OAKDALE, Minn. (BRAIN) — Traditionally a 50th anniverary is celebrated with gold, but in the home of Park Tool, it could only be blue. Blue suits and jackets for the company men, blue dresses and leggings for the ladies and blue mood lights around the perimeter colored Saturday evening a blue bash. Even the blues band that closed the evening seemed to have a case of the happy blues.
Park celebrated its anniversary along with the opening of its new, 78,000 square foot headquarters, where they held the party. The company also hosted distributors from 22 countries for a two-day meeting of its international and domestic distributors that preceded the party.
Despite more than 300 people at the event, it had the feeling of a family gathering. Park was founded by Art Engstrom and Howard Hawkins in 1963, seven years after the pair opened a bike shop together. Now Hawkins' son, Eric, is the CEO, and the extended families of the founders and current employees were proud attendees at the party. (Related: Keep it in the family, from the March 1 issue of BRAIN).
Howard Hawkins remembered that the operation started as just "a neighborhood fix-it shop."
"We fixed lawnmowers, TVs, radios. We made keys. We even tried to weld a broken umbrella until the solder ran down and burned a big hole in the umbrella," he said.
A few years in, Hawkins considered leaving the business to take a job in the welding industry. "Art (Engstrom) said, 'you can't leave, we owe too much money!'"
So the pair stuck it out, and the retail side thrived. For a time, it was one of the biggest Schwinn dealers in the country, quite the feat for a store deep in the snow belt, competing against shops in sunnier climes.
In the early days, the company sold many of its tools to Schwinn, which marketed them under its name. An early ally within Schwinn was former shop employee Jay Townley, who went on to become a vice president at the bike company and is now an industry consultant. When Hawkins sent Schwinn a hand-written invoice, Townley urged him to get a typewriter. "He said, 'You can't send handwritten invoices to Schwinn!' " Hawkins recalled, as Townley laughed at a nearby table.
Watch for an interview with Howard Hawkins on BRAIN later this week.