45 years…selling hardware and more in Marshall area
Mike Fox, Jennifer Johnson third generation owners of Ace Hardware/ Marshall Lumber
MARSHALL — Bryan Rogge stood at his service station inside Ace Home & Hardware on Highway 59 and looked toward owners Mike Fox and Jennifer Johnson.
“These guys were little when I started,” Rogge said.
He started at Marshall Lumber Company 43 years ago, about two years after Ray Fox took over ownership in 1972. As they grew up, Mike and Jennifer would eventually work at the business.
“I started mowing the lawn in ’84,” Mike said.
Jennifer started out as a cashier and later became a flooring specialist, a role she continues today.
Mike and Jennifer are actually third generation owners. The lumber yard was founded by Luis Galanter in 1952. He opened the business with three employees in a 480-square-foot garage on the north end of town near the industrial section. Galanter sold the business to Roy Fox and Robert L. Carr in 1965. And in 1972, Mike and Jennifer’s father, Ray, purchased the business Three years later it became a True Value Home Center that employed 50 people.
Mike and Jennifer fondly recall when they purchased the business from their father seven years ago.
“I would say, the day we bought it, our dad threw us the keys and said goodbye,” Mike said with a smile.
Now the Fox siblings are observing the company’s 45 years in business. While several of their employees have stuck with them through a lot of those years, Mike and Jennifer explained the business has expanded from the original lumber yard operation, and it’s a 38,000-square-foot business.
For starters, the business is now part of Ace Home & Hardware.
“We liked their management style,” Jennifer said.
“They were courting us for years,” Mike said. “When Jennifer and I took over, we thought it was a good time to change.”
Besides lumber and hardware, Ace offers flooring, cabinetry, rental equipment, home improvement contracting and home building. There are a few other recent products that may not historically be connected to a hardware store.
“Last year we added the Hallmark Gold Crown department,” Jennifer said. “So people looking for Hallmark gifts, cards, keepsake ornaments — we now have that. Hallmark closed three, four years ago at the mall. She (owner) retired. They (Hallmark) approached a lot of the Ace stores. We see them at the Ace shows. It’s been a good fit for them — Hallmark and Ace together.”
Mike and Jennifer also added beer and wine making supplies.
“That’s been a nice niche for us,” Jennifer said.
Frankie’s hot dogs are at Ace on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Ace is also selling goods from Canby’s Kornerstone Kravings & Bakery goods and meats from Marshall’s Deutz Heritage Farms.
“That’s all things to drive foot traffic,” Mike said.
“We have to be constantly changing. You have to keep up with the times,” Jennifer said. “What you were doing 10 years ago might not necessarily work anymore now. You always have to be looking to change. You have to be willing to change. We have that willingness to make those changes.”
Mike said the changing retail landscape is one of the reasons for switching to Ace.
“They are more progressive. Online shopping, they are progressive on that,” Jennifer said.
“They are focused on growth. One of the few retailers that are still expanding.”
While their business continues to expand and change, several of their employees go back 10-30 years.
“I worked for George Jacob pounding nails, building houses,” Rogge said, recalling his start. “I just enjoy it. I like the people. Everybody has a different problem, instead of the same problem over and over.”
Don Fuhrmann has worked at the business for 33 years.
“I was at Coast to Coast for nine years. Then I came here for 33. I started out as a hardware person. I’ve gone wherever they put me, other than out the door,” he said while laughing. “I worked for Mike’s dad. They have been really good. I was a guy that wanted to stay in the area and they offered me a job and here I am.”
Both Mike and Jennifer acknowledge the challenges of today’s retail landscape, but remain positive.
“Dealing with the public always has its challenges. It’s mostly rewarding. I try to look at the positive more than the negative. I always look at what’s good — like Marshall being a nice town to raise your family,” she said.
She likes to talk about flooring with customers and sees trends constantly changing.
“Luxury vinyl planks, either snap together or lay it in loose at the edges, is a hot trend right now. Also, color wise, be more natural in lighter colors is trending versus darker colors. The darker colors were trending for a long time. Now we are seeing that transition to lighter colors. We still do a lot of carpet, especially for bedrooms, family rooms, just a more warmer feeling and soft on your feet,” Jennifer said.
Mike is feeling good about home construction activity.
“Seen a big change last four years,” he said. “We are building houses without basements. We do a lot of homes now that are all one level. I don’t know if that reflects the community here now — older and don’t want steps — or cost savings. You don’t have water issues either.”
He said the housing market is better than it has been during the last decade. Ace directed the construction of 19 homes in the Marshall last year.
As the business approaches almost a half a century anniversary, the siblings feel their partnership has worked out well.
“We disagree, then we move on,” Jennifer said.
“Wouldn’t matter if we were related or not,” Mike added.