Rylee's changes with the times

November 3, 2008
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The sporting goods department at Rylee’s Ace Hardware is going to be a lot more visible to customers when they walk into the new store slated to open later next year at 1234 Michigan St. NE. The 25,000-square-foot store will be just down the road from the existing 12,000-square-foot Rylee’s at 1121 Michigan St. NE.

In the new store, sporting goods will share space with hardware supplies on the main level, rather than downstairs where sporting goods are featured in the existing store. The signage on the store, too, will reflect that Rylee’s is both a hardware and sporting goods store, said President Lori Terpstra.

Last year she brought some sporting goods upstairs, and sales in that department went up 25 percent to 35 percent. Currently, sporting goods sales make up about 20 percent of annual sales.

Rylee’s carries fishing and hunting equipment, gear and supplies, including rods and rifles, as well as outdoor wear. Both the first-time and the seasoned fisherman can find what they need at Rylee’s for lake, stream and river fishing, Terpstra said.

“Our guys know who’s catching what where, with what lure at what depth, and what the water temperature is,” Terpstra said.   

The new store will feature a mezzanine with a winding staircase and elevator; it will have a year-round lawn and garden department and three times the parking space. An Ace Fix-It repair shop will be incorporated into the new building, as well. 

About 18 months ago Terpstra added a house wares department to Rylee’s stores on Michigan Street, 44th Street and Remembrance Road. She said Rylee’s has seen a steady increase in female customers over the years, and she wanted to make the store a little more female friendly. She plans to expand the offerings to include some storage and organizational items and even furnishings. Her husband, Todd Terpstra, jokingly refers to her vision as “Rykea,” referring to IKEA, an international chain of ready-to-assemble home furnishings and accessories.

Lori Terpstra didn’t plan to go into the family’s business, but one summer she agreed to manage the store’s lawn and garden center for her father and ended up staying on so long that she eventually became Rylee’s third-generation owner.  

“I was probably the worst employee they could have hired,” Terpstra laughingly recalls. “I couldn’t figure out how to put the head on a hose. I had never worked a wrench before. I probably wasn’t the best fit for the job, but I got in here in the mid-1980s and just fell in love with it.” Her bachelor’s degree in business from Calvin College was a good fit for the job.

A year later, Terpstra moved up to the electrical department. In order to service customers more knowledgably, Terpstra took training in residential wiring and plumbing at Kent Skills Center. She used her future husband’s home as training ground for “projects,” and learned by working side by side with him. Eventually she became so adept at “working a wrench” that she and Todd began buying houses, fixing them up and selling them. The couple has renovated 27 houses to date.

“It’s the best way to learn how to patch a wall, how to install a toilet and hook up a gas line,” Terpstra said of the renovations.

Rylee’s Ace Hardware was established in 1946 by cousins John Rysdyk Sr. and Ed Leedy, who sold everything they had to come up with the money to buy a small hardware store called Firliks at Eastern Avenue and Michigan Street. They combined their two surnames and renamed the store Rylee’s Ace Hardware. It was an unusual hardware store at the time because in addition to hardware, it carried toys, sporting goods, marine equipment, auto supplies, and lawn and garden equipment.

In the early 1980s, Rysdyk’s son, John Rysdyk Jr., and his wife bought the business and expanded the store’s sporting goods lines. Their daughter Lori helped implement a computerized inventory control system in the late ’80s. Lori and husband Todd Terpstra purchased Alger Ace Hardware in 1995, and when Lori’s father retired in 2000, the couple sold the Alger store and bought Rylee’s Ace Hardware.

Lori assumed the title of president and CEO and started advertising the business through circulars in local newspapers. Shortly thereafter, the Terpstras opened Ace Fix-It, a small engine repair shop that repairs lawnmowers, snow blowers and tractors. Lori later introduced “ladies night” events at the store and started Ace Kids Club

“I just had a passion to improve the business,” Lori said. “I had a sense of family pride in the business because my grandfather started it and my dad had owned it. I had a little bit of the entrepreneurial spirit in me.”

The Rylee’s on Michigan Street caters to a lot of landlords in the area who need window, screen and door repairs, plumbing and painting supplies, various hardware, and items such as smoke alarms. In the summer of 2002, the Terpstras bought two existing Ace Hardware stores at 31 44th St. in Wyoming and 4300 Remembrance Road in Walker. Lori oversaw renovation of both stores and increased inventories. Year-to-date sales jumped 45 percent and 15 percent, respectively, at those two locations. The couple just recently purchased another hardware store in Allegan, which also bears the Rylee’s name.

“People come to a hardware store with a problem and we help them solve it,” Lori remarked. “When I think of the decades we’ve been in business and all the broken windows we’ve fixed and all the bags of fertilizer we’ve sold — it’s just a great, healthy, honest business.”

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