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Bolts and Beyond

75 Years of The Bolt Supply House

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Greg Pek, Kurt Mario, John Sauer, Brett Driver and Mark Olson. Photo by Riverwood Photography.

When The Bolt Supply House opened in 1948, the small mom-and-pop store sold nuts and bolts to its Calgary clientele. The founders could never have imagined that this modest retail store would evolve into one of the largest independent fastener distributors in Western Canada over the next 75 years.

After the first market expansion in 1962 brought the brand to Regina, Bolt systematically entered the Saskatoon, Lethbridge, Red Deer, Medicine Hat, Fort McMurray, Winnipeg, Prince Albert and Surrey markets as well as establishing two stores in Edmonton and adding two Calgary stores to its flagship location. Soon, all functions of the 14 stores were run out of the Calgary headquarters to allow each branch to focus on providing excellent service and growing the business.

This growth caught the attention of Lawson Products (now part of Distribution Solutions Group), which bought The Bolt Supply House in 2017 but has allowed it to continue operating as an independent subsidiary with the backing of the parent corporation.

“We are left alone because we do what we do so well,” says Mark Olsen, VP finance.

They are doing it so well that the company has doubled or tripled the size of several locations to accommodate growth, with three stores moving into larger spaces this year alone. Bolt also brought all departments under one roof with a move into a 104,000-square-foot facility in Balzac in 2022. Its impressive 94,000-square-foot warehouse holds inventory that is ready to ship to branch locations or directly to customers, ensuring clients never have to look elsewhere to get what they need. Since 2020, the company has expanded its scope significantly, carrying more inventory with more diverse products while streamlining its processes in the office. Unlike what the name suggests, The Bolt Supply House has evolved past its beginnings offering basic fasteners.

“Our name has been around for a long time and it’s an asset, but it works against us sometimes. Our name is very specific but it doesn’t really show what we do,” says John Sauer, senior vice president.

While it’s still a fastener house, it is now much more. The company offers a range of industrial products including power and hand tools, safety products, adhesives and abrasives, electrical products and shop and janitorial supplies. Bolt also assembles custom fastener kits and repackages products to tailor them to customers’ needs so they just get the specific items and volumes they need. It’s all part of Bolt’s dedication to providing solutions with options as opposed to filling orders from a catalog.

“We’re flexible. We build our program around our customers. Our customers don’t build their programs around us,” says Brett Driver, VP sales and marketing for The Bolt Supply House.

The team is open to bringing on new product lines that make sense for the company’s clientele provided the suppliers live up to the quality standards in place. One supplier that has grown with Bolt is Milwaukee Tool, which has been a valued partner since the doors opened 75 years ago.

Milwaukee products are featured predominantly in Bolt stores, and by the end of the year seven branches will have a Red Zone store-within-a-store. These sections range from 800 to 2,600 square feet with one Red Zone featuring 3,000 Milwaukee accessories and 300 tools on display and in stock. Bolt even built the first Rolling Red Zone mobile Milwaukee showroom that can be driven to events to promote the store and the incredible Milwaukee product lines it carries.

“We’re always looking for new ways to get out and get ourselves known in the marketplace,” says Kurt Mario, president of The Bolt Supply House.

Despite its geographic and product expansion, Bolt has managed to grow without changing the mom-and-pop attention to customer service that the stores have always provided.

“We are a large company operated as a small company. We’re still very personal with our customers and staff, and our relationships and partnerships are still the most important thing to us. We’re very customer-service driven,” says Driver.

Employees greet people as they walk in the door, find out what they’re working on and help locate the best products on the shelves. Service doesn’t stop there. They also go the extra mile sourcing products that the store doesn’t carry in inventory in order to support their customers. Employees do whatever it takes to provide customers with a solution to their problem. Whether it’s customers stocking up their home garage or commercial clients working in anything from HVAC to natural resources to electrical to construction, Bolt takes pride in making sure they leave happy so they’ll keep coming back.

The staff’s incredible long-time relationships with customers have grown beyond just transactional connections, and customers rely on the expertise and friendly insights of the branch employees that facilitate their projects. Across the company, Bolt’s staff strives to exceed expectations and deliver a memorable experience that will turn a new customer into a life-long one. They are doing a great job with that; with its diverse product offerings and unbeatable service, Bolt is proud to serve customers that have been coming back for decades.

“All of our customers have an account number in the computer system and there are more than 70,000 accounts. We sold something to account #58 the other day – they’ve been here longer than any of us,” says Greg Pek, VP strategic projects.

And that is really saying something, as The Bolt Supply House is staffed by a group of long-tenured employees and managers. The five members of the senior management team have a combined 95 years of experience with the company, and of the 175 employees across the organization there are more than 10 with over 30 years with the company (including two at over 40 years), 11 over 20 years, and 25 employees over 10 years.

“We want to make this the last place you ever work, and the way we try to do that is with the culture of the company,” Sauer says.

Bolt’s positive culture is the key to impressive staff retention. There is a spirit of collaboration across the organization and employees are always happy to share their knowledge. If someone at any branch has a question about a product or needs options for meeting a customer’s needs, they can reach out to Bolt’s network and quickly have multiple people across the region chime in to help. The team is invested in the success of employees and management rewards that. There is a clear road to advancement, and management enthusiastically promotes from within whenever possible to continue to build on and preserve the deep experience in the company.

The culture of respect and support comes from the top. Management highlights employee accomplishments and celebrates birthdays and hire-date anniversaries to show how valued the team is to the company. In this relatively flat organization, titles are formalities and senior management can be seen hopping onto a forklift to help unload product or hauling boxes when a branch moves locations.

“None of us look at any job as above or below anybody. Everyone just does what needs to be done,” says Sauer.

Doing what needs to be done has made The Bolt Supply House an important part of the communities in which it operates. Through the ups and downs of the past 75 years, the company has outgrown its namesake to be a one-stop shop for industrial supplies.

“Not many companies manage to make it to 75 years and we’re proud of the fact that we’ve been able to adapt and evolve over the years,” says Mario.

The Bolt Supply House team plans to continue to grow and evolve as it looks ahead to the next stop: reaching 100 years in business in Canada.

visit www.boltsupply.com for locations and more info.

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