Park Tool has been in the area since 1963. The family-owned business, which manufactures tools and repair equipment for the bicycle industry, is now located in Oakdale — but it didn’t start there. Its roots were in Maplewood before the company moved to Vadnais Heights, then Mahtomedi, before moving to its current location.
Second-generation owner Eric Hawkins said, “We’ve been a part of the area for a long time.”
Hawkins gave a brief history of the business, which his father, Howard, and business partner, Art Engstrom, started several decades ago.
“The business actually started in the back of the Schwinn shop that was on White Bear Avenue and Highway 36,” Hawkins said.
The business may have begun in a bike shop, but soon Howard and Art were making tools and bicycle repair equipment.
According to the company’s website, parktool.com, one of the first time-savers the pair invented was a back-saving bike stand that allowed easy access to any part of the bike for repairs. As the story goes, “This original stand was put together using legs from a dining room table, an empty shell casing and a truck axle from a ’37 Ford.” It wasn’t long before other shops, and eventually Schwinn Bicycle Company, began to request a production model.
“It was at a time when the industry really needed specialty tools as the bikes became more and more complicated. We were kind of in the right place at the right time and doing the right thing,” Hawkins said.
Hawkins shared that he started working at the bike shop while he was in high school and at Park Tool in the early ’80s. His father retired in 2002, which is when Hawkins took over ownership of the business.
Park Tool moved from Maplewood to Vadnais Heights and then ran out of land to build on. The company then moved to Mahtomedi, where it remained for 12 years. During that time, the building was enlarged until once again the company ran out of land on which to expand.
“Eight years ago, we moved to Oakdale and bought 23 acres, and we just added on two months ago,” Hawkins said.
The company’s tool design, engineering, manufacturing, packaging and shipping all takes place in their building. Hawkins estimates that 80% of the space is devoted to manufacturing and the warehouse.
Park Tool, which supplies products at a wholesale level, makes tools for all kinds of bicycles. Hawkins said the company makes more than 500 different kinds of tools and sells them to 75 countries.
“We are the largest bicycle tool manufacturer in the world,” he noted.
Hawkins said most of their competition around the globe is located in clusters, but the company has some decent-sized European competitors as well as some located in Asia.
“We make 80% of our product in the U.S.,” he said.
The business has been steadily growing over the years but saw a rapid climb in business over the past year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It has affected us by making it unbelievably busy. The bike business right now is nuts. You can’t find bikes anywhere. You had kids home from school, parents home from work, no spring or summer sports. Fitness clubs were closed, so the bicycle became the hot ticket,” Hawkins said.
He went on to say that it’s not only new bikes, but it’s hard-to-find replacement parts for older bikes. He said the current demand for their products is off the charts, and they are creating anywhere from 15 to 20 new tool types every year.
Hawkins said they are shipping more tools than ever before. “We feel very fortunate and blessed to be in the spot that we’re at,” he said.
Park Tool has about 70 employees. One of them is Andy Engen, from White Bear Lake. Engen has been with the company since 1995 and over those two decades, he has seen a lot of growth in the company.
“It’s been a challenge, which is good,” Engen said.
Engen wears many different hats, as he is both the production manager and floor manager. He spoke about the increased demand over the last year.
“The challenges have been all over. Finding the right people to fit within our (company) culture and keeping people healthy is a big challenge. We’ve done an exceptional job. We’ve had people who have tested positive, but we have not had an exposure case, so that goes a long way,” Engen said.
Over his time with Park Tool, Engen has moved locations along with the company.
“Starting from my original location in Vadnais Heights and moving into the building in Mahtomedi was like moving into the Taj Mahal. Watching that progress to where we are now has been exciting,” Engen said.