webnexttech | Founder of Burnsville-based Northern Tool and Equipment dies at 78
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Don Kotula, the founder of Northern Tool and Equipment, died on Saturday at the age of 78.Kotula founded Northern Tool out of an Eagan garage in 1981 and helped it grow to a billion-dollar multi-channel retailer with 140 retail stores and nearly 3,000 employees.
“He was an idea guy,” Ryan Kotula said of his father.
Don Kotula was always thinking of creative solutions and delegating to others to make them come to fruition.
Kotula was rarely in a corporate office, his son said, as he preferred to walk the store with customers.
“He had his thumb on the pulse of the store and the customers and what they wanted,” Ryan Kotula said, adding that he and his brother intend to carry on the tradition.
The son of a scrapyard owner, Kotula grew up on the Minnesota Iron Range and made a business for himself at a young age by sourcing parts for customers.
The first product launched by the company, then known as Northern Hydraulics, was a log splitter.
Customers would buy the parts kit via an 800 number Kotula had set up in his house and put it together themselves, breaking up the standard distribution model.
This past summer his sons and co-owners Ryan and Wade Kotula launched the company’s first battery-powered log splitter, a nod to the work of their father.
“I’m glad that he got to see that and see the next generation of the company,” Ryan Kotula said.
Headquartered in Burnsville, Northern Tool sells tools and equipment, mostly to trade professionals, and in stores, featuring brands like Bosch, Honda, Milwaukee and Stihl.
The retailer also manufactures its own line of products in Faribault, Minn., under the brand name NorthStar.
The Kotula family asks that any charitable donation in honor of Don Kotula’s life be made to the Northern Tool and Equipment Foundation benefitting the Tools for the Trades program which was created to inspire the next generation of skilled trades professionals.

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