Throwback Thursday

Throwback Thursday: All Hail the Tool King

In 1983, Don Cohen and his team held off the Denver competition.

BY HBSDealer Staff

The July 4, 1983 issue of National Home Center News, the forerunner of HBSDealer, carried the headline: “Specialty chain stands tall in crowded Denver market.”

That chain was the Tool King, a six-store chain founded by Don Cohen (and his partner Larry Fantich) that specialized in high-end tools and seasonal items requiring strong sales assistance and service.

“Our business is with people buying at the higher end and getting away from the throw-away merchandise,” Cohen told NHCN.

The competition was stiff in 1983: Payless Cashways, Handy Dan, Sutherland, Pay ‘N Pak and 84 Lumber. Despite that landscape, sales had doubled every year for the new company (founded in 1978) and were expected to pass $8 million annually in 1983.

There was no sign of Internet disruption in 1983, nor could Cohen have predicted the retooling of his business to in 2001. That move was a huge success, leading to a steady stream of double-digit sales gains and what Cohen would later describe as the creation of the most popular standalone tool site on the Web.

The company’s Tool King stores and Web site ceased to exist by 2014, as the company pivoted to an online market called

Tool King enjoyed a long run, and part of its success was Cohen’s ability to identify competition, and stay one step ahead. “Competition is what we look for,” he told NHCN in 1983. “It highlights what we’re doing even more.”


HBSDealer reached out to Don Cohen for his thoughts on Tool King and its era. Here’s his response: “It was a great time for innovation and leveraging technology to break through,” he said. “It was this foundation that took a car loan to start Took King and turn it into over $400,000,000 in sales.”

HBSDealer’s Throwback Thursday is sponsored by Schaffer Associates, a national management consulting firm specializing in executive search and organizational strategies for the hardware, home improvement, building materials, and consumer products industries. As the premier management consulting firm serving the industry, we help build organizations and leadership teams that foster corporate growth and success well into the future. Contact


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