Sister act: It's all in the family for this small business in Florida Sister act: It's all in the family for this small business in Florida

Sister act: It's all in the family for this small business in Florida

Diverse businesses like Merit Fasteners increase competition and boost innovation – leading to lower prices and more local jobs


Donna Best never thought she would work full time for the family business. But she eventually learned that’s where she could fulfill her dreams.

And so Best and her sisters, Laura and Linda, bought Merit Fasteners from their parents. As a female-owned business, it qualified for Duke Energy’s supplier diversity program, which supports not only diverse companies, but the communities Duke Energy serves, helping create jobs and providing goods at competitive prices.

Merit Fasteners' leadership, from left, Donna Best, Linda Anderson, Laura Napoleon.

The Orlando, Fla.-based company manufactures bolts, screws and connectors for the construction and energy sectors. Duke Energy’s work with diverse suppliers has been recognized by the Billion Dollar Roundtable, a nonprofit that promotes supplier diversity excellence and best practices.

“This was absolutely not what I envisioned as my dream career,” said Donna Best, who is president and CEO. “I studied marketing and business administration and then also Spanish for a dual degree. I had always planned on traveling the world doing international sales or international business.”

While traveling to Central America, South America and the Caribbean for the Orlando, chamber of commerce, she put her marketing skills to work part time for her father.

“This experience gave me the flexibility to explore what I thought I wanted to do while also supporting my family business, which was always important to me,” she said. “I found that I enjoyed our industry, I enjoyed the people I worked with, the customers I worked with and the opportunity to grow the family business. I realized I could do everything I would ever want to do at Merit because I can contribute in so many ways.”

The sisters bought the company in 2007 and own equal shares. The catalyst to go into business together was not only to carry on the family business but ensure jobs for the employees.

Laura Napoleon, left, and Brittany Bedford at Merit Fasteners in Longwood, Fla., north of Orlando.

“Our core values are family, flexibility and fun,” Best said. “Because we are a smaller business, those are things that we can offer our people. We have 45 employees, and some are celebrating 39 years with our business. I've always felt in our business that we should give to the community that gives to us – and that’s the people that we work with, the families that we influence and the customers that we serve every day.”

Like many small businesses, Merit Fasteners experienced a tough go during the pandemic.

“Our goal was to not lay anybody off,” Best said. “Duke Energy and many of our customers worked with us in keeping our families busy by ordering fasteners and industrial supplies.”

Best attributes other benefits of joining Duke Energy’s diversity supplier network.

“Participating in outreach programs sponsored by the supplier diversity team,” she said, “helped us gain insight into how to best work with the company and even how to find externally funded grants and access to other partners where we could potentially do business.”

Carmen Holmes, director of Supplier Diversity and Supply Chain Sustainability at Duke Energy, said supporting companies like Merit Fasteners is not just good for business, but good for the community.

“We love each other and our company and together we're a team,” said Merit Fasteners President Donna Best. “We all have different talents, different superpowers."

“Diverse suppliers bring revenue and jobs to our communities, keeping local economies going and growing,” Holmes said. “They also provide us quality products and services at competitive prices, which means we can better deliver reliable and affordable energy for our customers.”

The story behind second-generation Merit Fasteners hits home for Holmes. “My dad has been in supplier diversity for as long as I can remember. Conversations around the dinner table were always around the businesses he was supporting through the grocery industry,” Holmes said. “The work that his team does has changed the trajectory of people’s lives for generations to come. There’s something empowering about that.”

The Billion Dollar Roundtable consists of U.S.-based corporations that reach $1 billion or more annually in supply chain diversity spending. Duke Energy spent over $1.8 billion with diverse suppliers in 2022, including $556 million with more than 1,000 female-owned businesses.

For small suppliers like Merit Fasteners, it feels great to be part of the success of an industry leader like Duke Energy.

“Our relationship with Duke Energy is special,” Best said. “They're always looking to create an opportunity for us. We appreciate that because being a smaller regional fastener company, the opportunities don't always come easily. I think that that is powerful for a business like us.”

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