Don’s Fleet: a BE staple
Located on Grove Street in Blue Earth, Don’s Fleet Supply is a family-owned hardware store that was started by an out-of-towner with an old fashioned work ethic.
Don Christensen started in business back in 1956 as a tire shop manager in Osage, Iowa. Soon after, Christensen’s entrepreneurial mind set led him to Blue Earth where he found a building for rent on Blue Earth’s Main Street. Ever since, Don’s Fleet has been a fixture in the local community.
While Don passed away seven years ago, his son Bill Christensen, along with his wife Laurie, and Bill’s 90 year-old mother Lucy, proudly carry on the family business. According to Christensen, his mother still plays an active role in the company’s business affairs.
“She’s doing very well, and she still drives everywhere, too,” Christensen smiles.
As a youngster, Christensen recalls first getting involved with his father’s store at the age of 15. The future business owner explains he did not have much of a choice in the matter.
“I was probably sitting at home doing nothing and my dad said ‘you need something to do,'” Christensen chuckles. “So he brought me out here and I would take a lawn mower and clean up, and do whatever he wanted me to do.”
After gaining experience by doing manual labor for his father, Christensen began working on a full-time basis for the family operation by 1976. Shortly after that, Christensen started getting involved in the ownership aspect of his family’s business.
Having been involved with Don’s Fleet since his youth, Christensen says the relationships he builds while interacting with customers is the most enjoyable aspect of his day. The personal element of his job is something Christensen is very passionate about.
“I like people,” he added. “I’d rather not be in the office, I’d rather be out there on the sales floor with the customers and interact with everyone.”
Since the early days of joining his father’s workforce, Christensen says the overall advancement in farming technology has been the most noticeable difference in his industry. In fact, the recent innovations in GPS tracking equipment has even surprised the farm supplier himself.
About 10 years ago, Christensen recalls seeing a truck equipped with a Beacon GPS Tracking System out in the country for the very first time.
“I was doing something outside during spring, and I noticed a truck down the road with a Beacon on it.
“I walked across the street and I asked the man who was driving it ‘what is that truck doing here?’ When he told me the truck had the Beacon for the GPS on the tractor, I kind of looked at him strange because I had never heard of it,” Christensen continues. “That’s the first one I’ve ever seen.”
Through the years at Don’s Fleet, Christensen maintains the farmer is still the main focus of his entire operation. Despite the ever changing technology in farming, and the overall specialization of farming equipment, Christensen takes pride in serving the farmer’s needs regardless of the season.
“Spraying season is a big part of our business,” Christensen says. “And, of course, harvest time is a big part of our business as well. We do a lot in lawn and garden and we have a full shop to service whatever the customer’s needs are.”
Along with Bill and Laurie Christensen, Don’s Fleet in Blue Earth has a small staff of four employees. Tanner Nowak serves as the store’s mechanic, while Chris Stromberg, Brittanie Heenan and Alicia Hagedorn make up the store’s customer service team.
Christensen believes his staff’s wide ranging product knowledge, along with their willingness to help, keeps customers coming back time and time again.
“We don’t just stand at the counter, we are very proactive and try to solve their problems whether it’s in farming, plumbing, electrical, lawn and garden, or whatever,” explains Christensen. “Our business is not one that the customer just picks a product and checks out. We’re actually there to help everybody that comes in the door.”
Christensen reveals new store items such as horse feed, as well as expanding on lawn and garden items such as sprayers and grass feed fertilizer, helps Don’s Fleet stay ahead of the competition. He says keeping an open mind in expanding his product line allows his store to continue its evolution.
“You don’t necessarily go in a different direction, but you try new things,” Christensen says. “Lawn and garden seems to be getting bigger all the time. Anything with seed starting is very popular. Right now, we’re just gearing up for spring and bringing in the new products and getting them on the shelves.”
The Christensen’s three children; Mariah, Caleb and Tess, have ventured outside the family business to embark on successful career paths of their own. While Mariah works as a corporate securities analyst at Securian Financial Group in St. Paul, Caleb earned a PhD from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and now lives in Boston. As for Tess, she is in the healthcare field and works as a registered nurse.
Although the three siblings have chosen different career paths, Christensen remains thankful for the strong foundation and work ethic that has been a part of his family tree for generations.
“I’m very proud of them and they have worked very hard to accomplish what they have,” said Christensen.