NRF Member Spotlight: Northern Tool + Equipment

How the company capitalized on the DIY boom and supported evolving consumer trends

Many home improvement retailers saw an increase in sales as consumers started to build fire pits, rethink home offices or start any number of projects to fill their quarantine days. Northern Tool + Equipment quickly worked to provide consumers with a variety of new products to support the DIY boom.

The Minnesota-based business quickly launched a collection of cleaning and disinfecting products to help its fellow retailers and businesses stay safe. In this historical year, they are also celebrating their 40th anniversary while transitioning to a new CEO. We connected with Nathan Miller, vice president of customer experience at Northern Tool + Equipment, to learn how the company developed partnerships to support new product categories to meet consumer needs.

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How has the transition to a new CEO helped propel new innovations and support consumers' needs through the pandemic?

Northern Tool + Equipment has always had a deep history serving the hard-working trade professionals and the serious DIY’ers, and much of that has been driven through our innovation over the years. Our company started with our founder building a better, more powerful log splitter in his garage. From there we’ve continued to grow and manufacture products including generators, pressure washers, air compressors and sprayers that are available in 120 stores across the country and online.

Our new CEO, Suresh Krishna, started at the onset of the pandemic last year and his leadership has continued our legacy of innovation by quickly bringing a vast collection of cleaning and disinfecting gear online to help businesses keep their spaces safe and clean. This new emphasis on this category of products has emphasized Northern Tool’s innovation DNA.

As an example, one of the key cleaning products we launched was the NorthStar Ultra-Fine Mist Disinfecting Sprayer, which was quickly and effectively developed by our team of engineers leveraging key components from existing NorthStar products. Through this effort, Northern Tool delivered a wide variety of needed cleaning and sanitizing products to businesses at the peak of the pandemic.

We have seen many changes in consumer behavior from the start of the pandemic, such as curbside pickup and increased use of ecommerce, as well as brands building new partnerships. How has the company leaned into these changes?

The pandemic has brought unique challenges, and like many retailers, we adjusted quickly and have brought on new ways to continue to focus on our customer-centric promise and build upon our existing customer partnerships to maintain our touchpoints and service.

At the onset of the pandemic, we like other retailers quickly launched curbside pickup and put a focus on customer and employee safety while operating as an essential business. We also put a focus on our parts, service and repair departments across our stores to support customers with maintenance expertise to ensure their small engine equipment was running right. This meant taking the appropriate measures to ensure safe consultations with customers at equipment drop-off and pickup. Our customers rely on their equipment for tough jobs, and so it was critical to keep this service intact to help our customers.

The huge boom in DIY and home projects during the pandemic, plus people exploring new hobbies or crafts, brought about another example of our adaptability. With this backdrop, we expanded our partnership with key brands like Milwaukee and Stihl, and forged a new partnership with a fellow Minnesota-based and family-run brand, Rockler Woodworking and Hardware. This connection has given us more than 300 Rockler woodworking products in select stores and online to introduce Northern Tool as a resource for the growing woodworking community, which naturally overlaps with our core customer.

Congratulations on Northern Tool celebrating its 40th anniversary and the successful opening of its 120th store. With these huge milestones, how does the organization hope to evolve?

Hitting big milestones as a company is always something to celebrate — especially with our customers, and of course our team, and we look forward to marking our 40th anniversary this year. It’s a time to recognize where our company has come from and how it has grown across 20-plus states. It’s also a great opportunity for us to look forward and chart the course for the next 40 years.

Specifically, we are looking forward to extending our retail footprint, with new stores planned in the Midwest, in Atlanta and Augusta, Georgia, and in Texas through new stores in Amarillo, Austin and Waco in the coming year. We will also continue a heavy focus on product innovation and excellence with a new line of NorthStar pressure washers engineered in our Faribault, Minn., facility rolling out in all stores and on NorthernTool.com.

We also are aiming to further position our focus to empower young people to pursue a career in the trades. We’ve had success working with high schools across the country, providing scholarships, tools and hands-on training. We are looking forward to firing up that initiative even more.

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