Global Fastener News

1995 FIN – Western Starts Heritage Project With Kirsner’s Pell Mell History

March 03
00:00 2014


March 15, 1995 FIN – Mel Kirsner inaugurated the Western Association of Fastener Distributors fastener heritage project with an anecdotal history of how business was done just a generation ago.
WAFD president Bobby Barnhill asked members and anyone connected to the fastener industry to write notes or make tapes and send them to the association to be included in an ongoing history book.
Kirsner, a charter member of WAFD, displayed a portion of his fastener museum at the association’s spring conference at the Wigwam Resort in Litchfield Park, Arizona.
Kirsner started in the fastener business with Reliable Pipe Supply, which was owned by his father and grandfather, but quit when rejected for a raise.
“My granddad would always say that I shouldn’t worry, that someday I would own the business,” Kirsner recalled.
After a sales stint with another firm, Kirsner opened Pell Mell Supply in 1963 in San Diego.
He sold his home to buy his first inventory. “I ordered one box of every size in stock of Grades 2, 5 and 8,” Kirsner recalled. Acknowledging he soon learned it was not the way to go into distribution, he conceded that some of his initial stock remains on the shelves today.
While establishing his business he ushered at a race track to put bread on the table. He collected wooden boxes from behind grocery stores at night for shelves in his 25×25 ft storefront. In the evenings in his living room, Kirsner counted each fastener in each box in hopes of finding a few extras.
As he attempted to make success with manufacturers, Kirsner found few willing to sell in small quantities, except for three firms – one of those because the owner had dated Kirsner’s mother in high school.
His first sale was to a customer from Reliable. He had to get his father to co-sign a bank loan to pay the C.O.D. charge for the $3,000 order.
“The best part of this story is that my customer paid me in 12 days and I marched into the bank and paid them off,” Kirsner smiled. “Two months later the bank came to my little store and wanted to loan me money. I never borrowed any money again for Pell Mell Supply.”

Kirsner once sold four kegs of 1” nuts to a customer who required domestic product. “He called me and said that each carton contained metal tags that read, ‘Made in Japan’.” Kirsner’s supplier didn’t have an explanation and lost Pell Mell as a customer.
Another manufacturer lost Pell Mell because it sought to sell direct to Kirsner’s customers.

Kirsner also rejected customers. “If I didn’t like a customer who was buying direct from a manufacturer and who would call me for a small quantity of fasteners, I would tell them to call the manufacturer,” Kirsner explained. “Of course, I knew the manufacturer wouldn’t be able to serve them.”
“I didn’t want to offend my good customers, but I tried to explain to them that I also had to earn a living and that I would work with them for a 3% to 5% profit,” Kirsner reasoned. “This worked pretty well.”

When a customer ended 64 1 3/4” ESNA-type lock nuts in three days because the ship was sailing, Kirsner turned to his major supplier. “We must have infringed on someone’s patent, but we made the nuts and slivered them on time. Thank God there wasn’t any certification then,” Kirsner sighed.

Kirsner’s proudest moment in the fastener business was when his Nevada Bolt Mfg. was asked to make the fasteners for refurbishing of the Statute of Liberty. “The material was fermium 255, which I never knew existed,” he said. ©1995/2014 Fastener Industry News.
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