From One Product β€” and One Employee β€” to a $20M Distributor

"Vendors sell hot dogs; Fort Dearborn is a partner."

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Fort Dearborn Enterprises

The third company in ID's annual "Watch List" series is Fort Dearborn. Founded 25 years ago by company President Jeff Israel β€” at the time, its lone employee β€” the suburban Chicago fastener distributor has grown to a $20 million-plus per year provider of MRO products, safety gear, janitorial supplies, packaging and cranes boasting three locations β€” and it's not slowing down.

See our other Watch List profiles here and here; for the complete list, read the January-February digital edition of Industrial Distribution magazine.

Fort Dearborn

Screenshot 2024 01 08 2 30 40 Pm 659c5c9276471Company name: Fort Dearborn Enterprises
Nominated by: NetPlus Alliance
Top executive(s): Jeff Israel, president; Jill Israel, operations manager
Year founded: 1999
Headquarters: Bellwood, Ill.
Number of locations: 3
Key product categories: MRO, safety, janitorial, cranes, fasteners and packaging
Total employee headcount: 35
Total 2023 sales (est.): More than $20 million

Img 0903 659c5ca20067bFort Dearborn EnterprisesCompany commentary: Fort Dearborn was established in 1999 as a fastener distributor with one employee: Jeff Israel. As time passed and our customers shared that they were actively looking for a partner to help manage other commodities like safety, janitorial, etc., our depth of line grew considerably. As a customer once said, β€œvendors sell hot dogs; Fort Dearborn is a partner in our success.” Our company is built on employees who have decided that their career is in the industrial distribution business. The majority of our largest customers have also become lifelong friends.

Do they offer e-commerce? The site is something new to Fort Dearborn in 2023. We started the site with cranes and material handling. From here, we intend to grow our categories on a quarterly basis. With dedicated employees and a new advertisement campaign for β€˜24 in place, we have large expectations for this part of the company.

Recent company news: We are acquiring Combined Sales, which has over 50 years in the packaging and janitorial business. With this addition, we will add a facility close to [Chicago’s] Midway Airport, which will help us to better serve the industrial customers in this area. This acquisition will also put our total outside salesperson count at 17. This allows Fort Dearborn and its vendor/partners to have a far greater reach into our markets for growth versus any other competitor. We continue to believe in the face-to-face and handshake.

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