Half a century down the line from opening a small cycle store in Minnesota, Park Tool’s iconic blue is seen hung in workshops around the world. BikeBiz talks to Eric Hawkins, president and owner of Park Tool about the journey so far and the future…
BikeBiz: What have been the greatest challenges and landmarks in the company’s 50 years?
Eric Hawkins: Wow, that’s a big question. I think the biggest challenge is that running a business is hard work and it’s especially hard to be a manufacturer. That said, we have good people and a great brand and we still have fun coming to work every day.
Another huge challenge is keeping up with an quickly changing industry. New bikes and new components often mean new tools from us and we’re committed to making sure we’ve got what mechanics need, when they need it.
How are you celebrating the milestone?
We actually started celebrating last autumn at Eurobike and Interbike since we were introducing 2013 product and we started in 1963. Madison helped us commemorate our anniversary as well at iceBike* this past March. We also hosted a distributor meeting and 50th anniversary party at our new facility on April 13th.
Is the business still family run, or retaining any of its original staff?
We're still family owned and family run. My father Howard and his partner Art Engstrom bought a small fix it shop in St. Paul Minnesota in 1956. They sold Schwinn bikes, ice skates and fixed just about anything.
The first tool was a repair stand to elevate the bike, as they were tired of squatting on the floor to work. I started in 1983, Art retired in 1992 and my father fully retired in 2000. The longest tenured employee is head welder, Brad Reid, who’s been here since 1977.
What milestones have been significant in the development of Park Tool overseas?
In the late ‘80s and early ‘90s the mountain bike really took off along with a lot of other American products. Mountain bikes required more maintenance and we started selling more tools to riders doing their own work. We also increased our efforts to make tools for home mechanics, like our first consumer work stands.
Plus, since we were – and still are – the dominant tool maker in the US we could pick and choose our international distributor partners, and I believe we found the cream of the crop. Those distributors helped us build the brand and became ‘Park Tool’ in their own countries. We’ve had very little partner turnover since, which only helps to keep the brand growing in over 70 countries.
Park Tool has a reputation for quality and reliability in the bike business – do you find shops showing brand loyalty as a result?
We often times have mechanics come up to us at shows to proudly proclaim: “We are all blue in our shop. If you make it, we’ll buy it.” And, since we’re committed to keeping up with an always changing industry, shops and mechanics know we’ll have tools to work on the new technology. It’s our job to make a mechanic’s job faster.
You’ve this year debuted an electronic workstand – how did this idea come about?
We’ve actually been working on the PRS-33 for about three years. The project started with the idea that we wanted to make the tallest stand we could. Then, when heavy electric bikes became more prevalent it made sense to incorporate a way to power the clamp up and down. In the end we produced a stand that can be configured to have two independently operated clamps, infinitely adjustable. Since the clamp height is adjustable, the bike can easily be moved to better positions even during a repair. It’ll lift over 100 pounds.
What portion of Park Tool’s product is US made?
Between 70 and 75 per cent of our parts are made in the US and nearly all of our dealer level shop tools. There are, of course, some things we simply cannot produce here and be price competitive. It is always our goal to make as much as we can in America. We use a lot of suppliers in Minnesota.
Any plans for expansion in the pipeline?
We are always adding new tools to our line. Right now we have nearly 400 tools in our catalogue made up of about 3,000 parts. Typically we add 15-20 new tools every year and update many more.
We just moved into a new, larger building in January. It is our fourth location, including our start in the back of the bike shop. The new place is almost 80,000 square feet, which is about 80 per cent bigger than our last building.
Each year we seem to be adding a few people in the office and a handful in production. Right now we have about 50 people in the building.
How much feedback from the dealers goes into the creation of your tools?
Well, since most of our staff don’t work in bike shops anymore it’s very important we talk with mechanics, manufacturers, team and home mechanics. Shop mechanics work with our products every day and we value their feedback. Dealers are one of the connections we rely on.
With ever more competing brands, how are you maintaining market share?
There are two parts to our business. Dealer shop tools and tools for the home mechanic, which includes take along tools. Yes, there are other companies selling tools, but no one else with the size line we have and few that actually make the product themselves, which gives us a huge advantage. On the shop side we don’t feel anyone can offer the quality, variety and expertise we give, especially those who doesn’t specialise in tools.
On the consumer tool side we have a lot more competitors and it’s a bigger market. We feel that our strong reputation built over the years with shop mechanics gives us an advantage with
consumer tools. Since we have such a strong presence on the pro’s bench it’s easy for him/her to recommend our consumer tools to their customers. Look for a lot more consumer-specific tools from us in the next couple of years.
Piks from top:
The original 1956-66 Hazel Park store, 1967-1988 Park store in Whitebear, the Vintage CR-2 tool, a young Eric Hawkins and below, the 2013 Park Warehouse