THUNDER BAY -- “When I started I thought I’d do this for 10 years, sell and retire,” says Jan Tenhave, owner of Thunder Bay Fasteners and Tools, established in April 2009. Fast forward 10 years, he says, “nope, not selling, not retiring!”
Tenhave had been in the wholesale supply industry in Thunder Bay since he was 18, and after a long career working for other people, he thought it was time to do it for himself. He knew a lot of people; there were loyal customers he’d served for many years and he figured they would support his new endeavour.
When he opened, things weren’t quite as rosy as he had hoped - “there were a few evenings where I left at five o’clock and wondered if we should even bother coming in the next morning,” he admits. However, he persisted, phoning up old customers and trying to drum up business. “One customer came to the shop right away and bought a wheelbarrow and some shovels and I know that none of that stuff was for his business. He just came to support us. It just shows the appreciation he had for all the things I’d done in the past.”
Tenhave worked hard to survive in a city that has, according to him, as many wholesale suppliers as Winnipeg. “Our saving grace is service,” the business owner explains. “We bend over backwards for our customers. Our customers are in construction and other industries, and when they need something, they need it now.” Working with a large number of suppliers outside of the city, he can find whatever his client needs, and find it fast.
Ten years since opening, he has finally begun to feel like he made it. “For a long time, we were the new kids on the block. But I finally feel like we belong; that we’re a part of this industry in Thunder Bay.”
While Thunder Bay Fasteners and Bolts was initially geared towards contractors and tradespeople, there has been an increasing number of homeowners coming in the shop looking for a solution to their reno projects or house problems.
“If you come in here and explain what you want to do, I’ll help you figure out how to accomplish that. I think that has a lot of do with why we get the traffic that we get. Everybody that walks through our doors gets one-on-one service. Everybody. Nobody self serves here,” he says with pride.
Currently, there are six people working at the business, including Tenhave and his wife. While he has no intention of retiring in the near future, he says it would be nice to get his son involved. At the moment, his son, who has a young family, doesn’t feel ready yet (“everything else has to be taken care of first; salaries and utilities and everything. As a business owner you kind of get what’s left,” Tenhave says) but he hopes in the future, his son will come join him.
“It’s a good future for him, it’s a good future for my grandkids too. That’s sort of one of the reasons I did it. I did it for myself of course, but I also did it for my family. We don’t know what it’s going to be like in another 15 years or so, when the grandkids finish school. Are they going to be able to find a job at home, or are they going to have to leave? There’s a lot of kids that had to leave Thunder Bay to find a career. It would be nice to have everybody stay home. And I built this. Even when I’m gone, I built this. I’d like to see it carry on.”