Global Fastener News

Starting Small, Larry Stanley Built His ‘Empire’

Starting Small, Larry Stanley Built His ‘Empire’
December 20
19:05 2022

Jennifer Sturm, Scott Sturm and Ron Stanley

Empires are built one brick at a time.

So it was for Larry Stanley, who started small and ended up establishing his own empire – Empire Bolt & Screw Inc.

His first business experience was mowing lawns in the small town of Oakesdale, WA, during the Great Depression.

After graduating from high school, Larry Stanley started in the hardware industry with a retail hardware store in Spokane before moving to wholesale with Jensen-Byrd Co., where he had the idea to start Fasteners Inc. of Spokane with the help of a silent partner.

After 9 years of growth and success, Stanley decided he wanted to operate on his own ethics, so he mortgaged everything he had in order to found Empire Bolt in 1972.  His wife, Beverley Stanley, took the key “all-around inside role” at Empire.  Their hard work paid off when the business became profitable early on.

Fifty years later, Empire Bolt is celebrating a half-century of success.

Larry’s son and current Empire CEO Ron Stanley credited his father’s sales ability for those initial successful years while building Empire.

“He was the face of the company,” Stanley said.  “His customers encouraged him to start his own business.”

As a small distributor, it was too expensive to buy Bethlehem Steel’s full cases.  Ron said Dave Kendall of Portland Screw was helpful by selling partial cases at cost to help Empire get started.  Such industry friends were instrumental in the early success of Empire, Ron said.

He noted a few of the original manufacturing customers remain customers over the last 50 years. “Relationships are important, both with customers and suppliers,” Ron emphasized.

He credited the National Fastener Distributors Association for part of Empire’s success, citing the NFDA’s Fastener Advisory Board of subgroups with fellow distributors advising each other.  He named Don Nowak, first of Hoyt Fasteners and later Falcon Metal Corp., and Bill Derry of Field Fasteners as key participants in that NFDA program.

Both Larry and Ron have been active in fastener associations.  Larry was the first president of the Western Association of Fastener Distributors and Ron was the 1997-99 president.  Ron also was the 2018-19 president of the successor Pacific-West Fastener Association.

Larry was inducted into the IFE Hall of Fame in 1991.

In addition to fastener industry roles, Larry Stanley was active in multiple civic and business causes.  He developed a reputation in Spokane for good ethics and encouraging younger people to succeed through good work ethics.  At 94, Larry is still giving back to his community through a fund he established to revitalize his hometown of Oakesdale.

Larry formally turned the business over to Ron in 1995.

“Ron has made that business grow beautifully since he’s been in full command … I’ve been around long enough to recognize businesses where the old man doesn’t recognize that they’re more of a hindrance than a help, and it’s a shame when they don’t realize it’s time to move on,” Larry told the Spokane Journal of Business in 2019.

By 2005, Ron made his last payment to Larry, making Ron and his wife, Heidi Stanley, sole owners.

What has been the key to Empire reaching its 50th anniversary through the good times and bad?

“No debt,” Ron replied.  A “lean” operation and industry relationships have helped too, he added.

Stanley also credited Empire’s “diverse customer base” of OEMs for growth even through Covid-19.

 In high school as Empire was getting started, Ron was Empire’s first delivery driver.  He and neighbors built shelving for the new warehouse.  After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering, Ron became a manufacturing engineering manager with IBM.  Larry recruited Ron back to Empire Bolt in 1985.

Among Ron’s first projects was to computerize the business and develop a quality management system and quality inspection lab for Empire.

Ron said he has “done much of what my father did.”  On top of that list is “take care of employees by treating them as shareholders.”  Empire employees have full health and dental insurance coverage.  Bonuses – which Stanley said range from 5% and as high as 50% of their regular income – are paid based on company net profit.  Empire’s retirement plan is a profit-sharing plan, which is 100% funded by the company.  Empire contributions are 4% to 10% of an employee’s wage without any employee match.  Those benefits “add up,” he said.

In addition to direct contact with customers and suppliers, Stanley emphasizes “face-to-face” time with employees.

Director of sales Scott Sturm has been with Empire for 30 of the 50 years.

The key employee running the business today is Jennifer Sturm, who started with Empire in 1997, became general manager in 2004 and was promoted to COO in 2020.  Among her contributions are closing the retail counter and introducing packaging.

“She has also been instrumental in her role of helping to secure new accounts and retaining existing customers,” Ron said.

Both Sturms are now doing much of the “face-to-face” time with customers, he added.

Ron said “deeper relationships with customers are really key.”  A measure of developing trust between the distributor and customer is critical.  Ensuring parts will work as planned when delivered to the manufacturing floor is achieved through their quality assurance program.

“Avoiding line downs for our customers is a high priority and valued by our key customers,” Stanley said.

Relationships with suppliers also are important.  In 2008 when steel prices peaked before dropping dramatically, a customer told Ron they could not make the higher prices work for a mill ship that was placed at the peak and received 4 months later.  Ron “went back to the supplier for help and we shared the increase.  We still have that customer today.”

“We treat suppliers well – just as good as customers,” Stanley said.  “Pay on time, don’t strong arm.”

While always attempting to treat customers well, Stanley has fired customers.  “We’ll walk away from a customer if necessary.”  He has had instances of customers going out of business within a year after Empire cut them off due to declining pay habits.

A happy surprise for Stanley has been growth of Empire’s overseas sales.  The one-time ‘mom & pop’ operation in the Eastern Washington city of Spokane – on the border with Idaho – has built an international business.

“I never thought we’d be selling over oceans,” Stanley reflected.  Stanley has always been interested in serving customers and an existing OEM asked Empire to supply its foreign factory.  “As you start to ship overseas, one customer there tells another customer about you,” Stanley found.  “They have enough English and the Internet” to do business with Empire from anywhere.

Ultimately, Stanley shared a basic tenant of Empire: “Don’t overpromise and under deliver.”

“None of our success would be possible without the great employees at Empire and their longstanding commitment to do the right thing,” Stanley said.  “Their loyalty is what continues to keep me motivated to own this great business.”  Web:

Related Articles


No Comments Yet!

There are no comments at the moment, do you want to add one?

Write a comment

Only registered users can comment.

error: Content is protected !!