W hat started as fledgling sales of bolts and nuts from a residential garage to farmers has become a go-to hardware store in Casa Grande.

Fred Tapia Jr. left his job at an auto supply store, where he had worked for 16 years, and started selling bolts and nuts to farmers, both from his house on West 13th Street and at the farms as well.

Tapia started selling the supplies from a modest 10-by-10-foot garage with a desk, phone line and a few shelves, later moved to a 30-by-30 shop also on 13th Street and since a couple of decades ago, Fred’s Bolts, Nuts & Tools has been based out of a large building at 1405 N. Pinal Ave.

But back in the day, he went directly to farmers from Picacho to Maricopa and all points between, providing those supplies with 30 days’ credit. Now he can outfit a customer with anything from a tiny wall screw to a heavy-duty power tool.

When he started selling his wares on 13th Street, the city of Casa Grande would not allow him to post a business sign in the neighborhood, so he improvised.

“I put a pattern on the mailbox at the house so people would know where I was at. People would say, ‘Hey, Fred, where’s your place at?’ I said on ‘13th Street, just look for the bolt and nut sign. You can’t miss it.’ I’m sure they knew what I was doing. I did it for a good eight years, selling bolts and nuts.”

Then a building that had been a mechanic’s garage on Pinal Avenue came up for sale and Tapia grabbed the opportunity. His family business grew quickly.

“Once I moved here on Pinal, I became more visible. I started getting busier and busier,” he said.

But to compete with the larger stores he needed another product — tools. So Tapia contracted with a California company to buy tools, starting at $500 a month and climbing — and paying off immediately — to $9,000. The lesson he learned was to have what a customer needed that day, not ask him to come back tomorrow.

“Having a product on hand,” he said, has been the key to a successful hardware business. “When you need something you need it now. You can’t wait. Most places, in auto parts, inventory is so expensive they want to keep it as low as they can. I think a different way. My thing is to have it on hand. That’s what they like.”

Tapia also learned business sense from his father, Fred Sr., with whom Fred Jr. started working as a 10-year-old at various old-fashioned fuel stations in Casa Grande. When Fred Sr. retired, he worked with his son at the hardware store for 16 years.

The two Freds had a bond.

“We were so close. It’s just a thing you do with your dad. I just wanted to be close to him. When he was working here, he’d put freight away, he’d make deliveries. I would never say anything to him. He just did what he did and that was that. He just did it on his own. We got along together real good. He wanted me to be successful,” Tapia said.