By Kevin Rouse
A few weeks ago we donned our winter coats and took some time to visit the Park Tool headquarters and factory in St. Paul, Minnesota. Suffice it to say, we were rather impressed. Whereas most manufacturing companies these days outsource all of their production overseas, Park still produces most of its tools—85-percent to be exact—right in its 45,000-square-foot facility.
The distribution warehouse.
Maintaining domestic production in a business climate filled with overseas outsourcing is no easy task. Then again, neither is registering a trademark on an entire color. But not to worry, Park secured a trademark on the color blue four years ago.
A pedal-wrench-wielding juggernaut to be sure, Park Tool plays a dominant role in the bicycle tool market. Offering the widest lineup of bike-specific tools of any company in the world, over 300 different tools have made their way into Park's repertoire. Odds are, if you walk into just about any bike shop, you’ll see quite a bit of blue hanging from the peg boards in the service area.
In addition to being the largest, Park also happens to be one of the oldest makers of bike-specific tools as well. Founded in 1963 Park Tool came from humble beginnings as the side venture of Howard Hawkins and Art Engstrom, the owners of Hazel Park Bike Shop (from which Park Tool gets its name). Frustrated that there weren’t many tools specific to increasingly-complicated cycling component repair, they began crafting their own and sold them out of their shop. As their lineup grew, so did their notoriety, and eventually, Hawkins and Engstrom sold the bike shop and began producing and designing tools full-time.
Today, Park ships more than 2.4 million packages a year to distributors all over the world—yes, you can even find Park Tools in Kazakhstan.
Park Tool employs 48 people, 34 of which work in Park’s St. Paul production facility. The rest work in the front office and serve, in addition to their normal roles, as Park’s customer service department. Calls are distributed at random, so if you call about a service question, you might just end up talking to Park Tool owner, Eric Hawkins, himself.
Many of Park’s tools are finished by hand. Every single spoke wrench, for instance, is ground by hand to ensure a uniform finish.
Roll o’ Chain. Here’s where Park assembles its chain whips.
Here at Park’s prototyping station you can see they take their tools, and their safety, seriously. And, not surprisingly, there’s also quite a few prototypes laying about as well.
Speaking of prototypes, this is Park’s original bike stand prototype. It’s constructed from an old table-base, a bomb shell-casing, an axle from a ’38 Ford and a hockey stick. it’s also meant to hold the bike upside down, because before the advent of bike stands, it was common practice to work on your bike by simply turning it upside down.
Since the original prototype, Park’s venerable shop stand has gone threw several iterations. Through them all though, Park Tool employee, Bradley Reid, has been the one responsible for welding each and every one of them. Park Tool sells thousands of these stands every year, which is quite a few considering there’s roughly only 4,200 bike shops in the United States.
In addition to fabricating millions of tools, Park Tool’s production facility also houses one of the most impressive original Schwinn Stingray collections you’re likely to come across.
Also hanging from the rafters are the trailers Park Tool employees will haul at local rides and races to provide carbon-free neutral support.
Truing stands are among the most labor intensive tools to assemble, and calibrating them is no quick task either—it’s tough to true a wheel without a trued stand.
The warranty-service parts collection. Park has the parts for, and routinely services, tools that are sometimes several decades old.