tools. His enthusiasm was so great that I decided to research. Here is what I found.

George Kuhlman, who passed away in 1995, started the company in 1948 out of a garage in downtown Grand Forks. His son, Don, who runs the company, said of his dad, “He ran the business out of his wallet. At the end of the month, he’d empty the wallet and see who’d paid and who still owed him money. He had a very good sense of right and wrong that he passed on to me.”

From very humble beginnings (that is their second location on the right), the company has grown to nine retail stores in ND, MN and IA and a 177,000 sf distribution center. Two hundred families make their living at the company’s operations.

In 1999, Amazon came calling, looking to expand into internet tool sales. Acme sold them their Tool Crib of the North catalog division which Amazon renamed Amazon Home Improvement. It is still headquartered in Grand Forks.

In my travels, I’ve found some great examples of very innovative North Dakotans. I’m glad that Bill Brennan filled me in on another one.

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