Fastenal is the largest industrial supply company in North America, offering construction, safety, welding, rigging, hydraulics and other industrial products. It is a publicly traded company that just celebrated its 50th anniversary with 20,000 employees, 2,600+ branches in 24 countries and $3.96 billion in yearly sales.
Brothers Al and Brian St. Hilaire are the driving force behind Fastenal’s success in our region. Al is the General Manager of the Plattsburgh store; Brian is the District Manager covering Upstate New York, Vermont and New Hampshire.
How did these brothers come to be such a vital part of Fastenal?According to Brian it started back in 1999 when he was at college at Clarkson University in Potsdam New York. He was majoring in Engineering and Marketing and had accepted a summer internship at the Fastenal store in Plattsburgh. Al, who is three years older, had tried SUNY Canton and found it wasn’t for him. He was learning a trade first hand, becoming a sous chef while working in Maine. When Brian’s summer internship came to an end he called brother Al to tell him the job he was leaving was open. Since the tourist season was winding down and the restaurant wasn’t busy, Al decided to give it a try.
For two years Al worked in the Plattsburgh store while Brian finished college. In 2000, when the company developed a location in Massena, the brothers helped to get it started. By 2003 Brian was the store manager and Al was the District Manager. Things were going well, but after a few years Al decided to come back to the Plattsburgh area as a sales representative for Fastenal and Brian soon joined him. Since 2012 Al has been the Plattsburgh store’s general manager; Brian is now the District Manager. Both say they are right where they want to be and could not be happier.
Al and Brian are two hard working guys who attribute their work ethic to being raised on a farm in North Bangor, NY. According to the brothers, “Our parents brought up four boys on the farm while our dad worked at the Kraft milk plant that made cottage cheese and yogurt. We all worked on the farm. We did everything. You just put your boots on and went to work.”
People often ask the brothers how they can work together. Al explained, “He’s my brother. We were brought up together; we slept in the same bedroom. We always got along. Our mom allowed us to scrap, but when we did, she never disciplined just one. We were all disciplined at the same time.”
When they were starting the store in Massena the business was causing friction between the brothers. They were both living at home, trying to save some money and there were tense times. Al explained, “Mom said ‘I’ve raised you two to figure it out, so figure it out,’ and we did.”
“I’ve always worked with Brian and the reality is that I am held to a higher standard because the District Manager is my brother. Sometimes we voice our differences of opinion, but within 24 hours we come to a compromise and at the end of the day we are still brothers,” Al explained. According to Al, Fastenal’s short-term goals for this region are to become more efficient while growing fast. “Three years ago, we had 5,000 square feet of store space. Soon that will double to 10,000 by instituting an Automated Piking System or Pik Module which allows for faster movement of inventory in a more organized way throughout the store. Our motto is ‘Growth Through Customer Service,’ and that’s what we do.”
Fastenal’s long-term goal is to sustain and grow as it always has. Brian described the financial outlook, “We do $35 million a year in annual revenue in his district. In six to eight years we’d like to double that number.” He explained that they are looking to grow the company and are always looking for new people to bring on in order to meet their goals. “We are looking for people with a good work ethic.” Brian credited the internship program at SUNY Plattsburgh’s School of Business & Economics as a vital part of their recruiting efforts. “We need them. We are always looking for sales managers, sales associates, marketing and account specialists, and even truck drivers. You don’t necessarily need a college education. We will train you. There are great opportunities in this company.” As proof of Brian’s claim he cited the 2017 Forbes magazine ranking of Fastenal as #157 for World’s Best Employers.
It has been nearly 20 years since the St. Hilaire brothers joined the Fastenal family and became drivers of its growth. It is clear it was a good decision for each.