Retail and Small Business & Startups

Growth is a safe bet for Hoogerhyde

Safe retailer and locksmith is one of a kind in Michigan.

September 9, 2016
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Tom Ziemer
Tom Ziemer opted to keep the original Hoogerhyde name and location but is investing in staff training to stay at the forefront of the locksmith industry. Courtesy TJ Hamilton/Sabo PR

At first, Tom Ziemer might have been a little apprehensive about having to spell “Hoogerhyde” hundreds of times per day.

But when Ziemer purchased Hoogerhyde Safe & Lock in 1999, he decided to stick with the name that had been on the front of the building since 1926. As he put it, the name Hoogerhyde “means something in West Michigan.” And 90 years after Fred Hoogerhyde opened the store that would become Hoogerhyde Safe & Lock, the name still means something in West Michigan.

“We have a reputation built on honesty, integrity and doing our very best to secure people’s properties and personal items,” Ziemer said. “And we get so much traffic from word of mouth. ‘My grandfather bought a safe here,’ or ‘my dad bought a safe from you guys,’ or ‘I was told Hoogerhyde knows its stuff.’”

Initially opened as an automotive repair and service shop, Fred Hoogerhyde switched gears, as increased car thefts necessitated the installation of car locks. Gradually, the automotive locksmith work became a larger part of the business, and Hoogerhyde expanded its locksmithing services.

Occasionally, a customer had trouble paying for Hoogerhyde’s services and offered to trade a safe in exchange. This happened frequently enough that Hoogerhyde expanded the business again to include safe work. In the late 1960s, the business had evolved into a full service safe retailer and locksmith.

The business remained in the family for several generations until it was sold in 1990 to the man Ziemer bought the business from. Taking an eight-month hiatus after selling a different venture, Ziemer didn’t have any background in safe work or locksmithing, but he saw an opportunity and figured the rest would come with time.

“I saw a lot more potential in this business than was being realized,” Ziemer said.

As it turned out, the technical aspects of learning safe work took a bit longer than he expected. But Ziemer’s business savvy paid off, and the business grew each year. He grew the store’s inventory to include about 200 safes on the floor and expanded the offerings for gun safes, which accounts for about 60 percent of his business.

He promoted the store’s offerings of electronic locks and services and spent time and money in ensuring his team of nine employees has the right tools to stay at the forefront of the industry. Ziemer keeps up with industry trends and technological advances by reading trade magazines and talking at length with representatives from manufacturers.

Hoogerhyde prides itself on selling only the best products to ensure the customers’ valuables — whether that’s stamps, baseball cards, coin collections, copper ingots or historic signatures — are safe and secure.

“The owner has to invest a fair amount to stay current in the business, and we do that here,” Ziemer said.

In addition to consumer safes and locksmithing, Hoogerhyde also has several commercial contracts, including Gerald R. Ford International Airport and Tanger Outlets in Byron Center. Hoogerhyde also works with banks and credit unions and supplies safes and vault doors to customers all around the state and country.

Ziemer said one of the biggest challenges the business faces is finding talented employees. For the level of knowledge and experience required for high-end safe work, there aren’t many options to receive that education, and they’re all pricey — about $250 per day for classes, in addition to travel expenses to schools in Kentucky and Texas.

“Where everyone wants to work on computers, there’s a much smaller pool of people that want to do security-type work,” Ziemer said.

Today, Hoogerhyde Safe & Lock stands on the same ground it did when the business opened in 1926, 1033 Leonard St. NW, where Ziemer often can be found with his dog, Gracie, wandering through the store.

Ziemer’s two sons also work in the business, and the plan is they gradually will take over the business. But as Hoogerhyde enters Year 91 of operations, Ziemer is keeping his eyes peeled for further opportunities to expand and continue to serve the market.

“Change doesn’t come easy for me, but we pursued it, and being a locksmith company on the cutting edge of things has worked well for us,” he said. “The thing that makes us different is that there isn’t another store like Hoogerhyde in the state. There are very few technicians able to open safes like we are, and that’s because we have all the right tools.”

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