Daughters of hardware are and Ace up the sleeve
October 22, 2010
Being a woman in the hardware business isn’t always easy, but for three Grand County women, it’s a way of life. Rochelle Gould, Amy Kaplanis and Joanna Carpenter have something kind of extraordinary in common. All three women work at Ace Hardware stores in Grand County and all three work with their fathers.
Rochelle Gould is the third generation of her family to work at Fraser Valley Ace Hardware. Her grandparents Bill and Kate Harris bought the store in 1977 along with her father Greg Harris. “It was just the three of us running the store back then,” Greg said. “That’s the way things were, it was slow enough. But that didn’t last too long.”Along the way, the other Harris brothers and their wives spent time working in the store. Greg’s wife Jenny came on board in 1981 and still oversees most of the office work. In 2002, the elder Harris couple turned the store over to Greg and Jenny. Both of Greg and Jenny’s daughters, Rochelle and Stacy Armstrong, grew up in the store and have worked in different roles there over the years. Rochelle recalls that she started ringing people up at the register after school at a very young age: “I was pretty much always there after school,” she said.Rochelle attended college at Fort Lewis College in Durango but couldn’t pass up on the opportunity to come back and work with her parents after she graduated in 2006. She said she likes working in the hardware business because, “I like figuring stuff out. I’ve always been crafty. Every day is different and everybody’s got a different problem. It’s never the same.”It’s not always an easy road, however, and Rochelle struggles with stereotypes sometimes, she said. “Rochelle gets a lot of ‘you’re a girl and can’t help me,’ Greg said. “But she surprises a lot of people, and I get a lot of comments about how much she helps, even from people who don’t know she’s my daughter. More than once people have come back to her later and apologized because what they got was right.”Rochelle works the front of the store and particularly enjoys the paint department. “Experimenting and matching colors is my favorite,” she said.Paint is one of the store’s specialties. For several years the Fraser Valley store was one of Ace’s top 100 paint retailers in the nation based on sales. “When you think about where we are, in a small town like this, it’s pretty amazing,” Greg said. “It’s something we’ve always been proud of.”Rochelle along with her husband Jon are hoping to take over the store themselves some day, she said. Until that day comes, Rochelle said: “I like working with my dad. We get along really well, and it’s nice we can work together. Some people envy it, and some people don’t understand how we do it.” Greg agreed: “I like having the kids around. Family is dependable – since its family they care about the business.”
Joanna Carpenter also grew up in the hardware and construction business in Kremmling. Her father Dennis Carpenter and his two brothers Michael and Jerry opened DMJ Contracting in 1976 after their father passed away. In the early 1980s, when the local lumber yard went out of business, the brothers started driving to the Front Range every week to pick up materials. It wasn’t long before people were asking them to pick up things to bring back. That service quickly grew into a retail business and eventually evolved into Tri-River Ace Hardware. Nearly 30 years later, Dennis said that he feels “blessed to have my daughter and brother working with me.”Working with family has its advantages, he added: “You are able to cover for each other and to work with new ideas together. And it’s been good to work with a younger generation. Things have changed.”Dennis initially was involved more on the construction end of the business, and Joanna remembers one of her first jobs was picking up nails on the job sites. “I got paid by the pound,” she said. After high school, she traveled the world with a singing and dancing troupe, but eventually Kremmling pulled her back. “All the places I went were beautiful, but I love the people here,” she said. She went to work at the family contracting business, estimating and bidding on projects. But, when her Uncle Jerry passed away three years ago – and the construction industry took a hit from the economy – both she and her father moved into the hardware side of the business. Working in hardware has is joys and challenges, Joanna said. “The joys are the cool people you get to meet and cool projects you get to be part of. The challenge is learning to leave work at work.”Joanna is now the purchasing manager for the store and, in that role, has helped to expand the selection to offer items that can’t be found elsewhere in the community. Joanna challenges anyone to compare prices at Tri-River with the big box stores. “We usually have lower prices than Denver,” she said.In addition to offering Car Quest parts and a lumber yard, the store has a large Carhartt selection, sells Bogg boots and has branched into some office supplies and fishing gear. “She’s really got the pulse of the business and understands what customers want,” Dennis said. “She’s out there in the community and has a real idea of what’s going on there as well as the trends.”He added that while he and his brother have been hesitant about some of her suggestions for new merchandise, “we’ve been amazed when we track it. She really has an idea for what the people want.” “It’s a blessing working with my family,” Joanna said. “You get to know each other on a different level and get a groove going with each other. You take care of each other, and you know that your family always has your back.” Growing up in a family business, “teaches you to be more invested in your job,” she said. Her earliest memories are of playing in the shop while her mom did books for the construction company. It’s an image that’s stayed with her and become part of her. “Working hard is just something I’ve learned from a very young age,” she said.
Any Kaplanis was already a mother herself when she went to work for her father at Country Ace Hardware in Granby. Her father Tom McConathy was semi-retired in Silverthorne when he saw an ad for a hardware store for sale in Granby. At the time the store was in the location of Brickhouse 40. “It was a classic small-town hardware store with shelves all 4-feet high and a curved wooden cash register,” Amy said. He and his wife Kathy purchased the store as a retirement project in 2001. Amy was living in Denver at the time, working for Accenture in human performance and training. But after she had her daughter in 2004, she was struggling with childcare.Amy’s mother Kathy suggested that they move up to Granby so she could watch the kids during the day. The family had moved almost every four years when she was growing up, so raising her kids near family had an added appeal. Her brother Jason also lives in Granby and took over the kitchen and bath design business New Mountain Design and fireplace businesse Country Home Outfitters. So now, in addition to grandparents and even great-grandparents, the kids have cousins and aunts and uncles all here in town.Amy telecommuted for a year before her father offered her an opportunity to manage the hardware store.”We really jumped at the opportunity based on her skills,” Tom said. “We knew she would be good with her experience responding to tight deadlines, making decisions on the spot and anticipating problems and coming up with solutions. With that skill set, we though she would be excellent.”Amy didn’t have much hardware knowledge before she joined Ace, but that too has been growing. She now serves on the board of RMAS (Rocky Mountain Ace Stores) doing their training. Last year, she won an award from the National Retail Hardware Association as an innovator for training. “It’s really quite an honor, especially given her length and experience in the field,” Tom said. Tom backs up his daughter with his passion for the business: “I think one of the most rewarding parts of it is being able to help somebody,” he said. “It doesn’t happen everyday but sometimes you get to help somebody with a serious issue they need to get resolved. It makes the job rewarding.” Tom said he’s enjoying being part of a family business and Amy agrees: “My dad and I work very well together and collaborate well. This has really helped build our relationship on a different dimension.”Amy said that working in the hardware market is fun. She’s found a lot of niches not served by other Granby businesses and has expanded the store to include toys, giftware, housewares and – her personal favorite – lawn and garden.Amy is looking forward to having her own two daughters Mia and Ellie grow up in the store, and she said they’ll be put to work as soon as they’re old enough sweeping floors and running the cash register.